The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Chester Bennington

Content warning: The following article contains mentions of suicide, substance abuse, and sexual abuse.

"I tried so hard and got so far / But in the end, it doesn't even matter." Even people who aren't particularly fond of nu-metal have a high chance of recognizing Linkin Park's "In the End," the song these lyrics are from. Though it's a very catchy tune, a large part of the song's allure is the way co-vocalist Chester Bennington delivers the chorus: His strong voice teetering on the edge between classic rock singer delivery and a desperate primal scream, a signature approach that truly drives home the sheer hopelessness of the lyrics.

Music outlets from Revolver to Loudwire have been in awe of Bennington's hoarse, powerful vocal delivery from the moment Linkin Park exploded on the scene. Unfortunately, the often hopeless lyrics he sang in hits like "Crawling," "Numb," and "One Step Closer" had their roots in reality. As Billboard notes, Bennington's life was full of tragedy, turmoil and setbacks despite the considerable success he achieved with Linkin Park. It also ended extremely prematurely, as the singer died in 2017. He was only 41 years old.

But how could the life of one of a generation's most popular rock singers have been so thoroughly unhappy? Here's a look at the tragic story of Chester Bennington.

His parents' divorce affected him greatly

Chester Bennington grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, but as AllMusic notes, his childhood was far from what you'd call a happy one. Bennington was only 11 years old when his parents got divorced, and in an interview with Tom Bryant for Kerrang!, Bennington talked about how the broken family situation more or less left him, as a young teen, to his own devices. He lived with his police detective father, and though he had three siblings, only one largely absent one still lived at home, and the lines of communication were relatively nonexistent.

As Bennington himself has admitted, the situation took his mind to some pretty dark places and didn't exactly induce feelings of endearment. 

"It was an awful time," he said. "I hated everybody in my family: I felt abandoned by my mom, my dad was not very emotionally stable then, and there was no-one I could turn to –- at least that's how my young mind felt. The only thing I wanted to do was kill everybody and run away."

Unfortunately, these abandonment issues were just one part of Bennington's vast array of childhood troubles, which ranged from abuse to substance abuse. Still, the fact that he didn't feel he had anyone to rely on at the home front probably didn't exactly help with his other problems.

Chester Bennington was abused as a child

Chester Bennington was quite open about the troubles he endured as a child. In a 2008 interview with Tom Bryant for Kerrang!, the Linkin Park singer described the lengthy period of abuse he had to endure at the hands of an older kid.

""I started getting molested when I was about seven or eight," the vocalist described the abuse. "It was by a friend who was a few years older than me. It escalated from a touchy, curious, 'what does this thing do' into full-on, crazy violations. I was getting beaten up and being forced to do things I didn't want to do. It destroyed my self-confidence."

The situation was terrifying for young Bennington, made all the worse by the fact that he felt that he couldn't talk about it — and didn't really think he had anyone to speak about the experience even if he wanted to. He admitted to simply being too scared to say anything — something many abuse victims bring up as a reason they kept their trauma private. Bennington in particular said he was concerned people would think he was gay or was a liar. 

Bennington's abuse didn't end until he was 13 years old. He has stated that his later problems with substance abuse were in part to get away from this traumatizing period of his early life. 

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

His good friend Chris Cornell died

Chester Bennington was great friends with fellow rock frontman Chris Cornell, per CNN. According to Metal Hammer, Soundgarden vocalist Cornell was a great inspiration for Bennington when the future Linkin Park superstar was growing up. The two singers eventually met during a tour in 2008, and they made fast friends. Their families soon grew close, and Bennington even became the godfather of Cornell's son.

Bennington described the relationship between the two rock singers as an instant connection. Unfortunately, their friendship only lasted less than a decade, as Chris Cornell died by suicide on May 18, 2017. Per Rolling Stone, the Linkin Park singer paid tribute to his friend on social media and performed an acoustic rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" at Cornell's funeral. Unfortunately, Bennington himself died in a similar fashion just two months later.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

He struggled with addiction from a young age

Chester Bennington's childhood was extremely tragic, as an older kid abused him for years, and his parents broke up when he was 11 (via Rolling Stone). On top of this, he had a very hard time in school. According to NME, he was a frequent target for bullying.

