7 Grunge Artists Who Died Young

When grunge music rocketed to the top of the charts in the 1990s, beginning first in the Pacific Northwest in the late ’80s, the sludgy rock songs took on a life of their own. Sadly, though, the fame, success, attention, and subsequent drug use, cost the lives of many of the genre’s stars.

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To live in Seattle these days is to be reminded almost constantly of the lives that were lost too soon. And there were even some that never quite got off the ground. So, here below, we wanted to examine the lives of those artists and take note of just what was lost both in the moment and not long after.

[RELATED: 7 Albums That Defined the ’90s Grunge Era]

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the music and the sorrow.

1. Kurt Cobain

While Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach (1989), was a minor hit, it was the band’s sophomore release, Nevermind, in 1991 that made them as famous as Mickey Mouse. With Cobain’s good looks, gravelly voice, and world-class songwriting, the band was a giant. Sadly, it was all too much for Cobain, who died by suicide on April 5, 1994. He was just 27.

2. Chris Cornell

The frontman for the Seattle band Soundgarden, Chris Cornell led a longer life than many on this list. Still, though, sadly, he passed away in 2017 after hanging himself in a Detroit hotel room. The artist, who was also known for fronting the 2000s supergroup Audioslave, suffered from depression and it cost him his life. When Cornell died, he was only 52.

3. Layne Staley

Another artist who died on April 5, Layne Staley was the banshee vocalist for Alice in Chains and the short-lived supergroup Mad Season, which featured Barrett Martin and Mike McCready. Staley died eight years after Cobain in 2002, passing away due to a drug overdose, weighing just 86 pounds when medical personnel found him. He was just 34.

4. Andrew Wood

While there are many big names on this list, Wood’s may have been the biggest had he lived longer than just 24 years. The former roommate of Chris Cornell and former frontman for the early grunge groups Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, Wood was charming and seemingly full of life. Sadly, though, he died of a heroin overdose just days before Mother Love Bone’s debut LP, Apple, was to be released in 1990.

5. Mark Lanegan

Mark Lanegan, the man whose voice sounds like it was borrowed from the Grim Reaper, lived a hard life thanks to his drug and alcohol addiction. Sadly, Lanegan, who fronted the Screaming Trees and sang in Mad Season, died in 2022 after experiencing horrible repercussions from his bout with COVID-19, which caused him to go into a coma. Lanegan, who may have lived longer than some would have predicted, still died before his time. He was just 57.

6. Tina Bell

Tina Bell rose to popularity in Seattle in the early and mid-1980s. Many today believe she was an early influence on the grunge sound in the Pacific Northwest. For years, though, Bell and her band Bam Bam, which featured future Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer, Matt Cameron, didn’t get the attention it deserved. Many point to race for that failure. Either way, Bell died in 2021 in Las Vegas at just 55, a decade before her music would enjoy a resurgence.

7. Mia Zapata

While in the early ’80s there was Tina Bell, in the early ’90s there was Mia Zapata. The singer for the band The Gits, which was part-grunge and part-riot grrrl, though it didn’t quite identify as either, was brutally murdered while walking home after a shift in a bar in Seattle. The case went unsolved for a decade, reopened only after new DNA evidence. Zapata, who was on the brink of being signed to a major label, was just 27.

Photo by Michel Linssen/Redferns

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