This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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For those that knew him, Seattle-born rock singer Chris Cornell was a kind, even gentle person. His biography, Total Fucking God Head, describes him as a thoughtful person and a friend to many.
But even he had demons.
Indeed, Cornell’s life is a prime example of what is going on inside may not match the reality outside. On the outside, the singer was a rock god, the frontman for Soundgarden and then for Audioslave. Also known for his solo work, Cornell boasted the voice of a crooner and a banshee, the best of both extremes.
Born in the Emerald City on July 20, 1964, Cornell’s life was cut short. He died in Detroit, Michigan, on May 18, 2017.
At the Detroit MGM Grand Hotel in the early hours of May 18, 2017, the 52-year-old bodyguard found him in the bathroom of his hotel room, unconscious. The night before, he performed a gig at the Fox Theater. The bodyguard reported that a resistance exercise band was around Cornell’s neck and there was blood in his mouth. He was pronounced dead on the scene by a doctor at 1:30 a.m.
Police reported that they reviewed surveillance video from the hotel and it didn’t show anyone coming or going from Cornell’s suite after the bodyguard left at around 11:30 p.m.
Police also reported that medication was in Cornell’s system, but, they said, not in any toxic amount. Though deemed not the cause of death, ultimately, Cornell did have a number of substances in his system, including Butalbital, lorazepam (a sleep aid known as Ativan that was prescribed to him), a decongestant, caffeine, and naloxone, which was given to him by emergency responders on the scene and is meant to reverse opioid overdoses.
Cornell’s wife blamed the sleep aid drug, Ativan. She said she spoke to Cornell after his show and noticed he was slurring his words. Worried, she said she called Cornell’s security to check on him.
After Cornell’s toxicology report came out, Vicky released a statement. “Many of us who know Chris well noticed that he wasn’t himself during his final hours and that something was very off,” she said. “We have learned from this report that several substances were found in his system. 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 and my children and I are heartbroken and are devastated that this moment can never be taken back. We very much appreciate all of the love we have received during this extremely difficult time and are dedicated to helping others in preventing this type of tragedy.”
When the details of that night were released to the public, there were obvious problems and mistakes.
The problems began to arise a little after 11:30 p.m. in Cornell’s hotel room after his show that night. According to reports, his bodyguard had gone to see him around then to help him with a computer issue. A few minutes later, Cornell talked with Vicky on the phone. According to her, he kept saying he was tired and eventually just hung up the phone. Worried, she called his bodyguard to check. This was 12:15 a.m.
The bodyguard, Martin Kristen, couldn’t get in the room. He called hotel security, he says: “I went back to my room and called for hotel security to come and open the door. They refused, saying that it wasn’t my room, although I told them that he was my employer and that I had a key.” When Kristen told Vicky the update, she advised him to kick down the door. When he did, after six or seven tries, Kristen saw Cornell’s feet through the bathroom door. He loosened the athletic band from his neck and tried to give him CPR.
Professionals arrived at 12:56 a.m. but could not revive Cornell. He was pronounced dead 34 minutes later, some 75 minutes after Kristen was called by Vicky.
The Conspiracy Theories
Police were questioned by The Detroit News about why it took 41 minutes for medical professionals to get to Cornell but the police said the gaps in time and response were not as big.
But in the wake of that night, others have investigated the tapes and call logs and determined that, in fact, the police were late. This has led some, including Vicky, to think that foul play is afoot.
The Detroit News reported: “Authorities determined within days the death was a suicide, although wife Vicky Cornell told People magazine she thought the ruling was premature because it came before the toxicology or autopsy results were complete. She said the drugs in her husband’s system may have altered his mental state. Among the theories: Cornell was killed because he was about to expose a child sex ring allegedly associated with Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor some claimed was a front, although Washington police said that theory was ‘fictitious.’”
‘We investigated all possible angles, and there were no signs this was anything but a suicide,’ Detroit police media relations director Michael Woody said. ‘But we’ve been getting inundated with different theories.’”
Vicky has since brought up the fact that Cornell reportedly suffered from a head injury that was mentioned in two clinical reports, but was not on the final autopsy.
“This has left me and my family still looking for answers, but at the same time, set off this whirlwind of conspiracies,” [Vicky] told The Detroit News. “Some of the people are just fans looking for answers, but some of them are conspiracy theorists who have said the most vile things to my children and me.”
With many nagging questions in her mind, Vicky filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that Dr. Robert Koblin “negligently and repeatedly” prescribed Cornell “dangerous mind-altering controlled substances” that “impaired Mr.Cornell’s cognition, clouded his judgment, and caused him to engage in dangerous impulsive behaviors that he was unable to control, costing him his life.” The suit also said Koblin did so for 20 months, without properly checking on Cornell.
While Cornell may have been aware of the risks of the drugs, that doesn’t mean he should have been taking them. The singer long had a history of depression, and even spoke publicly about it. He even traced it back to when he was a kid and inhaled PCP, which, he said, put a “scar” on his “psyche.”
In his defense, Koblin said Cornell was of full mind and body and aware of what he was doing and the risks. The medication was for his anxiety and, Koblin says, he did everything he could to help Cornell with his depression. In 2021, the two parties settled confidentially.
Thursday (May 18), Cornell would have been 58 years old. He remains a seminal figure in rock music and, especially, in grunge music.
His former band Soundgarden and his widow Vicky recently settled their own issues and now Soundgarden has control over its social media accounts and the handful of songs Cornell recorded with the band before he died. The group is likely to release those in the coming months or years. And Cornell’s legacy will continue to live on.
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