Chris Cornell, the rock vocalist, songwriter and frontman of Soundgarden, one of the formative bands of the Seattle-based grunge scene, was found dead May 18 in a Detroit hotel room, after a sold-out performance with his Grammy Award-winning group. He was 52.
Detroit police spokesman Michael Woody said Mr. Cornell was found in his room at the MGM Grand Hotel in Detroit. Wayne County, Mich., spokeswoman Lisa Croff said that the preliminary cause is suicide by hanging.
Video of his final concert — at Detroit’s Fox Theatre — showed Mr. Cornell giving a vigorous performance, tossing about his mane of long, curly hair as he howled across the stage. Hours later, a family friend found Mr. Cornell on the bathroom floor of his hotel room.
Mr. Cornell, who also led the post-grunge band Audioslave for several years, had a wide-ranging cultural presence. He performed at President Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration and sang the theme — “You Know My Name” — from the 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale.”
Along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden developed one of the most influential and definitive sounds of the 1990s. Mr. Cornell’s wailing, four-octave vocal range made him a formidable presence onstage; he later referred to his voice as “both a blessing and a curse” in a 2008 interview with South Africa’s Weekend Argus newspaper.
“With Soundgarden, we were always looking to do a bunch of things at the same time, separately and as a band and, with my voice being known to be versatile, I don’t know if you could tell, ‘It’s that band, it’s that guy,’ ” Mr. Cornell told the paper. “In the long run, it’s positive because it’s not imitative, but it was negative because it wasn’t unanimously accepted at the time.”
Grunge grabbed elements of heavy metal and punk, an unexpected, thrilling and loosely defined combination that sold millions of albums for Soundgarden and, later, for Audioslave. Grunge drew from the intellectual, energized ambitions of punk and the apolitical, raging attitude of heavy metal.
“Soundgarden was as influenced by Black Sabbath as it was by the Ramones,” said Anthony DeCurtis, a rock historian and contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine.
Seattle’s grunge community — in which Mr. Cornell came of age — was built on a desire to create passionate, soul-examining music, but many of its adherents were regularly lost to a sea of drugs and depression that they couldn’t breach.
Mr. Cornell’s music examined his internal strife and that of the grunge scene. He talked about suffering from depression and once called himself a “pioneer” of the OxyContin abuse epidemic. He went into rehab in 2002 for alcohol and drug dependency.
Mr. Cornell formed Soundgarden with lead guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Hiro Yamamoto in 1984, and five years later it became the first grunge band to sign with a major record label, A&M.
The group disbanded in 1997, two years after receiving Grammys — one for best hard rock performance for the single “Black Hole Sun” and another for best rock album for its Billboard chart-topping “Superunknown.”
Success, including multiple hit singles such as “Spoonman,” brought tension to the band over artistic direction. Mr. Cornell left to pursue a solo career with an adventurous and distinct sound that at times alienated portions of his audience. Mr. Cornell released “Scream,” a 2009 solo pop-
influenced album that was a collaboration with hip-hop producer Timbaland.
In 2001, Mr. Cornell began Audioslave with some members of the band Rage Against the Machine. Audioslave released three studio albums before Mr. Cornell left in 2007, citing irreconcilable differences. He regrouped with Soundgarden three years later and maintained a steady flow of album releases and an international touring schedule.
Mr. Cornell was born Christopher John Boyle in Seattle on July 20, 1964. He took piano and guitar lessons as a child, although he later became known for his singing and drumming.
He dropped out of high school, telling the London Guardian that it felt like a conformity mill — “the concept that they’d take a group of us and make us all do the same thing and make us exactly the same.” Mr. Cornell’s already prodigious drug use and his parents’s divorce also exacerbated his depression. He credited Soundgarden, which he started at 20, with alleviating his distress.
His first marriage, to his former manager Susan Silver, ended in divorce. He once said the breakup grew so caustic that it took him four years to gain access to his own guitar collection.
Survivors include his wife, Vicky Karayiannis, and their two children; and a daughter from his first marriage. He had homes in Los Angeles and Paris and, according to the Guardian, was involved in running a restaurant in the City of Lights that served such incongruous dishes as peanut butter sole.
“That’s probably the business I’d have ended up in if it wasn’t for music,” he told the British paper. “It’s good for me to be involved in different things.”
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