Photo by Robert Altman
In a statement, a representative for Cornell called his death “sudden and unexpected.” The 52-year-old singer was amidst a tour with Soundgarden and had played a concert in Detroit earlier in the evening.
The representative said Cornell’s family would be “working closely with the medical examiner to determine the cause” of his death. Update: A medical examiner has determined Cornell committed suicide by hanging.
A bandmate reportedly found Cornell unresponsive in the bathroom of his hotel room with something around his neck. Michael Woody, a spokesman for the Detroit Police Department, told The Associated Press that were “basic things observed at the scene” that indicated a suicide.
(Cover Story: Soundgarden on the legacy and influence of Superunknown)
Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Cornell grew up in a big family of two older brothers and three younger sisters. His mother was an accountant and his father was a pharmacist. Between the ages of nine and 11, Cornell spent most of his time alone listening to The Beatles. His siblings were similarly attuned to music, as evidenced by their work with Inflatable Soule (featuring Peter, Katy and Suzy Cornell) and Cold (also featuring Katy).
As a teenager, however, Cornell suffered from severe depression and began self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. All the while, he pursued a career in music in the early ’80s, getting his start in a covers band called The Shemps, where he first met bassist Hiro Yamamoto and guitarist Kim Thayil. The trio eventually began writing original music together, leading to the birth of a new band called Soundgarden.
With Matt Cameron filling out the lineup on drums, Soundgarden’s success was almost immediate. By 1987, they had signed with Sub Pop Records for the release of their debut EP, Screaming Life, which they followed up the next year with a second EP called Fopp, as well as their full-length debut, 1988’s Ultramega OK.
(Read: Soundgarden’s Top 20 Songs)
The band’s stock continued to rise in the late ’80s, leading to their signing with A&M Records for the release of their major label debut, 1989’s Louder Than Love. The album leaned heavily on their more metal tendencies and features the last appearance of Yamamoto, who would be replaced by Ben Shepherd.
Two years later, they returned with their third studio album, Badmotorfinger, which featured their first mainstream radio hits in “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Outshined”, and “Rusty Cage”. This momentum continued into 1994, however, with what many consider to be Soundgarden’s definitive album, Superunknown, featuring now-classic songs such as “Spoonman”, “The Day I Tried to Live”, “Fell on Black Days”, and “Black Hole Sun”. The album won the band their first Grammys and has since been certified platinum six times.
Amidst Soundgarden’s rise, Cornell teamed with Cameron, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament to record an album in tribute to Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, who passed away in March 1990 from a heroin overdose. The band recorded under the moniker Temple of the Dog and released their self-titled debut in April 1991. Though initially met with positive reviews, it wasn’t until McCready, Gossard, Ament, and Cameron went on to achieve further acclaim in their own band, Pearl Jam, that Temple of the Dog saw commercial success. Last year, in commemoration of Temple of the Dog’s 25th anniversary, the band reunited for its first-ever nationwide tour.
Following the release of their fifth studio album, 1996’s Down on the Upside, Soundgarden broke up due to tensions over the band’s creative direction. Cornell subsequently launched a solo career with his debut release, 1999’s Euphoria Morning. He would go on to record three more solo albums and also contributed original music to films like Great Expectations, Mission Impossible 2, and the James Bond film Casino Royale.
In 2001, Cornell was recruited to front supergroup Audioslave alongside Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk. Over the course of the next half decade, they released three records — 2002’s Audioslave, 2005’s Out of Exile, and 2006’s Revelations — all of which cracked the Billboard Top 10. In 2005, they also became the first American rock band to play a concert in Cuba. However, during this time, Cornell continued to battle an addiction to drugs and alcohol, and spent two months in rehab prior to the release of their first album.
In 2010, Soundgarden reunited to headline Lollapalooza. The band remained an active unit in the years since, subsequently releasing new material, from 2012’s King Animal to their inclusion on the soundtrack for Marvel’s The Avengers. Prior to kicking off Soundgarden’s latest tour last month, Cornell confirmed plans for a new Soundgarden album and also expressed interest in writing new music with Temple of the Dog.
Just hours before taking the stage in Detroit on Wednesday night, Cornell tweeted a photo of the concert venue, Fox Theater, along with the caption, “Detroit finally back to Rock City!!!! #NoMoreBullshit.”
Revisit some notable tracks from Cornell’s career:
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