Unfortunately, one of the coping mechanisms he developed was drugs. Per the singer's comments to Louder in 2016, his drug intake during these early years was copious and did terrible things to his health. "I was on 11 hits of acid a day," Bennington said. "I dropped so much acid I'm surprised I can still speak! I'd smoke a bunch of crack, do a bit of meth and just sit there and freak out. Then I'd smoke opium to come down. I weighed 110 pounds."

Bennington was eventually able to wean himself off his hard drug habit after his mother saw what state he was in at age 17, according to an interview with Tom Bryant for Kerrang!, but he continued to struggle with addiction for much of his life. His early substance abuse also resulted in at least one truly frightening encounter with shady elements when criminal gang came to a house he was hanging out in and violently robbed the place.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Chester Bennington struggled with alcohol

A close call with a violent gang that attacked and robbed a friend's home while he was present inspired young Chester Bennington to quit drugs, per an interview with Tom Bryant for Kerrang!. The inspiration turned to reality when the 17-year-old Bennington started living with his mother. Recognizing his worn-out addiction issues, his mother immediately placed him on house arrest. 

While Bennington was able to kick some substances, he soon turned to marijuana and alcohol. The latter substance, in particular, became a longtime demon for him.

Bennington was quite open about his troubles with alcohol and openly described himself as an alcoholic, according to Kerrang! (via NME). He also revealed that he was distancing himself from drinking because he didn't like what alcohol did to him. "I choose to be sober now," he said at the time. "I have drunk over the last six years, but I just don't want to be that person anymore." Nevertheless, alcohol continued to be present in his life, right down to the last moment. As TMZ (via Variety) reports, Bennington had some alcohol in his system at the time of his death in 2017.

Due to his openness about the subject, people who knew Bennington also knew about his alcohol abuse issues. According to his ex-wife's book, "Falling Love Notes: Memories of a Rockstar Wife," excerpted by Rolling Stone, shortly before Bennington's death, he sent her a text that said he wouldn't be able to see their son in a while. Her immediate assumption was that Bennington had gone to rehab. 

He was injured on tour multiple times

Over the course of his musical career, Chester Bennington was plagued by multiple injuries, which he tended to suffer during Linkin Park performances and tours. Per Digital Spy, in 2007 Bennington was playing a Linkin Park show in Australia when he fell from the stage, breaking his arm in the early stages of the concert. After being patched up, he nevertheless managed to perform for the planned duration of the concert. In 2011, Linkin Park's own website broke the news that Bennington had injured his shoulder during their Asian tour and faced surgery.

In 2015, NME reported that the singer had broken his ankle in a freak accident, landing on an errant water bottle while playing basketball during their Hunting Party world tour. Again, Bennington attempted to deal with the situation and used support devices during the performances (via Loudwire). However, the ankle refused to play ball. Linkin Park's official site soon announced that the injury was simply too bad, and the tour was cancelled.

He had a high-tech stalker

When you live your life in the limelight, someone may take a much keener interest in you than you'd prefer. Indeed, several stars have had scary stalkers over the years.

According to Wired, the person stalking Chester Bennington and his wife, Talinda Bennington, was different. This particular stalker took the cyber approach, and in 2006, the person started harassing the Benningtons with mysterious phone calls and emails that ranged from unnervingly friendly to downright hostile. The stalker also managed to gain control of several of their online accounts.

It eventually transpired that the person stalking them was no ordinary superfan. A private investigator managed to track the stalker's computer to a high-security nuclear research facility called Sandia National Laboratories, and after an arduous investigation process, the stalker turned out to be a 27-year-old employee of the lab with a high security clearance.

As the Associated Press tells us (via CBS), the stalker harassed the Benningtons for nearly a year, using a combination of detective work and her access to sensitive information to find out all sorts of things about them — an obsession she took to pretty creepy levels. In 2015, she recounted at least one incident where she deliberately traveled to Arizona after finding out that Bennington was there and spent the trip cyber-stalking the singer, hoping to find out his precise location and potentially meeting him.

