Obituaries

Chris Cornell, 52, singer and founder of Soundgarden, Audioslave

FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010, file photo, musician Chris Cornell of Soundgarden performs during the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park in Chicago. According to his representative, rocker Chris Cornell, who gained fame as the lead singer of Soundgarden and later Audioslave, has died Wednesday night in Detroit at age 52. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Mr. Cornell helped form the band Soundgarden, which rose to prominence with the Seattle grunge scene.

NEW YORK — Chris Cornell, the powerful, dynamic singer whose band Soundgarden was one of the architects of grunge music, died Wednesday night in Detroit. He was 52.

In a statement released Thursday, the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office said the death was a suicide. It said a full autopsy had not yet been completed.

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Dontae Freeman, a spokesman for the Detroit Police Department, said in an interview that officers responded around midnight at the MGM Grand casino to the apparent suicide. He would not confirm the victim’s name.

Freeman said that the victim’s wife had called a family friend to check on the man; the family friend forced his way into the man’s room at the casino and found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor.

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A representative of Mr. Cornell’s confirmed the death.

A Seattle native, Mr. Cornell helped form Soundgarden in the 1980s. Sub Pop, then a fledgling record label, released the group’s first single, “Hunted Down,” in 1987, as well as two subsequent EPs. The group’s debut album, “Ultramega OK,” came a year later.

“Badmotorfinger,” released in 1991, benefited from the swell of attention that was beginning to surround the Seattle scene, where Soundgarden, along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, were playing a high-octane, high-angst brand of rock ‘n’ roll.

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Soundgarden’s musical journeys tended toward the knotty and dark, plunging into off-kilter meters and punctuated by Mr. Cornell’s voice, which could quickly shift from a soulful howl to a gritty growl.

Three of Soundgarden’s studio albums have been certified platinum, including “Superunknown,” from 1994, which featured “Black Hole Sun,” “Fell on Black Days,” “Spoonman,” and “My Wave.”

The group — which includes guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron — disbanded in 1997, but it reunited in 2010 and has performed regularly since.

In a review of a 2011 concert at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., The New York Times chief pop critic Jon Pareles called Soundgarden “one reunited band that can pick up right where it left off.” In 2012, it released “King Animal,” its first album in 16 years, which Pareles said “sounds like four musicians live in a room, making music that clenches and unclenches like a fist.”

The group played at the Fox Theater in Detroit on Wednesday night, and it had been scheduled to perform in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday at the Rock on the Range festival.

Mr. Cornell appeared to be active on social media in the hours before his death. A post on his Twitter account Wednesday announced that the group had arrived in Detroit, and a clip of the group’s 2012 release “By Crooked Steps” was posted to his official Facebook page hours before his death.

GIAN EHRENZELLER/EPA

Cornell performs with Soundgarden at the Greenfield Openair, Interlaken, Switzerland in 2014.

Mr. Cornell was widely respected in the music industry: He reached success in every band lineup he was part of it, his voice was memorable and powerful, and he was a skilled songwriter, even collaborating on a number of film soundtracks, including the James Bond theme song for 2006’s ‘‘Casino Royale’’ and ‘‘The Keeper’’ from the film ‘‘Machine Gun Preacher,’’ which earned Mr. Cornell a Golden Globe nomination.

‘‘To create the intimacy of an acoustic performance there needed to be real stories. They need to be kind of real and they need to have a beginning, middle, and an end,’’ Cornell said of songwriting in a 2015 interview with The Associated Press. ‘‘That’s always a challenge in three in a half or four minutes — to be able to do that, to be able to do it directly.’’

He had acknowledged in interviews to struggling with drug use throughout his life. In a 1994 Rolling Stone article, he described himself as a “daily drug user at 13,” who had quit by the time he turned 14.

After Soundgarden disbanded in 1997, a breakup that would last for more than a decade, Mr. Cornell returned to heavy drug use, he told The Guardian in a 2009 interview, describing himself as a “pioneer” in the abuse of the opiate OxyContin, and saying that he had gone to rehab.

Mr. Cornell released five solo albums during and after his time with Soundgarden, starting with the 1999 LP “Euphoria Morning.”

His 2007 album “Carry On” featured an acoustic cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that served as the inspiration for a well-received version of the song on “American Idol.”

He contributed the song “Seasons” to the soundtrack of “Singles,” Cameron Crowe’s love letter to the Seattle music scene, and performed alongside other members of Soundgarden in the film.

In 2001, after Rage Against the Machine’s lead singer, Zack de la Rocha, left the group, Mr. Cornell and members of the band formed Audioslave. The group released three albums before announcing its split in 2007.

Last November, Mr. Cornell hit the road for the first time with another supergroup of sorts, Temple of the Dog, featuring a blend of members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. The group was formed a quarter-century ago as a tribute to Andrew Wood, the lead singer of the Seattle bands Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose in March 1990.

Speaking to The Times, Mr. Cornell said the group had decided to finally bring its songs to life to honor Wood.

“I thought, well, this is one thing that I can do to remind myself and maybe other people of who this guy is and was and keep his story — and, in a way, his life — with us,” he said.

U.S. rock band Audioslave singer Chris Cornell (R) performs at the Anti-Imperialist Stage in Havana, May 6, 2005. Audioslave is the first U.S. rock band to give an open-air concert in Communist Cuba on a stage used for rallies against the U.S. government. Although the United States and Cuba have had no diplomatic relations for over four decades, cultural exchanges and certain other visits are permitted. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo Library Tag 11272005 Arts & Entertainment

Mariana Bazo/REUTERS

Cornell performs with Audioslave at the Anti-Imperialist Stage in Havana, May 6, 2005.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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