Grunge pioneer lauded for onstage charisma, vocal range
Chris Cornell had become one of the most lauded and respected contemporary lead singers in rock music, thanks to his charismatic energy onstage and wide vocal range. He was a leader of the grunge movement with Seattlebased Soundgarden — with whom he gained critical and commercial acclaim — but also found success outside the band with other projects, including Audioslave, Temple of the Dog as well as solo albums.
His death Wednesday night stunned his family and his diehard fans, for whom Cornell just performed hours earlier at a show in Detroit. The city’s medical examiner said in a preliminary autopsy result Thursday that the 52-year-old singer killed himself by hanging. A police spokesman told two Detroit newspapers that the singer was found with a band around his neck.
Soundgarden’s current tour kicked off in late April and was planned to run through May 27.
In recent years, Cornell had take to alternating Soundgarden tours with his own solo treks, during which he played mostly acoustic guitar, peformed cover songs and chatted with the audience. His solo outings proved hugely popular, with sold-out dates in Victoria at the Royal Theatre in 2011 and the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium in 2013.
“It’s fun to try to figure out different songs that I can interpret acoustically and see if they’ll work or not,” Cornell said during a 2011 interview with Times Colonist reporter Mike Devlin.
“Some of them do and some of them don’t. But it’s fun to experiment with that and be surprised by the songs that seem to work that I wouldn’t expect.”
His final Victoria appearance, another sold-out show, was at the Royal Theatre less than a year ago, on July 21, 2016.
Cornell was widely respected in the music industry: He reached success in every band lineup he was part of it, his voice was memorable and powerful, and he was a skilled songwriter, even collaborating on a number of film soundtracks, including the James Bond theme song for 2006’s Casino Royale and The Keeper from the film Machine Gun Preacher, which earned Cornell a Golden Globe nomination.
Cornell, who grew up in Seattle, said he was kicked out of school at age 15 and he started using drugs at 13.
“I went from being a daily drug user at 13 to having bad drug experiences and quitting drugs by the time I was 14 and then not having any friends until the time I was 16,” he told Rolling Stone in 1994.
But at 16 he grew serious about music, learning to play the drums while also working as a busboy and dishwasher.
He eventually became a Grammy winner with Soundgarden, formed in 1984 and coming out of the rapidly growing Seattle music scene, which included Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.
The band, which had released hit songs and found success, marked a mainstream breakthrough with Superunknown, its 1994 album that launched five singles, won them two Grammys and sold more than five million units in the U.S.
The group, formed with guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Hiro Yamamoto, broke up in 1997.
In 2001, Cornell joined Audioslave, a supergroup that included former Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford. The band released three albums in six years.
Audioslave disbanded in 2007, but Cornell and Soundgarden reunited in 2010 and released the band’s sixth studio album, King Animal, in 2012.
Cornell also collaborated with members of what would become Pearl Jam to form Temple of the Dog, which produced a self-titled album in 1991 in tribute to friend Andrew Wood, former frontman of Mother Love Bone. In 2011, he was ranked ninth on Rolling Stone list of the best lead singers of all time, selected by its readers.
Cornell also released solo albums, and Nielsen Music said as a band member and solo act, the singer sold almost 15 million albums and 8.8 million digital songs in the U.S.
His first solo album, 1999’s Euphoria Morning, was a dark album that was initially supposed to be titled Euphoria Mourning.
“It was a pretty dark album lyrically and pretty depressing, and I was going through a really difficult time in my life — my band wasn’t together anymore, my marriage was falling apart and I was dealing with it by drinking way too much, and that has its own problems, particularly with depression,” he told Rolling Stone in 2015.
Chris Cornell died Wednesday at age 52.