His divorce left him in a very dark place

Marriages that creak at the seams are an unfortunate side product of fame, and as such, there are many celebrity divorce stories out there. According to Rolling Stone, Chester Bennington was no exception. The singer was a 19-year-old unknown when he met and married his first wife, Samantha Marie Olit. After Linkin Park took off, they ended up getting a divorce in 2005, though they did remain on good enough terms to both have a hand at raising their son. However, Bennington told Kerrang! (via US Weekly) in 2009 that the divorce was very hard for him, and the frustration took a heavy toll on him.

"The difficult part was losing all my money, starting my life over and having to pay the person I didn't want to be around in the first place," Bennington said. "I felt like my life's work had been given away." 

Per Psych Central, a divorce is always a massively stressful situation, and dealing with it requires good coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, the one Bennington fell back on was alcohol, and he imbibed copious amounts in his despair. 

Chester Bennington suffered from hiatal hernia

Per Mayo Clinic, hiatal hernia is a condition that sounds nasty but can potentially be completely without issue. However, if things get bad enough, you're in for all sorts of painful ailments that come when a part of the stomach squeezes into the chest through the same hole that allows the esophagus to come through the barrier between the diaphragm and abdomen.

Chester Bennington's hiatal hernia was not a small and harmless one, according to MTV News. He got the version where stomach acid gets into the esophagus muscle, which was extremely painful, and also caused other issues that made life difficult –- especially since Bennington sang for a living.

The singer's hiatal hernia had been around for a while and caused all sorts of painful back, gastrointestinal, and stamina issues, which were only diagnosed as hiatal hernia fairly late in the game. One time, things got so bad that his stomach acid caused an infection. Said infection, incidentally, was in his throat, which isn't the best news for a singer.

Things escalated during the album and tour cycle for Linkin Park's 2003's "Meteora" album, at which point it became apparent that surgery was in order. "I'm kind of queasy all the time," Bennington described the situation at the time. "I'm basically gonna be sick to my stomach until I have the surgery done. Every night when I sing, it kind of pisses off the hernia. Last night I was vomiting when I was singing."

He struggled with depression

According to Rolling Stone, Chester Bennington struggled with depression for much of his life and didn't hide his mental health issues. In an interview with the 102.7 KIISFM radio channel, Bennington talked at length about his depression and addiction problems, addressing them in public just as easily as he discussed his children and his music. He openly described the way he needed to positively reaffirm himself in order to avoid falling to a bad mental state, and how he had learned to keep himself busy to avoid wallowing in his own thoughts too much. 

In an interview with Kaaos TV, Sean Dowdell — a bandmate from Bennington's old band, Grey Daze — revealed how the singer's worse mental health moments looked to the people around him. According to Dowdell, Bennington was usually a very positive person, but on occasion, he seemed to go through a darker period that shined through. Bennington himself was known to refer to his worse moments as his "dark passenger," as per Rolling Stone, and discussed them as a kind of second Chester Bennington inside him. 

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

The tragic death of Chester Bennington

Chester Bennington died on July 20, 2017, according to Rolling Stone. The singer was 41 years old. The cause of his death was suicide. 

As the news was reported by outlets like the Twitter account of Associated Press, Bennington's Linkin Park co-vocalist Mike Shinoda soon confirmed the situation. "Shocked and heartbroken, but it's true," Shinoda wrote on Twitter. "An official statement will come out as soon as we have one." Many of Bennington's acquaintances and fellow artists were soon reacting to the singer's death with shock and sadness. 

Bennington's funeral service was held in July 29, with around 200 attendees (via TMZ). In addition to this private ceremony, fans paid their own tributes to the singer in numerous ways.

The future of Linkin Park has remained up in the air since Bennington's death, per Loudwire. The remaining band members' last performance was a 2017 tribute show for their departed singer, and in April 2022, Shinoda stated during a livestream (via Twitter) that the band has no future activities on the pipeline. It remains to be seen whether Linkin Park reemerges at some point in the future, but considering how instrumental Bennington was to the group's sound, it wouldn't be a shocking surprise if the surviving members of the group elected to remain on indefinite hiatus.   

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.