What The Final 12 Months Of Chris Cornell's Life Was Like

Chris Cornell had one of the strongest and most distinctive sets of pipes in all of rock music. He didn't sound like all those garbled, mumbly, Seattle grunge men of the '90s with whom he and his primary band Soundgarden were most associated. Cornell sounded more like some combination of an opera singer and a '70s arena rock frontman, with a powerful, melodic wail that conveyed pain, heartbreak, and agony — elements that were also present throughout the many songs he wrote for Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and in his truncated solo career. 

Cornell's voice took him far in life, elevating him to rich and famous rock star status with multiple groups, and in the mid-2010s, he enjoyed a career resurgence that took him to heights that resembled his '90s salad days. Here's a look at what would turn out to be the last months in the life of Chris Cornell.

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

Chris Cornell raised awareness of the Armenian genocide

Concurrent with the fighting of World War I in the mid-1910s came another devastating and deadly event that isn't widely known: the Armenian Genocide. Beginning in 1915, the Ottoman government of Turkey ordered the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians, as well as the expulsion of thousands more, according to The History Channel

The 2016 film The Promise, starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, is one of the few American films about the Armenian Genocide, taking place in the early days of the event. Co-writer and director Terry George commissioned Chris Cornell to compose and perform a song for the film's soundtrack. He turned out "The Promise," a stark song consisting of acoustic guitar, piano, percussion, and orchestration. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Cornell researched by reading extensively and watching documentaries about the subject, which he told Billboard deeply haunted him. He was hopeful that his song conveyed a message of hope. "The hope was built into the story," he said. "To me, the challenge was being able to distill it in a couple of verses and a chorus." 

Cornell donated any money he received from "The Promise" to the International Rescue Committee, an organization that helps political refugees and people trying to escape countries in states of conflict. "The Promise" ultimately earned Cornell a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song.

Chris Cornell toured in support of a solo album

Chris Cornell is primarily known for his skills as a singer and as the frontman of three different successful acts: Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog. He also kept up an extensive and prolific solo career, writing the majority of songs on four solo studio albums: Euphoria Morning, Carry On, Scream, and Higher Truth, released in late 2015. The album sold well, peaking at #19 on the Billboard album chart and generating the rock radio hit "Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart." Critics liked Higher Truth, too: Glide Magazine gave it an 8/10 and called it "the strongest album Cornell has released" in years. 

Clearly, the masses were in want of Chris Cornell, and the singer-songwriter obliged, heading out on tour to promote and support Higher Truth. The latter part of 2015 saw Cornell playing theaters and concert halls in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, and early in 2016, he played throughout Scandinavia and Western Europe (including a four-night stand at Royal Albert Hall in London), before returning to North America for another leg that kept him on the road and playing shows for the better part of the summer.

Chris Cornell reunited Temple of the Dog

A few months before Soundgarden released its commercial breakthrough Badmotorfinger, singer Chris Cornell emerged with Temple of the Dog. A supergroup consisting of members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam (just before it came out with debut album Ten), the band produced a single, self-titled album (with the hit "Hunger Strike") as a tribute to Andrew Wood, frontman of Seattle band Mother Love Bone (as well as Cornell's roommate and close friend), who died in 1990 of a drug overdose. 

It was a project with a specific goal in mind that existed in a specific period in time (for a total of just ten days) formed by people who went on to much bigger things, so the fact that Temple of the Dog reunited at all was a bit of a surprise. Chris Cornell joined Pearl Jam (Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron later joining that band) for the occasional performance of "Hunger Strike," according to Rolling Stone, but it wasn't until November 2016 that Temple of the Dog staged a full-scale reunion tour. According to The Guardian, the band played five American cities, and Cornell hoped it would be a cathartic experience. "I didn't deal well with Andy's death," Cornell said. "This tour, in a sense, is the dealing. It's facing the reality." Unfortunately, co-Temple of the Dog singer Eddie Vedder was unable to participate due to "family commitments," but Cornell dedicated "Hunger Strike" to his compatriot when the band played Seattle's Paramount Theatre.

Chris Cornell contributed to some disparate soundtracks

In the last year of his life, Chris Cornell played and recorded a lot of music, including contributing covers of a couple of well-known songs for two very different projects. According to Vulture, each episode of HBO's short-lived 2016 drama Vinyl, set around a fading 1970s record label, featured rock stars doing their take on old rock and pop gems. Cornell's contribution: a version of "Stay With Me Baby," as famously sung by Lorraine Ellison, as well as Terry Reid. "I was very honored to be asked," Cornell said. "I get to pay tribute to Terry Reid, whose version of the song has been a favorite of mine for many years."

