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Chris Cornell, Soundgarden Frontman, Dies at Age 52
By Jem Aswad, Shirley Halperin
UPDATED: Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell died by suicide late Wednesday, Variety has confirmed. He died in Detroit after performing with his longtime band Soundgarden on May 17.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s office issued a statement Thursday confirming the cause of death:
“The Medical Examiner has completed the autopsy on 52-year-old Chris Cornell, the Soundgarden musician who died last night in Detroit. The cause of death has been determined as suicide by hanging. A full autopsy report has not yet been completed. There is no additional information at this time.”
Michael Woody, director of media relations for the Detroit Police, told Variety Cornell’s wife asked a friend to check on the singer, the friend forced opened the door and found Cornell on the bathroom floor. Cornell was pronounced dead at the scene. He was 52.
A rep for the singer issued the following statement in the early hours of May 18: “Chris Cornell passed away late Wednesday night in Detroit, MI. His wife Vicky and family were shocked to learn of his sudden and unexpected passing, and they will be working closely with the medical examiner to determine the cause. They would like to thank his fans for their continuous love and loyalty and ask that their privacy be respected at this time.”
Cornell sent a tweet just hours before his final show, posting a photo of the Fox Theater and a caption complete with a reference to Kiss, a band that influenced him deeply as a teen: “#Detroit finally back to Rock City!!!! @soundgarden #nomorebulls—.”
Cornell, a key figure in the Seattle grunge scene with a powerful four-octave voice, founded Soundgarden in 1984 with guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Hiro Yamamoto. Along with Green River — which ultimately split into two bands, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney — Soundgarden were the vanguards of the movement of long-haired, hard-rocking bands that emerged from the city in the mid-to-late 1980s. Their debut single, “Hunted Down,” was the first release on the soon-to-be deeply influential Sub Pop record label in the summer of 1987, and it was followed by the “Screaming Life” EP in November. The band’s sound, a then-unusual fusion of garagey indie rock with a slightly sarcastic take on the stadium-rock (Aerosmith, Kiss) that its members grew up on, found an audience as the band toured extensively. Yet Soundgarden’s members were wary of the optics of signing with a major label too quickly — even though they were already deep in negotiations with majors — and instead chose to release their debut full-length, 1988’s “Ultramega OK”; ironically, the band had already signed A&M at the time of the album’s release. The following year saw the band’s push for the big time: Its major label debut, “Louder Than Love,” arrived in the fall of 1989, and driven by songs like “Loud Love” and “Big Dumb Sex” (with its profane chorus), the band began finding an audience outside the indie scene that had nurtured it. They toured hard into the next year — notably with fellow rising rockers Faith No More — before woodshedding their next album.
Several key events took place in 1990 and ’91 that profoundly shaped the band’s career. First, in April 1990, Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood — a close friend and former roommate of Cornell’s — died of a heroin overdose just weeks before the band released its promising debut album. As a way of grieving, Cornell united with Cameron, Mother Love Bone members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard (both of whom had been in Green River) and a promising young singer named Eddie Vedder whom Ament and Gossard were considering for their next band. The resulting album, “Temple of the Dog,” was released rather quietly on A&M in mid-1991, but took on a whole new dimension when Pearl Jam — the band Ament, Gossard and Vedder went on to form — Nirvana, and the entire Seattle scene vaulted into the mainstream the following year.
Next, Soundgarden released “Badmotorfinger,” which showed vast maturity in both the band’s performance and, via songs like “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined,” its Cornell-driven songwriting; the album was nominated for a Grammy Awards (albeit for Best Heavy Metal Performance) the following year. And in 1992, just as the grunge wave was cresting, came the Cameron Crowe-directed film “Singles,” a celebration of Seattle’s scene and sound, which starred Matt Dillon and Bridget Fonda and featured many characters from the area’s rock world. Soundgarden performs in the film and appears on the soundtrack, yet perhaps its most memorable moment in the film comes when Dillon and Cornell briefly groove together to music; Cornell’s presence actually outshines that of the far more famous actor. The film’s soundtrack, which was certified platinum at the time by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), just last week received a deluxe reissue featuring several rare and previously unreleased tracks, including Cornell’s rare solo “Poncier” EP. The group was a highlight on the second Lollapalooza tour in 1992, which also featured Pearl Jam.
