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Death Of Chris Cornell, Front Man Of Soundgarden, Ruled A Suicide

May 18, 2017
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now we remember this voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK HOLE SUN")

CHRIS CORNELL: (Singing) In my eyes, indisposed, in disguises no one knows...

SHAPIRO: Chris Cornell died early this morning at age 52. He was in Detroit on tour with his band Soundgarden. The Wayne County medical examiner says the cause of death was suicide. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Arguably one of the last huge scenes of rock music was the Seattle grunge scene. And one of its ushers was Soundgarden.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPOONMAN")

CORNELL: (Singing) Spoonman, come together with your hands. Save me.

LIMBONG: Chris Cornell fronted Soundgarden with that type of fervor that only comes from true devotion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CORNELL: I was probably 17 when I knew that that was what I was going to do with the rest of my life no matter what that meant.

LIMBONG: This is him talking to NPR in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CORNELL: Even if that meant that I had to be a dishwasher or a janitor to support being in a band that I love, I would be happy with that. So I feel fortunate that in spite of the - my lack of education, I didn't lack direction.

LIMBONG: Cornell stopped school after the seventh grade. He was born in Seattle in 1964. In 2009, he told NPR that his musical taste was like a lot of kids'.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CORNELL: I would hear John or Paul scream on a Beatles track, you know? And I - it was just so amazing as a 9-year-old kid to listen to that.

LIMBONG: Unlike a lot of kids, he'd take that influence and Little Richard's and James Brown's and Frank Sinatra's, and he turned it into this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUSTY CAGE")

CORNELL: (Singing) I'm going to break my rusty cage.

LIMBONG: He formed Soundgarden in 1984, and by the mid-'90s, they were huge - Billboard charts, platinum records, the Grammys. The band ended 14 years later, but Cornell continued singing, whether indulging in his softer side with his solo work...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLUTTER GIRL")

CORNELL: (Singing) I'm drinking dust with eyes of rust.

LIMBONG: ...Or being part of the monster supergroup Audioslave.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOW ME HOW TO LIVE")

CORNELL: (Singing) Nail in my head from my creator, and you gave me a life. Now show me how to live.

LIMBONG: It was around this time when Cornell came to terms with his drug and alcohol abuse and checked into rehab. He got clean and stayed prolific with Audioslave and eventually reuniting with Soundgarden. Cornell was on tour with them when he died. The final song of their set last night - "Slaves And Bulldozers."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLAVES AND BULLDOZERS")

CORNELL: (Singing) Now I know why you've...

LIMBONG: Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLAVES AND BULLDOZERS")

CORNELL: (Singing) Now I know why you've been shaking. Now I know why you've been shaking. So bleed your heart out. There's no more rides for me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.