Slayer Guitarist and Co-Founder Jeff Hanneman Dead at 49

Only two years after contracting an extremely rare skin disease, Slayer guitarist and co-founder Jeff Hanneman died Thursday, May 2, of liver failure at a Southern California hospital.

Slayer announced the news Thursday afternoon by posting this statement on the band's website, Facebook page and Twitter feed:

"Slayer is devastated to inform [you] that their bandmate and brother, Jeff Hanneman, passed away at about 11 a.m. this morning near his Southern California home. He was 49.

"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."

Hanneman, an extremely gifted thrash guitarist, has appeared on the cover of Guitar World magazine and was voted one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time by Guitar World readers in 2012. In our Greatest Guitarists readers poll, he earned the No. 85 spot, just ahead of Peter Frampton.

Hanneman hasn't toured with Slayer since early 2011, when he contracted necrotizing fasciitis from a spider bite. Exodus' Gary Holt stood in for Hanneman starting that February. Pat O'Brien joined the band when Holt returned to Exodus in 2011.

After not appearing live with the band since October 2010, Hanneman joined Slayer at a Big 4 concert in Indio, California, in April 2011. He surprised the crowd of 50,000 when he walked onto the stage unannounced and played "South of Heaven" and "Angel of Death." Backstage in Slayer's dressing room, Hanneman relaxed on a couch and said, "I'm the happiest man in the world."

In 2011, Slayer updated fans about Hanneman's health:

"As you know, Jeff was bitten by a spider more than a year ago, but what you may not have known was that for a couple of days after he went to the ER, things were touch-and-go. There was talk that he might have to have his arm amputated, and we didn't know if he was going to pull through at all. He was in a medically-induced coma for a few days and had several operations to remove the dead and dying tissue from his arm. So, understand, he was in really, really bad shape. It's been about a year since he got out of the hospital, and since then, he had to learn to walk again, he's had several painful skin grafts, he's been in rehab doing exercises to regain the strength in his arm; but best of all, he's been playing guitar."

Hanneman was born January 31, 1964, in Oakland, California, and acquired a Gibson Les Paul as a teenager after saving $500.

"Two months after that [in 1981], I met Kerry [King], and that’s how Slayer got started," Hanneman told Guitar World. "I worked in an office building at the time, and this other band practiced in one of the rooms. After work, I’d go hang out with those guys and play, just to learn the instrument. Kerry was actually trying out for that band, but we were more in tune with one another, musically speaking, so we decided to start a group. He also played with Tom [Araya] in another band, and he knew a drummer that lived on his block. So it all just fell together."

In 1984, Hanneman, Dave Lombardo and Suicidal Tendencies' guitarist, Rocky George, had a brief punk side project called Pap Smear. The band was due to start recording when Hanneman was advised to avoid the side project by Slayer's producer, Rick Rubin. Hanneman took Rubin's advice, eventually using two songs from the project on Slayer's 1996 album, Undisputed Attitude.

Hanneman and King perfected a twin-lead guitar style that pushed the band to the head of the thrash metal movement of the early '80s. They have been crowned as one of thrash metal's "Big Four," along with Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth.

Hanneman had performed on every Slayer release and wrote many of the band's best-known songs, including "Angel of Death" and "South of Heaven." His compositions have been recorded by Hatebreed, Children of Bodom, Hellsongs and Cradle of Filth and sampled by Styles-P.

Funeral arrangements are still pending.

Reaction from the rock and metal world

Heavy metal Artists and fans, many of whom were gathered at Club Nokia in Los Angeles for the 5th annual Revolver Golden Gods Awards, expressed their grief over Hanneman's death via Twitter. The Golden Gods show was dedicated to Hanneman.

Here are some tweets; for more reactions from artists and gear manufacturers, head here.

SLASH: Tragic & shocking news about Jeff Hanneman. He is going to missed by so many. What a sad day for Metal. RIP man.

ALEX SKOLNICK: Sad news. RIP JH. He'll be remembered at #GoldenGods

TESTAMENT: R.I.P. Jeff Hanneman, brother in thrash.

HATEBREED: Rest In Peace Jeff Hanneman! A True Heavy Metal LEGEND!

DINO CAZARES: I'm extremely shocked and sad to hear about Jeff Hanneman. He was a huge influence on my playing when I was growing up.

CHIMAIRA: RIP Jeff Hanneman. Icon

GUS G.: Gutted to read the news. RIP Jeff Hanneman :( the music world has lost yet another one of the greats

ROBERT CAGGIANO: Wow... I just heard some really sad news . R.I.P. Jeff Hanneman

MIKE PORTNOY: WOW....I'm in shock...RIP Jeff

JOSE MANGIN: Crushed out here in Cali about untimely passing of Jeff Hanneman @Slayer, the #goldengods will be dedicated to Jeff & his legendary riffs!

IN FLAMES: We are so devasted to hear about the passing of Jeff Hanneman. One of the greatest have passed on and please,...

EDDIE TRUNK: Tragic news of @Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman passing away

DUFF McKAGAN: Jeff Hanneman of @Slayer RIP. Wow. I'm so very sorry for your loss Hanneman family.

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Damian Fanelli
Editor-in-Chief, Guitar World

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas, was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron, a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums. He now plays in two NYC-area bands.