On April 8, 1994 (24 years ago) shortly before 9 a.m., Kurt Cobain’s body was found in a greenhouse above the garage of his Seattle home. Across his chest lay the 20-gauge shotgun with which the 27-year-old singer, guitarist and songwriter ended his life. Cobain had been missing for six days.
An electrician installing a security system in the house discovered Cobain dead. Though the police, a private-investigation firm and friends were on the trail, his body had been lying there for two and a half days, according to a medical-examiner’s report. A high concentration of heroin and traces of Valium were found in Cobain’s bloodstream. He was identifiable only by his fingerprints.
Mark Lanegan, a member of Screaming Trees and a close friend of Cobain’s, says he didn’t hear from Cobain that last week. “Kurt hadn’t called me,” he says. “He hadn’t called some other people. He hadn’t called his family. He hadn’t called anybody.” Lanegan says he had been “looking for [Kurt] for about a week before he was found. . . . I had a feeling that something real bad had happened.”
Cobain’s friends, family and associates had been worried about his depression and chronic drug use for years. “I was involved in trying to get Kurt professional help on numerous occasions,” says former Nirvana’s manager Danny Goldberg, now president of Atlantic Records.
It wasn’t, however, until eight days after Cobain returned to Seattle from Rome to recuperate from a failed suicide attempt in March that those close to him realized that it was time to resort to drastic measures. Cobain had gone “cuckoo,” says Gold Mountain Entertainment’s Janet Billig, who manages Courtney Love’s band “Hole.” Along with several domestic disputes, Cobain’s relationship with Nirvana was rocky. In fact, Love told MTV that Cobain said to her in the weeks after Rome: “I hate it — I can’t play with them anymore.” She added that he only wanted to work with Michael Stipe of R.E.M.
On March 18, a domestic dispute escalated into a near disaster. After police officers arrived at the scene, summoned by Love, she told them that her husband had locked himself in a room with a 38-caliber revolver and said he was going to kill himself. The officers confiscated that gun and three others, along with a bottle of various unidentified pills. Later that night, Cobain told them that he hadn’t actually been planning to take his own life.
At this point, Love, along with Cobain’s other family members, band mates and management company, began talking to a number of intervention counselors, including Steven Chatoff, executive director of Anacapa by the Sea, a behavioral health center for the treatment of addictions and psychological disorders, in Port Hueneme, Calif. “They called me to see what could be done,” says Chatoff. “He was using, up in Seattle. He was in full denial. It was very chaotic. And they were in fear for his life. It was a crisis.”
Chatoff began interviewing friends, family members and business associates in preparation for enacting a full-scale intervention. According to Chatoff, someone then tipped off Cobain, and the procedure had to be canceled. Nirvana’s management, Gold Mountain, claims that it found another intervention counselor and told Chatoff a small lie to turn down his services politely.
Meanwhile, Roddy Bottum, an old friend of Love and Cobain’s and the keyboardist for Faith No More flew from San Francisco to Seattle to care for Cobain. “I really loved Kurt,” Bottum says, “and we got along really well. I was there to be with him as a friend.”
On March 25, roughly 10 friends — including band mates Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, Nirvana manager John Silva, Billig, longtime friend Dylan Carlson, Love and Goldberg (Bottum had already gone home) — gathered at Cobain’s home on Seattle’s Lake Washington Boulevard to take a different approach with a new intervention counselor. (Novoselic is said to have staged his own separate confrontation with Cobain as well.) As part of the intervention, Love threatened to leave Cobain, and Smear and Novoselic said they would break up the band if Cobain didn’t check into rehab. After a tense five-hour session in the two-day process, Cobain retired to the basement with Smear, where they rehearsed some new material.
Love had hoped to coax Cobain into flying to Los Angeles with her so that the couple could check into rehab together. Instead, she wound up on a plane with Billig at the end of the first day of intervention. (The couple’s daughter, Frances Bean, and a nanny followed the next day.) Love would say that she regretted leaving Cobain alone (“That ’80s tough-love bullshit — it doesn’t work,” she said in a taped message during a memorial vigil for Cobain two weeks later). After a stop in San Francisco, Billig and Love flew to Los Angeles, and on the morning of the 26th, Love checked into the Peninsula Hotel, in Beverly Hills, and began an outpatient program to “detox from tranquilizers,” according to Billig.
Back in Seattle, Cobain stopped by Carlson’s condominium on March 30 to ask for a gun because, Cobain said, there were trespassers on Cobain’s property.
“He seemed normal, we’d been talking,” Carlson says. “Plus, I’d loaned him guns before.” Carlson believes Cobain didn’t want to buy the shotgun himself because he was afraid the police would confiscate it, since they had taken his other firearms after the domestic dispute that had occurred 12 days earlier.
Cobain and Carlson headed to Stan’s Gun Shop nearby and purchased a six-pound Remington 20-gauge shotgun and a box of ammunition for roughly $300, which Cobain gave Carlson in cash. “He was going out to L.A.,” Carlson says. “It seemed kind of weird that he was buying the shotgun before he was leaving. So I offered to hold on to it until he got back.” Cobain, however, insisted on keeping the shotgun himself. The police believe that Cobain dropped the weapon off at his home and left Seattle to check himself into rehab. Smear and a Gold Mountain employee met Cobain at the Los Angeles airport and drove him to the Exodus Recovery Center, in the Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital, in Marina del Rey, Calif.
