On April 5, 1994, the world lost one of its brightest and biggest stars when Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain took his own life. Ironically, the success and fame of the band was a key contributor to the musician’s infamous downward spiral.
Kurt Donald Cobain grew up just outside of Seattle, Washington in the epicenter of the grunge rock movement. Although many bands came before Nirvana, Cobain (vocals/guitar) – along with Dave Grohl (drums) and Krist Novoselic (bass) – helped popularize grunge and bring it to the masses. Along with other bands in the area like Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, Nirvana helped grunge take over the music industry in the early ’90s.
Following local success, Nirvana released their second studio album Nevermind in September 1991. Within just a few months, lead single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” shot up the charts and simultaneously took grunge mainstream. Cobain’s angst-filled lyrics and nonconformist personality took America by storm. The singer became a voice of Generation X overnight, much to his own dismay. The train had left the station and there was no turning back. Nirvana became one of the largest acts in the world seemingly out of nowhere.
Although most musicians crave that level of success, Cobain was a different breed. The lead singer wasn’t prepared for that kind of fame that fast. No one could be. Instead of reveling in his band’s good fortune, he rebelled against it. Although he had dabbled in it before, by 1990, Cobain began regular use of heroin to numb both his physical and mental pain. It solidified an addiction that would stick with him until his ultimate demise.
Kurt Cobain Calls It Quits While on European Tour
In early March 1994, Kurt Cobain’s issues with drugs and depression hit rock bottom. While on Nirvana’s European In Utero tour, the singer had had enough. Cobain went to his bandmates and manager and canceled the remaining five weeks worth of shows.
In addition, he shared the news with the Melvins who opened up for Nirvana on that tour. Cobain went to lead singer Buzz Osborne’s dressing room and informed him that the tour was over. According to Osborne, he wanted to quit Nirvana, end his marriage to Courtney Love, and go back home to Seattle.
“I should just be doing this solo,” Cobain said to Osborne.
“In retrospect, he was talking about his entire life,” Osborne later told Seattle music writer Charles R. Cross, according to Louder.
A couple days later, Cobain was in Rome, Italy where he attempted to take his own life. He mixed champagne and the drug Rohypnol and overdosed, which sent him into a coma. “Like Hamlet, I have to choose between life and death. I’m choosing death,” Cobain’s suicide note read. However, Cobain pulled through and eventually returned to the States.
Back in Seattle, Cobain’s downward spiral continued. He threatened to kill himself once again, leading to his wife and friends intervening. Towards the end of March, Cobain reluctantly checked into a Los Angeles rehabilitation facility. But on March 30, he exited rehab without informing anyone. For the next few days, no one knew of Kurt Cobain’s whereabouts.
Nirvana Frontman Takes His Own Life in His Seattle Home
On April 3, Courtney Love hired a private detective to find her husband. The detective located Cobain in Seattle, but the musician had no interest in going back to the L.A. rehab. Meanwhile, Cobain convinced a friend to buy him a shotgun, saying he needed the firearm for protection.
On April 5, the Nirvana frontman returned to his Seattle home. Allegedly, Kurt Cobain shot up so much heroin and took so many Valiums that he reached near-fatal levels of the drugs. While in the apartment above his home’s garage, he left another suicide note. Among the messages to his wife and young daughter, Frances Bean, Cobain quoted a Neil Young lyric: “Better to burn out than to fade away.”
A few days later, an electrician working at the home discovered Cobain’s body. Disbelief swept across the Seattle music community, then quickly spread across the rest of the world. He had finally done it. Kurt Cobain had taken his own life.
To this day, Cobain is considered one of the most influential musicians in the history of alternative rock. He’s a complex and controversial figure, but his imprint on music is undeniable. It’s hard to believe that 27 years ago to the day, Kurt Cobain passed away at just 27 years old. He tragically joined the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin in “The 27 Club” – a group of legendary musicians gone too soon.
Although there’s no sugarcoating Cobain’s struggles, his musical legacy and importance to a whole genre have solidified his place as a true American rock icon.