Clubs, Hard Drugs and Murder –
Five years since he was released from prison, the former King of the Club Kids and original Party Monster gives London X one of his most explosive interviews yet
DOWNTOWN in New York City, I approach the Rumpus Room – where the infamous Michael Alig runs a weekly club night every Monday. I’ve been stood up twice by him already; the first time was a week ago when he found someone close to him had attempted suicide and had to take them to the hospital (an incident he relayed to be over text as casually as if was merely a bus running late,) and once again earlier in the evening at a Speakeasie that was hidden behind a vault – with no explanation given. But then – I didn’t really expect Michael Alig to be the world’s most punctual interviewee, did I?
To say the man’s reputation proceeds him feels redundant at this point. His story – finding fame and then notoriety – truly is one of the last century’s most shocking and disturbing. In the Nineties, Michael rose to prominence as the undisputed King of the Club Kids, where his wild drug-fueled parties, jaw-dropping costumes and equally colourful lifestyle turned him, and the stars he birthed, into national celebrities. The party couldn’t last forever though and Americans were horrified to see Michael – and roommate Robert D. “Freeze” Riggs – eventually convicted of the gruesome murder of fellow Club Kid Andre “Angel” Melendez in 1996, an act carried out while both were heavily under the influence of hard drugs. Disgraced, Michael spent 17 years in prison. Amidst much controversy, he was released in 2014.
Many might have expected him to disappear from the public eye once he became a free man; move away from New York, perhaps, and live out the rest of his life… quietly? Of course, this isn’t Michael’s style. Instead, almost straight away he returned to the NY party scene, running his own night, the aptly-named Outrage, no doubt relying on the fact people who are fans of Party Monster – the cult 2003 film that portrays Michaels’ rise and fall, starring Macaluey Culkin as Alig – would flock to see the return of the killer club kid.
I wondered if he was right.
Approaching the nightclub, which looks like a run-down strip club/storage centre, I began to feel nervous. Although I’ve set up this interview myself, no doubt partly out of morbid curiosity, Michael is still a convicted murderer. I’m pretty sure I’ve never met a murderer before. I’m not sure it was something I ever felt needed crossed off my bucket list either, but I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t find Michael to be intriguing.
My boyfriend and I – I sure as hell wasn’t going alone – walk up to the bald middle-aged man sitting outside the entrance.
“Is this Outrage?” I ask.
“Is Michael here?”
He grins. “Oh you’re one of Michael’s boys? Head in. He doesn’t arrive until at least midnight.”
We walk in, there’s no queue to skip. Twenty years ago, the line would have been around the block, with celebutante’s falling over themselves to get into the hottest party in town.
Tonight, the club is half empty. A drag queen covered in leather half-heartedly strikes a whip on the ground while trudging through the baron dance floor – where pop hits by commercial acts like Destiny’s Child are being played – not old enough to be retro but also far from current.
We sit down waiting for him, without Wifi (you’re more likely to find King Kong still roaming about than working WiFi in New York; the city that never sleeps – or gets free internet – it seems.)
Admittedly, the club feels depressing. Perhaps on a weekend with better weather in June the place would be more packed, but on this winter Monday, it is surely a far cry from the infamous days of the Club Kid’s reign over the NYC scene.
Twenty minutes later, Michael waltzes in – like he owns the place. And, well, it his night, I suppose.
I go up and introduce myself in person, following on from our emails.
“Great, let’s find a quiet corner to chat in,” he says, all smiles.
This isn’t difficult to do; the club is filled with quiet corners…
We settle down in the back, and my nerves settle, as Michael appears too needy to be dangerous. Offering drinks, waving at the fellow club-goers, he gives off more a vibe of desperate host than notorious figure, but immediately comes across friendly, eloquent and mostly sober, to my relief.
And so, tucked away at Outrage, two weeks later than planned – I finally get to interview Michael, and find out if he’s more ‘Party’ or ‘Monster’ these days.
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Michael, thanks you for meeting me. First of all, I wanted to chat about the legacy of the Club Kids, especially related to you. RuPaul’s Drag Race did a Club Kid runway on season nine but you weren’t included anywhere in the montages. Do you feel like people are trying to erase you out of history?
“I guess it’s more upon them than me, I mean, everybody knows I was part of it, you know? I think the people that matter, they know anyway… So I don’t think they can edit me out of history. It says more about that person making the decision than me. I’ve done things that I wish I hadn’t done, but I can’t erase it. I’m ashamed of some of the things I’ve done but I’m not going to try and hide them. I wish I hadn’t done them, and yes – I’m ashamed, but I’m not going to lie about it.”
