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The triumph and tragedy of Chris Cornell, five years after his death

During the encore of the Soundgarden show at the Fox Theater in Detroit on May 17, 2017, Chris Cornell — in all his grunge god glory — looked ready to rock the next leg of the tour.

But it would prove sadly prophetic when, during the band’s final “Slaves & Bulldozers” number, they incorporated a bit of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying.” In a grisly twist, Cornell was pronounced dead just hours after the concert at 1:30 a.m. on May 18. His death, at age 52, was ruled a suicide by hanging.

Five years after the “Black Hole Sun” singer’s death, fans are still trying to figure out why Cornell suddenly fell into the darkest places. Although he struggled with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as substance abuse issues, the man with one of rock’s greatest voices – possessing a four-octave range – seemed having escaped another of grunge’s tragic losses.

Chris Cornell flying at a Soundgarden show in the early 90s.

“His death was a complete shock,” Mark Yarm, author of “Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge,” told the Post. “Of those four main grunge bands, we lost [Nirvana’s] Kurt Cobain, we lost [Alice in Chains’] Layne Staley, and we lost Chris Cornell. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder is the only one to survive.

“You felt like Chris made it through to the other side — he was married, he had a family and everything,” said Chris Celona, ​​who co-hosts the “Grunge Bible” podcast with Ethan Shalway. “Because he had persisted and had success in his 40s and 50s, it felt like he was really embarking on the second or even the third act of his career as a former statesman. rock ‘n’ roll.”

Indeed, in a 2015 interview, Cornell said he planned to rock well into his golden years: “I would look at older blues musicians who continue to hit their 70s. They keep doing it until they drop dead. And I always felt like that’s what I wanted to do…I plan on doing it forever.

The triumph and tragedy of Chris Cornell, five years after his death
Chris Cornell and Soundgarden won two Grammys in 1994.
AFP via Getty Images

After having a bad experience smoking PCP at age 14, Cornell suffered from severe depression and panic disorder as a teenager. But music helped him out of his isolation and he became a founding member of Soundgarden in 1984.

“He was the drummer initially,” Yarm said. “He was singing behind the drums. But that didn’t last very long because he had a natural leadership charisma.

But behind the roaring voice, there was a kind and gentle soul. “I don’t think a single person can speak ill of Chris. Really not,” said photographer Chris Cuffaro, who photographed Cornell and Soundgarden in the late ’80s and early ’90s. just the nicest guy.”

The triumph and tragedy of Chris Cornell, five years after his death
Chris Cornell performing at the Download Festival in Donington, England in 2012.

And even after the success of Soundgarden’s “Badmotorfinger” in 1991 catapulted him from Seattle’s grunge scene to rock stardom, Cornell remained a bit of a loner at heart. “He was pretty low key,” Cuffaro said. “He wasn’t outgoing.”

After Soundgarden broke up in 1997, Cornell began using drugs such as OxyContin and drinking heavily – a vice he had struggled with in previous years. Finally, while leading his new band Audioslave, he went to rehab in 2002.

And by the time a reunited Soundgarden went on tour in 2017, Cornell’s dark days seemed well behind it. “As far as the public knows, it was clean and sober,” Yarm said.

The triumph and tragedy of Chris Cornell, five years after his death
Chris Cornell performs with Soundgarden at Lollapalooza in 1996.
Getty Images

But after the concert on that fateful night five years ago, Cornell called his wife Vicky, mouthing her words while repeating that “I’m just tired”. He also admitted to taking “an extra Ativan or two” for his anxiety before hanging up. Shortly after, he was found dead.

After his death, Cornell won a posthumous Grammy for Best Rock Performance (“When Evil Does Good”) in 2019, and the two youngest of his three children – Toni, 17, and Christopher, 16 – have accepted the award in honor of their father. And last month, Toni performed her dad’s cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” on “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”

The triumph and tragedy of Chris Cornell, five years after his death
Chris Cornell with his wife Vicky Cornell in 2012.

Celona thinks that if Cornell had lived, “we would have seen collaborations between him and his children, which would have been really special.”

Sadly, Cornell couldn’t outrun the demons he sang on songs such as Soundgarden hit “Fell on Black Days”: “All I feared has been revealed / And all I fought has become my life.