Following one last performance on May 17, 2017, Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell took his own life to the shock and dismay of millions. Taken just hours before his passing, these photographs taken during the singer’s final show are almost unbearable to view. But they remind us of just how gifted this grunge titan really was.
Alongside fellow Seattle bands Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden helped put the grunge music genre on the cultural map in the early 1990s. Thanks to hits such as “Black Hole Sun” and their uncompromising mix of classic and punk rock the group stood out among their peers. But it was ultimately singer Chris Cornell who received the most attention.
Known for his impressive vocal range, Cornell had a singing style reminiscent of traditional hard rock gods. However his dark lyrics painted a portrait of a man uncomfortable in the spotlight. Indeed his songs, including “The Day I Tried to Live” in 1994, dealt with the singer’s experiences with addiction, depression and anxiety.
Following a hiatus that began in 1997 – during which time Cornell released hit albums as a solo artist and as a member of Audioslave – Soundgarden regrouped in 2010. Subsequently the group released the record King Animal in 2012 and toured extensively throughout the world.
Following a hiatus that began in 1997 – during which Cornell released albums as both a solo artist and as a member of Audioslave – Soundgarden regrouped in 2010. Subsequently, the group released the record King Animal in 2012 and toured extensively throughout the world.
In preparation for a new album, the band began a series of concerts throughout North America on April 28, 2017. On May 17, Cornell tweeted a picture of Detroit’s Fox Theater where Soundgarden were due to play a sold-out show. Little did his followers know that this would be his final Twitter post.
Before the tour Cornell seemed to be in high spirits. Speaking to Rolling Stone magazine, System of a Down singer Serj Tankian later revealed that his friend Cornell was “excited” about his upcoming dates. Quoted in the same article, Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello effused that the singer was in a happy state following a January show in L.A. describing Cornell as “shining”.
At the beginning of the Soundgarden tour, Cornell seemed as hopeful as he had been at the year’s start. “I would say the last couple of months, he was as optimistic and happy as I can ever recall him,” his manager Ron Lafitte said to news broadcaster CNN. “He was so excited about all these things and a new record we were going to put out in the fall.”
But as Cornell took to the stage at the Fox that May night in downtown Detroit, the audience began to notice irregularities in his behavior. Writing for the Detroit Free Press newspaper, journalist Ashley Zlatopolsky observed that the singer missed his cues and teetered around before the crowd. “It was as if the energy had exited his body,” she wrote.
Despite his difficulties performing that night, Cornell still seemed keen to prove himself as one of rock’s most formidable frontmen. “I have bragged about Detroit crowds for 30 years,” the vocalist boomed to the audience. “So stand the f*** up and make some noise.” Naturally, the thrilled throng gleefully obliged.
Even when Cornell flubbed his lyrics, the audience was there to sing each forgotten line. All in all, his performance left the 5,000-plus crowd truly rocked and Cornell himself seemed on a natural high. Veteran Soundgarden photographer Ken Settle told People magazine that the singer was “more joyous than I’d ever seen him before.”
After the show Cornell and his bandmates spent time meeting and greeting fans outside the venue. Shortly afterwards they retreated to the nearby MGM Grand Hotel where Cornell retired to his room and phoned his wife, Vicky. It was only then that signs of the troubled singer’s mental disturbance began to emerge.
Although they had shared a positive conversation earlier in the day, Vicky became aware that something was wrong. Cornell admitted to her that he had recently taken a slightly higher dosage of his anti-anxiety medicine, Ativan, which only fueled his wife’s worry. “I noticed he was slurring his words,” she said in a press statement. “He was different.”
Perturbed following her conversation with Cornell, Vicky called the singer’s security and asked them to check on her husband’s wellbeing. Tragically, her fears were well founded as – only moments later – Cornell’s bodyguard discovered the star lying motionless on the bathroom floor of his suite.
Paramedics were summoned to the scene but nothing could be done to revive the singer. At 1:30 a.m. a doctor pronounced Cornell dead. Due to the fact that he was found with an exercise band wrapped around his neck, and CCTV footage showed nobody else having visited his suite, his death was considered a suicide.
The following few days were filled with fans and fellow artists paying their respects to the singer. Top bands including U2, Metallica and Aerosmith covered Cornell’s songs in concert or dedicated their own in honor of the fallen star. Fellow grunge musician Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam even referred to Cornell as being like an “older brother”, during a moving onstage eulogy at a London show.
But the most heartbreaking tribute of all came from Vicky Cornell, the mother of two of his three children. “Chris’s death… has created an emptiness in my heart that will never be filled,” she said via a press statement. “As everyone who knew him commented, Chris was a devoted father and husband. He was my best friend.”
Shortly after Cornell’s passing, a toxicology report indicated that the singer had died with numerous prescription drugs in his body. Although they didn’t directly cause his death, these medications may have adversely changed his headspace at the time. “After so many years of sobriety, this moment of terrible judgment seems to have completely impaired and altered his state of mind. Something clearly went terribly wrong,” Vicky lamented to Rolling Stone in June 2017.
While Cornell’s death was heartbreaking enough, the rock community received another blow just two months later. On July 20, 2017, Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington took his own life in a manner akin to Cornell. Tragically, Bennington – who had been close friends with the Soundgarden star – died on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday.
Undoubtedly Chris Cornell touched many people throughout his life. The many millions of Soundgarden and Audioslave fans who took solace in Cornell’s music and lyrics will be forever indebted to his contribution to rock ‘n’ roll. And – needless to say – the music world will be a sadder place without him.