The scene was set for Soundgarden to rise to superstardom, and they did not miss their moment. “Superunknown,” which was released in March 1994, debuted atop the Billboard 200 album chart and featured a string of radio smashes from the album, including “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun,” both of which won Grammy Awards in 1995. “Superunknown” would eventually sell more than 5 million copies, according to the RIAA. The band returned with 1996’s “Down On the Upside,” but tensions between Cornell and Kim Thayil, along with the decline of the Seattle sound and the overall burnout of 12 years together, led to their split in 1997. The band would not play together again until 2010.
In 1999, Cornell ventured out on his own and with the album “Euphoria Morning,” which showed a more introspective and softer side to his songwriting. While critically well-received, the album was not a commercial success, and by 2001 Cornell reverted to his rocker muse and formed the band Audioslave with the members of Rage Against the Machine, who had recently parted ways with singer Zack De La Rocha. The band’s self-titled debut was released in 2002 and yielded another hit, “Cochise.” Audioslave’s “Like a Stone” was also nominated for a Grammy. The band would go on to release two more albums, before calling it quits in 2007.
Cornell’s solo career would kick into high-gear in 2006 with the song “You Know My Name,” written for the James Bond film “Casino Royale.” He would receive a Golden Globe Award for the track.
The following year, Cornell released a solo album, “Carry On,” which was produced by Steve Lillywhite. It was released to mixed reviews. Cornell followed with his most pop effort to date, 2009’s “Scream,” which saw him collaborating with R&B producer Timbaland and Onerepubic frontman Ryan Tedder; Justin Timberlake even appeared on a song. While the album was his highest charting solo release — debuting at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 — Cornell was lambasted critically and by peers including Trent Reznor, who called the album “embarassing.” Around that time Cornell covered the Michael Jackson song “Billie Jean” in an acoustic rendition that gained unexpected currency when Jackson died in June of 2009.
In 2010, Cornell began hinting at a Soundgarden reunion, which would eventually take place at Lollapalooza in April of that year. Over the past few years he generally alternated between solo work, releasing the albums”Songbook” (2011), and “Higher Truth” (2015), Soundgarden (which released its first new album in 16 years, “King Animal,” in 2012, and did a tour around the 20th anniversary of “Superunknown” in 2014) and a Temple of the Dog reunion. In 2014, that group emerged from hibernation when Cornell joined Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit to perform “Hunger Strike,” and the band did a rapturously received reunion tour in 2016, marking the 25th anniversary of Temple of the Dog’s debut album.
With Soundgarden, Cornell won two Grammy Awards from 14 nominations, and a 1994 MTV Video Music Award for “Black Hole Sun.”
According to Nielsen Music, across his entire catalog (Soundgarden, Audioslave and solo) he sold 14,865,000 albums, 8,808,000 digital songs and had 300,091,000 on-demand audio streams.
The top sellers were Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” (3,859,000), “Badmotorfinger” (1,615,000) and 1996’s “Down on the Upside” (1,606,000); the band’s top songs were “Black Hole Sun” (1,044,000 sold, 45.4 million streams), “Spoonman” (431,000 sold, nearly 15 million streams) and “Fell on Black Days (420,000 sold, 13.7 million streams).
Audioslave sold 3.5 million copies of its self-titled debut and 1.2 million of its “Out of Exile” follow-up; its top song was “Like a Stone” (908,000 sold, 31.8 million streams). Cornell’s solo albums “Out of Exile” sold 1.2 million, while his debut “Euphoria Morning” moved 393,000 units. His top songs were “You Know My Name” (323,000 sold, 3.5 million streams), “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” (“5.5 million streams) and his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” (125,000 sold).
Cornell had struggled with substance abuse throughout much of his life, including a bout with Oxycontin for which in 2009 he admitted had sent him into rehab. He had been sober since 2002.
He is survived by his wife, Vicky Karayiannis, and three children: Lillian, Toni, and Christopher.
GREGG ALLMAN, SOUTHERN ROCK PIONEER, DIES AT 69
Chris Morris, Music Reporter
Gregg Allman, whose hard-jamming, bluesy sextet the Allman Brothers Band was the pioneering unit in the Southern rock explosion of the ‘70s, died Saturday due to complications from liver cancer, his longtime manager, Michael Lehman, confirmed to Variety. He was 69.
As recently as April 24, reports surfaced claiming Allman was in hospice, although Lehman denied those reports, which Allman then substantiated in a Facebook post. However, he had suffered a number of ailments in recent years — including an irregular heartbeat, a respiratory infection, a hernia and a liver transplant — and cancelled many scheduled tour dates in recent months for health reasons. Lehman said that Allman’s liver cancer recurred around five years ago, but the singer chose to keep the news private.
Allman completed a solo album, “Southern Blood,” that is set for release late this year. Lehman said they received some final mixes for the album on Friday, and Allman listened to them the night before his death. He added that Allman passed away with his family nearby, and was “at peace.”
For his work with the Allman Brothers, the legendary band he cofounded with his late brother Duane, and as a solo artist, Allman is one of the leading lights of Southern Rock. While the group’s greatest work was done before and shortly after Duane’s death in 1971, they stayed together, off and on, over 45 years and remain a singular influence on Southern rock and jam-band musicians. They were a top-drawing touring outfit until October 2014, when the group finally closed the book on their career with a series of dates at their longtime favorite venue, New York’s Beacon Theatre.
Allman’s solo career always played second to that of the band, but he enjoyed solo success with 1973’s “Laid Back” and 1987’s “I’m No Angel,” both of which were certified gold. In 2011 he released an unexpectedly strong album entitled “Low Country Blues” that was produced by T Bone Burnett (Alison Krauss/Robert Plant, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, “O Brother Where Art Thou?”), who, along with instrumentalists like pianist Dr. John and guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, brought Allman back to his gutsy roots with stellar results.
With his older sibling, guitarist Duane Allman, the singer-keyboardist-guitarist-songwriter led one of the most popular concert attractions of the rock ballroom era; the group’s 1971 set “At Fillmore East,” recorded at Bill Graham’s New York hall, was a commercial breakthrough that showed off the band’s prodigious songcraft and instrumental strengths.
After Duane Allman’s death in a motorcycle accident weeks after the live album’s release, his younger brother led the band through four more stormy decades of playing and recording. The Allman Brothers Band’s latter-day history proved tumultuous, with other fatalities, disbandings, regroupings and very public battles with drugs and alcohol on the part of its surviving namesake.
Though Gregg Allman’s highly publicized addictions, his tabloid-ready marriage to pop vocalist Cher, and his equally public disputes with co-founding guitarist Dickey Betts came under harsh and sometimes mocking scrutiny over the years, Allman prevailed as the linchpin of an act that maintained popularity over four decades and opened the commercial door for such other Southern acts as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band.
As a member of the Allman Brothers Band, Allman was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
He was born Gregory LeNoir Allman on Dec. 8, 1947, in Nashville; brother Duane was born 13 months earlier in the same hospital. In 1949, his father was shot to death by a man he offered a ride to in a bar. As their mother was studying accounting to support the family, the brothers were sent to a Tennessee military school at an early age.
The Allmans became attracted to music after seeing a 1960 concert by R&B singer Jackie Wilson in Daytona Beach, FL, where the family had moved the year before. Using money from a paper route (augmented by his mother), Gregg bought a guitar, and taught Duane his first chords. Both played guitar in the bands they founded after returning to the military academy in their teens.
