The New York club kid spent 17 years in prison for the murder of Angel Melendez
Michael Alig spent almost two decades in prison for manslaughter – his victim was Andre ‘Angel’ Melendez, whose dismembered body was found in the Hudson River in 1996. Alig was released in 2014, a renowned New York club kid who had a heroin-kissed, glittering party career before the gruesome murder, which became the subject of the film Party Monster.
He once found himself in among a cohort that included RuPaul, James st James and Amanda Lepore, and now, Alig is back spending his time on parole in New York city. Though his crime accomplice Robert ‘Freeze’ Riggs has opted out of the party circuit for a life in academia, Alig is throwing parties – he’s claimed in interviews that he’s keeping a ‘low profile’ and working on ‘reinventing himself’. A party at NY’s Rumpus Room, thrown to celebrate his release, was previously trashed as “tacky” and insensitive.
It was recently announced that he would co-host an LA Halloween club party. Sex Cells had booked Alig alongside DJ Keoki (an old partner of Alig’s from the 90s heydays) and Miss Kitten for the October 27 event.
Sex Cells is a queer DJ night that takes place monthly in LA’s Echoplex. When Alig’s appearance was promoted by the club, a petition gained serious traction to have him pulled from the lineup. At the time of writing, it had over 2,500 signatures.
It’s asserted that the petitioners are “concerned members of the LGBTQA nightlife community”. The petition acknowledges that Alig was once a jewel in the crown of NY’s queer clubbing culture, but draws the line under his past of “horrific violence”. Many pointed to the disrespect it showed to Angel and his family, while also glamorising a figure that, for some, represents real darkness.
“We feel that having Michael Alig on the bill for this event sends a message to young and impressionable LGBTQA individuals that sensationalises this act of violence and the drug abuse that led up to it as if these things are acceptable, or even glamorous,” lead petitioner Patrick Waechter writes in the statement. “As concerned members of the nightlife community, we respectfully ask for the promoter and/or venue to consider our request for Mr. Alig to be removed from the advertising of this event as well as to be excluded from performing, speaking, or otherwise being associated with the event in an official capacity.”
“For us, and for many LGBTQA individuals, nightlife spaces are and always should be safe spaces, and nothing else. They are not places where violence is encouraged or romanticised”
“For us, and for many LGBTQA individuals, nightlife spaces are and always should be safe spaces, and nothing else. They are not places where violence is encouraged or romanticised. We cherish and celebrate the sacred and fleeting nature of life. We believe these safe spaces must be maintained, and that any challenge to the nature of positivity and safety must be kept at bay from our nightclubs in order to protect the posterity of our culture, and the lives of our friends and loved ones.”
While the full story has been told from different perspectives, with gruesome details added here and there – Alig and Riggs claim to have been so high on ketamine, heroin, crystal meth and everything else, that they hoped it wasn’t real – some info has stayed constant. 25-year-old Angel was working as a drug dealer, and turned up to Alig’s apartment to settle a dispute over drug money. He argued with Alig, who claimed he got violent. Riggs hit Angel on his head with a hammer, while Alig smothered his face, suffocating him with a sweater. They left his body in a bathtub filled with ice while they decided what to do with him.
Across several reports and accounts from others on the club circuit, the details are hazy: some tell a grisly narrative, that Riggs and Alig partied for days while Angel’s body decomposed in the tub, that Alig injected the corpse with cleaning product. Others say Alig bragged about the killing to anyone who’d listen, though he’s admitted since it was to “share the burden” he felt weighing on him. Details were slipped into Micheal Musto’s clubbing column in the Village Voice, as LA Weekly reports, before the authorities investigated. What’s certain is that Alig dismembered Angel’s body and put the pieces in rubbish bags and a box, took a cab with Riggs and threw the remains in the Hudson River.
They were discovered months later by children on Staten Island, and police took seven months to identify Angel from dental records.
The growing petition and contact with the original venue, Echoplex, led to the event being pulled. Alig’s name was also taken off promotional materials. Danny Fuentes, Sex Cells founder, promoter and Lethal Amounts gallery curator, has since placed the event at a new location.
In a statement, Fuentes told Dazed that he was bearing the brunt of a “coordinated campaign by keyboard warriors who made it a mission to get us shut down”. He added: “In short, my association with Michael Alig made me a target for some individuals who thought the community surrounding my gallery needed saving from my own event.”
“I booked Alig because I liked the idea of the bringing out the original party monster for Halloween and re-creating the magic of the '90s New York club scene (often imitated and never replicated),” Fuentes continued.
Fuentes adds that he was unsure why his event caused particular uproar: Alig has been hosting events since his prison release.
“I at no point made any reference to or glamorised violence what-so-ever,” he says in response to the petition claims. “However, the intention behind my wanting to throw this party was misinterpreted and made to take on a different meaning that is both false, unwarranted and sensationalised.”
Fuentes asserted that as an LGBT man from east LA, who grew up with his South American immigrant parents, he’s been “hustling” for a long time. He describes Sex Cells as a night that “pushes boundaries” and creates a space for the marginalised, standing as an intersectional queer night.
“To me Michael Alig is a legendary personality in counterculture,” he explains. “He is a force behind a phenomenon that launched the careers of many icons and kicked open a new door for disenchanted LGBTQ youth. He helped create a place where you can ditch your negative feelings and reinvent yourself in a positive and creative way. He represented the outsider and welcomed everyone who wanted to partake in the magic. Characters were able to be born in these clubs and blossom into cult figures, including household names like RuPaul, who were very much a part of that very scene.”
“(Michael Alig) helped create a place where you can ditch your negative feelings and reinvent yourself in a positive and creative way. He represented the outsider and welcomed everyone who wanted to partake in the magic”
The promoter continues to say that the party was meant to pay homage to the “positive aspects of Alig’s legacy and the path he paved”, celebrating the club kid movement.
The era of the club kid, across the 80s and 90s, was one of the biggest underground movements side-by-side with punk rock and the glittering Studio 54 days. It was examined on primetime TV talk shows – there’s YouTube videos of Alig, James st James and co populating a daytime programme in outlandish clubbing costume, at odds with the all-American audience. The club kid look permeated fashion, a wave of music, and its scene launched the careers of Chloe Sevigny, Richie Rich and more. Over-the-top and boundary-pushing in its celebration of outcast, it was also a haven for drugs, and many spiralled into addiction – Alig included.
The horrific murder has been depicted in documentaries and the feature film Party Monster, starring Macauley Culkin as Alig. He asserts several details in the film are inaccurate.
In interviews with Rolling Stone and Noisey, Alig has outlined tough years in prison: failing multiple drug tests as he continued to abuse heroin, he spent long periods of time in solitary confinement. He says in prison, he received letters of support from people who, like him, struggled with addiction and suicidal thoughts. Though he has claimed to be clean, he was arrested earlier this year when he was caught with crystal meth. The conclusion of the petition asks: does Alig’s continued use of the drugs that he says facilitated in a “horrible, pre-meditated act of violence and inhumane care for a lifeless body” illustrate a lack of remorse, and an opportunity to hurt again?
With the war against Sex Cells now over and Halloween weekend rolling on, there’s little doubt that Alig will continue to party. Of course, no LA or Manhattan clubs are the once revered Limelight, and the social and political climate is not the neon-soaked 80s or 90s.
“A lot of people think that I’m famous for killing somebody. And in some ways, I am. But since I was 18, (party promoting) is what I’ve done,” he told Rolling Stone in January 2017. “I’ve never really had any other kind of job. I don’t even know what else I would do.”