Chris Cornell, a dynamic vocalist and guitarist whose versatile showmanship as Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog's frontman was a signpost of the grunge era, died of an apparent suicide on Wednesday.
He was 52.
Police received a 911 call at approximately at 12am from a family friend, according to Michael Woody, Director of Media Relations for the Detroit Police Department. When the friend went to Cornell's hotel room at the MGM Grand casino to check on him, he "made it inside the hotel room, where he found Cornell unresponsive laying on the bathroom floor", according to Woody. EMS pronounced Cornell dead at the scene.
Detroit police are investigating the death as an apparent suicide, though Woody tells Rolling Stone that an official cause of death by the medical examiner's office is still forthcoming. The medical examiner's report is expected to be released on Thursday. Earlier on Wednesday, the singer had played a show with Soundgarden, who were midway through their tour. "His wife, Vicky, and family were shocked to learn of his sudden and unexpected passing, and they will be working closely with the medical examiner to determine the cause," his publicist said in a statement.
Cornell's artistry was marked by his impressive multi-octave vocal range and a rare sensitivity for heavy music. With Soundgarden, he could shift between raging metal declarations, sombre mood pieces and psychedelia with ease.
After years of playing generally aggressive music in the '80s, his full range of musical expression showed in 1991 when he created Temple of the Dog - a supergroup featuring Soundgarden and eventual Pearl Jam members - to pay tribute to late Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood. He later explored heavier territory with members of Rage Against the Machine in the supergroup Audioslave and his sensitive side as a solo artist, with frequent acoustic shows in recent years.
The band formed in 1984 after a period where Cornell and bassist Hiro Yamamoto played together in a band called the Shemps, eventually inviting guitarist Kim Thayil to play with them. They chose the name Soundgarden in tribute to a public organ-pipe sculpture that created sounds in the wind. With the arrival of drummer Scott Sundquist, Cornell moved to singing full-time and the next year, they recorded three songs for the pivotal Deep Six compilation, which placed them alongside fellow grunge architects Melvins and Green River. Soundgarden put out their debut single, the trippy, ominous "Hunted Down," and EP, Screaming Life, in 1987.
After the release of another EP - 1988's Fopp, whose title track is improbably an Ohio Players cover and marked the arrival of drummer Matt Cameron - Soundgarden came into their own on their first full-length, 1990's Ultramega OK. That record featured the brooding, dramatic Cornell standout "Beyond the Wheel," which showed off his impressive vocal ability and the band's proclivity for coupling heavy-metal riffing with shuddering noise affectations, foreshadowing grunge. They would later streamline this sound on 1989's more metallic Louder Than Love, a locomotive onslaught of chunky riffs, alpha-male fantasies and quirky humour.
On March 19, 1990, Wood, Cornell's former roommate, died of a heroin overdose. The death shook the Soundgarden frontman, who wrote the songs "Reach Down" and "Say Hello 2 Heaven" as a visceral reaction to Wood's death. Cornell asked Wood's Mother Love Bone bandmates, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, if they would record the songs with him. With the addition of local guitarist Mike McCready, an unknown guest vocalist at the time named Eddie Vedder and Soundgarden's Cameron, the group became Temple of the Dog. Their lone self-titled album came out in 1991 and eventually went platinum; the group, sans the Soundgarden members, subsequently re-formed as Pearl Jam and issued their debut, Ten, the same year.
Meanwhile, Cornell and his bandmates were picking themselves up after the exit of Yamamoto, whom they replaced with bassist Ben Shepherd. Feeling energised creatively from Temple of the Dog, Cornell wrote several songs that would become singles on their 1991 album 'Badmotorfinger'. "Jesus Christ Pose," a charging Cornell-penned number, was banned on MTV, but "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage" - the latter of which would be covered by Johnny Cash - became video hits and part of the momentum that propelled Seattle to music's forefront at the time, along with releases by Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The album eventually went double-platinum. The group's follow-up, 1994's Superunknown, would be their biggest release: a #1 album that would go on to be certified five-times platinum thanks to a string of hits.