Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the American grunge band Nirvana, was found dead at his home located at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard in Seattle, Washington, United States on April 8, 1994, with analysis determining that he had committed suicide three days prior on April 5. The Seattle Police Department incident report states that Cobain was found with a shotgun across his body, had a visible head wound and there was a suicide note discovered nearby. The King County Medical Examiner noted puncture wounds on the inside of both the right and left elbow. Prior to his death, Cobain had checked out of a drug rehabilitation facility and been reported suicidal by his wife Courtney Love.
Despite the official ruling of suicide, several theories have arisen offering alternate explanations for Cobain's death. Tom Grant, a private investigator hired by Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, to find Cobain after his departure from rehab, put forth his belief that Cobain was murdered. Grant's theory has since been analyzed and questioned by television shows, films and books. Authors and filmmakers have also attempted to explain what might have happened during Cobain's final days, and what might have led him to commit suicide.
- 1 Discovery of Cobain's body
- 2 Theories
- 3 Reactions of Cobain's friends
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Discovery of Cobain's body
On April 8, 1994, Kurt Cobain was discovered in the living quarters above his garage at his Lake Washington house by Veca Electric employee Gary Smith. Smith arrived at the house in the morning to install security lighting and saw Cobain lying inside. Smith found what he thought might be a suicide note with a pen stuck through it beneath an overturned flowerpot. A shotgun, purchased for Cobain by Dylan Carlson, was found resting on Cobain's chest.[dead link] Cobain's death certificate stated that his death was a result of a "contact perforating shotgun wound to the head", and concluded his death a suicide. The report estimated Cobain to have died on April 5, 1994.
Memorial and cremation
On April 10, 1994, a public memorial service was held at the Seattle Center, where a recording of wife Courtney Love reading Cobain's suicide note was played. Near the end of the vigil, Love arrived and distributed some of his clothing to fans who remained there. In the following days, Love publicly consoled and mourned with fans who would come to their house.
Cobain's body was cremated and Love divided portions of his ashes, some of which she kept in a teddy bear and in an urn. Another portion of his ashes was taken by Love to the Namgyal Buddhist Monastery in Ithaca, New York in 1994, where they were ceremonially blessed by Buddhist monks and mixed into clay which was made into memorial sculptures. A final ceremony was arranged for Cobain by his mother on May 31, 1999, attended by both Courtney Love and Tracy Marander. As a Buddhist monk chanted, his daughter Frances Bean scattered his ashes into McLane Creek in Olympia, the city where he "had found his true artistic muse."
Advocates of the verdict (death by self-inflicted gunshot wound) cite Cobain's persistent drug addiction, clinical depression, and handwritten suicide note as conclusive proof. Members of Cobain's family have also noted patterns of depression and instability in Cobain before he achieved fame. Cobain himself mentioned that his stomach pains from an undiagnosed stomach condition during Nirvana's 1991 European tour were so severe, he became suicidal and stated that taking heroin was "[his] choice", stating "This is the only thing that's saving me from blowing my head off right now."
Cobain's cousin Beverly, a nurse, pointed out that there was a family history of suicide. Beverly claimed that bipolar disorder and his struggles with drug addiction led him to commit suicide.[dead link]
In Charles Cross's Heavier than Heaven, bandmate Krist Novoselic talked about seeing Cobain in the days before the intervention: "He was really quiet. He was just estranged from all of his relationships. He wasn't connecting with anybody." An offer to buy a nice dinner for Cobain resulted in Novoselic unintentionally driving him to score heroin. "His dealer was right there. He wanted to get fucked up into oblivion. ... He wanted to die, that's what he wanted to do." In his own book, Of Grunge and Government: Let's Fix This Broken Democracy, Novoselic alluded to circumstances of Cobain's death: "Tragically, [Cobain] picked the wrong way to resign from the position he was thrust into."
The first to object publicly to the report of suicide was Seattle public access host Richard Lee. A week after Cobain's death, Lee aired the first episode of an ongoing series covering Cobain's death called Kurt Cobain Was Murdered. Lee claimed several discrepancies in the police reports, including several changes in the nature of the shotgun blast. Lee acquired a video that was taped on April 8 from the tree outside Cobain's garage, showing the scene around Cobain's body, which Lee claimed showed a marked absence of blood for what was reported as a point-blank shotgun blast to the head (several pathology experts have noted that a shotgun blast inside the mouth often results in less blood, unlike a shotgun blast to the head).
