Has 'Party Monster' Reinvented Himself? 20 Years After Manslaughter Sentence, Michael Alig Looks Forward
“I don’t want to say I have been demonized — because I did something terrible — but that is not all I have done. I have done other things too.”
Twenty years after he was convicted of manslaughter, the so-called "Party Monster" Michael Alig says he’s trying to reinvent himself.
It’s now been more than two decades since he was at the helm of New York City’s most prolific set of partygoers, The Club Kids. They appeared on talk shows, wore wild costumes and threw drug-fueled, over-the-top parties at various boundary-pushing Manhattan hotspots.
But in 1996, he gained notoriety for a different reason when he and his roommate Robert “Freeze” Riggs killed their drug dealer, Andre “Angel” Melendez. Alig would later cut up Melendez’s body, put it in a box and throw it into the Hudson River. He’d also talk openly about the killing in an effort, he now says, to put the burden on someone else.
On Oct. 1, 1997, Alig and Riggs pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 to 20 years each. Three years ago, Alig left prison.
Today, the 52-year-old is still recognizable to many as “The King of the Club Kids.” While Riggs has since turned his back on their partying days — instead opting for a life of academia — Alig continues to throw club nights that attract admirers.
Still, he insists he’s much more that just a party promoter, claiming to live a quieter life in which he writes, creates art and works with a charity that helps young people in Chicago.
“I want to balance the scales,” he told InsideEdition.com in a recent interview. “I know that nothing I ever do is going to erase the past.”
In 1984, an 18-year-old Alig came to New York City from South Bend, Ind. While attending Fordham University, he discovered the nightlife of downtown Manhattan.
It was life-changing. Alig, who is gay, felt more at home in New York City than he did in South Bend. The student who didn’t quite fit in Indiana was finding his niche in the Big Apple.
“New York City is the city where all the misfits go,” Alig said. “They are celebrated for what made them misfits. Nightlife is a more concentrated version of that.”
In 1987, Andy Warhol, who had been the master of New York City’s nightlife trends for decades, passed away. In a cover story for the city’s culture newspaper, The Village Voice, journalist Michael Musto declared his passing as “The Death of Downtown.”
And there, Alig saw his opportunity.
“When Michael started, he was reckless and bratty and fun,” Musto told InsideEdition.com. “I liked his charisma, I liked his club parties and I liked the way he liked to shake up the bourgeoisie and the banality and get attention for himself — though that eventually led to a spiraling.”
By the early 1990s, Alig was throwing bashes at the city’s hottest clubs and even on the street. During these “Outlaw Parties,” a flash mob dressed as aliens or bondage-clad clowns would throw an impromptu party on a subway platform, at a doughnut shop or in a Times Square Burger King.
But Alig’s most outrageous gatherings took place at the Limelight, a former church that was converted into a nightclub with an “anything goes” dress policy. There was reportedly an excess of alcohol and drug use among revelers. According to Musto, the parties got so out of control that someone once drank their own urine on stage and when a man’s prosthetic leg once fell off, a woman in the crowd “made love to it.”
(A Man Painted in Gold, Wearing Knee High Silver Platforms, Partying at Limelight in 1990s - Getty)
The festivities were drawing thousands and would help launch the careers of musician Moby, actress Chloe Sevigny and designer Richie Rich.
“He attracted Club Kids mixed with older people and it was a mix. Some underage, some on drugs — some of them were not. There was a hedonistic, escapist feeling in the air,” Musto said.
But the harder and wilder Alig partied, the more the drugs took hold.
(Alig, far right, Partying with the Club Kids at the Limelight in 1990s - Getty)
“Michael had charm," Musto said. "He was very brilliant, he had charisma, he was fun to hang out with but he had that dark side. The club kept hiring him. I kept going to his parties. We all sort of enabled it in some way.”
Musto found himself celebrating Alig on talk shows. “I would say that nightlife is a wonderful place for all LGBT youth who can find a home here and work here,” he recalled.
But he was also there to tell Alig when he went overboard, “which was often,” Musto said.
In 1996, Alig’s meteoric rise would come to a screeching halt.
In March that year, 25-year-old drug dealer Angel Melendez went to the apartment Alig shared with Riggs to settle a financial dispute, according to investigators. When he and Alig got into an altercation, Riggs hit Melendez in the head with a hammer. Alig then took a sweater and stuffed it in his face until he suffocated. Alig and Riggs argued it was self-defense.
(Angel Melendez at Limelight in 1990s)
The roommates stashed Melendez’s body in the bathtub and poured cleaning products over it.
