Chris Cor­nell,

front­man for Soundgar­den and one of rock mu­sic’s most pow­er­ful voices, was found dead at 52.


Chris Cor­nell, the rock vo­cal­ist, song­writer and front­man of Soundgar­den, one of the for­ma­tive bands of the Seat­tle-based grunge scene, was found dead May 18 in a Detroit ho­tel room, af­ter a sold-out per­for­mance with his Grammy Award-win­ning group. He was 52.

Detroit po­lice spokesman Michael Woody said Mr. Cor­nell was found in his room at the MGM Grand Ho­tel in Detroit. Wayne County, Mich., spokes­woman Lisa Croff said that the pre­lim­i­nary cause is sui­cide by hang­ing.

Video of his fi­nal con­cert — at Detroit’s Fox Theatre — showed Mr. Cor­nell giv­ing a vig­or­ous per­for­mance, toss­ing about his mane of long, curly hair as he howled across the stage. Hours later, a fam­ily friend found Mr. Cor­nell on the bath­room floor of his ho­tel room.

Mr. Cor­nell, who also led the post-grunge band Au­dioslave for sev­eral years, had a wide-rang­ing cul­tural pres­ence. He per­formed at Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s 2013 in­au­gu­ra­tion and sang the theme — “You Know My Name” — from the 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale.”

Along with Nir­vana and Pearl Jam, Soundgar­den de­vel­oped one of the most influential and de­fin­i­tive sounds of the 1990s. Mr. Cor­nell’s wail­ing, four-oc­tave vo­cal range made him a for­mi­da­ble pres­ence on­stage; he later re­ferred to his voice as “both a bless­ing and a curse” in a 2008 in­ter­view with South Africa’s Week­end Ar­gus news­pa­per.

“With Soundgar­den, we were al­ways look­ing to do a bunch of things at the same time, sep­a­rately and as a band and, with my voice be­ing known to be ver­sa­tile, I don’t know if you could tell, ‘It’s that band, it’s that guy,’ ” Mr. Cor­nell told the pa­per. “In the long run, it’s pos­i­tive be­cause it’s not imi­ta­tive, but it was neg­a­tive be­cause it wasn’t unan­i­mously ac­cepted at the time.”

Grunge grabbed el­e­ments of heavy metal and punk, an un­ex­pected, thrilling and loosely de­fined com­bi­na­tion that sold mil­lions of al­bums for Soundgar­den and, later, for Au­dioslave. Grunge drew from the in­tel­lec­tual, en­er­gized am­bi­tions of punk and the apo­lit­i­cal, raging at­ti­tude of heavy metal.

“Soundgar­den was as in­flu­enced by Black Sab­bath as it was by the Ra­mones,” said An­thony DeCur­tis, a rock his­to­rian and con­tribut­ing editor for Rolling Stone mag­a­zine.

Seat­tle’s grunge com­mu­nity — in which Mr. Cor­nell came of age — was built on a de­sire to cre­ate pas­sion­ate, soul-ex­am­in­ing mu­sic, but many of its ad­her­ents were reg­u­larly lost to a sea of drugs and de­pres­sion that they couldn’t breach.

Mr. Cor­nell’s mu­sic ex­am­ined his in­ter­nal strife and that of the grunge scene. He talked about suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion and once called him­self a “pioneer” of the OxyCon­tin abuse epi­demic. He went into re­hab in 2002 for al­co­hol and drug de­pen­dency.

Mr. Cor­nell formed Soundgar­den with lead gui­tarist Kim Thayil and bassist Hiro Ya­mamoto in 1984, and five years later it be­came the first grunge band to sign with a ma­jor record la­bel, A&M.

The group dis­banded in 1997, two years af­ter re­ceiv­ing Gram­mys — one for best hard rock per­for­mance for the sin­gle “Black Hole Sun” and an­other for best rock al­bum for its Bill­board chart­top­ping “Su­pe­run­k­nown.”

Suc­cess, in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple hit sin­gles such as “Spoon­man,” brought ten­sion to the band over artis­tic di­rec­tion. Mr. Cor­nell left to pur­sue a solo ca­reer with an ad­ven­tur­ous and dis­tinct sound that at times alien­ated por­tions of his au­di­ence. Mr. Cor­nell re­leased “Scream,” a 2009 solo pop in­flu­enced al­bum that was a col­lab­o­ra­tion with hip-hop pro­ducer Tim­ba­land.

In 2001, Mr. Cor­nell be­gan Au­dioslave with some mem­bers of the band Rage Against the Ma­chine. Au­dioslave re­leased three stu­dio al­bums be­fore Mr. Cor­nell left in 2007, cit­ing ir­rec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences. He re­grouped with Soundgar­den three years later and main­tained a steady flow of al­bum re­leases and an in­ter­na­tional tour­ing sched­ule.

Mr. Cor­nell was born Christo­pher John Boyle in Seat­tle on July 20, 1964. He took pi­ano and guitar lessons as a child, although he later be­came known for his singing and drum­ming.

He dropped out of high school, telling the Lon­don Guardian that it felt like a con­form­ity mill — “the con­cept that they’d take a group of us and make us all do the same thing and make us ex­actly the same.” Mr. Cor­nell’s al­ready prodi­gious drug use and his par­ents’s di­vorce also ex­ac­er­bated his de­pres­sion. He cred­ited Soundgar­den, which he started at 20, with al­le­vi­at­ing his dis­tress.

His first mar­riage, to his former man­ager Su­san Sil­ver, ended in di­vorce. He once said the breakup grew so caus­tic that it took him four years to gain ac­cess to his own guitar col­lec­tion.

Sur­vivors in­clude his wife, Vicky Karayian­nis, and their two chil­dren; and a daugh­ter from his first mar­riage. He had homes in Los An­ge­les and Paris and, ac­cord­ing to the Guardian, was in­volved in run­ning a restau­rant in the City of Lights that served such in­con­gru­ous dishes as peanut but­ter sole.

“That’s prob­a­bly the busi­ness I’d have ended up in if it wasn’t for mu­sic,” he told the Bri­tish pa­per. “It’s good for me to be in­volved in dif­fer­ent things.”


Chris Cor­nell, pic­tured with Au­dioslave in 2005, was found dead hours af­ter per­form­ing in Detroit.

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