There's no other way to say it. Jeff Hanneman, legendary guitarist, founding member of Slayer and heavy metal icon, passed away yesterday in a Southern California hospital at the age of 49. He suffered liver failure which is widely speculated to be a complication of his battle with necrotizing fasciitis which he contracted from a spider bite, though there are also reports that his death was unrelated.
Slayer released the following 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)"
Not nearly limited to heavy metal, music fans the world over, of all shapes, sizes and stripes, have become acclimated to the idea of early death. Not because we accept, endorse or encourage it, but because the past has dictated to us that it seems to be a casualty of the medium. Nevertheless, accepting the death in question, even if it's a product of the musician's own actions, never gets easier, as it not only marks the passing of one of our heroes, but is a constant reminder of the fleeting mortality of fame and the brevity of life. On top of this, the randomness of Jeff Hanneman's illness, coupled with the apparent powerlessness of his circumstance, feel uniformly unfair.
Hanneman's death comes as a shock not just because of his age, but because reports generally indicted that his recovery was slow, but progressing. Among fans, optimism reigned supreme, as the functional question, naive though it seems in hindsight, was not "if" Hanneman would return to Slayer, but "when." We as a fanbase had never really even considered the possibility of Jeff Hanneman not surviving. It all seems so distant now. Our saving grace, and perhaps our duty as fans, is that we can make Jeff live forever by listening to the legacy of his music. His solos, his riffs, his art, are emblazoned boldly on every piece of Slayer's music he was ever a part of.
As I look over at my music collection, I see "Seasons In the Abyss" and "Reign in Blood." I want to listen to them. I haven't. It feels too soon.
Rest in peace, Jeff.