Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell

On this date in 1964, singer-songwriter Christopher John Cornell (né Boyle) was born in Seattle to Karen (Cornell) and Edward Boyle. His mother was an accountant and self-described psychic of Jewish descent, and his father was a pharmacist with Irish Catholic roots. After his parents divorced, he and his five siblings took their mother’s maiden name.

Cornell attended Christ the King Elementary in grades 1-7 until he and his sister, a year older, decided — with their mother’s approval — that Catholic education wasn’t for them. He had performed in public for the first time, singing the anti-war “One Tin Soldier” for a school audience.

“Actually, our mom pulled us out because we were about to get kicked out for the reason that we were both too inquisitive,” Cornell said. “Being young people who have a natural curiosity and half a brain, you’re going to start finding inconsistencies, which there are tons of in organized religion. We both sort of made it clear in classroom situations that we didn’t get it.” (Reason magazine, October 1994)

He struggled with severe depression as a teen, dropped out of school and worked at a number of jobs. He was the drummer for the cover band The Shemps before co-founding Soundgarden in 1984. With Cornell concentrating more on vocals, the band garnered considerable success in Seattle’s emerging grunge scene in the early 1990s. Its 1994 album “Superunknown” had several noteworthy singles, including “Black Hole Sun,” which VH1 ranked No. 25 on its list of the 100 greatest songs of the 1990s.

Creative differences led to a 1997 band breakup but it re-formed to headline Lollapalooza 2010 before touring North America. Cornell had recorded solo albums and toured with other musicians after the breakup. From 2001-07, he was a member of Audioslave, which released three albums, received three Grammy nominations and sold over 8 million records worldwide.

He released “Songbook” in 2011, an acoustic live album featuring songs from his entire solo career as well as with Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, plus covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” He performed in 2013 with Soundgarden at President Obama’s second inaugural ball. His last studio album, “Higher Truth,” was released in 2015. He committed all proceeds from his single titled “The Promise” — written for the movie of the same name about the Armenian genocide — to support refugees and vulnerable children.

Cornell married Susan Silver, manager of Alice in Chains, in 1990. They had a daughter, Lillian Jean, in 2000 before divorcing. He married Vicky Karayiannis, a Paris-based American publicist in 2004. They had a daughter, Toni, that same year and a son, Christopher, in 2005. The couple created the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation to benefit children facing homelessness, poverty and abuse.

“Ultimately, I think I’m sort of a freethinker and kind of open,” Cornell said in a March 2008 interview with The Standard in Vancouver, B.C. “So many bad things – as well as good things – have happened based on people just sort of blindly following religion that I kind of feel like I want to stay away from any type of specific denomination or any religion period.”

In May 2017, his bodyguard found him unconscious with an exercise band around his neck in the bathroom of his hotel room at the MGM Grand in Detroit after a Soundgarden show. His death at age 52 was ruled a suicide. A lawsuit alleging his doctor was negligent in prescribing 940 doses of lorazepam, marketed as Ativan, for anxiety since 2015 was settled on confidential terms with his family in 2021. (D. 2017)

PHOTO: Cornell at the 2009 MusiCares Person of the Year gala in Los Angeles; Shutterstock photo by s_bukley.

Freedom From Religion Foundation