Almost a week ago, on May 18, 2017, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden died by hanging himself. If previous patterns persist there may be a copycat suicide, following the same method, which may occur on Thursday or Friday, May 25 or 26, 2017. It has happened before, although most people do not realize such a cycle exists.
I will share some notion of this mostly little researched history.
In my book The Copycat Effect, I devoted Chapter 13 to...
That behavior contagion existed in the aftermath of Kurt Cobain's suicide was not a foregone conclusion in 1994. The lack of awareness and blindness of certain government agencies was linked to the media's avoidance of discussing copycats. A systematic revealing of the fact that several suicides versus one such incident were tied to Cobain's self-death was a theme of my 2004 chapter. Here are some excerpts:
...The medical examiner believes [Kurt] Cobain killed himself on April 5, 1994. But Cobain’s “death day” has always been “celebrated” three days later, on April 8, 1994, when Cobain's body was found by an electrician visiting the house to install a security system.How extensive was the wave of suicides after the first publication of the April 8, 1994, death of Kurt Cobain? It certainly was more than one suicide in one county. As I wrote in my book:
At 10:15 am, the Seattle police arrived and found the greenhouse locked. Finally, a firefighter smashed in a window, allowing the police in, and they discovered the rock star dead on the floor, a Remington 20-gague still pointed at his chin. Nearby, they found a red-inked suicide note, addressed to Love, and Cobain’s and Love’s then 19-month-old daughter, Frances Bean. It ended with the words “I love you, I love you.”
By 11 am, the media had surrounded the house, and the three King County coroners quickly told the press that Kurt Cobain had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. News of the Cobain suicide instantly spread around the world via such outlets as CNN and MTV News. Cobain was just 27, and joined an eerie exclusive club of other rock stars who died when they were just 27 years old (e.g. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison).
Cobain had an enormous fan base. Two days after Kurt Cobain's body was found, approximately 5,000 people gathered in the little park near the Seattle Space Needle, for a memorial candlelight vigil. It would turn into a mild disturbance as distraught fans yelled profane chants, burnt their flannel shirts (a symbol of the grunge movement), and fought with police. Although Courtney Love promised to appear, she only sent a tape in which she read from Cobain’s suicide note, as she interjected curses to him. For example, Cobain had used a line from the song “My My, Hey Hey” (noted by some, as “Hey Hey, My My”) by rockers Neil Young and Jeff Blackburn, to end his suicide note: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Love introduced the line by saying: “And don’t remember this, ‘cause it’s a fuckin’ lie!” Then she decided to frame it after she read the note with her editorial: “God, you asshole!” Courtney’s anger was apparent throughout her curses on the tape. The crowd was stirred up.
Only One Cobain Copycat?
Attending the Seattle gathering on April 10, 1994, were several very upset followers of Kurt Cobain. According to the literature on the Cobain suicide, only one person in that crowd would kill himself in imitation of Kurt Cobain. Within hours of the candlelight vigil, 28-year-old Daniel Kasper returned to his Maple Valley, Washington, residence and used a gun to end his life. Authors Halperin and Wallace noted that neighbors said Kasper was despondent over the death of Cobain.
The standard suicide prevention books and journal articles believe that among all the supposed copycats that have followed a well-publicized celebrity suicide, what followed the 1994 suicide of grunge band leader Kurt Cobain is a story of successful deterrence. The myth of “no Cobain copycats” goes deep in American culture and is nicely summarized by routine governmental stamps of approval of this piece of folklore.
In 1999, Surgeon General David Satcher called for greater suicide awareness and intervention in the United States, and a national strategy to improve suicide prevention was launched in 2001. The federal publication US Medicine detailed the recommendations, noting studies conducted during the last 30 years showed that there is an increase in suicide by readers or viewers of media programs when the number of stories about individual suicides increases. This administration periodical then went on to note the one existing exception to this rule. US Medicine published that Madelyn Gould, professor of psychiatry and public health at Columbia University, had noted that after the celebrity suicide of Kurt Cobain “there was no increase in suicide because of a combination of sensible reporting and a strong anti-suicide message from his wife, Courtney Love.”