And how do you feel about people thinking you haven’t shown enough remorse? Have you forgiven yourself?
“I’m learning to forgive myself. It’s a process. I’ve learned the more I do for other people, the more truly altruistic activities I’m involved in, the better I feel about myself. That’s what life is about, really: helping other people, for the sake of helping them, and not for any other reason. It’s the only time I feel truly good about myself, after I do something for someone – then don’t talk about it. It’s why you rarely hear me in the media discussing something I’ve done for someone… because it would take away the very reason I’d done it in the first place. Remorse is such a personal thing, it’s not for the public, I feel. It’s something I have to experience alone, away from the lights and cameras, which have the ability to otherwise cheapen it. My only comment regarding those who think I am not entitled to return to a public life is – there are so many similar jail birds, so as to create a precedence. As for my job, I’m good at it, it helps other people, and it’s one of the few trades I can put any stock into.”
Have you experienced any negativity since you were released from prison?
“I haven’t experienced any negativity from people since coming home. I know that this negativity exists, enough people have told me it does. But no one will do or say anything to my face. The only bit of negative publicity I did get was from Mark Dummu, and editor at Next Magazine, who tried to instigate a boycott against Lovegun, a club in Brooklyn where we were filming out daily webshow, The Peeew. According to Dommu, they gay community – who he seems to think he represents… were up in arms over this latest outrageous attempt to sneak back into nightlife. Mark called for a Boycott of Lovegun, which never ended up materializing.”
And where does this rivalry with RuPaul come from?
“I think it’s a couple of things. It’s that she felt slighted the day that I met her, it was her and Larry Tee and Lahoma van Zandt at the Pyramid Club. RuPaul was still living in Atlanta at the time, visiting New York, and Larry Tee and Lahoma had already moved to NY to work at Tunnel, but I didn’t hire Ru because she hadn’t moved here yet, and I didn’t know it, but she harboured a resentment ever since that night because she thought I didn’t hire her because she was black. And she told that to Larry Tee, and Larry Tee told me that she wanted to move to New York, and so I convinced the owner of Tunnel to pay for her plane ticket, and convinced them to give her a thousand dollars for her party, and pay her rent for probably two years, and she only had to go to clubs once or twice a week and get drunk. She was a star, like we all were, but the night of her first party she wasn’t very nice to me. I asked Larry Tee why, and he said – oh she hates you. And I said, ‘why did I just waste a thousand dollars bringing her up here then?’ And he told me the story about how she felt slighted. And then, later on, several years later at Disco 2000, one night we were all drunk – we were always drunk, you know… and anyway, she says I made her grovel for her money. I waved money in front of her face one night, I didn’t know that… and I said she couldn’t have the money unless she kissed me, and she bent over and kissed me, and she said that I spit in her mouth. But that’s not what actually happened. I do remember that night. I know people are going to say that I’m quibbling over words, but spit carries a connotation of aggression, whereas, I was actually drooling heavily, and it was more of a passive thing, and I had the drool in my mouth, so the drool wasn’t in my mouth on purpose. It wasn’t a projectile – it was a drool! And I think that’s very different, but whatever.
So ever since then, she continued to work for me, but she hated me. And now she’s become Madonna or Lady Gaga, whatever, and she’s squishing all the bugs in her way getting there. And that’s where the ‘everybody say love’ thing is so hollow to so many people, because it’s so fake. And she’s really evil. She’s not this zen ‘everybody say love’ thing. It’s very calculated and it’s not her at all.”
How did that affect you working with World of Wonder?
“Well, I don’t know if you’ve seen the show I do with Ernie Glam, The Peeew! but we signed with World of Wonder to be on the WOW network, and they were going to produce it and everything and we signed the contract. The idea of the show was, WOW do like 90 shows, and 75 of them are RuPaul-centred, and I told them – you have to have 75 shows that are not about RuPaul, because if you don’t, you’re going to be ‘all-RuPaul-network,’ all the time. And then when she falls, you fall, and you want to last longer than RuPaul! So, they agreed with that, and we agreed the Peeew! has to be the anti-RuPaul show, and we will have our own circle of shows like RuPaul does, and they liked that, but RuPaul did NOT like it. We went with the premise that we were going to make fun of World of Wonder, and to keep it credible, we were going to make fun of RuPaul. We were going to say that RuPaul was the CEO of World of Wonder and she makes all the decisions, and she made us sign a contract that every time I get paid she gets to spit in my mouth, and we would have these obligatory comments of things we would say about Drag Race, rolling our eyes, then a big black masculine hand would reach in to stop us and we would swat it away with a fly swatter. And we thought it was very funny, and WOW thought it was very funny, but RuPaul did not think it was very funny, which kind of shocked me, because it would be like Joan Rivers saying nobody could make fun of her… so we were kind of surprised. And she locked herself in her dressing room, and wouldn’t come out until she was convinced that that contract was torn up. So they called and said, we can’t do this… so then RuPaul is the CEO of WOW… And I said, if we’re going to break this contract then we’re free to say whatever we want to the media, right? And they said, yes you are, but we would rather they didn’t… Well, I am now, but it’s been years… I think it’s OK now.”
