Slayer guitaristOn May 2, Slayer fans were devastated to learn that guitarist Jeff Hanneman had died at the age of 49. He passed away in a Los Angeles hospital at around 11 a.m., with his wife Kathy by his side.

Hanneman's official cause of death was liver failure, but in a strange twist, news of his untimely demise has turned to focus on a spider bite he'd suffered two years ago. According to Slayer's spokeswoman, Hanneman had been recovering from a rare flesh-eating infection caused by the bite, and that the infection may have caused the chronic liver disease responsible for his death. Others are theorizing that his liver was damaged from a far more common cause, and that blaming a spider is masking the true culprit.

Slayer's spokeswoman Heidi Robinson-Fitzgerald says that Hanneman had been slowly recovering from necrotizing fasciitis, a brutal flesh-eating infection that nearly cost him his right arm. In 2011, Hanneman himself described the bite (which he saw happen while relaxing in a friend's hot tub) that led to his condition:

Didn't even feel it. But an hour later, I knew that I was ill. 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.

Hanneman had emergency surgery and two months of skin grafts and treatment before beginning physical therapy:

I had to learn to walk again. 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.

Robinson-Fitzgerald believes the bite-triggered flesh eating bacteria caused Hanneman to develop a form of strep bacteria associated with streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, which in turn led to his liver failure. According to this doctor writing for The Daily Beast, however, it's far more likely that Hanneman suffered from "the ongoing silent epidemic of chronic liver disease in the United States": viral hepatitis. Still others wonder if alcohol played a role in Hanneman's death.

So far, neither doctors nor any of Hanneman's family have discussed any details behind the exact cause of his death, and who could blame them? It's really none of our business, and I'm sure the family is far too busy grieving to focus on releasing a bunch of private medical information.

The bottom line is that it doesn't really matter, because it's an enormous loss for Slayer fans no matter how it happened. RIP Jeff Hanneman, co-founder of one of the most pioneering thrash metal bands in musical history.

Were you sad to hear about Jeff Hanneman's passing?


Image via Ozz13x/Flickr