Death stalked the Seattle grunge music scene in the early 1990s, depriving it of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Hole’s Kristen Pfaff and Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone. Chris Cornell, who co-founded Soundgarden in the city, looked to have ridden out the worst lifestyle excesses and become a settled family man, making his death particularly perplexing.
Cornell, who used his four-octave vocal range to powerful effect as Soundgarden's lead vocalist as well as playing rhythm guitar, was found hanged in his hotel bathroom in Detroit shortly after fronting the four-piece in a show. At 52 he had become an elder statesman of grunge, telling Rolling Stone magazine the band had “lost young, brilliant friends” to drugs and expressing annoyance at how the death of Cobain, who shot himself, had turned the genre into “a fashion statement”.
Born Christopher John Boyle, the youngest son in a large lower middle-class Catholic family in Seattle, Cornell played piano, drums and guitar in high school. He later cited Rush and AC/DC from heavy rock and the Ramones and Sex Pistols from punk as role models. Soundgarden’s music would fuse both influences.
The group grew out of the Shemps in 1984 and had their first single and EP released by the Sub Pop label in 1987, a year before Nirvana’s recording debut. Their most commercially successful album was the third, 1994’s Superunknown, which delivered their only American No1 and reached No4 in the UK. It spawned several of Soundgarden’s best-known songs, including the Cornell compositions “Fell On Black Days” and Grammy-winning “Black Hole Sun”, to which he contributed a dark, growling vocal and described as “a surreal, psychedelic word painting”.
In 2000 Cornell married Soundgarden’s manager, Susan Silver, with whom he had a daughter. Their union ended in divorce in 2004 and a four-year court battle over his collection of 15 guitars. He and Paris-based publicist Vicky Karayiannis married the same year, had a son and daughter and attended a Greek Orthodox Church. He said in 2012: “I've met many, many musicians I wouldn't let near my daughter. Or my son.”
Soundgarden had split up in 1997, Cornell entering rehab after briefly resuming the hard-drug and alcohol abuse of his teens. They re-formed in 2010, taking their album count to six and banning drink from their tour-bus. In the interim he had joined Californian band Audioslave, who made three albums before they disbanded in 2007 citing “personal conflicts and musical differences”. They too reunited – despite his professed loathing of nostalgia – to perform at an Anti-Inaugural Ball to protest against Donald Trump’s swearing-in as US President.
Similarly, Cornell reconvened Temple of the Dog – the group he created in 1991 with four future members of Pearl Jam in memory of his room-mate, heroin casualty Andrew Wood – for a 25th anniversary tour. His parallel solo career, which showcased his more sensitive side over five albums, included the distinction of co-writing and singing “You Know My Name”, theme song to the first James Bond film starring Daniel Craig, Casino Royale.
Chris Cornell, born 20 July 1964, died 17 May 2017Reuse content