Chris Cornell’s Death: One Year Later
The news of Chris Cornell’s death came as a two-pronged tragedy: First, finding out he had died, then second, finding out his death had been by his own hand.
On the surface, he had seemed content, creative and still happy to perform. He was on tour with Soundgarden, the band he helped found and with which he established one of the most resonant and commercially successful sounds of the ‘90s. The band had come back from a lengthy hiatus (during which Cornell had made big, noisy records with Audioslave and turned himself into an esoteric solo artist) and had rocked a crowd of enthusiastic fans mere hours before he took his own life in a hotel room in Detroit.
In the year since his death, many have paid tribute to his music and to his humanity, almost in equal measure. His wife, Vicky, has carried on with the causes most important to him, and pulled back the curtain on her family as it grieved and pushed forward without him. The people he touched — whether friend, family or fan — have all moved on in his absence, but with only the spectral presence of his voice and the memories of his life and work to compensate.
Here’s a look back as we remember Cornell and mark the first year without him.
Rockers Immediately Respond to the News
May 18: Once Cornell’s death was announced, the outpouring of tributes from his peers and heroes on social media was immediate. “Shocked and saddened by the sudden death of @chriscornell,” Elton John tweeted. “A great singer, songwriter and the loveliest man.” Country rocker Jason Isbell tweeted, “Me and teenage me are both heartbroken.” Joe Perry posted a picture of himself and Cornell backstage at some venue, with the message, “Very sad news about Chris Cornell today. A sad loss of a great talent to the world, his friends and family. Rest in Peace.” Chic mastermind Nile Rodgers, a close friend of Cornell’s who had been collaborating with Cornell before his death, likewise tweeted a photo of the two of them, with the message, “A mutual friend called me and tells me my bro passed away. #RIPChrisCornell You are a great artist Love to Vicki [sic] and fam.”
The members of Soundgarden were, not so surprisingly, slow to put their sorrow out to the world in a tweet or Facebook post, choosing to go dark for a period after his death. Eerily, for a month afterward, the final tweet on the band’s Twitter page was one announcing the time the doors opened at what turned out to be their final show, at Detroit’s Fox Theatre.
Death Ruled a Suicide
May 18: In the hours following the announcement, rumors flew about the means by which Cornell had died, until the Associated Press reported the medical examiner at the scene declared Cornell’s death a suicide by hanging. Months later, the Detroit Police Department released photos of Cornell’s hotel room, which TMZ immediately put in a photo gallery. In addition to the harrowing photos of the exercise band Cornell employed in his final act and a streak of blood on the bathroom floor, there were also shots of a guitar on a hotel chair, a rumpled bed and a sleep mask — normal accoutrement of a musician on the road. Also pictured were prescription bottles for Prednisone, typically taken for allergies, and Omeprezole, an anti-reflux medication. Cornell also had a prescription for Ativan, an anti-anxiety drug, on which his wife Vicky believes he overdosed, leading him to take his own life.
Cornell’s Friends Pay Tribute at His Funeral
May 26: Cornell’s ashes were laid to rest at a private ceremony at Los Angeles' Hollywood Forever Cemetery, at which a number of friends and bandmates — including Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, Tom Morello, Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament and actor James Brolin — eulogized the singer. Linkin Park's Chester Bennington (a good friend of Cornell’s) sang Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” for the mourners. Bennington would take his own life nearly two months later, hanging himself on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday.
His Wife Carries on Work for Refugees
September 9: Vicky Cornell issued a tweet from the Eleonas refugee camp just outside of Athens, Greece, where thousands of people fleeing persecution and war in their home countries arrive before dispersing to other nations throughout Europe. The plight of refugees was a cause to which Chris Cornell devoted time and resources; he and Vicky founded a charity that advocated for refugees, and he donated all proceeds for his song “The Promise” to the refugee aid organization International Rescue Committee.
Cornell Receives Posthumous Human Rights Award
November 14: Cornell was honored with the inaugural Promise Award (named after his song “The Promise”) by the Los Angeles Committee of Human Rights Watch, during the Voices for Justice Human Rights Watch Annual Dinner. System of a Down singer Serj Tankian presented the award and honored Cornell as a “compassionate, just and gentle human being.”
Vicky Cornell Breaks Her Silence on Her Husband's Addiction
February 20: In an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, Cornell’s widow Vicky openly discussed his death, and the role that drugs played in the decisions he made that fateful night. "I don't think that he could make any decisions because of the level of impairment,” she said, while also noting that Cornell “was the furthest thing from a rock-star junkie.” “He wanted to be there for his family, for his children,” she said. “He loved his life ... he would never have ever left this world."
His Wife Honors Cornell’s Memory by Joining Addiction Policy Forum Board
February 22: Vicky Cornell announced she would join the Addiction Policy Forum’s advisory board, joining former Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey and Congressmen Alan Mollohan and Frank Guinta at the nonprofit institute focused on improving policies related to substance use disorders. “I’ve learned a lot since losing Chris,” she said in a statement, “including the fact that addiction is a brain disease — a disease that is both preventable and treatable.”
Soundgarden Bandmate Plays Again
April 3: Founding MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer announced plans to mark the 50th anniversary of the band's Kick Out the Jams album with a North American tour. Joining him on guitar will be Soundgarden's Kim Thayil, in his first appearances since Cornell’s death, along with Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, King's X bassist Dug Pinnick and Zen Guerrilla singer Marcus Durant. Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron was initially rumored to be in the lineup, but will not tour with the group.
Posthumous Recording of Johnny Cash Poem Released
April 6: Johnny Cash: Forever Words — an album of songs based on poems written by the late country music icon Johnny Cash — was released, and included a new song by Cornell. “You Never Knew My Mind” found Cornell in a typically dark, acoustic setting, singing lines that prove particularly haunting, considering what transpired after the recording: “My silence holds the secrets when I answer but don't answer / You did not see me well enough to recognize the signs.” Cash recorded Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” on the second of his Rick Rubin-produced American Recordings releases.
Family to Hold Vigil on Anniversary of His Death
May 12: Vicky Cornell tweeted a message to fans that included an invitation to attend a vigil on May 18, the anniversary of her husband’s death, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where his ashes are interred. “The children and I are so grateful to you all for being by our sides throughout all of this,” she wrote, before closing with “Light a candle, say a prayer, speak his name … Loud Love.”