Remembering Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington


Christ Cornell (left) and Chester Bennington (right).

This week serves as a sad reminder of two incredible rock stars we’ve lost. July 20th is both the death anniversary of Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, and the birthday of Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and Audioslave. Both artists died by suicide four years ago, and both left a mark on the music industry that will never be forgotten.

The Legacies They Left Behind

Chris Cornell

Most rock fans recognize these names immediately, and if they don’t, they know the bands they were both in. Starting with Chris Cornell, the Seattle grunge-rock artist began his career in 1984 with the formation of Soundgarden. Along with other bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, and others, Soundgarden helped establish the grunge rock scene in Seattle. In 1989 the band signed with A&M Records, becoming the first grunge band to sign a major label. Five years later, Soundgarden released their fourth studio album, Superunknown, becoming an instant classic, especially with singles such as “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun.”

The band went on a 13-year hiatus starting in 1997, where Cornell would pursue a solo career. Before the breakup of Soundgarden, Cornell recorded an album in 1991 with members of what would be Pearl Jam for a one-time project called Temple of the Dog. The album was a tribute to Andrew Wood, former lead singer of Mother Love Bone, who also happened to be Cornell’s former roommate. Wood died just days before Mother Love Bone’s debut album, Apple. The third and final band Cornell would be a part of would be a supergroup known as Audioslave. Starting in 2001, the band would consist of Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, as well as Brad Wilk of Black Sabbath. Like the rest of his projects, this band would also become a massive part of the alternative music scene in the early 2000s.

Christ Cornell. Photo Courtesy of Andreas Eldh via Flickr.

Unfortunately, Cornell struggled with drugs and alcohol for most of his life, being subjected to it at a young age. Along with that, the singer struggled with depression for most of his life, even admitting to being self-described as a loner as a teenager.

“It’s not like you go to your dad or your doctor and say, ‘Yeah, I smoked PCP, and I’m having a bad time.’ So I became more or less agoraphobic because I’d have flashbacks,” Cornell said in a 2006 interview. “From 14 to 16, I didn’t have any friends. I stayed home most of the time. Up till then, life was pretty great… I never did any drugs until my late 20s. Unfortunately, being a child of two alcoholics, I started drinking a lot, and that’s what eventually got me back into drugs. You often hear that pot leads to harder drugs. But I think alcohol is what leads you to everything because it takes away the fear. The worst drug experimentation I ever did was because I was drunk and didn’t care.”

Cornell would reunite with Soundgarden in 2010 while still pursuing his own solo career. During the latter, Cornell appeared on several tours supporting the bands, such as Aerosmith in 2007 and then Linkin Park in 2008. Cornell would be featured on the Main Stage of the Linkin Park Projekt Revolution tour. During this time, Cornell and Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington would often collaborate on several songs both on and off stage, including “Hunger Strike” and “Crawling.”

On May 18th, 2017, Cornell’s bodyguard found him unconscious in the bathroom of his hotel following a Soundgarden performance at the Fox Theatre. It was later determined that Cornell committed suicide by hanging at the age of 52. Cornell’s widow, Vicky Karayianni, claimed an anti-depressant called Ativan was to blame for the incident. Dozens of tributes and memorials began to fill the streets of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. A ceremony was held in his memory, where Chester Bennington and others would single Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Cornell is survived by his wife and three kids.

“Chris Cornell, in our circle, was known as ‘The Voice’ because he had the best voice in rock and roll,” Alice Cooper said after hearing of his death. “I was lucky enough to write and record two songs with him. His death comes as a total shock to all of us. ‘Black Hole Sun’ will live on as a classic, and his is a true legacy of rock and roll.”

Chester Bennington

Two months after Cornell’s death, on what would have been his Cornell’s 53rd birthday, Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington took his life in the same manner. As mentioned, the two were close while Cornell was alive and worked together on multiple occasions. This tragic event would be the salt in the wounds for rock fans, as Linkin Park was just as influential as Soundgarden.

Chester Bennington auditioned for Linkin Park (then “Xero”) at the turn of the century and successfully made the band. The band would release their debut album, Hybrid Theory, in 2000, becoming a certified diamond record in only five years. During that time, the band also released 2003’s Meteora, which reached number one on the Billboard 200 charts, as did their third album, Minutes to Midnight. Within seven years and three albums, Linkin Park proved to be the frontrunners of Alternative Metal and Nu Metal, two genres taking off at the time.

Chester Bennington. Photo Courtesy of Rubén G. Herrera via Flickr.

Unfortunately, much like Chris Cornell, Bennington struggled with drugs and alcohol at a young age. On top of that, the singer was also bullied and sexually abused at a very young age. Then, his parents divorced at the age of 11, creating an immense amount of hate and anger within the singer. To comfort himself, he drew pictures, wrote poetry, and eventually songs. Also, like Cornell, Bennington struggled with depression for most of his life.

On July 20, 2017, Bennington would be found dead by his housekeeper at his home in Palos Verdes Estates, California. A suicide note was not left behind, but a half-empty bottle of alcohol was found at the scene. Linkin Park was forced to cancel the rest of their One More Light Tour. Numerous musicians paid tribute to the late singer in one way or another, often performing his songs at their concerts. Bennington is survived by his widow, Talinda Bentley, and his six children.

“Bennington’s decision to sing clearly and openly was, therefore, more radical than he is given credit for, and indeed more socially valuable,” said journalist Ben Beaumont-Thomas for The Guardian. “His cleanly articulated tales of emotional struggle gave millions the sense that someone understood them, and the huge sound of his band around him magnified that sense, moving listeners from the psychic space of their bedrooms into an arena of thousands of people who shared their pain.”

Both Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington struggled their entire lives with emotional stress and substance abuse. Both of them took their trauma and used it to create beautiful music that resonated with an entire generation, even today. While they are both missed incredibly by their fan base and the music industry in general, their pain was turned to beauty through music and helped countless people through their own struggles. While they may not be with us anymore, we will never forget the legacies that Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington left behind.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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