Charismatic, with a four-octave range vocal, immensely talented, and adored by many, Chris Cornell was a unique gem, one of the best musicians of our time. Yet, his demons won over, and he died by suicide in May 2017.
Chris Cornell's death came as a shock for numerous reasons. Most people knew he was a recovering addict with a troubled past. But committing suicide after surviving depression, agoraphobia, alcohol, drugs, and losing so many friends during the grunge era seemed impossible. He was invincible, or so we thought.
To this day, many believe that the cause of Chris Cornell's death wasn't suicide. So, let's take a walk through Soundgarden/Audioslave frontman's life and the theories surrounding his death.
Drug Abuse Before Hitting Teen Years
Like many other rock stars from the Seattle era, Chris had a difficult childhood and started abusing drugs and alcohol before hitting his teenage years.
The iconic musician did not shy away from his destructive teenage years:
"I went from being a daily drug user at 13 to having bad drug experiences and quitting drugs by the time I was 14 and then not having any friends until the time I was 16. There were about two years where I was more or less agoraphobic and didn't deal with anybody, didn't talk to anybody, didn't have any friends at all."
His escape was music. He was kicked out of school several times and finally dropped out at 16. Then, he started auditioning for bands. He always loved music, and as a child, he had taken piano and guitar lessons. Yet, Chris, the voice of a generation, was a drummer in his early career.
Black Hole Sun
Without music and Susan Silver, Queen of Seattle, Chris Cornell's death would probably come much sooner. But dealing with fame and screaming fans was not easy for Cornell, especially amid heroin overdoses in Seattle.
In 1990, Cornell married Susan Silver, Soundgarden's manager, who also managed Alice in Chains. Susan never said it, but those around the couple knew that she was his rock.
The same year when Silver and Cornell tied the knot, Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone overdosed. Chris and Wood were friends and roommates.
Four years later, Cobain killed himself, and combined with constant touring, Chris thought he had no other choice than to go back to drugs and alcohol. His path of self-destruction was well paved, and seemingly, Chris Cornell's death in the 90s seemed inevitable.
When Soundgarden fell apart in 1996, so did Cornell. And the real wake-up call would not come until Layne Staley's overdose in 2002.
Like A Stone
Cornell's rehab and struggling with fertility took a toll on his marriage to Susan (pictured). Susan and Chris started dating in 1985. They finally had a long-awaited daughter, Lillian, in 2000. But, the divorce was unavoidable, so the two went separate ways in 2004.
In 2002, he became a frontman once again to Audioslave.
A year after his divorce, in 2005, Chris married Vicky Karayiannis. In the following years, we saw his becoming a rock'n'roll dad.
Chris Cornell's life seemed to be on a path to recovery. And while everything appeared to be going smoothly, Chris did not shy away from trying to warn the world about the demons he knew everything about.
Talking to Guitar in the mid-2000s, he said:
"You'll think somebody has run-of-the-mill depression, and then the next thing you know, they're hanging from a rope. It's hard to tell the difference. But I do feel that depression can be useful."
Chris Cornell's death by suicide makes more sense when you go through his old interviews. From everything we learned about his life in the final years, Chris did not go back to A list drugs or booze. But, what caused his relapse?
Chris Cornell's Death In A Hotel Room
Just when we thought that all our favorite musicians who survived 2016 were safe, Chris Cornell's death broke like a wildfire.
At MGM Grand hotel, room 1136, after another show in front of adoring fans in Detroit, Chris hanged himself. What people forget at that moment was Chris' words from 2007:
"It was a long period of coming to the realization that this way [sober] is better."
He had two more children with his wife, Vicky, and the couple had a non-profit organization dedicated to children living in refugee camps and victims of human trafficking.
According to his wife Vicky, Chris Cornell's death resulted from prescribed medication in 2016.
The family's lawyer, Kirk Pasich, soon issued a statement:
"Chris, a recovering addict, had a prescription for Ativan and may have taken more Ativan than recommended dosages."
"The family believes that if Chris took his life, he did not know what he was doing and that drugs or other substances may have affected his actions."
And in many ways, addiction killed Cornell, but not in a typical rock'n'roll way.
Timeline Of Chris Cornell's Death
Around 11 pm, Chris and Soundgarden ended their concert at Fox Theatre in Detroit. Cornell and his bodyguard, Martin Kirsten, went to the hotel.
In the hotel, Kirsten gave Cornell two sleeping pills.
Around 11:30, Chris called Kirsten to complain that his TV wasn't working.
Around 11:35, Chris called Vicky. As Vicky later said, he sounded groggy and kept saying, "I am just tired."