They used “whatever our drug-addled minds thought would cover up any scent or odor,” Alig now admits.
“We didn’t know what we were doing and making snap decisions — none of them good," he said.
Alig said he is not blaming the drugs for what happened.
“I was sober when I decided to take drugs and I have to take responsibility for everything that happens while I was on them,” he said. “We were not in our right minds. We were just making bad choice after bad choice and making the problem worse when we were trying to make it better.”
After covering the body with Draino and baking soda, they left the scene.
In the week they spent away from their apartment, Alig said that he and Riggs tried to kill themselves by taking as many drugs as they could.
“I said, ‘I am going to do more heroin until I get to a point where I either can take care of this or die,’” Alig recalled. “We were just so wrecked with pain and guilt and misery.”
They eventually returned to their apartment. Alig said that he and Riggs had hoped they would find Melendez either awake or no longer there.
“Honestly, we were hoping that we would go to bed and wake up the next day and it would be a dream,” Alig said.
But of course, that was not the case. They decided to get rid of the body, which had started to decompose in the bathtub.
In the years since the killing, rumors have circulated that Alig injected Draino into Melendez’s veins and they partied in the apartment while the body was still there. Alig became frustrated as he told InsideEdition.com those rumors are not only false but suggest there was a “callousness” to his grisly crime.
“Things like that upset me," he said. "They add an aura of sinisterness and darkness. It’s already a terrible — it’s already a dark situation. That specific thing changes the story from something that possibly could be forgivable by certain people to something that maybe isn’t so forgivable, because it’s like, there’s premeditation and there’s like malice, and that bothers me.”
Instead, Alig, who said he had taken heroin, cut up the body with kitchen knives and put it in a box, which he and Riggs carried to the trunk of a taxi cab. A short ride later, they tossed it into the Hudson River.
“Everyone was giving them drugs and this is what it came to,” former NYPD detective Tom Comis, the lead investigator in the case, told InsideEdition.com.
Soon after the killing, with Melendez nowhere to be found, those who frequented the nightlife scene started hearing about what had happened.
“I told my friends,” Alig said. “I felt like I was sharing the burden of responsibility. Now, like, it wasn’t just me that had this awful secret — now my friends did too. It was a little bit of weight off my shoulders.”
The chatter about what had happened to Melendez even reached Musto.
“I heard it with such vehemence,” he recalled. “And I thought, 'You can’t really say that Michael Alig isn’t capable of this. He had gotten so messy.’ [He] did have that seed of darkness that obviously had spiraled without boundaries and with more and more drugs through the years.”
Musto shared the rumors in a blind item column for The Village Voice with the headline “Nightclubbing.” The story, which did not name anyone but detailed the horrific events, was picked up by much of the New York media.
Meanwhile, Melendez’s family was growing concerned that they had not heard from him. Believing he was missing, they posted flyers offering a $4,000 reward for information on his whereabouts.
Speaking to Inside Edition in 1996, his brother, Johnny Melendez, recalled how he finally learned that he had been killed.
“I spoke to a bartender and I said, ‘Listen, I am looking for my brother. My brother they call Angel.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I know Angel.’ I go, ‘Do you know where my brother is?’ He goes, ‘Your brother is dead. They murdered him,’” he said.
Musto said that Melendez was well known on the scene.
“Some people liked him and some people loved him,” he said. “Angel’s family came from Colombia to New York when he was 8. He found a home in the club scene. Yes, he was dealing drugs but [he] wasn’t a bad person.
“When he was missing, it was extremely tragic and gave more credence to obviously what we have been hearing.”
Melendez's brother filed a missing person's report. But Comis said authorities could only act on the rumors once a body showed up.
On April 12, Detective Comis and his partner Ralph Gengo were called to Staten Island after a group of young boys found a box containing a legless body. Comis said he initially thought it might have been thrown off a ship on the Hudson River.
“This was unique. I didn’t expect to find a body wrapped in plastic in a box,” Comis said. “I didn’t expect it. The kids who found it didn’t expect it.”
It took the medical examiner’s office seven months to identify the body as Melendez using dental records. After the announcement, Comis said Alig and Riggs became prime suspects.
“Michael was a suspect from the get-go. He has a big mouth and was telling everyone,” Comis said. “He was a dangerous man due to his drug use. People would tell me he could do more drugs than anyone they have seen in their entire life.”
In December, after the body had been identified, Comis and Gengo arrested Alig in a New Jersey hotel room. Comis said that Alig had been under surveillance because authorities were afraid he was going to take off.