Netflix churns out so many shows in so many niche genres that it's easy to miss a few, like the 2016 animated series for children Beat Bugs. Built around the music of the Beatles, it featured a group of five bugs — including actual beetles — learning important life lessons and morals. The soundtrack consisted of Fab Four favorites, of course, but performed by high-profile musical guests like Pink, Rod Stewart, and Chris Cornell. The former Soundgarden frontman earned the privilege of singing "Drive My Car" (as it came out of an anthropomorphic toy all-terrain vehicle) while the Beat Bugs danced around.

Chris Cornell sang with Audioslave on Inauguration Day

After revisiting Temple of the Dog, the Chris Cornell "greatest hits" wave continued when the singer got back together with Audioslave. A few years after the dissolution of Soundgarden, Cornell had united with three former members of Rage Against the Machine to form a combo that released three best-selling albums in the early 2000s and dominated rock radio with hits like "Show Me How to Live," "Cochise," and "Like a Stone." Audioslave was nowhere near as politically minded as Rage Against the Machine, but the group made its feelings known when it reunited after 11 years apart. 

On January 20, 2017, the same day as Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, Audioslave's members helped organize the Anti Inaugural Ball in Los Angeles, according to Billboard, a star-studded protest in the form of a concert. It was a decidedly informal affair for Cornell and his bandmates. A quick sound check served as Audioslave's only rehearsal before it performed a three-song set. According to guitarist Tom Morello, the whole reunion was Cornell's suggestion.

Soundgarden got back together

In 2012, Soundgarden reunited after 15 years apart with the release of a brand-new album of new material, King Animal, and a few concert dates. It worked out so well that Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron, and bassist Ben Shepherd reconvened once more, and they had some very ambitious plans for 2017 — another new record, digging into the Soundgarden vault, and a tour.

"We're about halfway through writing the new album," Cornell told Billboard in April 2017, with Thayil also revealing that each band member had been writing and recording potential Soundgarden tracks on their own. "There's some songs that have been demoed," he said. "Chris has demoed a few things. He's written lyrics for ideas that I've written and that Ben and Matt have written." Thayil also stated that the group was looking into issuing various unreleased recordings, such as excised material from Screaming Life, Soundgarden's debut 1987 EP that label Sub Pop had cut down from a full-length album.

While those projects are yet to materialize, Soundgarden did tour throughout the spring of 2017, which Cornell seemed to be excited about. "What I look forward to the most — because I tour so much, especially the last couple of years, by myself — is the camaraderie. It's what we missed when we weren't a band." According to JamBase, Soundgarden's road trip was to consist of 18 tour days in April and May 2017, comprising primarily outdoor and radio station festivals.

Chris Cornell made music with his daughter

In 2004, per the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Chris Cornell married his second wife, the former Vicky Karayiannis, and they had two children together: daughter Toni, born in 2004, and son Christopher, born in 2005. It wasn't long before Toni Cornell and her father began collaborating on some musical projects. 

According to People, Toni Cornell wrote a song called "Far Away Places" at just 12 years old, which Chris Cornell recorded and produced at his home studio in Florida. (The song was released in a 2019 short film made by a Cornell family friend.) In 2015, Chris had accompanied his daughter in her first-ever public performance, playing Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" together at the Beacon Theater in New York City. And in a poignant Father's Day gesture in 2018, Toni Cornell released to YouTube her and her father's duet of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U."

Chris Cornell's last days are fraught with mystery

With Chris Cornell at the fore, Soundgarden hit the road in spring 2017, according to JamBase, and the tour arrived in Detroit for a May 17 date at the Fox Theatre. Ashley Zlatopolsky covered the sold-out show for the Detroit Free Press and reported that it wasn't Cornell's best performance and "that something wasn't right" with the singer. "He often staggered back-and-forth across the stage, and seemed weak in his movements," Zlatopolsky wrote. "Just one or two songs in, it was if the energy had exited his body, and what was left was a shell of a man scrambling to do his job." The Soundgarden frontman also reportedly forgot lyrics on more than one occasion, with his vocals "not in sync with the music." At one point, Cornell wandered offstage, leaving the rest of the band to vamp with instrumentals until he returned.

