Riki Rachtman Recalls Legendary Action Park Visit With Alice in Chains
It was the most dangerous water park in America. New Jersey’s Action Park — or “Traction Park,” as the locals notoriously nicknamed it — promised adventure, “big things for little kids to do,” and the grandest water attractions in the world.
But it was known for bumps, bruises, dislocated shoulders — and worse. There were so many injuries the park had its own ambulances. Tragically, there were also deaths. Three drowned in the wave pool. One was thrown from the Alpine Slide onto rocks the park had been told to remove. One was electrocuted after falling into the water on the Kayak Experience.
Longtime MTV VJ Riki Rachtman, former host of the metal show “Headbangers Ball,” knew nothing of the perils of the park when he was assigned to do a live broadcast there in 1993 with special guests Alice In Chains. But he was up to the challenge, and Alice in Chains were the right band to experience it all first-hand, bringing swimmies and goggles to the shoot.
“There was never a band that was more fun to do anything with than Alice In Chains,” Rachtman tells Variety. “They would always do something goofy, whether it’s being in a mansion with robes and ascots or everything that we did at Action Park. That episode of ‘Headbanger’s Ball’ is the most asked-about episode ever.”
Rachtman — who now hosts two podcasts, The Triple R and Riki Rachtman’s Cathouse Hollywood Podcast — was surprised to see footage of that day featured in the Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott documentary, “Class Action Park,” when it debuted on HBO last month.
Rachtman — currently on a cross-country motorcycle trek raising money for the Alzheimers Association — took a moment to pull over and reflect on that day in Action Park, and what he hopes to do with the unseen outtakes and footage that the documentary missed.
Before the documentary was released, did anyone tell you that they were going to use that all footage or how much involvement?
I had no idea! And when somebody told me, I thought it was just for a second — but I am in it way more than I thought I’d be — and I was like “Really?” Because right about the same week, I had just found a video of all the unedited footage of the “Headbangers Ball” that we shot there, which I was going to eventually post on YouTube.
Did you shoot it around the time Alice In Chains played Lollapalooza in the summer of 1993?
I have a feeling it might’ve been after that, but I don’t really remember. We did stuff with Alice In Chains quite a bit. All we did was have fun — nobody ever said, “Let’s not do that.” We were all reckless, just kids just having fun. And because we had the camera crew, we didn’t have to wait in line. So we’d go to the front of all the lines, film a segment, get on a ride and then go onto another ride. And [at Action Park], we could do whatever we wanted in a place where people did whatever they wanted!
Were you aware of the park’s reputation?
Remember, I’m from Hollywood, so I’d never heard of Action Park — I remember being in Hollywood and they said “We’re going to shoot at Action Park tomorrow morning,” so I had to take the red-eye and go right to the park. It was pretty nuts. I never heard any of the bad things, or about anybody dying at the park. I just remember being on this chairlift and looking at the [Cannonball] Loop, and I was like, “What the hell is that?” And they said, “Actually, it’s closed down. Somebody broke their nose on it.” I said, “Somebody actually tried it? This has got to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever: How can you make a water slide with a loop? There’s no way you can’t get hurt on it!” I was really thinking this can’t be safe, but I did them all.
What do you remember most about that day in filming with the band?
I remember us doing the one thing where you get on little mats and you [go down a slide] really fast, and me and Layne [Staley] and Jerry [Cantrell] were racing, and one of the security guys fell and we flew all the way to the safety wall, and that is the footage they used in the movie. I remember sumo wrestling with Jerry. From what I understand, once I posted something on Twitter about it, the producers said that was the craziest day at Action Park.
Is the newfound attention blowing your mind?
It’s awesome, and I’m going to do a podcast about it. I’m going to show all the video footage that I shot. I’m not sure which podcast that’s going to be on yet, but it’s going to be on my YouTube channel, which I haven’t really done that much with. And I’m just going to do intros and outros to segments and talk about behind the scenes and then play a bunch of unedited stuff, which is really fun because it shows the band doing what they did: Alice In Chains was nothing but a fun band off camera.