Their pro bands the Escorts and the Allman Joys, which favored R&B, blues and rock covers, found work on the Florida club circuit in the mid-‘60s; Gregg began playing keyboards in the latter unit. The Allman Joys were playing without success in St. Louis when Bill McEuen, manager of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, met them and offered to set them up in Los Angeles.
Renamed Hour Glass, the L.A.-based group cut two unsuccessful pop-oriented albums for Liberty Records in 1967-68. Duane chafed at the direction being forced on the combo and fled for Alabama, where he became a prominent session guitarist at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL. Gregg remained in L.A. to fulfill obligations to Liberty, but was summoned to Jacksonville, FL, in 1969 by his brother, who envisioned a new blues-based band with two guitarist and two drummers, featuring members of another local combo, the 31st of February.
Calling themselves the Allman Brothers Band, the new unit – the Allmans, guitarist Betts, bassist Berry Oakley and drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson – was signed by Otis Redding’s former manager Phil Walden for management and as an act on his Macon, GA-based label Capricorn Records. The group moved to Macon, which became its base for the duration.
Neither of the ABB’s first two albums was an enormous success: Its self-titled bow peaked at No. 188 in 1969, while sophomore set “Idlewild South” topped out at No. 38 in 1970. But they established Gregg Allman as a vocal, instrumental and songwriting power: His compositions included such future staples of the band’s live set as “Not My Cross to Bear,” “Dreams,” “Whipping Post” and “Midnight Rider.”
Though problems with hard drug abuse were already surfacing in the band, the Allmans became a huge concert attraction in the South; the enthusiastic sponsorship of promoter Graham led to high-profile gigs at New York’s Filllmore East (where the band attained a rabid following) and San Francisco’s Fillmore.
The Allmans made their commercial mark with “At Fillmore East”: The expansive, Tom Dowd-produced two-record set, recorded during two nights at the venue, shot to No.13 ultimately sold more than 1 million copies and became one of the defining concert recordings of its day. However, Duane Allman’s tragic death at 24 on a Macon street on Oct. 29, 1971, cast a shadow over its success.
The band completed a follow-up two-LP set, “Eat a Peach,” as a quintet, with live numbers featuring Duane filling out the contents. The 1972 package rose to No. 4 nationally and went platinum, but disaster again struck: In a mishap eerily similar to Duane Allman’s fatal crash, hard-drinking bassist Oakley died after driving his bike into the side of a truck that November.
Shaken by the deaths of his brother and Oakley and increasingly incapacitated by heroin, cocaine and alcohol, Gregg Allman ceded much of the band’s songwriting and front man duties to Betts; as he noted in “My Cross to Bear,” his 2012 memoir, “Up until then, we’d never really had a front man; Dickey took it upon himself to create that role.”
The ABB released its only No. 1 album, “Brothers and Sisters,” in 1973; the record was powered to the top by the Betts-penned No. 2 single “Ramblin’ Man,” the group’s only top-10 45.
Allman retreated from the group to cut his solo debut “Laid Back” in 1973; rising to No. 13, it would be his most popular work away from the band for nearly 40 years, and it spawned his only top-20 solo single, a down-tempo remake of “Midnight Rider.”
On the heels of the lugubrious but popular “Win, Lose or Draw” (No. 5, 1975), the group set out on its biggest, and costliest, tour to date. The ABB flew to its dates on a lavishly appointed private jet previously used by the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin; in his book, Allman recalls, “The first time we walked onto the plane, ‘Welcome Allman Brothers’ was spelled out in cocaine on the bar.”
The ABB returned from the 41-date tour with a mere $100,000 in hand, owing to over-the-top spending. This financial catastrophe was compounded by the indictment of the group’s security man (and Allman’s drug bag man) Scooter Herring on cocaine distribution charges; Allman testified against Herring before a grand jury and at his trial, which netted a 75-year prison sentence.