The main proponent of the existence of a conspiracy surrounding Cobain's death is Tom Grant, a private investigator employed by Courtney Love after Cobain's disappearance from rehab. Grant was still under Love's employment when Cobain's body was found. Grant believes that Cobain's death was a homicide.
There are several key components to Grant's theory:
Bloodstream heroin levels
On April 14, 1994, Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that Cobain was "high on heroin when he pulled the trigger". The paper reported that the toxicological tests determined that the level of heroin in Cobain's bloodstream was 1.52 milligrams per liter, and that there was also evidence of diazepam, or Valium, in his blood. In the report was a quote from Dr. Randall Baselt of the Chemical Toxicological Institute who stated that Cobain's heroin level was "a high concentration, by any account." He also stated in the report that the strength of that dose would depend on many factors, including how habituated Cobain was to the drug. Grant argues that Cobain could not have injected himself with such a dose and still have been able to pull the trigger.
Several different studies on heroin use have noted the difficulty in pinpointing the level of heroin that an addict can tolerate. In a 2004 story, Dateline NBC questioned five medical examiners about the figure from the toxicology report. Two of them noted the possibility that Cobain could have built up a tolerance through repeated usage that would have allowed him to pull the trigger himself, while the three others held that the information was inconclusive.
Grant does not believe that Cobain was killed by the heroin dose. He suggests that the heroin was used to incapacitate Cobain before the final shotgun blast was administered by the perpetrator.
Some have noted that Grant, Wallace and Halperin are using the dosage figure reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, not the actual autopsy report, and they may not have the correct amount. The SPD cannot release the information to the media because reports and records of autopsies and postmortems are confidential, protected under Washington State law.
While working for Love, Grant was given access to Cobain's suicide note, and used her fax machine to make a photocopy, which has since been widely distributed.
After studying the note, Grant believed that it was actually a letter written by Cobain announcing his intent to leave Courtney Love, Seattle, and the music business. Grant asserted that the few lines at the very bottom of the note, separate from the rest of it, are the only parts implying suicide. While the official report on Cobain's death concluded that Cobain wrote the note, Grant claims that the official report does not distinguish the questionable lines from the rest of the note, and simply draws the conclusion across the entire note. However, it should be noted that many of Kurt's notes were written in this manner, proven when Cobain's Journals were published in 2002.
Grant claims to have consulted with handwriting experts who support his assertion. Other experts disagree, however. Document examiner Janis Parker concluded the suicide note was written by Kurt Cobain. When Dateline NBC sent a copy of the note to four different handwriting experts, one concluded that the entire note was in Cobain's hand, while the other three said the sample was inconclusive. One expert contacted by the television series Unsolved Mysteries noted the difficulty in drawing a conclusion, given that the note being studied was a photocopy, not the original.
The shotgun, a Remington Model 11 20 gauge, was not checked for fingerprints until May 6, 1994. According to the Fingerprint Analysis Report, four cards of latent prints were lifted but contained no legible prints.
The Seattle Police Department's follow-up report states that the shotgun was inverted on Cobain's chest with his left hand wrapped around the barrel. The officer had to pry the shotgun from Cobain's hands, which could be a factor in the illegible prints.
Grant also cites circumstantial evidence from the official report. For example, the report claimed that the doors of the greenhouse could not have been locked from the outside, meaning that Cobain would have had to lock them himself. Grant claims that when he saw the doors for himself, he found that the doors could be locked and pulled shut. Grant also questions the lack of fingerprint evidence connecting Cobain to the key evidence, including the shotgun (although this could be attributed to the gun's oil coating or condensation in the greenhouse). Grant notes that the official report claims that Cobain's fingerprints were also absent from the suicide note and the pen (although as it was stabbed in the soil, it would be likely that a palm print would erase fingerprints) that had been poked through it, and yet Cobain was found without gloves on his hands. None of the circumstantial evidence directly points to murder, but Grant believes it supports the larger case.
After Cobain's death, Love claimed that Cobain's overdose in Rome was a suicide attempt. Love told Rolling Stone's David Fricke, "He took 50 pills. He probably forgot how many he took. But there was a definite suicidal urge, to be gobbling and gobbling and gobbling."
