Born in 1964 and musical from an early age, Chris Cornell helped form grunge band Soundgarden in Seattle in 1984, ultimately hitting the road with Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd. The group scored two Grammys in 1995 for best metal performance and best hard rock performance, and went on to become arguably one of the more successful Seattle-born grunge bands of the era.
Cornell’s early life was similar to some other rock and roll frontmen: rebellious and a loner, he was kicked out of junior high and began experimenting with drugs at age 12 before finding music.
In 1998, the rocker went solo, dropping the album Euphoria Morning and going on a world tour in 1999. His personal life was picking up, too: he and then-wife Susan Silver, Soundgarden’s manager, welcomed daughter Lillian in 2000.
In the early 2000s, Cornell linked up with Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine, joining them as vocalist and debuting the group Audioslave.
Although he found success with Audioslave in the mid-2000s, Cornell was struggling with some personal demons. He entered rehab for two months in 2002 to help battle an alcohol and OxyContin addiction, and split from Silver in 2004.
In 2005, Cornell married publicist Vicky Karayiannis and they soon welcomed two children: Toni and Christopher. The second half of the 2000s saw Cornell settle into peaceful family life without substance abuse. “It was a long period of coming to the realization that this way [sober] is better,” he told Rock N Roll Experience in 2007.
By 2006 Cornell returned to solo work, penning the song “You Know My Name” for the James Bond film Casino Royale and scoring a Grammy nomination for the hit. His next solo album followed, and he toured with Linkin Park and Aerosmith before embarking on a solo acoustic tour in 2011. During this period he opened the Black Calavados restaurant in Paris with his wife and brother-in-law, a nod to his teenage years as a Seattle sous chef.
“I came from a childhood where I spent a lot of time alone and a lot of time just living with my imagination, and a certain amount of the adult world was kind of alienating,” he told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer in April 2006. “And I find now after spending a lot of time with my babies, they’re my best friends. And I still find a certain part of the adult world alienating, so I’d rather just hang out with my kids.”
The singer’s 2011 single “The Keeper,” for the film Machine Gun Preacher, earned him a Golden Globe nomination. By that time Soundgarden had also reunited, headlining at Lollapalooza and performing on Conan in 2010. In 2012, the group released its sixth album, King Animal, to critical acclaim.
In January 2017, Audioslave reunited for the Prophets of Rage Anti-Inaugural Ball in Los Angeles. Cornell teased a legitimate reunion of the band, though cited busy schedules — and his work with Soundgarden — as reasons for a delay.
One of Cornell’s final public apperances was at a New York City screening of The Promise, a film about the Armenian genocide for which he wrote a song. “One of my close friends is the producer of the film, who’s Armenian, Eric Esrailian. My wife is Greek. Her grandparents were actually refugees from the same period of Greek refugees, the same policy,” he told PEOPLE. “If neither of those things existed, it would still be something that I would want to be a part of and be able to have the opportunity to write a song for such an impactful, and what I think of as an important film.”
Before his final performance in Detroit on May 17, 2017, Cornell sang “The Promise” on The Tonight Show on April 19, ending the tune with a smile and handshake for host Jimmy Fallon. In the early hours of May 18, news broke that the 52-year-old singer was found unresponsive in his Detroit hotel room; his death was ruled a suicide.
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