According to Consequence of Sound, Cornell and company finished their set with their downbeat 1991 track "Slaves & Bulldozers," intercut with elements of Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying." And thus ended Soundgarden's last show — and Cornell's final performance before the tragic events of later that night. 

Chris Cornell died in his hotel room after a Soungarden show

Following Soundgarden's show at Detroit's historic Fox Theatre on May 17, 2017, according to The Detroit News, Chris Cornell headed straight to his hotel room at the MGM Grand. That's when bodyguard Martin Kirsten helped Cornell with a computer issue and then gave him two doses of an anti-anxiety medication. At around 11:30 p.m., Cornell took a brief call from his wife, Vicky, who noticed that Cornell's speech seemed slurred and that he sounded overly sleepy. "I'm just tired," he reportedly and repeatedly said. 

At a quarter past midnight, Vicky Cornell called Kirsten to check in on her husband, but he found Cornell's room locked. He kicked down that door, only to find the bathroom door locked as well. After kicking down the second door, Kirsten says he discovered Cornell on the floor, unresponsive, not breathing, blood coming out of his mouth, and an exercise band firmly tied around his neck. An E.M.S. unit arrived, and a medical professional performed CPR on Cornell, without success. At 1:30 a.m., a doctor pronounced Cornell dead, after which homicide detectives arrived to investigate while another called Vicky Cornell to tell her that her husband had passed away. Cornell was 52 years old.

What was Chris Cornell's cause of death?

According to a police report (via The Detroit News) regarding the scene of Chris Cornell's death, Vicky Cornell told police that her husband was a recovering drug addict. Indeed, Chris had long struggled with substance abuse, and Vicky told ABC News that her husband had suffered a relapse in his sobriety in 2016. However, drugs didn't seemingly come into play in the death of Chris Cornell. 

An autopsy and toxicology report issued by the Wayne County Medical Examiner's office (via MLive) reported evidence of several commonly abused substances in Cornell's system, including the painkillers naloxone and butalbital, the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam, allergy treatment pseudoephedrine, and caffeine. However, none were present in anything beyond small-to-moderate therapeutic, safe doses, leading the M.E. to rule that these chemicals did not lead to Cornell's death. According to The Detroit News, police ruled out homicide, and all authorities involved officially believe that Cornell took his own life.

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

Chris Cornell honored Johnny Cash

With his death in May 2017, Chris Cornell sadly entered the pantheon of fallen American music icons. Another original, staggering talent gone too soon: genre-blurring singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, who died in 2003. Cash had a big effect on Cornell, having covered Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage" in 1996. "I met [Cash] once or twice in my life, and he was so gracious and he was such an influence on me as a musician," Cornell once said (via Rolling Stone). "Since that time, I've felt like he's maybe one of the bigger presences in my life, in terms of artists that I'm a fan of." 

Cornell was so into Cash that shortly before he died, he adapted two of the Man in Black's poems and added original music to create a ballad called "You Never Knew My Mind." It appeared on Forever Words, a collection of Cash's little-known non-musical works put to melodies, released in April 2018. It marked the first time Cornell's voice was heard on record since his passing. "Chris took the two pieces and put them together in this one," Cash's son and Forever Words co-producer John Carter Cash said. "I can't listen to it without it laying me down."

Chris Cornell's wife sued Soundgarden

In addition to all the projects, one-off recordings, and soundtrack contributions Chris Cornell did in the months leading up to his death, he also laid down seven tracks at his personal studio in Florida in 2017. According to Rolling Stone, in December 2019, Chris' wife, Vicky Cornell, sued, alleging that the members of Soundgarden and its business manager "shamelessly conspired to wrongfully withhold hundreds of thousands indisputably owed" to her and her children from those tunes. 

Per the suit, after Cornell's death, Soundgarden asked Vicky Cornell for those songs, and she turned them over for use on a new album by the band, despite how the songs had or had not been clearly marked as potential Soundgarden tunes. Cornell asked for one of a few "trusted producers" to work on the posthumous recordings, but the suit claims that the band wouldn't agree to that. Vicky Cornell also claims that Soundgarden sent a letter requiring her to turn over her husband's recordings, claiming full band ownership. The legal situation grew even more complicated in May 2020, according to Rolling Stone, after Soundgarden countersued Vicky Cornell, claiming that she misappropriated funds raised from a 2019 Chris Cornell tribute concert.