Shooting Star

Three years ago, at the pinnacle of their 15-year career, local rock heroes the Meat Puppets vanished from view, after bass player Cris Kirkwood became addicted to cocaine and heroin. The story only gets worse from there.

A police dispatcher immediately called Michelle and Cris' house. Cris answered.

"Yeah," he said.
"Hi, is this Cris?"
"This is Tricia with Tempe police. Is something going on there?"
"Oh, hang on just a second. I'll be right back with you."

Cris never came back on the line. The dispatcher sent two patrol officers to the scene. They arrived, and, when no one responded to repeated knocks, they entered the home through the back door, which was open.

The big-screen television in the living room was on, but the volume was muted. Not five minutes had passed since the dispatcher had talked to Cris, but he was gone. A burst from the officers' police radios alerted them that Cris had two warrants out for his arrest. Otherwise, the house was quiet.

The officers began a room-by-room search.
"The entire house was quite dirty/cluttered and there were large piles of clothing, miscellaneous personal belongings, and housewares stacked in each room," one of them wrote in his report. "When we came to the first of two bathrooms, the light was on and I noticed what appeared to be dark colored excrement smeared on the side of both the bathtub and toilet, and on the bathroom floor.

"Throughout the house, I noticed what appeared to be circular blood spatter patterns on the walls and ceiling. The circular patterns resembled what appeared to be the contents of a syringe being squirted against the walls and ceiling."

The house was littered with used syringes--113 total--and other drug debris: bent, burnt spoons, glass pipes, and "cupcake-type saran wrappers," lightly dusted with cocaine residue.

Michelle's body was in the master bedroom. She was lying across the foot of the bed, clothed only in a white tee shirt. A blue elastic hair band was tightly wrapped around her left arm, just below the elbow. Inches from her left hand were a small baggie with cocaine residue, a syringe, a lighter, and a piece of cotton in a burnt spoon.

"The body was very thin and emaciated, almost having a skeletal appearance," one officer noted. "The pelvic bones protruded grossly from the hip area." The fingers on both Michelle's hands were thin and shriveled. The officers recorded needle marks and sores on her neck, both arms and both legs. Her eyes were open and glassy. She had been dead for several hours. The officers called a detective, who called the coroner's office.

The county medical examiner ruled Michelle's death an accident, because of complications of chronic intravenous drug abuse combined with an overdose of morphine and cocaine. The autopsy found that Michelle was suffering from an infected pulmonary valve, acute bronchopneumonia and severe malnutrition at the time of her death. She weighed 88 pounds.

Two nights before Michelle died, Simone Tardif says, her daughter called her from Tempe. She sounded sick. She begged her mother to wire her $200 immediately. "I said, 'My God, why? Cris has more money than I will ever make.' She just said, 'Please, please.'"

Cris came on the line and reiterated the plea. "He told me he couldn't get any more money from his accountant for a few days, and it was just a passing thing, but they really needed the money right then, not in a few days. He promised he would pay me back quickly. So I sent it."

In so doing, Simone Tardif now realizes, she likely bought her daughter's final, fatal high.

"The sad thing is, Michelle told me she was supposed to go to the Betty Ford Clinic the next week. So you see, I wish I would not have sent the money. She just sounded so weak."

Cris kept his promise. He wired Simone Tardif $200 a week after Michelle died.

We're not a band; we're nasty little microbes eating away on the skin of this big dumb rotting fruit. We're going to plod along like the Galapagos rock trolls that we are. We'll continue to hawk our wares to the voracious consuming public. Then, a few years after that, death.

--Cris Kirkwood, July 1994

Shortly after Michelle overdosed, Curt flew into Sky Harbor Airport. He came only because he had to. In order to clear his name on the false drug charges Cris had tried to pin on him, Curt had to make a court appearance and be fingerprinted. He came only to clean up another mess Cris had made, not to console or help his brother. He'd already tried.

Daily intravenous use of cocaine or heroin, let alone both, sucks the soul out of people. They walk and talk, but like vampires, they're just dark illusions of themselves.

Curt learned this firsthand before his brother's tailspin. Years ago, a woman Curt loved became a heroin addict. "We were together five years before she started doing drugs, and it took me another two to figure it out. By the time I left her, she was already gone. Her personality just vaporized."

When Curt saw his brother in August, he says Cris was still Cris, part of the time. "He'd alternate between being a fiend, and crying a lot, and acting like my bro."

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