On April 8, 1994, an electrician named Gary Smith arrived at the Seattle home of Kurt Cobain, lead vocalist and guitarist for the band Nirvana, to install security lighting. As he walked around the property, he looked through a window and saw a body on the floor with a shotgun resting across its chest. Smith had no idea at the time who it was and contacted the police.
Kurt Cobain was born on February 20, 1967 in Aberdeen, Washington to Donald and Wendy Cobain. He came from a family of ordinary working-class people; his father was a mechanic and his mother a waitress. His parents separated and later divorced when he was about 8 years old, and that event caused him much unhappiness at an early age. His family history included multiple suicides on his paternal side, and a history of mental illness and suicide on his maternal side as well. Some have speculated that Cobain had bipolar disorder, and it was known that he suffered from severe depression. He also had chronic stomach pain.
As a troubled teen, Cobain had been arrested for vandalism and indulged in alcohol and drugs. He left his mother’s home and was homeless for a period of time. Early on, Cobain found relief and solace in his music. In the mid-’80s, Cobain met guitarist Krist Novoselic, who lived nearby. Novoselic shared his passion for music, and the two played in several bands before finally putting together a trio with drummer Chad Channing. In 1987, they formed Nirvana. Influenced by bands like Black Sabbath and The Melvins, Nirvana had a unique sound that helped launch the new genre called grunge rock. In 1989, they released their first album, Bleach, which caught some traction and generated underground buzz. Channing left Nirvana due to alleged frustration with the songwriting process, and Nirvana recruited the prodigious talent Dave Grohl as their new drummer. The new trio was a hit and the band took off to stardom with their next album release, Nevermind, in 1991. Nirvana achieved international fame, which Cobain seemed unable to reconcile. The attention made him uncomfortable and added to his unhappiness.
In 1992, he married his pregnant girlfriend Courtney Love, front woman for the band Hole, who was extremely ambitious. Where she seemed to thrive on the notoriety and fame, he shrunk. The marriage was filled with emotional stress, fighting, as well as substance abuse problems. They had one daughter together, Frances Bean Cobain, who was taken away from her parents for a period of time after her birth due to instability and drug abuse within the household.
Throughout this time, Nirvana’s fame continued to grow. By 1993, Cobain’s drug addiction had overshadowed everything else in his life. He was a heavy heroin user, and in November 1993, he overdosed, followed by another overdose of Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) in March 1994. Cobain indicated that drugs were the only things that provided him relief from the chronic stomach pain he suffered.
On March 18, 1994, Love phoned Seattle police and advised them that Cobain was suicidal and had locked himself in a room with a gun. Police confiscated several weapons from the home. An intervention took place with family and friends (and his record company) where Cobain finally agreed to receive drug rehabilitation treatment. He arrived in Los Angeles on March 30 and checked into the Exodus Recovery Center. On that same day, one of Cobain’s closest friends, Dylan Carlson, purchased a Remington 20-gauge shotgun at Cobain’s request. Carlson has stated he believed Cobain wanted the gun for self-defense. On April 2, Cobain scaled a 6-foot wall to escape the Exodus facility, went to the airport, and returned to his home in Seattle. On April 3, Love enlisted the assistance of a private investigator, Tom Grant, to find her husband. Grant went to the Cobain home in Washington, accompanied by Dylan Carlson, but did not find Cobain there.
On April 5, 1994, Cobain committed suicide by pulling the trigger of the Remington. Earlier, Cobain had shot up with a lethal dose of heroin; there was an old cigar box of drug paraphernalia found by his side. Cobain’s corpse was lying on the floor in a room over the garage with the shotgun across his chest. He had blown his head away through his mouth, leaving behind a sad suicide note addressed to Boddah, the imaginary friend of his youth. In the note, he went on to explain he had not felt excitement from his music for many years.
Cobain was an extremely talented artist, but he had a tortured soul. He was adored by fans and is now forever immortalized as a member of the “27 Club,” which includes the many musicians who have died at age 27. There are many who believe that Cobain was murdered. These people include private investigator Tom Grant and Love’s father, Hank Harrison. However, no hard evidence exists to contradict the suicide ruling.
- Cobain case investigation. Cobain Case website. http://www.cobaincase.com/.
- Editors of Rolling Stone. Cobain. New York: Rolling Stone Press; 1994.
- Germeaux S. Kurt Cobain—great grandfather’s gunshot death was not suicide. Examiner.com website. September 26, 2011. http://www.examiner.com/article/kurt-cobain-great-grandfather-s-gunshot-death-was-not-suicideKurt Cobain. NNDB website. http://www.nndb.com/people/939/000025864/.
- Kurt Cobain’s death was indeed a suicide, police say. CBS News website. March 24, 2014. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/kurt-cobains-death-was-indeed-a-suicide-police-say/.
- A walking tour of…Kurt Cobain’s Aberdeen. The Aberdeen Museum of History website. http://www.aberdeen-museum.org/kurt.htm.
- Was Kurt Cobain murdered? Justice for Kurt website. http://www.justiceforkurt.com.