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A tabloid celebrity and rambunctious promoter whose nightlife exploits and subsequent murder conviction inspired multiple films died in New York of a suspected drug overdose on Christmas Day.
Michael Alig was found dead in his Washington Heights apartment on Dec. 25. The promoter’s family said he died of an accidental heroin overdose, the New York Times reported. He was 54.
Alig, who was originally from South Bend, Indiana, came to prominence in the late 1980s amid New York’s golden age of designer drugs, cross-dressing, and house music. He first tasted fame in 1988 after New York magazine featured him on their cover with the caption “Club Kids.” He soon became a subculture sensation, appearing on daytime talk shows in makeup and drag — typically in front of an aghast studio audience.
“Beauty is in the eye of the person who signs the paycheck,” the entrepreneurial party planner told talk show host Geraldo Rivera in 1994.
Alig’s wild, glamorous, and glitter-laced parties became a therapy of sorts for a generation of post-disco youth. But he soon became known nationwide for the murder of a fellow clubgoer.
In 1996, Alig went on trial for the murder of a 25-year-old Andre Melendez. While high on heroin, Alig killed Melendez following a dispute over money, according to the New York Daily News.
Then 30, Alig clubbed Melendez with a hammer, then suffocated and poisoned him before cutting off his limbs and throwing his body into the Hudson River. He pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in 1997, along with his accomplice, Robert Riggs.
At the time, the flamboyant drug dealer’s sudden disappearance and Alig’s arrest shocked the New York club-goers who knew them both.
''It's just kind of sad how it came to this,'' Cathy Hawkins, 28, told the New York Times in 1996. ''The whole club thing was supposed to be about having fun, going to parties and having the freedom to be who you are — straight, gay, weird, whatever. But it was never supposed to be dangerous.''
Melendez, a Colombian immigrant who was drawn to New York’s club scene, enjoyed basking in the fame associated with Alig’s inner circle, his family said.
''My brother liked to be around him and the club kids because it made him feel part of an interesting world,'' his brother Johnny Melendez told the Times.
Alig was released at 48 in 2014 after spending 17 years in prison. After nearly two decades behind bars, he became an active force on Twitter and had around 30,000 followers around the time of his death.
Prior to his release, actor Macaulay Culkin portrayed Alig on screen in the 2003 film “Party Monster,” which was based on the memoirs of Alig’s friend, James St. James. Alig was also the subject of the 2015 documentary “Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig.”
He had retreated from the spotlight for much of 2020. Earlier this year, items belonging to the promoter went up for auction on eBay.
“I look just ADORABLE in my mess-hall whites & hair net,” he tweeted in March. “Where are the paparazzi when you really need them? #saycheese"
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