Chris Cornell Biography

Songwriter, Singer (1964–2017)
Grammy-winning musician Chris Cornell co-founded Soundgarden, a forerunner of Seattle grunge and one of the most successful bands of the 1990s.


Born on July 20, 1964, in Seattle, Chris Cornell co-founded Soundgarden in 1984. The band was among the most influential of the early grunge scene, achieving multi-platinum sales with Superunknown in 1994 before disbanding two years later. Cornell went on to enjoy more success with Audioslave and as a solo artist, before reuniting with Soundgarden in 2010. He committed suicide while on tour with the group in Detroit on May 17, 2017, at the age of 52. 

Early Years

Born Christopher John Boyle on July 20, 1964, in Seattle, Chris Cornell was one of six children born into an Irish Catholic family. After his parents' divorce (the children adopted their mother's maiden name, Cornell), Chris began using drugs and stealing—and learning to play the drums. By age 15, plagued by bouts of depression, Cornell had dropped out of school to play music and help support the family.

Soundgarden Formation and Fame

In 1984, Cornell co-founded the band Soundgarden, with guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Hiro Yamamoto. Matt Cameron eventually joined as drummer, with Ben Shepherd later replacing Yamamoto.

Although they earned a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance for their debut album, Ultramega OK (1988), Soundgarden was a forerunner of the sound that would later be dubbed "Seattle grunge." Following Louder Than Love (1989), the group earned regular radio play with Badmotorfinger (1991), setting the table for multi-platinum success of Superunknown (1994) and its Grammy Award-winning singles, "Black Hole Sun" and "Spoonman." 

The band broke up after releasing Down on the Upside (1996), but they reunited for a performance in 2010 at the Showbox Theater in Seattle. They went on to tour North America in 2011, and a year later released a new single, "Live to Rise," which appeared on the soundtrack for The Avengers. That year Soundgarden also released King Animal, its sixth studio album.  

Solo Career, Audioslave & Other Collaborations

Cornell released his solo debut, Euphoria Morning, to critical praise in 1999. He soon began collaborating with Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk to form the new band Audioslave, which put out a self-titled debut album in 2002. The band's second album, 2005's Out of Exile, reached platinum status.

Chris Cornell left Audioslave in 2007 and released his second solo effort, Carry On, in May. Late that year, he was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture for "You Know My Name," from the James Bond film Casino Royale.

Cornell delivered three more solo albums, Scream (2009), Songbook (2011) and Higher Truth (2015). Additionally, he continued to work with Temple of the Dog, an on-again, off-again group that dated back to the early days of grunge.   

Chris Cornell in 2015

Chris Cornell performs at The Ryman Auditorium on October 27, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Personal Life & Death

Suffering for years from depression, social phobias, and drug and alcohol abuse, Cornell reportedly remained sober after checking into rehab in 2003. He was married to Alice in Chains and Soundgarden manager Susan Silver and they had a daughter, Lillian Jean, in 2000. The couple divorced, and he married publicist Vicky Karayiannis in 2004. They have two children together — Toni (born in 2004) and Christopher (born in 2005).

Cornell was found dead in his hotel room in Detroit on May 17, 2017, after performing a concert with Soundgarden. The medical examiner determined the cause of death was suicide by hanging. His representative said in a statement: "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. They would like to thank his fans for their continuous love and loyalty and ask that their privacy be respected at this time."

After Cornell's cause of death was announced, his wife Vicky questioned the medical examiner's conclusion that he had intentionally committed suicide. She said in a statement: "When we spoke after the show, I noticed he was slurring his words; he was different. When he told me he may have taken an extra Ativan or two, I contacted security and asked that they check on him," she continued. "What happened is inexplicable and I am hopeful that further medical reports will provide additional details. I know that he loved our children and he would not hurt them by intentionally taking his own life."

She added: "Chris's death is a loss that escapes words and has created an emptiness in my heart that will never be filled. As everyone who knew him commented, Chris was a devoted father and husband. He was my best friend," 

Fans and fellow musicians also paid tribute to Cornell's pioneering influence on rock music. 

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