Addicted to heroin and embroiled in inter-band conflict with Betts, Allman began spending more time in Los Angeles with Cher, whom he had wed in June 1975. The incongruous couple was followed avidly by gossip columnists. In the wake of an unsuccessful 1977 solo album, “Playin’ Up a Storm” (No. 42), Allman and Cher released their only duo album, “Two the Hard Way”; embarrassingly credited to “Allman and Woman,” the set failed to chart, and its accompanying tour witnessed scuffles between hostile camps of fans in the audiences. Allman and Cher divorced in 1978.
Membership in the ABB rotated repeatedly for the remainder of the group’s career, which saw ever-diminishing contributions from writer Allman. He authored just one song for the group’s final Capricorn album, “Enlightened Rogues” (No. 27, 1979); the financially unstable imprint crashed within a year of its release. Allman was also a minor contributor to a pair of slick, poorly received albums for Arista Records in 1980-81.
During the band’s protracted hiatus of the ‘80s, Allman issued a pair of solo sets; the more popular of the two, 1987’s “I’m No Angel” (No. 30, 1987), spawned the titular radio hit.
Encouraged by airplay on the burgeoning “classic rock” radio format, the ABB reconvened for a 1989 tour. In 1990, the group recorded “Seven Turns” (No. 53) with “Fillmore East” producer Tom Dowd; the group also began multi-night residencies at New York’s Beacon Theatre, which became an annual tradition. They issued four commercially unrewarding albums – two studio sets and two concert releases – between 1991 and 1995.
Following a drunken appearance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York in January 1995, onetime junkie Allman, after 11 stints in rehab, finally stopped drinking on his own, under the 24-hour watch of two nurses.
Following the exit of longtime guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody and the recruitment of Butch Trucks’ young nephew Derek Trucks on guitar, the ABB cut the live “Peakin’ at the Beacon” in 2000. Tension within the band had reached the breaking point, and, following a severely worded fax to Betts from the other members and subsequent legal arbitration, the Allman Brothers Band’s other founding guitarist made his exit.
The front line of Allman, Haynes and Derek Trucks and the group’s founding drummers were heard on the Allman Brothers Band’s studio collection “Hittin’ the Note” (No. 37, 2003) and the live “One Way Out” (No. 190, 2004). After 45 years in business, the band was formally dissolved after an October 2014 show at the Beacon.
Allman’s old habits caught up with him in the ‘00s. Diagnosed with hepatitis C – a disease common to intravenous drug users – in 2007, he learned that he was suffering from liver cancer in 2008. He underwent successful liver transplant surgery at the Mayo Clinic in 2010.
Before his surgery, Allman entered the studio to record his first solo album in 13 years. “Low Country Blues,” a striking and powerful recital of old blues songs, augmented by one Allman-Haynes original and produced by T Bone Burnett (Alison Krauss/Robert Plant, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, “O Brother Where Art Thou?”), garnered the best reviews of his career, collected a Grammy Award nomination and became his highest-charting solo release, reaching No. 5 in early 2011.
However, health problems and catastrophe continued to dog him. He cut short a 2011 European tour because of respiratory issues, which ultimately mandated lung surgery. He faced a drug relapse spurred by painkillers, and did a stint in rehab. In 2014, a film based on his 2012 memoir, “Midnight Rider,” ceased production after a camera assistant on director Randall Miller’s feature was killed by a freight train on the first day of shooting.
Allman’s last concert took place on October 29, 2016 in Atlanta, a headlining set at his own Laid Back Festival.
Married and divorced six times, Allman is survived by three sons and two daughters, all by different mothers. Four of the children are professional musicians.
Allman will be buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia, next to Duane and former Allmans bassist Berry Oakley (who died a year after Duane), Lehman said. Their mother’s ashes, currently in Gregg’s home, will be buried there as well.
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