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.
“That’s when things really started to go downhill for him,” Kathryn says. “It was probably the hardest thing he ever had to face in his entire life. When I met Jeff he didn’t have all that great of a relationship with his father. But as time went on they became very close. So that took a toll on him. He was never quite the same after that. I just don’t think he cared anymore.”
It was also around this time that Jeff was quietly battling an arthritic condition that had been progressing over many years and was now beginning to worsen to the point of interfering with his playing. “His ability to play was slowly deteriorating,” Araya says, “but he didn’t let anybody know that. We could just tell that things were going wrong. It was becoming hard to get stuff out of him. He was very proud and didn’t want to make anyone worry about anything. Jeff would show up and play, and he didn’t want anyone to know or worry about what else was going on with him. He tried to be really strong and sometimes that can weigh you down.”
“You would notice it in his hands and a little bit in his walk,” Lombardo says. “It seemed like he was struggling with his playing—it wasn’t fluid. You could hear it in the leads. His playing just wasn’t as tight as it could have been.”
According to Kathryn, uric acid buildup from alcohol consumption no doubt contributed to Jeff’s arthritis, but there wasn’t much she could do about either problem that was plaguing the guitarist. “We took him to a specialist and got him diagnosed,” she says. “But as you can imagine, Jeff didn’t want to deal with any medication to help the problem. Jeff wasn’t a pill popper. When I would see him take an Aleve, I would know that he was in extreme pain from the arthritis and the Aleve would help him get through rehearsal or whatever he had to do. He dealt with that for many, many years.
“Doctors wanted him to stay away from three of his favorite things—beer, red meat and peanut butter—but Jeff was going to do this his way, and he would just deal with the pain on his own terms.”
In January 2011, an incident occurred that many would later assume was the cause of his death but wasn’t. Jeff was bitten on his right arm an insect that was carrying a flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis. Reports circulated that it was a spider that bit Jeff, but that was never confirmed. Whatever bit him, it was enough send the guitarist’s life into a tailspin.
“Jeff had been visiting a friend in the L.A. area,” Kathryn says. “He was in the Jacuzzi one night relaxing, and he had his arm over the side, and he felt something, like a bite or a prick. But of course he didn’t think anything of it. He came home about a week later, and he was pretty well lit when he came through the front door. He wasn’t feeling well, and he just wanted to go upstairs and go to sleep. Before he did he said, ‘Kath, I need to show you something, even though I really don’t want to.’
"And he took off his shirt, and I just freaked out when I saw his arm. It was bright red and three times the normal size. I said, ‘Jeff, we need to go now. We need to get you to the ER.’ But all he wanted to do was go to bed and sleep, and I knew that I was trying to rationalize with a very intoxicated person. So there was nothing I could do that night. But the next morning I convinced him to let me take him in. He didn’t have a lot of strength, but I was able to get him into the car.
“When we got to the hospital in Loma Linda, they took one look at him and they immediate knew what it was, so they took him right in. Jeff told me to go home because we both knew he’d be there for hours and neither of us thought it would be a life-or-death situation. About three or four hours later, Jeff called me and said, ‘Kath, it’s not good. They may have to amputate. I think you need to come back here.’
"When I got there, Jeff was on the stretcher waiting to go into surgery, and the doctor put it in perspective for me. He said, ‘I need you to see your husband. He may not make it.’ The doctor looked at Jeff and told him, ‘First I’m going to try to save your life. Then I’m going to try to save your arm. Then I’m going to try to save your career.’ And looking at Jeff on that stretcher and possibly saying goodbye, knowing that I may never see him again…”—she pauses—“…was one of the hardest moments of my life.”
The next few days for the Hannemans could only be described as nerve-wracking. Jeff was in the ICU in an induced coma after the initial surgery and breathing through a tube, his arm, for the most part, intact. Doctors attempted to remove the breathing tube at one point, but Jeff was unable to breathe on his own. Finally, after about the fourth day, the tube was removed and Jeff was breathing again. Her husband was alive, but as soon as they removed the bandages from Jeff’s arm, Kathryn knew the road to recovery would be long.
“I’ll never forget it—I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” she recalls. “All I could do was look up at the doctor and say, ‘How the hell do you fix this?’ And he said, ‘You know, Mrs. Hanneman, you’d be very surprised.’ And at that moment I had all the faith in the world that this doctor could fix his arm.”
Back home soon afterward, Jeff could begin the process of rehabilitating his arm in the hopes of regaining his ability to play guitar. The next few weeks saw more surgeries, staples and multiple grafts using skin from his left thigh. Wound-care suction devices were on hand to draw out the infection and help the skin grafts take. Physically, Jeff’s arm was on the mend. Emotionally, however, he was struggling. Depression was setting in.
“I couldn’t get Jeff to go to rehab or therapy,” Kathryn says. “I think he was letting the visual of his arm get to his emotions, and it was messing with his mind. It was hard to keep him upbeat at that point.
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