Michael Alig is standing on the sidewalk in the middle of the night on New York City’s Lower East Side, his mouth decorated by garish red makeup that messily extends beyond his lips – giving him exactly the look of Batman’s The Joker as he flits from one conversation to the next.
Muffled dance music is pumping from behind the door of the nightclub he just left, and its patrons have spilled out onto the pavement with him, scattered around like reincarnations of his Club Kids heyday memories. There are rainbow platform shoes, glittery dyed hair, a man dressed up in some sort of octopus-inspired, three-foot spray foam headdress complete with what appears to be an altered diving mask on his face.
There are fans who want the autograph of Alig, a man who served 17 years in prison in connection with the death and dismemberment of a drug dealer, and there is also a film crew documenting his reintegration into society. Alig’s old Club Kid friend James St James is inside, author of the book Disco Bloodbath, now published as Party Monster, which was made into a 2003 feature film of the same name starring Macauley Culkin.
St. James is dapperly turned out but reserved inside the Outrage party at Rumpus Room as the music thumps around him and a neon sign screams ‘This is it.’ St. James thinks he’s done with media interviews about the Club Kids glory days, he tells DailyMail.com.
Not so of Michael Alig, who absolutely loves to talk. Especially about himself.
Michael Alig, left, during the heyday of the Club Kids, known for their outrageous outfits on the New York City club scene in the ’80s and ’90s; and right, now 52 and three years out of prison, where he spent 17 years for the manslaughter and dismemberment of fellow Club Kid Andre ‘Angel’ Melendez
Alig now resides in New Jersey but hosts a weekly party called Outrage at Rumpus Room on New York’s Lower East Side, along with fellow former Club Kid Keoki
‘I am like kind of a legend’ at his old high school in South Bend, Indiana, says Alig, just a few weeks before this particular NYC party. ‘There are two teachers there, who in a good way are still teaching, who were teaching when I was there. And those teachers regale their classrooms with anecdotes of having me in their classroom, funny things or whatever. It’s almost kind of like a folk hero…’
‘While I was in prison, I got letters from two of my teachers, just really sweet, wonderful, flowing letters.’
That might seem surprising to many, given that Alig – who was once the darling of the outrageous New York City club scene in the 90s – crashed into infamy in 1997, when he and his fellow Club Kid Robert ‘Freez’ Riggs pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death and dismemberment of Andre ‘Angel’ Melendez. He was killed in the men’s apartment and kept in the bathtub for nearly a week before Alig chopped up his body, stashed it in a suitcase and the pair threw the victim into the Hudson River.
Riggs was paroled in 2010 and Alig was released from prison in 2014.
Now 52, the former Club King gets into a groove when he’s talking about all the people who contact him or want to collaborate with him or fund his creative pursuits, which range, he says, from writing his memoirs to painting to working on a musical and designing a fashion label. He talks hurriedly and breathily about everything he wants to do.
‘There are so many things like that, it’s like my head is spinning,’ he tells DailyMail.com. ‘Because I need an assistant. I can’t like do this by myself. Even just running Outrage by myself is so taxing, and I kind of feel like I’m not able to do anything the way it should be done because there’s only one of me.’
More time, he laments, needs to be dedicated to reaching out to the young people who want his advice or counsel.
He describes ‘waking up and being bombarded with emails and messages and Facebooks … there are literally 1,500 Facebook messages right now waiting. It’ll take me a whole day to go through them, let alone answer them. And people get upset when I don’t get back to them … “We see that you’re exactly the type of person we thought you’d be, ignoring your fans, and you only care about yourself.” It’s very upsetting, I’m not like that at all.
‘It hurts me to think there’s a kid out there, an impressionable 18-year-old from Iowa, who has written to me about something very serious. Sometimes they’re suicidal or they don’t fit in in their school, they don’t know what to do, and they want advice. They’re very sincere. I go through, of course, those kinds of emails. I’ll stop and I’ll take the time to respond, but I can’t go through every one of them. Every once in a while, I’ll go through Facebook, I’ll click on one of those emails and I’ll look at the date and it’s like six months ago and I’ll go, “Is that person dead? Did something happen?” So I’ll like stop everything and try to reach them. That’s a full-time job. Sometimes it takes my whole day.’