In November 1996, the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior began the drumbeat that still continues today. "We were truly shocked by what didn't happen," wrote David A. Jobes in an article on the impact of Cobain's suicide on impressionable, young Nirvana fans after researchers found only a small number of copycat suicides modeled on Cobain's. Jobes, a Catholic University psychology professor in Washington, D.C., and the study's chief author, was at a conference of suicide prevention specialists when Cobain's body was discovered at the Nirvana singer's home on April 8, 1994.
"We just looked at each other and said, 'This is going to be a disaster.' We were convinced," Jobes told AP reporter Tim Klass.
As Jobe informed the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families’ Hearing on Teen and Young Adult Suicide on September 7, 2001: “Along with colleagues at the Center for Disease Control, I was part of an effort to fax media guidelines and other suicide prevention information to the Seattle Mayor's office and to other community leaders in King County Washington. Bottom line, the coordinated leadership of the Seattle/King County community orchestrated a thoughtful and measured response to this crisis and along with a great deal of responsible journalism the copycat suicide crisis that we all anticipated never actually happened. In research that we conducted in King County there was no discernable increase in completed suicides after Cobain's death. However, crisis calls to Seattle's suicide hotline reached record levels following the death. From a scientific standpoint we cannot interpret a direct causal relationship between the community-based interventions that were used in Seattle and the absence of an outbreak of suicides in this community. But the promise of the Seattle example is the intuitive virtue of a community-based suicide prevention response that coordinates roles played by federal agencies, state and local governments, suicide prevention experts, journalists, and community-based crisis center services.”
In the four weeks following Cobain's death, 18 suicides were recorded in Seattle and the rest of King County, including the grunge megastar and an obvious and acknowledged one copycat, the 28-year-old Daniel Kasper. Or so we were lead to believe.
David P. Phillips, a leading expert on suicide, cautioned that more research should have been done to determine whether Jobes’ finding held on a nation-wide basis. Phillips believed that the local sample was too small to yield meaningful results. “I would say [Jobe’s study is] inconclusive, and it will remain inconclusive until the same study can be done on a national or at least a larger scale,” Phillips told reporter Klass in 1996. Jobes countered that he lacked the resources for a nationwide study but suggested that if any place had experienced a sizable ripple effect it would have been Seattle, where grunge music originated and Nirvana had its strongest following.
As recently as 2003, when professor of sociology Steven Stack won the famed suicide prevention Dublin Award for his paper, "Suicide: Media Effects, a Meta Analysis," the study contained only Jobes’ conclusion that no copycats followed publicity from Cobain’s suicide. But in a private correspondence with me on this subject, Stack wrote that as far as he knows, “the impact of Cobain's suicide has never been fully tested, as far as I know, nationwide in any rigorous statistical sense.”
What I have found, instead, in my years of researching the issue of the Cobain copycats is that the Kurt Cobain suicide did have an impact on suicides, but these were mostly outside of the Seattle area. In Australia, Canada, and France, suicides related to Cobain's death are detailed in the popular literature; there are perhaps 70 copycat suicides directly linked to Cobain, and the list continues to grow.
The suicide prevention community seems unaware of this. The Cobain events are seen as a "success story" in which "negative reactions” and “faxed flyers” are promoted as the "reason" for the low Seattle suicide copycats. Perhaps the local interventions did work. But that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. Looked at on a worldwide basis, the Cobain celebrity suicide did what other celebrity suicides have done before--created copycats.
On April 10, 2001, a 14-year-old girl killed herself “for Kurt” in Italy. That the date was so close to the Cobain “death date” has not been lost on observers. When the Internet Nirvana Fan Club reported this, the webmaster commented: “This is the 68th copycat suicide I have heard about. The news was only printed in Italy.”
One of the points I want to make and extend in this posting is that members of the Grunge community, actual performers, have been impacted by other members of the broader movement who died by suicide and self-destructive parasuicidal behavior (as drug overdoses are often classified).
One mystery still unresolved after hours upon hours of research is that no one really knows who coined the term "Grunge." People thought it was Mark Arm* for years, but he finally admitted he heard it from someone else whom he could not identify.
*Mark Arm, frontman for the Seattle bands Green River and Mudhoney.
"In 1991, Seattle’s sound took the world by storm--but this same storm had been brewing in the Pacific Northwest for a decade before it hit MTV."
