The Tragic Truth About Suicide In Kurt Cobain's Family

On April 8, 1994, the music world was shocked to learn that Kurt Cobain of the grunge band Nirvana had died. Just a couple of months prior, the band was on a European tour to promote their third album, "In Utero," but just five days into their schedule, Cobain canceled the rest of the tour dates because of worsening stomach pains. He was also suffering from bronchitis and laryngitis (via Nirvana Guide). Their last performance was on March 1, and Cobain traveled to Rome to meet up with his wife, Courtney Love, and their baby daughter, Frances Bean.

A few days after arriving in Rome, Cobain was rushed to the hospital after an overdose. He returned to his home in Seattle after waking up from a coma, and just after a few weeks, Love arranged an intervention regarding her husband's drug use. Reluctantly, the Nirvana frontman agreed to be checked into a drug rehab program in Los Angeles, as reported by Seattle Times. However, he didn't finish his detox and left the rehab facility. He told the staff that he was going out for a smoke, but he never came back. Cobain jumped the wall and went back to Seattle, unbeknownst to his friends and family.

According to Billboard, Cobain died on April 5 — three days before he was found — from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A suicide note was found at the scene, which was the greenhouse of his Seattle home. He was 27 years old.

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

Cobain family suicides

Kurt Cobain wasn't the first in his family to die by suicide. In fact, as noted by Michael Azerrad in an article for The New Yorker, it's in his family's history. It dates back to 1913 when Florence Cobain, the sister of Kurt's great-grandfather, shot herself with a rifle at 17 years old after not being allowed by her father to watch a movie. Fortunately, Florence survived. Two brothers of Cobain's grandfather — Burle and Kenneth Cobain — also killed themselves with guns in 1979 and 1984, respectively. On Cobain's maternal side, a great-grandfather attempted to kill himself with a knife. He survived but later died in a psychiatric hospital after reopening his wounds on purpose.

Kurt's Cousin, Beverly Cobain, shared to Health Day that turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism was common among the men in the Cobain family. Kurt struggled with his immediate rise to fame, per the New York Post. As the band became more popular, Kurt became more of a recluse and refused to partake in interviews. To cope, he turned to alcohol and drugs. Furthermore, Beverly noted that Kurt was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and Bipolar disorder. She believes that no matter what career Kurt ended up with, he most likely would have resorted to taking his own life because he had several risk factors.

Is suicide genetic?

One of the questions most commonly asked when it comes to suicide is whether it is genetic. According to Mayo Clinic, a person's genes are only one of the factors that affect a person's risk for suicide. There is, indeed, a gene called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that is associated with suicidal tendencies, but there are also other risk factors involved apart from family history, such as mental illness, access to firearms, and chronic pain, just to name a few (via the National Institute of Mental Health). As mentioned, Kurt Cobain suffered from stomach pains, was diagnosed with mental disabilities, and had a history of suicide in the family from both his maternal and paternal sides.

In 2021, a study conducted by researchers showed that there are certain DNA variations that make a person highly at risk for acting on their suicidal feelings. These genetic factors overlap with mental disorders, per Mount Sinai. The study offers a broader understanding of how genes affect suicidal tendencies, but more research must be done to gain more perception on the matter.

The controversy about Kurt Cobain's suicide

Although Kurt Cobain's death certificate officially notes his manner of death as suicide, there are some who believe in the conspiracy theory that the Nirvana frontman was murdered. One of those people is a retired private investigator named Tom Grant. He said that the note found by Cobain's body wasn't a suicide note, as it had no mention of him taking his life, per Cobain Case. He also noted that there was a lethal amount of drugs in the musician's system at the time of his death, which would have incapacitated him and prevented him from shooting himself.

In 2021, the FBI released their file regarding Cobain's death. The public was able to see the 10-page report for the first time since 1994, and it showed that authorities didn't pursue a murder investigation about his death. To this day, there is still a debate on the manner of Cobain's death, but either way, his passing left a big hole in the music industry that can still be felt by some people decades later.