His friends and collaborators – such as those working with him on a new musical, he says – have had to ‘come and take me to a hotel and just watch me so that I wouldn’t go do all that, because they know that I’m frantic about it. I don’t want these kids to think that nobody cares or that I don’t care.’
Alig and his friend Robert ‘Freeze’ Riggs pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Andre ‘Angel’ Melendez, pictured, whose body was kept in a bathtub for nearly a week before he was dismembered, put in a suitcase and thrown into the Hudson River
Alig, left, and Club Kid Keoki, right, at Larry Tee’s Love Machine in 1990; they both continue to collaborate on a weekly New York City party called Outrage
Amanda Lepore, left, Rip Taylor, center, and Alig, right, pose in 1995 at New York City hotspot Limelight, housed in an old church and now home to a fitness gym
Alig, right, poses with Club Kids poster girl Jenny ‘Jennytalia’ Dembrow in April 1995 at notorious and now-defunct club The Tunnel
Speaking of musicals, however, he’s happy to talk about an established one already based on his life – Clubland – a 2013 interactive stage adaptation of Party Monster.
‘I think it’s very well done, the music, it’s very catchy, it’s very pop, the characters, they’ve all come to New York to meet me,’ he says of the performers, adding proudly: ‘They melt when they meet me.’
He also describes himself as a ‘mentor’ to the latest generation of club kids in New York, although he insists his weekly party nights at Rumpus Room aren’t ‘really a return to nightlife.’ He does it, he claims, as a favor to former Club Kid DJ Keoki, helping him increase attendance and awareness of the parties.
‘This isn’t my return to nightlife, or whatever; I’m doing so many other things that this is like a side project and something that isn’t going to last,’ he says.
‘There are all these new kids that want it … I’m kind of a mentor, I guess, to them, telling them what needs to be done to make a good nightclub and how you go about it, so it’s at the point now where they can probably take it over themselves.’
He was scheduled to host ‘Sex Cells,’ a party in Los Angeles venue Echo + Echoplex, but the owner of the company behind the venue tells DailyMail.com that the event was cancelled because of a petition to drop Alig – and violent threats.
‘It was very contentious and emotional, and we cancelled it,’ says Mitchell Frank, of Spaceland Presents. ‘I’m not sure; I think it’s been moved.
‘I didn’t book the appearance; it was an outside promoter – so I’m ashamed to say I did not know who it was or who he was when it got booked.’
He adds: ‘We started getting some very vile emails sent to us, and so we just pulled it – because it was a safety issue for the crowd.’
Alig tells DailyMail.com that death threats have been sent to both the club and a Los Angeles gallery where he’s planning an exhibit.
‘The irony, of course, is they’re threatening to kill a person for allowing somebody who supposedly killed somebody to come to Los Angeles – so the irony is apparently lost on them,’ he says.
Danny Fuentes, the promoter and the curator of gallery Lethal Amounts, which hopes to exhibit Alig’s work, tells DailyMail.com the ‘Sex Cells’ night has been moved to a new venue, the Resident in downtown Los Angeles.
Alig, however, is not the type of person who’s easily discouraged, it seems. Aside from the nightlife, he says, he’s been ‘playing bit parts in movies all year.’
He’ll be attending the premiere of one of those independent movies, Scumbag, on Saturday night, he says – though he can’t remember the exact location of the event in Los Angeles.
‘It’s a movie that we filmed last year, and a lot of like underground New York kind of club stars are in it,’ he tells DailyMail.com. ‘It’s a real straight comedy … lots of boobs and rock and roll music – like every time they fight they play rock and roll music, and naked women humor, and stuff like that, which I think is really disgusting, but it’s a living.’
Alig is also writing his his memoirs – so voluminous he claims he’s been told they’ll merit two books – and working on paintings, which he sells via his website. Many of his creative ideas stemmed from his time in prison, especially his years spent in solitary confinement (a punishment imposed for continued drug use), he says – a period of keen self-evaluation, according to Alig.
‘There was a long time when I was in prison that I literally could not look at myself in the mirror,’ he tells DailyMail.com. ‘And I let my beard grow and I never took care of my upper part of my body, because I didn’t want to look in the mirror – and that was because I was afraid of what I was seeing. I was seeing somebody who was so selfish and so self-centered and so egotistical and so lazy – just all of those things that they A.) took another human life and B.) just like was frittering my life away on drugs.