In studying the Rome incident, journalists Ian Halperin and Max Wallace contacted Dr. Osvaldo Galletta, who treated Cobain after the incident. Galletta contested the claim that the Rome overdose was a suicide attempt, telling Halperin and Wallace, "We can usually tell a suicide attempt. This didn't look like one to me." Galletta also specifically denied Love's claim that fifty Rohypnol pills were removed from Cobain's stomach.
However, they also stated: "Grant believes Courtney may have mixed a large number of pills into Kurt's champagne so that when he took a drink, he was actually unknowingly ingesting large amounts of the drug, enough to kill him. But if that's the case, why did she call the police when she found him unconscious on the floor? If she wanted Kurt dead, why didn't she just leave him on the floor until he died?"
Galletta also noted that Cobain's recovery was aided by the "timely intervention" by Courtney Love, who called for help.
Grant believes that the claim that the Rome incident was a suicide attempt was not made until after Cobain's death. Grant claims that people close to Cobain, including Nirvana's management Gold Mountain, specifically denied the characterization prior to Cobain's death. Grant believes that if Rome had truly been a suicide attempt, Cobain's friends and family would have been told so that they could have watched out for him.
Others have asserted that the claims by Gold Mountain and others were simply efforts to mask what was happening behind the scenes. Lee Ranaldo, guitarist for Sonic Youth, told Rolling Stone, "Rome was only the latest installment of [those around Cobain] keeping a semblance of normalcy for the outside world."
Grant spoke to Cobain's attorney, Rosemary Carroll, at her office on April 13, 1994. He says that she pressed him to investigate Cobain's death, and claimed that Cobain was not suicidal. Carroll also claims that Cobain had asked her to draw up a will excluding Love because he was planning to file for divorce. Grant claims that this was the motive for Cobain's death. Carroll has not confirmed Grant's allegations or commented publicly on the matter.
Filmmaker Nick Broomfield decided to investigate the theories for himself, and took a film crew to visit a number of people associated with Cobain and Love, including Love's estranged father, Cobain's aunt, and one of the couple's former nannies. Broomfield also spoke to Mentors' bandleader El Duce, who claimed that Love had offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain, C Love: "El, I need a favour of you. My old man's been a real asshole lately, I need you to blow his fucking head off." El Duce: "Are you serious"? C Love: "Yeah, I'll give you $50,000 to blow his fucking head off." El Duce: "I'm serious if you are". CLove: "Where can I reach you"? El Duce: "You can reach me here". Then passed a polygraph administered by polygraph expert Edward Gelb. Though El Duce claimed that he knew who killed Kurt, he failed to mention a name, and offered no evidence to support his assertion. However, during the interview, he mentioned speaking to someone called Alan, before quickly saying,"I mean, my friend" then laughing, saying, "I'll let the FBI catch him". Broomfield incidentally captured El Duce's last interview, as he died days later when he passed out on train tracks and was run over.
Broomfield titled the finished documentary Kurt & Courtney, and it was released in 1998. In the end, however, Broomfield felt he hadn't uncovered enough evidence to conclude the existence of a conspiracy. In a 1998 interview, Broomfield summed it up by saying, "I think that he committed suicide. I don't think that there's a smoking gun. And I think there's only one way you can explain a lot of things around his death. Not that he was murdered, but that there was just a lack of caring for him. I just think that Courtney had moved on, and he was expendable."
Ian Halperin and Max Wallace
Journalists Ian Halperin and Max Wallace took a similar path and attempted to investigate the conspiracy for themselves. Their initial work, the 1999 book Who Killed Kurt Cobain? drew a similar conclusion to Broomfield's film: while there wasn't enough evidence to prove a conspiracy, there was more than enough to demand that the case be reopened. A notable element of the book included their discussions with Grant, who had taped nearly every conversation that he had undertaken while he was in Love's employ. In particular, Halperin and Wallace insisted that Grant play the tapes of his conversations with Carroll so that they could confirm his story. Over the next several years, Halperin and Wallace collaborated with Grant to write a second book, 2004's Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain.
Contesting the murder theory
Grant counters the claim that he profits from the sale of casebook kits on his website by stating that it goes to offset some of the costs of his investigation. As Grant related, "I wrestled with that ... but if I go broke, I'll have to give up my pursuit and Courtney wins."
