Early life and career
Tomás Enrique Araya Diaz was born in Viña del Mar, Chile, but his family moved to the US when he was five. He grew up in Maywood, California, in what he described as "a bad neighborhood that was pretty gang-oriented." His older brother, Cisco, played guitar. This inspired Araya to pick up bass at age eight. The two played Beatles and Rolling Stones songs, which he would later cite as an influence on his own music.
In the early 1980s, Araya's eldest sister suggested he enroll in a program to become certified as a respiratory therapist. Araya's father insisted he either find a job or enroll in the course. Araya enrolled in a two-year technical course, learning about air mixture ratios, drawing blood, and how to intubate.
In 1981, Araya was approached by Kerry King, who asked Araya to join his band, Slayer. Araya accepted, using his earnings as a respiratory therapist to finance the band's 1983 debut album Show No Mercy. Araya requested time off of work from his employer, the Brotman Medical Center, for Slayer's first European tour in 1984 and was denied; "'We need you to come in today.' They'd call me at 5:00 in the morning and wake me, 'Someone's not coming in, we need you to come in to work.'" After a month of sporadic attendance, his employers threatened termination; Araya replied "Well, I guess I'm fired."
In 2006, Araya underwent gallbladder surgery, which disrupted The Unholy Alliance tour. Originally set to launch on June 6, the tour was postponed to June 13. Araya was also unable to finish the vocals for a song entitled "Final Six," which was to be included on Slayer's 2006 album Christ Illusion; later released on the special edition of the album. Araya brought his children on the tour stating "it's kind of cool to expose them at such a young age. My first concert, I was, like, 17."
"We [Slayer] have been fortunate- fortunate enough to have lasted as long as we have because a lot of bands don't last that long."
On January 7, 2010, Slayer announced on its official website that back surgery had been scheduled for Araya and that the planned tour would be canceled through April of that year. The site assured fans, "Slayer camp working hard to reschedule dates for later this year." Araya is known for his aggressive headbanging and began experiencing back problems while the band was on tour in Australia/New Zealand/Japan in October 2009. Araya had an Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. "The surgeon opened up my throat from the front," he explained. "Apparently it's easier that way. They pushed my oesophagus over to one side and did the repair work. It seems to have done the trick but I can't headbang anymore."
On March 12, 2010, Metal Hammer magazine published an interview with Slayer's Dave Lombardo about Araya's recovery. The drummer stated, "He's recovering extremely quickly and really well. He is just moving forward and doing all the treatments and post operation stuff that he has to go through. He's doing good." On May 20, 2010, Slayer confirmed that they would play two songs on TV for Jimmy Kimmel Live!
As a result of his surgery, Araya has significantly tempered his once aggressive on-stage movement and headbanging; now remaining relatively still during performances.
On June 3, 2011, Araya received the keys to the city of his birth, Viña del Mar, Chile.
In 2014, Araya made a cameo in the heavy metal horror film Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre: The Movie, directed by Joshua Allan Vargas.
Araya's interest in serial killers serves as inspiration for many of his lyrics, including the songs titled "213" about Jeffrey Dahmer and "Dead Skin Mask" about Ed Gein. "I'm trying to see where these guys are coming from so maybe I'll understand. It's always kind of intrigued me…"
Araya wrote the lyrics for the Grammy Award winning song "Eyes of the Insane" from Slayer's 2006 album Christ Illusion. The lyrics were inspired by an article in the Texas Monthly about the casualties of war and the experiences of soldiers coping with physical and psychological trauma. Araya states "At points in their tour of Iraq, they need help and the military tends to ignore that, they kind of brush it under the mat and hopes it goes away. They try to make everything seem hunky dory and fine and dandy, when in actuality there is a lot of stuff going on that people can't handle. There's a lot of soldiers coming home with mental anguish. And the sad part is, we heard about post-traumatic stress after Vietnam and the first Gulf War and the military seems to want to wipe the slate clean with every new war."