SLAYER guitarist Jeff Hanneman passed away at about 11 a.m. today (Thursday, May 2) 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 — who in January 2011 contracted necrotizing fasciitis, likely caused by a spider bite, and has been undergoing surgeries, skin grafts and intense rehab since — spoke to U.K.'s Classic Rock magazine in the fall of 2011 about his recovery which has seen him sit out an entire two years' worth of touring with the band.
Hanneman was kicking back in a hot tub with a couple of beers when noticed a spider bite him on the arm.
"Didn't even feel it," he said. "But an hour later, I knew that I was ill." On his way to the hospital, "I could see the flesh corrupting," he recalled. "The arm was real hot. I got to the emergency room, and thank god the nurse knew straight away what it was. By chance, although it's pretty rare, she had seen a case a little while before. At that point, I was an hour away from death."
Although the spider bite itself was not serious, it had caused bacterial infection in the deeper layers of the skin and tissues of the arm.
"Unbelievably, the doctor was a SLAYER fan," said Hanneman, "First thing he said to me was: 'First I am going to save your life. Then I am going to save your arm. Then I am going to save your career.'"
Hanneman underwent emergency surgery to remove the dead and dying tissue. The doctor was able to save the muscles and the tendons, but the guitarist had a large open wound on his arm. He spent the next two months in hospital, having extensive skin grafts and heavy doses of antibiotics to suppress the infection.
"I had to learn to walk again," Hanneman said: "I hadn't stood up for a month, apart from anything else. The skin grafts were very painful and all the muscles and tendons in the arm where very weak. That was OK, though. I count myself lucky that the nurse and doctor knew right away what had happened to me, because things could have been a whole lot worse."
At the April 2011 "Big Four" concert in Indio, California, Hanneman joined SLAYER onstage for a two-song encore, but he hasn't yet been able to tour again.
In a March 1, 2013 interview with MetalObsession.net's Nick Tevelis, SLAYER guitarist Kerry King stated about Jeff Hanneman's health status: "I don't have an update. I haven't seen Jeff in forever. He's always been a recluse, and he's even been more of a recluse since he's not going on tour with us. But our manager talks to him from time to time and sees him in L.A. just randomly. But I'm far from L.A., so I'm not in that loop. But I guess he's just getting better. It's just one of those things where he can do anything in life. He could be hanging here having a good time with us. He can probably play 'South Of Heaven', but he's not gonna be playing 'Jihad', you know what I mean?! So it's just a muscle memory kind of thing, I guess, at this point."
Asked whether Jeff had been involved in the songwriting process for the new SLAYER album, Kerry said: "It's just all my stuff for now. But I did that just in case, 'cause I don't know what Jeff's intentions are. So I wanted to have SLAYER covered in case he doesn't come to the party. If he comes to the party, then we've got tons of songs."
Regarding whether contingencies had been made in case Jeff doesn't make it back to SLAYER in the near future, Kerry said: "I think Gary [Holt, EXODUS guitarist who has been filling in for Jeff for the past couple of years] is in for the long haul. I haven't really discussed it with him. But he keeps his schedule free when he knows we're on tour. And I'm pretty sure, if Jeff all of a sudden came back in June, we would probably pay Gary for freeing up his time. I don't wanna treat somebody that's bailed us out for two years badly. But if Gary played with us forever? I'm OK with that. But if Jeff got better and said, 'Hey, man, I'm ready to play,' and he came to rehearsal and showed us he was good enough, that's his show."
Speaking with AndrewHaug.com during this year's Soundwave festival in Australia, SLAYER bassist/vocalist Tom Araya stated about Hanneman: "Even though he's not in the picture, he's still part of the picture, It's taken him a lot longer [to recover] than he even thought. He can play and he can work out the material but… It's like everything else, depending on how you are health-wise as a person, that affects how you heal. Even though you haven't seen him live, he's still part of the band."
Pictured below: Jeff Hanneman on April 23, 2011 in Indio, California (photo credit: Andrew Stuart)