Gengo brought him to central booking in Manhattan while Comis picked up Riggs outside of his job in the Fashion District.
“If I went to Robert Riggs from day one, the case would have been closed,” Comis said. “As soon as I touched his arm, he was spilling his guts. He was telling me how happy he was that it was over.”
(Robert "Freeze" Riggs at Limelight in 1990s Before Conviction)
Alig was 31 and Riggs was 29 when they were each sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison in October 1997.
''For you, the party is over,'' Justice William Wetzel of New York State Supreme Court told them at the sentencing.
Riggs remained in prison in upstate New York until 2010, when he was released for good behavior. Alig remained behind bars until 2014. He spent five years of his sentence in solitary confinement.
As part of their parole, they are not allowed to communicate with Melendez’s family.
“If [Melendez’s family] wanted to contact me, I would be very open to anything they would want to contact me about because this isn’t really about me, it’s about them,” Alig told InsideEdition.com.
Since their release, Alig and Riggs have returned to a different New York City than the one they left. The Limelight has closed and is now a gym, pizzeria, and Chinese restaurant. The Twin Towers have fallen and One World Trade Center stands in its place. The clubland world they were apart of is gone.
“Once Michael was convicted and sentenced, it was extremely uncool to be a Club Kid,” Musto said. “A lot of people [who] used to run around with lunchboxes and apocalyptic makeup had dropped it for more of a conservative look.”
Alig and Riggs have taken different paths since they left prison.
Riggs has immersed himself in his studies and is working on getting his sociology Ph.D. at New York University. He has not responded to InsideEdition.com’s request for an interview.
“I wish I could say I’m surprised but Freeze is really intelligent,” Alig said. “He’s smart, different kind of smart than me. I’m more smart like a PT Barnum and he’s smart more like an Einstein smart. Like he’s very book smart. I’m proud of him and jealous at the same time.”
As Alig pushes forward with his own life, he said he is haunted by his past.
“When I see footage of me from back then, and how flippant and kind of — not exactly mean, but maybe arrogant — and it makes me cringe, honestly, and I feel like I have a lot of making up to do. I’m trying to do things like painting now and I’m writing,” he said.
But he hasn’t quite left the spotlight behind. In his time back, he has adapted to social media, has a YouTube show and has become an artist. He also promotes a weekly party in the Lower East Side.
Alig, who still carries a metallic lunchbox like the Club Kids once did, promises the weekly party at the Rumpus Room is the only club promoting he’s doing.
“It is not the focus of my life. I’m doing other things that are much more important to me,” he said. “Any project I take on, I’m gonna make it important but I certainly wouldn’t say [promoting] defines me.”
Alig, who says he’s now sober, said he only returned to promoting after his longtime friend and former Limelight DJ, Keoki, asked for assistance to attract people at the club.
His parties at the Rumpus Room every Monday night are a far cry from the debauchery that was associated with his festivities at Limelight.
At a recent night at the club, there were a handful of people lounging around. It’s an intimate setting, with a few fog machines, laser lights and industrial music. But there are still touches of the bizarre. On the ground in the back room, a man was wrapped in a plastic bag and carpet with a sign asking to be stepped on by women’s high-heeled shoes.
Alig and the club doorman say it heats up as the night goes on before closing time at 4 a.m.
Since leaving prison, the former “King of the Club Kids” has found himself with a cult-like following of fans, one of whom got Alig’s prison number tattooed on their wrist.
“Role models aren’t necessarily all positive,” Alig said. Instead, they can set an example of what not to do, he said. “It could be more of a cautionary tale role model.”
He says his experience in prison he has made him less selfish and more aware of those around him. He’s been quietly involved with Youth Communications, a Chicago-based charity that helps young people in the city learn journalism and express themselves in the arts.
Rachael Cain, vice president of Youth Communications and a friend of Alig’s from the Club Kid days, said she wanted to give him a chance.
“I think he deserves a chance to help the youth. It would be a great thing for his following to to not see him as the ‘Party Monster,’” she said. “I want to turn it around and make it positive. We can’t hide it, we can’t erase the past but we can push forward.”
Cain says she hopes her friend “remains on the straight and narrow” and “wants more than anything for Michael to succeed.”
For Musto, it’s not so easy to forget.
“Nightlife attracts people on the edge,” he said. “Some people were not loved enough as kids, we all come together and create a family. It attracts people on drugs in many cases. There have always been scandals.”
But “when you get to a case of killing and dismembering someone, it is a different type of scandal,” he said. “It is horrifying. It is the most horrifying thing I have covered.”