Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide in April 1994 rocked the world. His celebrity status as a member of one of the most successful rock bands, as well as his youth and new fatherhood, made his death both a high-profile event and a tragedy. In the wake of his death, Nirvana disbanded, and the members sought other projects.
April 8, 1994
On this day, an electrician arrived at Cobain’s home in Seattle to complete the installation of some security lights. He found the musician’s body in the greenhouse. At first thinking the singer had fallen asleep, he then noticed that he was bleeding from his head. The electrician also found a suicide note affixed to a plant pot. He contacted emergency services, who pronounced the musician dead on the scene.
Cobain had accessed a shotgun through his friend, Dylan Carlson. The singer had told him that he didn’t want to buy a gun in his own name for fear that it would be confiscated by police, as had happened on several other occasions.
An investigation concluded that the musician had died by suicide some three days before his body was discovered, putting his date of death around April 5, 1994. He was 27 years old.
Leadup To Cobain’s Death
On March 3, 1994, Cobain was in Rome when he was suddenly rushed to the hospital for treatment of an overdose. Though his PR team spread the word that it was accidental, his wife, Courtney Love, later shared that it was a deliberate suicide attempt. She said her husband had taken dozens of pills in an attempt to end his life.
His suicidal ideations were rooted in a wide variety of conditions. In addition to struggling with addiction, he had been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder; he had a family history of related mental disorders and had had two uncles die by suicide.
But it was the physical pain that played a large role in his desire to die. He had been in pain for years due to chronic bronchitis and chronic gastrointestinal issues. His overdose attempt in Rome had been through painkillers, which he took regularly in an effort to quell his stomach pain.
In the years before his death, he was in so much pain that the only thing that brought him relief was heroin. As early as 1991, he was using illicit drugs to find relief. His friends reported getting the feeling that he was trying to die.
Twice over the course of 1993 to 1994, Cobain’s guns were confiscated by the police, including on one occasion when his wife reported that he was suicidal. In mid-March 1994, she contacted the police, saying that the musician had locked himself in his room with his guns and was planning to kill himself. When the police arrived, the singer insisted that, though he and his wife had been arguing and he was not suicidal.
The next week, she staged an intervention with friends to talk to him about his drug addiction. He agreed to enter a detox program. He checked himself into a rehab facility on March 30, 1994. He spent the following day visiting with friends and playing with his daughter, Frances.
That night, he left the facility by jumping a wall. He immediately went to a gun shop in Seattle, where he bought shotgun shells.
An autopsy of Cobain’s body concluded that he had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His body contained high amounts of heroin as well as Valium.
Although newspapers reported that he was extremely high at the time of his death, forensic specialists pointed out that his state of intoxication would have depended on how used he was to the drug. Nevertheless, he had certainly taken high doses of heroin in the hours leading up to his death.
Cobain’s Suicide Note
His suicide note was found affixed to a plant pot in the greenhouse where he took his life. The note became famous after his death, even inspiring some of his fans to take their lives as well. For decades, people pored over the contents of the note to try to make sense of it.
Most of the note was addressed to his childhood imaginary friend, Boddah. In it, the singer described his depression and how he had struggled to find joy in anything for years. Most heartbreakingly, he spoke about his worries for Frances, who was only one-and-a-half years old.
He expressed how he worried that she would become angry and depressed as he was. He ended the note with a quote from Neil Young’s song My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue): “It is better to burn out than to fade away.”
His suicide note included several postscripts to his wife and daughter:
“Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your alter [sic]. Please keep going Courtney, for Frances. For her life, which will be so much happier without me. I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU!”
Cobain was cremated. A public memorial service was held on April 10, 1994. It took place at the Seattle Center and was open to his fans. During the service, fans listened to a recording of his widow reading passages from his suicide note. Later, she arrived in person to speak with fans and distribute some of his clothing to those who wanted it.
Her husband’s ashes were divided. Some were brought to the Namgyal Buddhist Monastery, where they were blessed and then mixed with clay used to make memorial stones.
Five years after his death, there was a private remembrance ceremony for his family and close friends. His widow and daughter, then six years old, were at the ceremony and scattered some of his remaining ashes into Olympia’s McClane Lake.
In the aftermath of Cobain’s death, Nirvana disbanded. The remaining members felt that it would be too stressful and traumatic to continue working together. This led to the foundation of the band Foo Fighters by drummer David Grohl, a group that would go on to have significant success.
Cobain’s death rocked the music world, shocking both his friends and peers. Some, particularly his bandmates, said that they suspected that he was teetering on the edge. But most people were stunned and blindsided by his suicide, feeling haunted by the loss.
To rumors that he was murdered, Nirvana manager Danny Goldberg flatly said that people who had been close to him knew that he was suicidal. He said that in the months leading up to his death, the singer had been acting increasingly erratic and talked openly about wanting to die.
In the wake of Cobain’s death, conspiracy theories blew up. Fans painstakingly analyzed the contents of his suicide note, especially with the advent of the internet. Some people claimed that he had been murdered by his wife. While it was true that their marriage had been struggling and divorce had been mentioned several times in the last year of the musician’s life, there was no evidence that she had played a role in her husband’s death.
It was true that she hired a private investigator to track him down in his final days. This happened after learning that he had escaped the rehab facility by jumping over a wall. The private investigator tracked him from Southern California back to Seattle and even searched his property; however, the singer evaded notice by hiding in the greenhouse above the garage, which was not searched.
Her actions were out of concern for her husband, whom she knew was in the throes of addiction and suicide.
Many other conspiracies were suggested, with different murderers accused. Some fans theorized that his suicide note was “proof” that he had been forced to write it under threat, or even that he had not written it at all. These conspiracy theorists pointed to small details such as the fact that the singer’s writing became more erratic and haphazard toward the end of the letter; however, no real credence has ever been given to these theories.
No one has ever been credibly tied to his death through these fan theories; investigators have widely accepted that all the evidence points to suicide. His friends, family, and bandmates largely agreed, citing his state of mind toward the end of his life.
Cobain remains one of the most iconic musicians of the modern rock era. His musicianship had an enormous effect on the development of grunge, post-grunge, and other genres. On the 10-year anniversary of his death, his family released a statement asking for fans to respect the late singer, particularly for the sake of his widow and Frances.
He was posthumously inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, 20 years after his death. His former bandmates, along with his widow, were there to accept the award in his name.
Despite his short life and career, Cobain is still considered one of the best guitarists of all time.
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