Following a sold-out show last night with his band Soundgarden, musician Chris Cornell was found dead at age 52. He leaves behind his wife Vicky and three children.
The sudden passing of the famous frontman hit fans hard, with tributes and condolences pouring into social media as soon as news broke today. A multi-talented artist, Cornell began playing music in 1980s. Cornell’s thumbprints can be found all over the still-influential grunge scene, first forming Soundgarden in 1984, and then creating Temple of the Dog in 1991 with members that would later split into Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, two of the most popular bands of the genre.
Soundgarden found their greatest commercial success with 1994’s Superunknown, which included the singles “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoon Man,” taking home Grammys for both tracks. The Seattle-based band released Down On The Upside two years later before splitting in 1997.
Following the dissolution of Soundgarden, Cornell went on to form Audioslave with members of Rage Against The Machine. The band released three albums between 2002 to 2006 and received three Grammy nominations, splitting their time between music and fighting for social justice, often using their platform to speak out against then-president George W. Bush. The band broke up in 2007, but reunited this past January at an anti-Trump event.
Cornell eventually reunited with the members of Soundgarden in 2010, with the band releasing their sixth and now final album in 2012 with King Animal. The music video for the band’s single “By Crooked Steps” was directed by Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, who now stands as one of the few remaining founders of grunge.
While Cornell will be most remembered for his work with his bands, the singer was a musical visionary in his solo efforts as well. His incredible vocal strength and octave range gave Cornell the freedom to experiment with a variety of genres. Cornell released five solo albums, including 2009’s Scream, which featured the singer venturing into pop music with producer Timbaland.
Cornell became the first male American singer to record the theme for a James Bond film, releasing the Grammy-nominated “You Know My Name” in 2006. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe for “The Keeper” from 2012’s Machine Gun Preacher.
Cornell’s musical impact is felt far beyond the mid-1990s, but his importance on the forming of grunge cannot be overstated. In an example of eerie timing, Singles writer and director Cameron Crowe is re-releasing the film’s soundtrack tomorrow, which will contain two previously unreleased tracks from Cornell. The singer acted as an advisor on the film, which brought the grunge scene out of Seattle and into the mainstream.
Grunge gave a voice to millions of youths looking for a place to connect, but sadly it was a scene that at times felt like it was plagued with death. The suicide of Kurt Cobain, the unofficial godfather of grunge, seemed to set off a catalyst of deaths, with Alice In Chains frontman Layne Staley dying of a drug overdose in 2002, eight years to the day after Cobain’s passing in 1994. In fact, death had seeped into grunge before Cobain’s passing, with Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood dying of a heroin overdose in 1990. Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff also died in 1994 from an overdose, with Blind Melon frontman Shannon Hoon sadly following in Pfaff’s footsteps in 1995. Though not technically grunge, Sublime was often associated with the Seattle scene and tragically lost their frontman Bradley Nowell in 1996 from a heroin overdose.
In an almost ironic twist, it was death that brought Cornell’s artistry into the limelight, with the singer forming the band Temple of the Dog in 1991 to pay tribute to Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood. Cornell, who was roommates with Wood at the time of his death, went on to write tribute songs to his friend, including “Reach Down” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven.”
While it may have felt like grunge musicians who made it past 2005 had somehow escaped the fate of their peers, death comes for everyone, with many of the artists who helped cement grunge in music history passing away before their time. In 2011, Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr passed away from a heroin overdose, while in 2015 the world lost Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland to an accidental overdose.
After launching an investigation, the Detroit Police Department and the medical examiners office have concluded that Cornell’s death was the result of a suicide. The singers past struggles with depression and substance abused have been well documented, with his tragic passing yet another reminder that efforts to push forward availability of treatment are still needed.
Even in this time of grief, what should be celebrated is the life and work of a man who was a father, a husband, a friend, and a person who gave the world some of the greatest music ever written.
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