Musicians Gone Too Soon – May 18, 2017 October 7, 2019 Hidden Jams 6 Comments Alice in Chains Andrew Wood Audioslev Chris Cornell Death of Grunge Kurt Cobain Lynn Staley Mother Love Bones Nirvana Soundgarden Temple of the Dog 7 min read
It was announced earlier this morning that Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell has passed away. He was only 52 years old and apparently committed suicide by hanging. This news is shocking and devastating, and many musicians and fans have spoken about the pain of such a loss. RIP, Chris Cornell.
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Unfortunately, this isn’t the first grunge icon we’ve lost. The world mourned the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in 1994, at the height of grunge’s popularity. After grunge faded and was replaced by post-grunge, Alice In Chains frontman Lynn Staley died at her home on the eighth anniversary of Kurt’s death, although her body was not found until two weeks later. And before grunge even hit the mainstream, Mother Love Bone’s rising star Andrew Wood died right at the start of his musical career in 1990.
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Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Lynn Staley and Chris Cornell all died too young. Is the death of four grunge singers a curse or just a tragic accident? What do these four grunge singers have in common? What connects their early deaths?
The most basic thread that connects these four grunge icons is simply age and place. All four were born in the 1960s and were all from the Seattle area. Andrew was born in Mississippi, but grew up on Bainbridge Island, just a short ferry ride from downtown Seattle. Kurt grew up on the west coast of Washington in a town called Aberdeen. It is a 2 hour drive from Seattle. Lyne grew up in Lynewood, north of Seattle. Only Chris grew up in Seattle itself.
Although they all grew up in their respective homes in Western Washington, they all became part of the growing Seattle-area music scene. They were all part of the movement that became known as grunge.
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The obvious connection they all share is that they have not only been in major grunge bands, but have also been frontmen and singers of those bands. Before Andrew’s death, Mother Love Bone were making waves and were about to make it big with their debut release. It is impossible to know whether these predictions would have come true had Andrew lived. But most agree that Mother Love Bone could have made it and was a Big 5 instead of a Big 4.
Lynn Staley and Chris Cornell were the leaders of two other heavy metal bands. Alice In Chains and Soundgarden were as commercially successful as, if not more than, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Kurt Cobain was of course the most famous of the Big 4.
What is it about grunge singers that led them to an early death? For better or worse, it seems that other members of the group tended to perform better. The only non-singing lead singer of the grunge scene to die in 2011 was former Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr.
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Another connection between the four missing leaders? Drugs, especially heroin, were a big part of the scene, not just among musicians or grunge fans. This was not a theme unique to the grunge community, but one that somewhat defined it. Almost all grunge musicians used drugs to varying degrees. For some it was just marijuana, but for others it was joined by harder drugs like cocaine and heroin.
After years of substance abuse, Andrew Wood overdosed on heroin in March 1990. The overdose put him in a coma from which he never woke up. He died three days later. Kurt Cobain also publicly struggled with heroin addiction. A stint in rehab and a near-fatal overdose in early 1994 led to his apparent suicide in April.
And his addiction basically prevented him from touring with Alice In Chains. After the band’s third album cycle of the same name, in which Lane already seemed battered, he was only able to record two more songs with Alice In Chains. One of them, “Death,” was about his fiancee, who died in 1996 of health complications from his drug addiction. Although Lynn went to rehab dozens of times, she was never able to kick the habit.
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Both Kurt Cobain’s and Chris Cornell’s deaths were ruled suicides. While Kurt’s weapon of choice was a gun, Chris chose death by hanging. Both men decided to end their lives. Why? In Kurt’s case, perhaps it was a combination of depression and shame at his own fame. But what about Chris? He suffered from depression at a young age and was still involved in drugs. Did his depression persist even after he regained consciousness?
The other two men did not commit suicide and probably did not intend to die, but they did. Andrew Wood accidentally caused his own death by overdosing on heroin. Lynn Staley’s drug problems lasted more than a decade before finally leaving her too thin and too weak to fight it any longer. His death was also ruled an overdose of heroin and cocaine, but his death could be considered a prolonged suicide due to years of drug abuse.
Chris Cornell lived much longer than Andrew, Curt and Lynn and yet died too young. While the first three disappeared at ages 24, 27 and 34, Chris lived on for another two or three decades. He was 52 years old when he committed suicide. Still very young, but at least middle-aged.
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Partly due to his longer life, Chris had also given up drugs before his death. He was successful in rehab and was sober for years before his death. He was the only one who died sober.
Of the four who died, the first three all died in Seattle. Only Chris Cornell died not only in a different city, but in another state. He committed suicide in Detroit, Michigan.
It is impossible not to notice that 3 of the leaders of the Big 4 are dead. (4 out of 5 if you count Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood.) Now, of the original four groups that hit it big, only Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder remains. How did this latest hero last longer than his grunge counterparts?
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The first noticeable difference between Eddie and the other four is that he is not from Western Washington. He was born and raised in Illinois until he was 10 years old. At this time his family moved to San Diego, California.
Eddie wasn’t a founding member of his grunge band either. In 1990, he traveled to Seattle to audition for a new band called Pearl Jam. The band was formed by Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, formerly of Green River and Mother Love Bone. Within a week he joined the group.
Aside from these minor differences, Eddie shares other connections. He’s the leader of one of the biggest bands to come out of the grunge scene, and drugs were a part of it, at least when they started. He has also had a lot of personal turmoil, having discovered that his father was not his biological father when he was a teenager. (Likewise, his three younger brothers were all actually half-brothers.) He is divorced and has taken drugs and alcohol.
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But the question remains: Will Eddie Vedder still be here in 10, 20, 30 years? Will he escape the curse of grunge singers? Or will he avoid the accidental and unfortunate deaths that have plagued the Grange community?
Of course, in addition to Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, countless other grunge groups were effective in the development and continuation of this genre. Some grunge bands like the Melvins and Mudhoney still perform today. Others, like Screaming Trees and Tad, disbanded years ago. But luckily everyone is still alive and well.
It’s sad that so many of the best grunge musicians are dead and so young. It seems Alice In Chains got it right when they opened their debut album with We Die Young.
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Shocking and tragic, Chris Cornell’s death is just another tragedy to mar the grunge scene in the last 30 years. May his soul rest in peace and we hope Eddie continues to carry the grunge torch along with the other surviving members of all the grunge bands.
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