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RIP Jeff Hanneman: Slayer Guitarist Is Dead

Jeff Hanneman
Jeff Hanneman

Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman has died.

The cause was liver failure; he passed at an area hospital near his home this morning.

He was 49.

Hanneman has not been active in Slayer for the last few years, since suffering a flesh-eating bacteria from a spider bite. No word yet if that caused any complications leading to his death.

Though not the most famous member of the group, Hanneman was the real deal, arranging the majority of the songs on the group's masterpiece Reign in Blood.

Hanneman was one of the founding members of Slayer in 1981, along with front man guitarist Kerry King and drummer Dave Lombardo.

Early on the trio added Chilean bassist Tom Araya, making a name for themselves playing Iron Maiden and Judas Priest covers at Southern California clubs and parties.

Slayer first received buzz in the underground when Metal Blade founder Brian Slagel saw them open for Bitch, inviting them to record an original for his Metal Massacre III compilation.

See also: Our Metal Blade Records oral history

Jeff Hanneman, left
Jeff Hanneman, left

The band acquired much of their militarist imagery from Hanneman. His father was a World War II veteran, while both his brothers served in Vietnam. Thus, Hanneman acquired an interest in the military from a very early age.

Slayer's controversial National Socialist lyrics and imagery also stemmed from Hanneman. While still a boy, he was presented with medals that his father looted from German corpses during World War II. He continued to collect Nazi paraphernalia throughout his entire life, an obsession that he shared with Lemmy of Motörhead. Along with the rest of the band, Hanneman denied that they were promoting fascism, explaining that it was just an interest.

Slayer tops our greatest metal albums list

Slayer did not have a strict line between a lead and rhythm guitar player. This lead to a lot of interplay between the two guitarists that was often chaotic and wild, leading to legions of imitators, with few who could duplicate either's style. His interest in punk rock and the early days of heavy metal led to the band recording Undisputed Attitude, their collection of punk rock covers released in 1996.

Along with Araya, Hanneman was a long-time addict of prescription pills and cocaine. In a 2004 interview with the website Rock N Roll Experience, he said, "This can only lead to death." He kicked the pills and the coke, but continued to drink, he said.

After the spider bite, he was unable to tour with Slayer in 2011. Slayer played the dates without Hanneman, using Gary Holt of Exodus as a temporary replacement. There were conflicting reports as to whether or not the band would continue without Hanneman permanently. Said King in an interview with Metal Obsession (above), "I think Gary [Holt] is in it for the long haul."

At the time that Hanneman and Slayer first got started, heavy metal had not progressed far beyond the furious pitter-patter of bands like Motörhead and Judas Priest. On early albums such as Show No Mercy and Haunting the Chapel the band hinted at the shape of metal to come.

It was on the band's first collaboration with Rick Rubin, Reign in Blood, that the band moved past top shelf Venom worship and into something truly unique. That album was at the top of L.A. Weekly's survey of the greatest metal albums in history.

Their intensely brutal, heavy style of thrash would pave the way for the death metal and thrash that would close out the decade. Virtually every band playing the faster and heavier styles of metal that came to dominate referenced Slayer as a key influence.

Additionally, through their collaboration with Rick Rubin, the band beat a path for their contemporaries Megadeth and Metallica into the mainstream.

Hanneman is survived by a wife and sister (both named Kathy) and his brothers Michael and Larry.

Slayer's official statement:

Slayer is devastated to inform that their bandmate and brother, Jeff Hanneman, passed away at about 11AM this morning near his Southern California home. Hanneman was in an area hospital when he suffered liver failure. He is survived by his wife Kathy, his sister Kathy and his brothers Michael and Larry, and will be sorely missed. Our Brother Jeff Hanneman, May He Rest In Peace (1964 - 2013)

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