Chris Cornell, his wife Vicky and their children attend the screening of "The Promise" at The Paris Theatre on April 18, 2017 in New York City.
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DETROIT — Chris Cornell, one of the most lauded and respected contemporary lead singers in rock music with his bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, hanged himself Wednesday night in Detroit after he had earlier performed there, according to the city’s medical examiner. He was 52.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office said Thursday it completed the preliminary autopsy on Cornell, but that “a full autopsy report has not yet been completed.”
Dontae Freeman, a spokesman for the Detroit Police Department, said in an interview that officers went to the MGM Grand hotel and casino around midnight in response to a call about an apparent suicide of a white man, whom he did not identify. Freeman said the man’s date of birth was July 20, 1964, which is Cornell’s.
He added that the man’s wife had called a family friend to check on the man; the friend forced his way into the man’s room at the casino and found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor with a band around his neck. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
A fan visits a makeshift memorial for Chris Cornell on a bench near A Sound Garden, the sculpture that inspired the name of the band Soundgarden, on May 18, 2017 in Seattle, Washington.
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Cornell’s death stunned his family and his die-hard fans, who Cornell just performed for hours earlier at a show in Detroit.
His family issued a statement through an attorney Friday refuting “inferences that Chris knowingly and intentionally” killed himself, and said that without toxicology test results completed they don’t know what caused his death.
According to lawyer Kirk Pasich, Cornell had a prescription for the anti-anxiety drug Ativan, which he said has various side effects.
Cornell’s wife, Vicky Cornell, said in the statement that when she spoke to her husband after the Detroit show, he told her he may have taken “an extra Ativan or two” and was slurring his words.
Soundgarden’s current tour kicked off in late April and was planned to run through May 27. Soundgarden 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.
For Soundgarden’s final song in Detroit, it performed Badmotorfinger cut “Slaves & Bulldozers” and, people in the audience said, incorporated lyrics from Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” into the performance, something it has done in the past.
Cornell, who grew up in Seattle, said he started using drugs at age 13 and was kicked out of school at 15.
“I went from being a daily drug user at 13 to having bad drug experiences and quitting drugs by the time I was 14 and then not having any friends until the time I was 16,” he told Rolling Stone in 1994. “There was about two years where I was more or less agoraphobic and didn’t deal with anybody, didn’t talk to anybody, didn’t have any friends at all. All the friends that I had were still (messed) up with drugs and were people that I didn’t really have anything in common with.”
But at 16 he grew serious about music, learning to play the drums while also working as a busboy and dishwasher.
“That was the toughest time in my life,” he told Rolling Stone.
Kim Thayil, Chris Cornell, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd of Soundgarden visit SiriusXM Studios on June 2, 2014 in New York City.
He eventually became a Grammy winner with Soundgarden, formed in 1984 and coming out of the rapidly growing Seattle music scene, which included Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.
“There’s something about Seattle, it’s always been a hard rock town, too. I didn’t realize growing up as kid that Seattle had much more of a hard rock focus and a guitar rock focus than other cities did,” Cornell told the AP in 2011. “It was like a Detroit, only northwest kind of. There’s no reason that I would think I know how to define it, but it’s always been there.”
The band, which had released hit songs and found success, marked a mainstream breakthrough with “Superunknown,” its 1994 album that won them two Grammys, sold more than five million units in the U.S., and launched five hits, including “Black Hole Sun,” one of the most popular alternative rock songs from the 1990s.
The group, formed with guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Hiro Yamamoto, broke up in 1997.
In 2001, Cornell joined Audioslave, a supergroup that included former Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford. The band released three albums in six years and also performed at a concert billed as Cuba’s first outdoor rock concert by an American band, though some Cuban artists have disputed that claim.
The singer Chris Cornell performs with Audioslave, in the Square in Havana Cuba on Friday May 6, 2005.
Audioslave disbanded in 2007, but Cornell and Soundgarden reunited in 2010 and released the band’s sixth studio album, “King Animal” in 2012.
Cornell also collaborated with members of what would become Pearl Jam to form Temple of the Dog, which produced a self-titled album in 1991 in tribute to friend Andrew Wood, former frontman of Mother Love Bone. In 2011, Cornell was ranked ninth on Rolling Stone list of the best lead singers of all-time, selected by its readers.
He also released solo albums, and Nielsen Music said as a band member and solo act, the singer sold almost 15 million albums and 8.8 million digital songs in the U.S.
His first solo album, 1999’s “Euphoria Morning,” was a dark album that was initially supposed to be titled “Euphoria Mourning.”
“It was a pretty dark album lyrically and pretty depressing, and I was going through a really difficult time in my life — my band wasn’t together anymore, my marriage was falling apart and I was dealing with it by drinking way too much, and that has its own problems, particularly with depression,” he told Rolling Stone in 2015.
Cornell referenced death — and suicide — in 2007 interview with the AP when discussing his single, “No Such Thing.” It appeared on his second solo album, “Carry On.”
“The ‘no such thing as nothing’ line comes from the concepts that humans don’t really have a flat line until we’re dead. If we are not leading a happy productive life, we are leading probably an unhappy non-productive life. If a person doesn’t have enough food, they actually are hungry. If they don’t have enough money it’s not that they have no money, they actually have something and it’s called poverty. There’s no just kind of flat lining coasting. You’re either going in one direction or in another direction. All that came out of me trying to imagine why somebody would be, for example, a suicide bomber.”