Thus wrote Stephen Tow in his The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge (Sasquatch Books, 2011). Many fine books have been written overviewing Grunge, from nonfiction, such as Tow's book and Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music by Greg Prato (2009) to fiction, as in Grunge Gods and Graveyards by Kimberly G. Giarratano (2014). Blogs come and go, just like Grunge bands, for death - whether of the bands themselves or the members in them - are a thread running through the examinations of the Seattle-based sub-culture. Some like Grunge Graveyard (founded in 2014), even reflect this in their name.
Bands entitled Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden made waves, and several chroniclers tried to capture the wonder that appeared and faded, sometimes quickly.
Rock historian Peter Frame and others did it through their "family tree" charts. Here are some examples:
Death and Dying and Grunge
What I'd like to do is chronologically capture the deaths of some of the leading lights of Grunge since Grunge and its earlier roots began.
Ian Curtis - 1980
Ian Kevin Curtis (15 July 1956 – 18 May 1980) was an English singer-songwriter and musician. He is best known as the lead singer and lyricist of the post-punk band Joy Division. Joy Division released their debut album, Unknown Pleasures, in 1979 and recorded their follow-up, Closer, in 1980.
In the early hours of May 18, 1980, Joy Division's founder and leader Ian Curtis died by hanging himself in the kitchen of his house at No. 77 Barton Street, Macclesfield, at the age of 23. Curtis had just viewed Werner Herzog's 1977 film Stroszek and listened to his inspiration Iggy Pop's album The Idiot. His wife found Curtis's body the next morning; he had used the kitchen's washing line.
Andrew Wood - 1990
Andrew Wood (January 6, 1966 – March 19, 1990) was the singer of Seattle bands Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone.
On March 16, 1990, Wood was found in a comatose state by his girlfriend, having overdosed on heroin. Wood was taken to Harborview Hospital and placed on life support. Despite being responsive, Wood had suffered a hemorrhage aneurysm, losing all brain function. On March 19 physicians suggested that Wood be removed from life support. His burial site is located at Miller-Woodlawn Memorial Park in Bremerton, Washington.
Shortly following Wood's death, former roommate Chris Cornell of Soundgarden wrote two songs, "Reach Down" and "Say Hello 2 Heaven", in tribute to his late friend. Cornell then approached Gossard and Ament about releasing the songs as singles before collaborating on an album. Adding drummer Matt Cameron, future Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready, and future Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, they formed Temple of the Dog in 1990 to pay tribute to Wood, releasing one self-titled album in 1991.
Mia Zapata (August 25, 1965 – July 7, 1993) was the singer of Seattle indie band The Gits. Zapata spent her childhood in Louisville, Kentucky, and founded the Gits in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1986.
In Seattle on July 7, 1993, Mia was raped and murdered.
Kurt Cobain - 1994
Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994) was a member of Nirvana, Fecal Matter, and Earth.
See above, under "Cobain Copycats."
On April 8, 1994, Kurt Cobain's body was discovered at his Lake Washington Boulevard home by electrician Gary Smith who had arrived to install a security system. Apart from a minor amount of blood coming out of Cobain's ear, the electrician reported seeing no visible signs of trauma, and initially believed that Cobain was asleep until he saw the shotgun pointing at his chin. A note was found, addressed to Cobain's childhood imaginary friend Boddah, that stated that Cobain had not "felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music, along with really writing [...] for too many years now". A high concentration of heroin and traces of diazepam were also found in his body. Cobain's body had been lying there for days; the coroner's report estimated Cobain to have died on April 5, 1994.
Kristen Pfaff - 1994
Kristen Marie Pfaff (May 26, 1967 – June 16, 1994) was an American musician, best known as the bassist for alternative rock band Hole from 1993 to 1994. Prior to Hole, Pfaff was the bassist and backing vocalist for Minneapolis-based band Janitor Joe.
Some band members, in method and timing, have demonstrated they are clear examples of copycats.
As I mention in The Copycat Effect, regarding Pfaff's death, it occurred soon after Kurt Cobain's:
On June 15, 1994, Kristen Pfaff, the bass player for Courtney Love’s band Hole, shut herself in her bathroom and died of an alleged drug overdose. She was found [the next morning] in her bathtub, in an eerie scene similar to the one of rock star Jim Morrison who was found dead in his Paris bathtub. Kristen was supposed to be returning to Minneapolis the morning of June 16. Some feel her death was a “hidden suicide.” She was 27, the same age as Cobain and Morrison when they died.