‘That person was so ugly to me that I couldn’t face it – and people think that I was using drugs in prison because I didn’t care, because I was having a party. The reason I was doing drugs in prison was it was the only way I could handle living. It was the only way I could handle looking at myself, because I felt so bad about what I’d done. I couldn’t face it; I was running away from it, I was trying to hide.
‘I thought, there’s no reason for me to stop. Why should I stop using drugs when … I’ll never forgive myself and nobody else will ever forgive me? I’ll never get a job or have a boyfriend.’
It wasn’t until a psychiatrist intervened, he says, that his outlook began to change.
‘As kind of a dare I stopped using drugs, and slowly but surely, those things started coming back to me and I got my life back,’ he says. ‘It made me realize what’s important in my life, and making people happy – there’s nothing more important than that.’
He adds: ‘I realized that the only thing that makes me feel good about myself is when I do something for somebody else that is completely secret and selfless and for no other reason than they’re going to be helped. Sometimes they don’t even know that I did it. In fact, when they don’t know it’s even better.’
Macauley Culkin, right, starred as Alig in the 2003 film Party Monster, chronicling the Club Kid’s rise and fall
Former Club Kid James St James, right, wrote the book Disco Bloodbath, now published as Party Monster, which led to a film of the same name, left
Alig, right, with Amanda Lepore, center, in 1993; he says there is no way he can make up for taking a human life but hopes that service for others will help his karma and save his soul
During his wild Club Kid days – and when he was arrested – he says he didn’t have the same self-awareness he professes to have today.
‘I didn’t know myself, so whatever people said about me in the media, I believed. So if the media said I was a genius, then I was a genius, and if the media said I was a sociopath, then I was a sociopath.
‘I didn’t know myself well enough to know the media doesn’t know me; only I know me and my true friends know, and my friends know that I’m neither a genius or a sociopath. There are continuums to both of those things and people fall kind of between … and that kind of fluctuates, it goes back and forth, depending.’
Waxing more philosophical, he offers his thoughts on the universe all these years after his Protestant childhood in Indiana, agreeing that ‘there’s like a greater energy somewhere.’
‘I don’t believe that there’s a man in a grey beard sitting on a chair making decisions, who’s going to get into heaven … I believe in karma. Science tells me that karma should exist, and the idea of no energy lost tells you that perhaps there is a form of reincarnation. Because when you die, where does your soul go? Where does that energy of you that’s your soul, where does that go? Where does that energy go? It has to go somewhere.
‘My philosophy is, it goes back up into the energy field that is the universe, that is god, and is regenerated in another human living being.
‘That’s probably a very simplified version of it, but at least to me that is something that is believable and possible and it would explain karma, because there has to be a balance of good and evil in order for things to continue going. Otherwise if there was not, one side would eventually win, and it doesn’t seem like one side is anywhere close to winning. It seems like there’s a constant struggle of good and bad and that would make me think that it’s kind of balanced.
‘I feel like I’ve lived a very, very self-indulgent life, and my only hope for salvation both for myself and for my soul and whatever is to spend the rest of my life doing positive things for people. That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun … but there is a charity element to everything I do now, and I don’t talk about it.’
He says he’s learned to accept that some people won’t be able to discount his past crimes and there will always likely be negative publicity.
‘I did a horrible thing, and if part of my punishment is that the media says bad things about me, then so be it,’ he says. ‘You know what? I kind of need to be reminded constantly about what I did. That’s also part of my punishment – as long as the reminding is kind of like good-natured.
‘There’s a way to remind someone of their crime in a way that’s not antagonistic or brutal or whatever, just to remind them: “You did something terrible, don’t ever do that again.” I think that’s the way to do it. I think that’s the way of the universe.’
He says that, by giving back – by donating proceeds from his paintings, for example – he feels he can in some way make amends for his crime.
‘While I’m painting, I know that … some good is going to come out of it,’ he tells DailyMail.com. People are going to be excited to hang it in their house, and the money that it’s going to generate is going to help somebody.
‘All is well with the world, and I go to bed at night feeling like an okay person. So if I continue to do that for the rest of my life, I think I’ll never make up for what I did, because nothing will ever bring back Angel or nothing will ever equal the value of a human life, but as long as I’m going in that direction, that’s kind of all I can do.
‘As long as I’m doing that, I think I’ll sleep well at night and I will not die thinking, “Oh my God, I should’ve done more.”’