Halperin and Wallace spoke to several people involved in the investigation of Cobain's death who refute the conspiracy. The Seattle medical examiner who examined Cobain's body, Dr. Nicholas Hartshorne, insisted that all of the evidence pointed to a suicide. However, many[who?] have questioned his opinion because he once promoted concerts for Nirvana, to which he replied, "It's leap of faith, that someone who once promoted concerts for bands would now risk his job, prison, and public disgrace, in order to cover up a murder. I have promoted numerous concerts. Would I aid in covering up a murder? No. As a promoter you don't have that type of relationship with the bands you promote." Sergeant Donald Cameron, one of the homicide detectives, specifically dismissed Grant's theory, claiming, "[Grant] hasn't shown us a shred of proof that this was anything other than suicide." Cobain's friend, Dylan Carlson, told Halperin and Wallace that he also did not believe that the theory was legitimate and in an interview with Broomfield, implied that if he believed his friend was murdered, he would have dealt with it himself. In 'Kurt & Courtney' he specifically said that he would kill Courtney and others involved if he believed they had killed Kurt. He has criticized Tom Grant's investigation saying:
"I think he's just a dipshit. A total incompetent. I was with him for three days when he came up here. He is a total incompetent. He couldn't find his ass with a map"
Many of Kurt's friends and family have supported the suicide verdict. Bandmate Krist Novoselic has strongly voiced his opinion that Kurt killed himself.
Kurt's friend Everett True has also stated that Kurt killed himself, as has Dave Grohl. Kurt's father, Donald Cobain (who worked with Washington State Patrol), has made no attempts to reopen the case, despite his professional connections.
Reactions of Cobain's friends
Several of Cobain's friends have accepted that he committed suicide, but noted being surprised when it happened. Mark Lanegan, a long-time friend of Cobain's, told Rolling Stone, "I never knew [Cobain] to be suicidal. I just knew he was going through a tough time." In the same article, Dylan Carlson noted that he wished Cobain or someone close to him had told him that Rome was a suicide attempt.
Danny Goldberg, husband of Rosemary Carroll and founder of Nirvana's management agency Gold Mountain Entertainment, refers in his book Dispatches From The Culture Wars: How The Left Lost Teen Spirit to "the crazy Internet rumors that Kurt Cobain had not committed suicide but had been murdered" and states that Cobain's suicide "haunts me every day".
I don't even know that he killed himself. There are people close to him who don't think that he did...
When asked if she thought someone else had killed him, Gordon answered,
I do, yes.
In the same interview Gordon's then husband and collaborator Thurston Moore stated that:
Kurt died in a very harsh way. It wasn't just an OD. He actually killed himself violently. It was so aggressive, and he wasn't an aggressive person, he was a smart person, he had an interesting intellect. So it kind of made sense because it was like: wow, what a fucking gesture. But at the same time it was like: something's wrong with that gesture. It doesn’t really lie with what we know.
Well, I can’t really speculate other than what he said to me, which was, he wasn’t at all happy about it, success to him seemed like, I think, a brick wall. There was nowhere else to go but down, it was too artificial for him, and he wasn’t an artificial person at all. He was actually, two weeks after he died, he was supposed to come here and he wanted to record a bunch of Leadbelly covers. It was kind of in secret, because, I mean, people would definitely not allow him to do that. You also have to wonder, he was a billion-dollar industry at the time, and if the industry had any idea at all of him wishing or wanting to get out, they couldn’t have allowed that, you know, in life, because if he was just to get out of the scene, he’d be totally forgotten, but if he was to die, he’d be immortalized.
Cobain's grandfather, Leland Cobain, has publicly said that he believes Kurt was the victim of murder, and not suicide. He explicitly stated that he thinks Kurt "was murdered." Also of note, Courtney Love's first husband, "Falling" James Moreland, lead singer of the indie rock band The Leaving Trains, has publicly expressed that if he had remained married to Love, then he would likely have "wound up like Kurt, shoving a shotgun down [his own] throat."[dead link] Moreland also said that "She was always threatening me with violence and loved the idea of paying someone else [to] do her dirty work," after she threatened to pay someone to beat him up. Rozz Rezabek, another 1980s flame of hers, attested to Moreland's feelings as well in an interview featured in the 1998 film Kurt & Courtney.
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