Richard Shannon Hoon (September 26, 1967 – October 21, 1995) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. He was the lead singer of the band Blind Melon until his death from a cocaine overdose in 1995.
Hoon died from a heart attack brought on by cocaine use on October 21, 1995. He was found dead in New Orleans in the band’s tour bus.
Every year on the Saturday closest to Hoon’s birthday, fans called Melonheads make the trek to his grave for a weekend of commemoration.
John Baker Saunders (1954 – January 15, 1999) was the bassist of Seattle bands Mad Season and The Walkabouts. He came from Minneapolis, and ended up in Seattle.
Saunders’ body was found on January 15, 1999. An autopsy revealed that he died from a heroin overdose.
Layne Staley - 2002
Layne Thomas Staley (August 22, 1967 – April 5, 2002) was a member of Alice in Chains, Mad Season, Class of '99, Alice N' Chains, and Sleze.
On April 19, 2002, Staley's accountants contacted Staley's former manager Susan Silver and informed her that no money had been withdrawn from the singer's bank account in two weeks. Silver then contacted Staley's mother Nancy McCallum, who placed a call with 911 to say she hadn't heard from him "in about two weeks." The police went with McCallum and her ex-husband to Staley's home; "When police kicked in the door to Layne Staley's University District apartment on April 19, there, laying on a couch, lit by a flickering TV, next to several spray-paint cans on the floor, not far from a small stash of cocaine, near two crack pipes on the coffee table reposed the remains of the rock musician." It was reported that the 6 foot (1.8 metres) Staley weighed only 86 pounds (39 kg) when his body was discovered. McCallum recalled the moment she encountered Staley's body, after she was advised not to do so by the police. "The police first went in and then they said − I said, well, I need to go in and be with him. And they said, “Oh I wouldn’t do that.” And I said, “I can do this.” I’ve always promised myself that if anything happened to my children I would be there for them. And I went in, and he was tiny and I thought at first that he had made like a life-sized mannequin of himself because he had lots and lots of art projects always. And I thought, you know, somebody could have thrown that little guy over their shoulder and walked down the street and nobody would have even know that it was a real person...so, and I sat with him for a few minutes. And I told him that I was really sorry how things had turned out...."
In an interview on VH1's Celebrity Rehab with McCallum, former Alice in Chains bass player Mike Starr said that he spent time with Staley the day before he died as Starr's birthday was April 4. Starr claimed that Staley was very sick but would not call 911. The two ex-bandmates briefly argued, which ended with Starr storming out. Starr stated that Staley called after him as he left: "Not like this, don't leave like this". Since Staley is believed to have died a day later, on April 5, Starr expressed regret that he did not call 911 to save his friend's life; Starr reported that Staley had threatened to sever their friendship if he did. Starr was the last known person to see Staley alive. The interview ended with Starr apologizing to McCallum for not calling 911, but McCallum was insistent that neither she nor anyone in her family blamed Starr for Staley's death. She also told Starr: "Layne would forgive you. He'd say, 'Hey, I did this. Not you.'" With that said, Starr still blamed himself for the death of Staley. Starr kept this story a secret until his appearance on Celebrity Rehab in August 2009. During this same interview, McCallum also claimed that Staley had attempted rehab 13 times, although it is not clear whether any of these attempts were during his reclusive years.
An informal memorial was held for Staley on the night of April 20, 2002, at the Seattle Center which was attended by at least 1000 fans and friends, including Cantrell, Starr, Inez, Kinney and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell.
Mike Starr - 2011
Mike Starr (April 4, 1966 – March 8, 2011) was the original bassist of Alice in Chains (1987-1993). He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He formed SATO in 1983; then he made connections that resulted in Alice in Chains. Starr briefly joined another band by the name of Gypsy Rose, which included early Alice N' Chains producer Tim Branom on lead vocals and his future bandmate Jerry Cantrell on guitar. Starr and Cantrell left Gypsy Rose and the two of them began working together to form a new band. First, they contacted drummer Sean Kinney, who coincidentally was dating Starr's sister Melinda at that time and had exchanged phone numbers with Cantrell's roommate Layne Staley. Then the trio began staging what Cantrell and Kinney later said were fake auditions in order to coax Staley into joining their band. Eventually, Staley quit the other bands he was performing with at that time and joined their band as well.
