Chris Cornell, the legendary frontman of Soundgarden who was known to possess one of the most powerful voices of the grunge era, has died by suicide at 52, the Associated Press reports.
“Chris Cornell passed away late Wednesday night in Detroit, Michigan,” Cornell’s representative, Brian Bumbery, said in a statement to PEOPLE. “His wife Vicky and family were shocked to learn of his sudden and unexpected passing, and they will be working closely with the medical examiner to determine the cause. They would like to thank his fans for their continuous love and loyalty and ask that their privacy be respected at this time.” The 52-year-old had been touring with Soundgarden at the time of his death.
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Born in Seattle in 1964, Cornell was a fixture of the grunge generation, leading Soundgarden and supergroup Temple of the Dog in the late ’80s and into the ’90s. Cornell formed Soundgarden in 1984 with bassist Hiro Yamamoto and guitarist Kim Thayil but the band wouldn’t find mainstream success until the 1990s with the release of 1991’s Badmotorfinger (which included the hits “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Outshined,” and “Rusty Cage”) and 1994’s Superunknown (“Black Hole Sun,” “Fell on Black Days,” “Spoonman,” “The Day I Tried to Live”). The success of Superunknown culminated with two Grammy wins (“Black Hole Sun” nabbed Best Hard Rock Performance and “Spoonman” received Best Metal Performance) and it has sold nearly 9 million copies since its release, making it one of the biggest grunge-era records alongside releases by Pearl Jam and Nirvana.
“We’re clearly pioneers of that genre,” Cornell told Rolling Stone of the term “grunge” in a 2014 interview pegged to the 20th anniversary of Superunknown. “So imagining that we weren’t part of it — if we were from somewhere else — when that story is told we would not have been part of it. That comparison could be Jane’s Addiction or Smashing Pumpkins, who won’t necessarily get mentioned when some new rock fan is researching these dramatic pivotal moments. So for that reason, I feel whatever we had to put up with over the years, all the Seattle questions, it’s worth it.”
Soundgarden split in 1997, after which Cornell began his solo career, releasing Euphoria Morning in 1999. Soon after, Cornell joined up with the remaining members of Rage Against the Machine, minus lead singer Zack de la Rocha, to create the band Audioslave. The group released its self-titled first album in 2002, the same year Cornell separated from his wife and checked into rehab. “It was the most difficult period of my life,” he said in a 2009 interview with The Guardian. “I’m lucky I got through it.” Of rehab, Cornell told the publication, “I’m not sure if it was the best place for me, but it worked.”
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Cornell previously touched on his drug use in a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone. “I went from being a daily drug user at 13 to having bad drug experiences and quitting drugs by the time I was 14 and then not having any friends until the time I was 16. There was about two years where I was more or less agoraphobic and didn’t deal with anybody, didn’t talk to anybody, didn’t have any friends at all. All the friends that I had were still f—ed up with drugs and were people that I didn’t really have anything in common with.”
After Audioslave and more solo work (including the theme song to 2006’s James Bond reboot Casino Royale), Soundgarden reformed in 2010. In addition to touring with his most-famous band, Cornell also recently completed a nationwide tour with Temple of the Dog — which is comprised of members of Pearl Jam, including current member and former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron.
Soundgarden played a show at Detroit’s Fox Theater on Wednesday night and were scheduled to perform in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday.