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Chris Cornell, Soundgarden and Audioslave Frontman, Dies at 52

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Chris Cornell during a Soundgarden reunion concert in Newark in 2011. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times

Chris Cornell, the powerful, dynamic singer whose band Soundgarden was one of the architects of grunge music, died on Wednesday night in Detroit after the band had earlier performed there. He was 52.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office said the death was a suicide by hanging. It said a full autopsy had not yet been completed.

Soundgarden played at the Fox Theater in Detroit on Wednesday night, and it had been scheduled to perform in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday at the Rock on the Range festival.

Dontae Freeman, a spokesman for the Detroit Police Department, said in an interview that officers went to the MGM Grand hotel and casino around midnight in response to a call about an apparent suicide of a white man, whom he did not identify. Mr. Freeman said the man’s date of birth was July 20, 1964, which is Mr. Cornell’s.

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He added that the man’s wife had called a family friend to check on the man; the friend forced his way into the man’s room at the casino and found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor with a band around his neck. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr. Cornell appeared to be active on social media in the hours before his death. A post on his Twitter account announced that the group had arrived in Detroit, and a clip of the group’s 2012 release “By Crooked Steps” was posted to his official Facebook page.

Mr. Cornell acknowledged in interviews that he had struggled with drug use throughout his life. In a 1994 Rolling Stone article, he described himself as a “daily drug user at 13” who had quit by the time he turned 14.

After Soundgarden disbanded in 1997, a breakup that would last for more than a decade, Mr. Cornell returned to heavy drug use, telling The Guardian in 2009 that he was a “pioneer” in the abuse of the opiate OxyContin and that he had gone to rehab.

Mr. Cornell helped form Soundgarden in Seattle, where he was born, around 1984. Sub Pop, then a fledgling record label, released the group’s first single, “Hunted Down,” in 1987, as well as two subsequent EPs. The group’s debut album, “Ultramega OK,” came a year later.

The album “Badmotorfinger,” released in 1991, benefited from a swell of attention that was beginning to surround the Seattle scene, where Soundgarden, along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, were playing a high-octane, high-angst brand of rock ’n’ roll.

Soundgarden’s musical journeys tended toward the knotty and dark, plunging into off-kilter meters and punctuated by Mr. Cornell’s voice, which could quickly shift from a soulful howl to a gritty growl.

Three of Soundgarden’s studio albums have been certified platinum, including “Superunknown,” from 1994, which featured “Black Hole Sun,” “Fell on Black Days,” “Spoonman” and “My Wave.”

Soundgarden - "Black Hole Sun" Video by SoundgardenVEVO

After disbanding, the group — which includes the guitarist Kim Thayil, the bassist Ben Shepherd and the drummer Matt Cameron — reunited in 2010 and has performed regularly since then.

Reviewing a 2011 concert at the Prudential Center in Newark in The New York Times, Jon Pareles called Soundgarden “one reunited band that can pick up right where it left off.” In 2012, it released “King Animal,” its first album in 16 years, which Mr. Pareles said “sounds like four musicians live in a room, making music that clenches and unclenches like a fist.”

Mr. Cornell released five solo albums during and after his time with Soundgarden, starting with the 1999 LP “Euphoria Morning.” His 2007 album “Carry On” featured an acoustic cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” which was the inspiration for a well-received version of the song on “American Idol.”

He contributed the song “Seasons” to the soundtrack of “Singles,” Cameron Crowe’s love letter to the Seattle music scene, and performed alongside other members of Soundgarden in the film.

Chris Cornell - "Seasons" Video by Micheleland

In 2001, after Rage Against the Machine’s lead singer, Zack de la Rocha, left the group, Mr. Cornell and members of that band formed Audioslave. The group released three albums before announcing its split in 2007.

In November 2016, Mr. Cornell hit the road for the first time with another supergroup of sorts, Temple of the Dog, featuring a blend of members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. The group had been formed about 25 years earlier as a tribute to Andrew Wood, the lead singer of the Seattle bands Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose in March 1990.

Mr. Cornell told The Times that the group had decided to finally bring its songs to life to honor Mr. Wood. He said, “I thought, well, this is one thing that I can do to remind myself and maybe other people of who this guy is and was and keep his story — and, in a way, his life — with us.”

Correction: May 18, 2017

An earlier version of this obituary misidentified the source of a tweet honoring Chris Cornell. The posting came from a Rage Against the Machine fan account, not from the band.

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Related Coverage

  1. Listen to 10 Essential Chris Cornell Songs MAY 18, 2017

  2. AN APPRAISAL

    Chris Cornell: A Spectacular Voice of Grunge, With a Glint of Tragedy MAY 18, 2017

  3. Temple of the Dog Reunites, Headliners at Last on a Mini-Tour NOV. 6, 2016

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  • Sigh, it's kinda funny to find this thread today, been in a funk since I heard about Chris Cornell's death, and was only able to bring myself to listen to Soundgarden and Audioslave last night, which turned into a floodgate opening of emotion while listening to his music most of the night... feeling good today, still rough around the edges, but still standing with a fist raised to the heavens, as it were...  ;)

    You kicked ass Chris, you Shined a Light into our Souls... and into the World in which we live... exposing it's beauty and it's horrors... it's up to each of us to forge ahead on our own now...

    RIP 

  • I could only watch this once.  They are investigating his death but his last facebook post was "I'm moments away from the whole in the son." and he closed the show that night with a cover of Led  Zepplin's song "In My Time Of Dying."  I haven't heard anything about a suicide note but have heard that he was connected to the Illuminati,  and it was because of that... they say that all the time too.

    Illuminati
    The Illuminati (plural of Latin illuminatus, "enlightened") is a name given to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically, the name usual…
    • Oh , yeah...almost forgot :

      See Soundgarden = 994

      Subliminal Programming...does not mean it is bad...just it is done by those who know...

      Illuminati
      The Illuminati (plural of Latin illuminatus, "enlightened") is a name given to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically, the name usual…
    • I have a huge amount to finish today , One Crow , but quickly...

      Many of us are associated with the Illuminati , and not just the

      Golden Dawn , or Crowley's O.T.O. version , but the one *said*

      to be fictitious...

      And , as Robert Anton Wilson called us "Intelligence Agents"...

      And as I have said before and will say again , many times...

      "Those Who Know The Code Use The Code"

      Our two columns of eight equal 994...

      "My Song Black Hole Sun" = 995

      When I add two "Is" runes to the two columns of eight , making

      nine levels , you now get the value of 1008...

      Solomon = 1008

      Knights Templar Cypher Code = 1008

      New Order Of Ages = 1008

      Looking At Pillars Of Order Illuminati = 1009

      Our code has been called many things...for aeons upon aeons...

      As we also say :

      "We Walk Among You And You Know Us Not"

      We are in more places than anyone could dream...yet some do , and so we exist...

      In gematria , the number for :

      To Be Awake = 404 ( File Not Found...LOL...)

      With the word and value :

      Power = 590

      We have 404 + 590 = 994

      Those who know have always said :

      Information Is Power...

      And so I am here , doing what I can...

      Time to "illuminate the cyber room" , as I am a snake of the old way...

      Just like one who has outgrown the old information , and needs to

      rebirth themselves to the next level , before I leave :

      As it is beyond the physical : "I Am Shedding Some Light"

      Before I leave the skin behind...

      As did Chris...understand ?

      It is a chess game , we are the players on the board , some want you to know ,

      some do not...yet in the School of hard Nox , ( A Hard Day's Night ) , we cry out :

      Fiat Lux !

      Illuminati
      The Illuminati (plural of Latin illuminatus, "enlightened") is a name given to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically, the name usual…
  • Loved the music...best to his family and friends...

    And , Chris , may your soul take that journey through the Black Hole Sun

    To Hyperborea , the Land Beyond The Poles , and find that peace on the

    Otherside

    By the way , this spoonman , was my friend

    Artis from Santa Cruz , California

    I saw him play on the street almost every day for years ,

    along with Tom Scribner the saw player ,

    and Tom Noddy the bubble man

    Oh , the early 1980's and the years after , I

    miss you !

    Soundgarden - Spoonman - YouTube
  • Michael and I are devastated.  Michael was a huge fan.  He was such a fantastic musician and another incredible talent gone way too soon.  The family is saying there is no way he could have taken his own life and that he may have been under the influence of prescription medication.  Seems as though some of the greatest talents of my lifetime are all dying :(

    • I know what you mean sis.  It's like every few months we hear of someone else gone.  And I know I always jump to the worst conclusions but I really don't think he would take his own life either. All I've heard about him thru the years is that he was a great man, good to people, honest, and humble.  And I think it may not have been a suicide... but they always say that when it's a star and they never really investigate anything. And like you said if it was prescription medication it's awful that it made him that depressed.  I hope his family can find closure. This must be so hard for them.

  • So saddening, RIP ♥

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