The death of Jeremy Brown, Scott Weiland & The Wildabouts’ guitarists, has been released by the Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner. The report states that Brown’s death was an accident, and the result of intoxication from multiple drugs.
Coronary atherosclerosis and cardiomegaly are also listed as significant causes.
Brown passed away on March 30, 2015, at the age of 34, the day before Scott Weiland & The Wildabouts’ release of the album Blaster.
Scott Weiland - 2015
Scott Richard Weiland (born Scott Richard Kline; October 27, 1967 – December 3, 2015) was an American musician, singer and songwriter. During a career spanning three decades, Weiland was best known as the lead singer of the band Stone Temple Pilots from 1989 to 2002 and 2008 to 2013. He was also a member of supergroup Velvet Revolver from 2003 to 2008 and recorded one album with another supergroup Art of Anarchy.
As the lead singer of the Stone Temple Pilots, Weiland fronted it from 1986 to 2002 and again from 2008 to 2013. In addition to his most recent band, the Wildabouts, Weiland was part of the group Velvet Revolverfrom 2003 to 2008.
Weiland, 48, was found dead on his tour bus on December 3, 2015, in Bloomington, Minnesota, before he and his band The Wildabouts were scheduled to go on stage. He was 48. Police searched Weiland's tour bus and confirmed there were small amounts of cocaine in the bedroom where Weiland was discovered dead. Police also found prescription drugs including Xanax, Buprenorphine, Ziprasidone, Viagra, and sleeping pills on the tour bus. Additionally, two bags of cocaine were found and a bag of a green leafy substance. Tommy Black, bassist for The Wildabouts, was arrested by police on suspicion of possession of cocaine, although the charges against him were later dropped. Despite the discovery of drugs, no underlying cause of death was immediately given, although the medical examiner later determined it to be an accidental overdose of cocaine, alcohol, and methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA); the examiner's office also noted his atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, history of asthma, and prolonged substance abuse in its report.
News of Weiland's death quickly spread throughout the internet with many of his fellow musical peers, including his former band members along with fans and music critics throughout the world sharing their condolences, tributes and memories. A day following his death, his former bandmates in Stone Temple Pilots issued a statement saying that he was "gifted beyond words" but acknowledged his struggle with substance abuse, calling it "part of [his] curse". Weiland's ex-wife Mary Forsberg, released an open letter about her ex-husband, his addictions and not being a good father to their children. Forsberg said, "I won't say he can rest now, or that he's in a better place. He belongs with his children barbecuing in the backyard and waiting for a Notre Dame game to come on. We are angry and sad about this loss, but we are most devastated that he chose to give up. Let's choose to make this the first time we don't glorify this tragedy with talk of rock and roll and the demons that, by the way, don't have to come with it."
Chris Cornell - 2017
See the main essay, "Chris Cornell, Christ, Corn, and the Jesus Christ Pose."
Chris Cornell (born Christopher John Boyle; July 20, 1964 – May 18, 2017) was an American musician, singer, and songwriter. He was best known as lead vocalist for the bands Soundgarden and Audioslave. He was also known for his numerous solo works, soundtrack contributions since 1991 and as founder and frontman for Temple of the Dog, the one-off tribute band dedicated to his friend, the late Andrew Wood.
Cornell, 52, was found dead of a possible suicide inside his hotel room just hours after he took the stage for a concert in Detroit on May 17, 2017.
He was the lead singer of rock bands Soundgarden, and later Audioslave. Cornell “performed to a sold out crowd Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre in Detroit” but was found “dead in the bathroom with something around his neck.”
Cornell was one of Seattle’s best known grunge artists. He is best known as the frontman of Soundgarden, which was one of the first and most important grunge bands from Seattle, the epicenter of that musical movement. Soundgarden was the first grunge band to sign with a major record label (A&M Records in 1988). Later, Cornell, Vedder and others formed Temple of the Dog, and, in 2001, Cornell and others created the new group Audioslave.
Andrew Wood was Cornell's roommate. “After Wood died of a heroin overdose in March 1990, the Soundgarden frontman began writing songs in honor of his friend,” reported Consequenceofsound.