OK… What’s happening with Party Monster 2? (a new documentary World of Wonder were working on with Michael and the club kids.)
“Maybe not now. (Laughs.) They’ve done the filming, they need to do a little bit more filming now just to bring it to the present because the footage is kind of old. This is a documentary. They’ve had to do so many, it’s been plagued. The last time they came, the day they landed, we found out that Keoki had been arrested for a dead body in his house (laughs) and there was tonnes of crystal meth and a hundred thousands dollars… it kind of derailed the filming of everything, and then my friend Jane was going to bail Keoki out, so we went to his house to film her going to bail him out and she had hung herself, so she was in a mental hospital. And her boyfriend filmed it and put it on YouTube and showed her kids, and it was like, nobody was paying any attention to Party Monster 2 because they couldn’t really do any filming, so they had to cancel everything and come back. And the time before that James St James and I hadn’t seen each other for a long time and we were out in public, and we were having this arms race of who can be the most offensive when we’re together, and I guess we were so offensive and so awful that we were people that nobody would want to be friends with, so they had to cancel all the filming. Because we were awful, mean and bitchy… we would forget the cameras were on. We looked awful.”
Have you got any other new projects coming out?
“I’ve got a clothing line I would like to get out. I’ve got two sample things, as that’s what I could afford, and I’d like to get more. I would like to get that done. I would like to get one of my books started…”
And what is your relationship with James St James like now?
“Yeah, we’re good.” (On the book – Disco Bloodbath) “It’s the kind of thing that any one of us would have done really. And he did it. In some ways, he made me look worse than I was, but in some ways he made me look better than I was. And he lied about a lot of stuff, because he thought that it wasn’t just enough, what we did, so he had to jush it up so people would pay attention. But if he hadn’t done that, people would have forgotten about me and I’d be washing cars for a living.”
And Party Monster the film?
“I’ve only seen it once, and it seemed kind of one-dimensional to me, I guess because I know me. But I don’t feel any way about it. I guess it brought some good things and some bad things, a lot of young people see it as kind of like a Rocky Horror Picture Show-type thing from another generation, and so my fan base is getting younger and younger which is a good thing, because it means I’ll be dead before they realise it all falls down. So that’s good.”
And have you met Macaulay Culkin? (who portrayed him in Party Monster.)
“I met him before the movie yeah. But not since. I read an article in the National Enquirer that said that he had adopted me, and so I called his manager to find out if this was true, but he said that it wasn’t. But then I read that he was hiring me to manage his band and when I called to find out if that was true – and nobody could give me an answer on that either!
When he was with me and repeating my character-isms, he was doing a very good job, but when the camera was on, he said that Fenton (Bailey, the director) would read the lines to him then show him how to do it, then he’d imitate a British accent, so that’s why it came off like that in the film. And he was a lot more flamboyant than I am, more like Ritchie Rich…
I have a really good idea, to make a movie about the making of Party Monster. And James is coming up with the idea of getting Macaulay Culkin, and me playing Macaulay Culkin. And they can make the mockumentary, and make James look really bad, and make James look heinous and fat. I think it’d be very funny.”
What was it like being released from prison and returning to society?
“In some ways, it’s been better than I was expecting and, in some ways, it was worse. I almost killed myself before I left prison because I felt that I was going to go home to being middle-aged and nobody wanting anything to do with me, and me not forgiving myself, and not being able to get a boyfriend. It’s been better in that I was expecting to come home and feel old and unable to find work and/or love, but in fact I’ve had no trouble finding either. I actually feel a lot younger and more active now than I did five years ago. Being in a place like that can really zap a person’s motivation. It’s been worse, in that I guess in some ways I was expecting to come home and have all my problems fixed. I wouldn’t be sad or depressed or whatever because I’d be home…but those things just followed me. It’s made me realize it doesn’t matter where you are, really. Here, there. It’s all the same.”