In Tribute: The Complete, Untold Story of Slayer's Jeff Hanneman
The complete, untold story of Jeff Hanneman, Slayer's guitariast for more than 30 years.
Contrary to internet reports of them marrying in 1997, Jeff and Kathryn wed in Las Vegas in 1989 in a simple ceremony consisting of the happy heavy metal couple and the bride’s parents. The decision to marry wasn’t difficult for either Jeff or Kathryn, as they learned over a mid-afternoon breakfast at a local Denny’s a few weeks before heading to Vegas.
“We ordered breakfast and we each ordered a beer, and Jeff was just very quiet,” Kathryn says. “I looked at him and just said, ‘I don’t know what you’re thinking—but whatever you ask me, I’ll say yes to.’ He waited, and then he looked up at me and said, ‘Okay, let’s just fucking do it.’ And I said, ‘Okay, let’s just fucking do what?’ And he said, ‘Let’s just take off and get married.’ I said okay and asked him if he was sure, and he said, ‘Yes, I’m sure. I marry you, I marry you for life.’ ”
Hanneman’s official cause of death was alcohol-related cirrhosis, a result of a lifetime of drinking. “Jeff was always a drinker,” says Lombardo, who left the band (for the third time at least) earlier this year. “He always had a Coors Light tall can in his hand. Always.”
“Jeff and I always drank,” King adds. “They called Steven Tyler and Joe Perry the Toxic Twins. We were the Drunk Brothers.” He laughs. “The difference being that I don’t wake up in the morning and need a beer. Jeff didn’t know how not to drink.”
“We partied and we partied hard,” says Exodus founder—and current Slayer touring guitarist—Gary Holt, who became friends with Hanneman in the early Eighties. “I have a million photos of us back in the day, just hanging out and drinking, beers in hand in the middle of the day at load-in.”
For Kathryn, memories of Jeff and her father bonding over martinis in the evening are still vivid. “About a year or so after we met, Jeff moved in with me and my parents, and my dad would always love to come home and have a couple martinis. And he would offer Jeff a drink and they would sit and have their martinis and play video games. So I have known Jeff to drink from the day that I met him. I never really understood it, but drinking was always very much a part of Jeff’s life.”
Hanneman’s reliance on alcohol was obvious to anyone who spent enough time with him. However, he did manage to stay away from hard drugs for most of his life, except for a few years in the mid Eighties when cocaine use became a common activity for Jeff and Tom.
“You start making a little money, and the next thing you know, it’s there,” Araya says. “It’s readily available and people are eager to provide it. After a weekend binge, you find yourself driving down the 405 at six in the morning—I’m driving, Jeff’s feeding my nose, he’s feeding his nose. And you suddenly realize how easily this could have turned bad. I remember stopping, looking all around us—nobody else on the highway—and I looked at Jeff and said, ‘Man, this is fucking crazy. Look at us. We can’t be doing this.’ And we stopped, threw what we had out the window and never touched it again. He stuck with his alcohol and I stuck with my ‘greenery,’ and we went about our existence.
“We had our vices, but we didn’t let them control our lives like you see with a lot of other bands that are just starting out. That was the one thing that I thought was really cool about us—we didn’t let those things destroy us. We had control of ourselves to some extent.”
The extent to which Hanneman had control of his alcohol intake became questionable in the mid Nineties, when it started becoming more apparent to his wife and bandmates that Jeff was no longer just a hard-partying goofball metalhead from L.A. but a serious adult drinker.
“I would express my concern, and he would back off for a few months—but then he would go right back to drinking,” Kathryn says. “A few years before his dad died in 2008, I did notice that Jeff was relying on alcohol to start off his day. But I couldn’t say much at that point, because I just knew we’d wind up in a verbal confrontation about it. And I’m not going to say I didn’t drink with him—I did drink with him, sometimes quite heavily. I figured if I couldn’t beat him, join him. But eventually I realized that I couldn’t go on like that, and that if I stopped I might be able to help him get away from it too. But I couldn’t. He just relied on it too much to get him through the day.”
His bandmates are quick to point out that Hanneman’s drinking rarely became an issue within the group, though it did creep in on occasion.
“The only thing that comes to mind,” says King, “was when we were on the Divine Intervention tour [in 1994/95], when Paul [Bostaph] was with us, and we wanted to play ‘Sex. Murder. Art.’ live. But on that album I pretty much played everything in the studio, so I don’t think Jeff had ever played that song. And he was just too messed up all the time to learn it, so Paul, Tom and I just did it as a three-piece because Jeff would not come onstage and play it. After that, we said, ‘Listen dude, like it or not, you’re a part of this band, and if we decide to play a song, you gotta play that fucking song.’ ”
On the road, particularly in later years, Jeff spent most of his time on the tour bus after gigs by himself, watching the History Channel or reading a book about World War II. “Jeff was super intelligent about history—World War II became his thing,” says King.
Hanneman, whose German-American father fought as an American soldier in World War II and brought home medals from dead Nazi soldiers that he gave to his son, was morbidly fascinated by the Second World War and Nazi Germany, collecting dozens of German soldier action figures and naming his various dogs and cats after Nazi officials and elements of WWII-era Germany. His own wedding ring was a collectable replica of a skull-emblazoned band worn by high-ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich. While objects connected to this time in history are understandably offensive to many, to Jeff they were just symbols of the same darkness that energizes metal’s imagery.
“Jeff wrote what he wrote,” says Araya. “And people would analyze it and come up with their own conclusions—but to Jeff it was just a song about this or that. There was no deep meaning behind anything. And a lot of the stuff he did, he knew that it would cause a reaction—he knew it would get a response. And if you’re going to make a big stink about it, that’s your problem—that was his attitude about it.”
As the “quiet one” in Slayer, the guitarist never made socializing with fans a top priority.
“He’d stay on the bus for a long time after a show,” Araya says. “And then when the crowds would thin out and all the VIPs were gone—all the wannabes who were hanging out and partying—once they dissipated, he would make his way out and see who was still hanging out. There are people who want to hang out just because it’s cool, but Jeff didn’t want to hang out with those people, so he would wait. If he didn’t like you, he wouldn’t hang with you.”
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