On May 5th, Michael Alig will reportedly be released from prison. After spending seventeen years behind bars, authorities have deemed the world’s most notorious club kid ready to be reintegrated into society.
In 1996, Alig and fellow club kid Freeze killed and dismembered their drug dealer, who was also Alig’s roommate. With Macaulay Culkin’s portrayal of him in Party Monster from 2003, Alig rose to irrevocable fame, especially in London where the Nu Rave madness of the mid-2000s was more than a little inspired by his colourful New York legacy. A strange kind of institution on today’s fashion and club scenes, the news of Alig’s release has been met with delight (and a fair amount of sarcasm) across the social media platforms. But how should we feel about a man, who’s played such a vital part in modern youth culture, but also happens to be a convicted killer? All we can do is consider the facts. So here they are: the life and demise (and hopeful reformation) of Michael Alig.
Alig grew up in Indiana where his rather fabulous mother Elke encouraged him to sell candy at school. Business was booming, but the principal put a stop to it. Young Alig, who has a brother, was a mummy’s boy and enjoyed watching splatter films with Elke. However, he didn’t come out to her until he had moved to New York.
He moved to New York in the early 80s and became a busboy. He was attracted to the city’s vibrant club life and art scene – ruled by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring – and became a sort of apprentice to celebutant James St. James, whose family wealth and crazy flamboyance had made him one of the reigning club kids in town. Other famous club kids included Leigh Bowery, RuPaul, Richie Rich, Amanda Lepore, DJ Keoki, Jenny Talia, and Lahoma.
Alig became a club promoter and started throwing huge parties at various discothèques with the backing of Peter Gatien, who owned the infamous New York venue Limelight. His parties were over-the-top in every sense of the word, and the people who frequented them, including Alig himself, became nightlife celebrities.
He became king of the clubs and could do whatever he wanted, including urinating on people in the middle of parties, a sport he often practised. He also trademarked painting blue polka dots all over his face.
In the early 90s the club kids became TV stars as they came under the scrutiny of America, and especially the Mid-West. They would appear on shows like Phil Donahue and Geraldo and spread their message of uninhibited fun while scary conservatives would shout at them. It made for excellent TV, and kids from all around America started flocking to New York to become part of Alig’s gang. A boy named Angel Melendez was one of them.
The parties got increasingly out of control, and Alig was a huge success. People wore outrageous costumes, drugs were everywhere (especially the club kids’ signature drug, Ketamine), and Alig would commission shows such as the lady with the champagne enema. He also threw outlaw events where all the club kids turned up at Burger King or on a subway station and held an impromptu party.
In the mid-90s his parties started dying out, and Alig turned to drugs in a big way. The colourful spirit of the 80s was rapidly fading and the club kid scene was going out of fashion. Alig made repeated attempts at resuscitating his business, but to little avail.
Alig killed his drug dealer and occasional roommate in March 1996, but the body wasn’t discovered until nine months later. Angel Melendez, who was known for wearing huge angel wings to parties, got in an argument with Alig over some clothes, which eventually turned into an ugly fight about which person owed the other person more money.
Melendez tried to strangle Alig so Freeze, Alig’s friend and fellow club kid, hit him three times over the head with a hammer. Alig reportedly poured Drano into Melendez’ mouth and put the body in a big box, which the late club kid Gitsie said she sat next to at a house party Alig threw, unaware of its contents.
A week later Alig dismembered the body with some knives Freeze had bought him. (He gave Alig a bag of heroin for his troubles.) Alig cut Melendez’ legs off and put them in a bin bag, which he disposed of before he threw the torso – head intact – in the Hudson.
In the following months Alig didn’t keep quiet about killing Melendez, but no one took him seriously. Journalists even started running blind items on the murder, and one of his confessions was captured on film. Nine months after the murder, the corpse – which had been found much earlier – was finally identified as Melendez, and Freeze was picked up. He confessed immediately.
Alig tried to run away with his new boyfriend Brian McCauly, but was found in a motel in New Jersey. In the months before he had been through an unsuccessful stint in rehab and had gone a druggy road trip to see his mother, who had to get him Methadone to control his addiction to heroin, cocaine, Ketamine, and Rohypnol.
Alig and Freeze pleaded guilty to the murder in 1997. They were each sentenced to ten to twenty years in prison. In the second facility Alig was moved to, the two were briefly cell neighbours before Alig was moved again. He’s been in more than six prisons during his incarceration. Freeze – real name Robert Riggs – was released in 2010.
Party Monster: The Shockumentary was released in 1998, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who remain friends of Alig’s to this day. Based on the book Disco Bloodbath by James St. James, the documentary told the story of the rise and fall of Alig through the people that were there – including Alig himself, who appears from prison.
In 2001 the Party Monster feature film followed featuring Macaulay Culkin as Michael Alig as well as Chloë Sevigny, Seth Green, and Marilyn Manson. To prepare for the role, Culkin visited Alig in prison. The film became a cult hit and fuelled the Nu Rave movement and the return of the club kids, which hit London around 2004 with nights such as Kashpoint and Boombox. Alig became an even bigger star.
Alig hasn’t wasted time in prison. Among his enterprises were a 2001 Euro dance single and a 2004 weekly podcast conducted with Alig over the phone by James St. James in which Alig would spill the beans on prison life. (Alig shut it down eventually, realising it wasn’t the smartest PR move.) He’s also done pop art paintings, drawing on motifs from his club kid heyday.
A pinched nerve has made Alig incontinent, because it’s been left untreated over the past decade and has made the lower part of his body numb. The condition is called Cauda Equina Syndrome. Alig has also relapsed several times in prison, but has been clean over the past couple of years.
Alig runs a Twitter from prison (over the phone to a friend) under the handle @Alig_Aligula, which mainly makes fun of life on the inside and comments on pop cultural events on the outside. His infamy has gained him a huge fan base mainly consisting of teens who feel like outcasts and find solace in communicating with Alig. He has always replied to all his mail, providing people included a stamp.
He is now 47 years old, and has been working on his memoirs over the past few years. Cheekily and somewhat darkly entitled Aligula, it references the notoriously torturous and sex-crazed Roman emperor, Caligula. Alig has been up for parole numerous times since 2006, and will finally be released on May 5th after seventeen years behind bars. He’ll move straight back to New York.
Alig has a support system ready on the outside, who will help him acclimatise to society once he’s released. His mother Elke still lives in Indiana and has been communicating with Lovepurple, the blogger behind michaelaligblog.com, who has been keeping his followers up to date on all things Alig over the past couple of years. He will continue tweeting once he learns how to do it.