Just after midnight, Vicky told Kirsten to check out Cornell, who was not answering his phone.
Kirsten could not open the door, and after several kicks, he got into the room. The bodyguard said:
"I went inside, and the bathroom door was partially opened and I could see his feet."
At 12:56, the hotel medic tried CPR, but Cornell was not responding.
At 1 am, the first responders came to Chris Cornell's death scene. He was pronounced dead at 1:30.
The police arrived at 1:40. At the same time, the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office statement said that Cornell died by suicide.
And that was it. Singer/songwriter, a winner of numerous awards, father of three, beloved by those who knew him, and those who didn't, as gorgeous as talented, iconic from the beginning, met his end.
Chris Cornell's Death Investigation Leaves Many Unsatisfied
While Vicky Cornell is convinced that Chris Cornell's death came from prescription drugs, many have other theories.
If you check any forum or even numerous Facebook groups or Instagram accounts, you will find that the cause of Chris Cornell's death was something way more sinister than suicide.
Some suspicions are justified, but most claim that Cornell was killed because he was essentially hunting down child traffickers.
These theories were fueled when on July 20, 2017, Chester Bennington committed suicide in the same manner as Chris. Ann Wilson of Heart, who was close to Cornell, spoke about seeing Bennington, who killed himself on what would have marked Cornell's 53rd birthday:
"I think they knew each other, and they had probably commiserated. I wouldn't say one made the other happen, but Chris' death affected Chester deeply."
So how did we end up with two dead musicians and millions of pages of conspiracy theories? Apart from their mutual attempts to end the sex trafficking of children, there was a lot of blood on the scene of Chris Cornell's death.
Chris also had fractured ribs and a deep cut on his head. Like Kurt's death, Chris Cornell's suicide still brings more questions than answers.
Many ignore that Chris was taking Ativan, and suicidal thoughts are among the side effects. For someone struggling with depression since childhood, this could have been the sole reason to take his life.
But then again, just like in Cobain's death, writing down "suicide" for someone who was not hiding his addictions was always easy.
The Aftermath Of Chris Cornell's Death
Chris remains one of the coolest, kindest guys in the music industry. There is a sense of closure since Cornell died while touring with reunited Soundgarden.
As millions of fans struggled to understand why Chris died, his family got tied in legal battles.
First, his family sued the doctor for prescribing "dangerous mind-altering controlled substances" to Cornell, "costing him his life." The two parties settled in May 2021.
Vicky Cornell and Soundgarden were fighting, though they called a truce for now. Chris Cornell's widow has been countersued by the late rock star's band Soundgarden over "fraudulent inducement." Vicky sued Soundgarden over royalty fees and the rights to Cornell's songs.
But that wasn't all. Vicky Cornell also had a legal fight with Susan Silver over unpaid child support.
It seems that Chris Cornell's death brought lawyers a lot of work. There are also many provocative social media posts from Chris' coworkers and friends, who chose to be on the side of Soundgarden and Susan Silver.
The only person following in her father's footsteps is Lily Cornell Silver. Her podcast about mental health earned her much praise, and one can only hope that her younger half-siblings will choose this path.
Lily talked about Chris Cornell's death and honored her father by bringing his friends to take openly about addiction, depression, and her dad's demons.
The Anatomy Of Seattle's Grunge Scene
Chris Cornell's death marks a sad ending for Seattle-born musicians who rocked the world since the late 80s. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana all started together, but none of the frontmen are alive today.
And yes, Eddie Vedder is part of the scene, and Pearl Jam is among the most influential bands, but their start came later, after Wood's overdose. If Andy had lived, there would be no Pearl Jam.
Cornell's funeral brought together numerous musicians, most of which Chris worked with over the years. Apart from Brad Pitt and Christian Bale, this was another tragic reunion for Metallica's James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell, Nile Rodgers, and Audioslave bandmate Tom Morello.
But, not even Chris Cornell's death could end the music, lyrics, and the voice he left for future generations.
In memory of Seattle's grunge icons:
Andrew Wood, Mother Love Bone, overdosed in 1990, at 24
Stefanie Sargent, 7 Year Bitch, overdosed in 1992, at 24
Mia Zapata, The Gits, murdered, 27
Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, suicide in 1994, at 27
Kristen Pfaff, Hole bassist, overdosed in 1994, at 27
Layne Staley. Alice in Chains/Mad Season, overdosed in 2002, at 34
Mike Starr, Alice in Chains' original bassist, overdosed in 2011, at 44
Chris Cornell, Soundgarden/Audioslave, suicide in 2017, at 52