Despite his inability to proceed with his plan, Chatoff says he spoke with Cobain by phone several times before Cobain left for Los Angeles. “I was not supportive of that at all,” says Chatoff of Cobain’s admittance to Exodus, “because that was just another detox ‘buff and shine.'”
Cobain spent two days at the 20-bed clinic. On April 1 he called Love, who was still at the Peninsula. “He said, ‘Courtney, no matter what happens, I want you to know that you made a really good record,'” she later told a Seattle newspaper. “I said, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Just remember, no matter what, I love you.'” (Hole were due to release their second album, Live Through This, 11 days later.) That was the last time Love spoke to her husband.
The next day, Love canceled Cobain’s credit cards and hired private investigators to track him down. But he had already flown back to Seattle. “I talked to Cali [one of Frances Bean’s nannies, whose real name is Michael DeWitt],” Carlson says, “who said he had seen [Kurt] on Saturday [April 2], but I couldn’t get ahold of him.” Neither could anybody else. On April 4, Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor — who says she had been afraid for her son’s safety for some time — filed a missing-person’s report. She told the police that Cobain might be suicidal and suggested that they look for Cobain at a particular three-story brick building, described as a location for narcotics, in Seattle’s upscale, bohemian Capitol Hill district.
The police believe Cobain wandered around town with no clear agenda in his final days, though they suspect he stopped by a gun shop to buy more rounds of ammunition. Neighbors say they spotted Cobain in a park near his house during this period, looking ill and wearing an incongruously thick jacket. Cobain is also believed to have spent a night at his summer home in nearby Carnation with an unidentified friend.
Sometime on or before the afternoon of April 5, Cobain barricaded himself in the greenhouse above his garage by propping a stool against its French doors. The evidence at the scene suggests that he removed his hunter’s cap — which he wore when he didn’t want people to recognize him — and dug into a cigar box that is believed to have contained his drug stash. He penned a one-page note in red ink. He also tossed his wallet on the floor, open to his Washington driver’s license, which friends believe was to help the police identify him.
In a cruel twist of fate, it wasn’t until April 6 that Love’s private investigators arrived in Seattle. “I was working with [an investigator],” Carlson says, “and the day we were going to Carnation to look for him, we found out he was dead.” Before Cobain’s body was found, the police say they asked workers outside his house if they had seen him, though the police didn’t go inside the house.
Criminal lawyer Barry Tarlow, Love’s attorney, says that contrary to published reports, Love “wasn’t under the influence of heroin” and “didn’t overdose.” He says that “she had an allergic reaction” to the tranquilizer Xanax. Tarlow says the stolen property was a prescription pad that “her doctor . . . left there when he was visiting. . . . There were no prescriptions written on it.” And the controlled substance? “It was not narcotics,” says Tarlow. “It’s Hindu good-luck ashes, which she received from her entertainment lawyer Rosemary Carroll.”
Love was released at about 3 p.m. after posting $10,000 bail. She immediately checked herself into the Exodus Recovery Center, the same rehabilitation facility from which her husband had escaped a week earlier. The following day, April 8, she checked out when she received word that her husband had been found.
Lynn Hirschberg, reported that Love had used heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean. (Love has denied this.) As a result of subsequent media attention, the Cobains were not allowed to be alone with their newborn daughter for one month.
After a long and taxing battle with children’s services in Los Angeles, where they were then living, the couple regained custody of the girl. In a September 1992 Los Angeles Times article, Cobain admitted to “dabbling” in heroin and detoxing twice in the past year — a strategic move, according to an insider, to mollify children’s services. In subsequent interviews, Cobain never admitted to using heroin after he and Love had detoxed before Frances Bean was born.
In the spring of 1993, after the band had recorded in Utero with producer Steve Albini in Minnesota, another frightening series of events began to unfold.
First came good news: On March 23, 1993, following a Family Court ruling in Los Angeles, children’s services stopped its supervision of the Cobains’ child-rearing. But just six weeks later, on May 2, Cobain came home (then in Seattle’s Sand Point area) shaking, flushed and dazed. Love called the police. According to a police report, Cobain had taken heroin. As Cobain’s mother and sister stood by, Love injected her husband with buprenorphine, an illegal drug that can be used to awaken someone after a heroin overdose. She also gave Cobain a Valium, three Benadryls and four Tylenol tablets with codeine, which caused him to vomit. Love told the police this kind of thing had happened before.
A month later, on June 4, the police arrived at the Cobains’ home again after being summoned by Love. She told the police that she and Cobain had been arguing over guns in the house. Cobain was booked for domestic assault (he spent three hours in jail), and three guns found at the house were confiscated. One of those weapons, a Taurus .380, had been loaned to Cobain by Carlson. (Cobain picked up the guns a few months later; they were again confiscated in the March 1994 domestic dispute.) A source says that Cobain told him that the fight was actually over Cobain’s drug use.
A few days later, Cobain returned to Seattle. One friend says: “He just kept to himself. Every time he came back after a tour, he would get more and more reclusive. The only people that saw him a lot were Courtney, Cali and Jackie [Farry, a former baby sitter and assistant manager].” Cobain never seemed to fully believe he had a problem — even as recently as the intervention, friends confirm. Cobain’s clinical depression had been diagnosed as early as high school, according to Gold Mountain. “Over the last few years of his life,” says Goldberg, “Kurt saw innumerable doctors and therapists.” Many who were close to Cobain confirm that the musician frequently suffered dramatic mood swings.
“Kurt could just be very outgoing and funny and charming,” says Butch Vig, who produced Nevermind, “and a half-hour later he would just go sit in the corner and be totally moody and uncommunicative.” “He was a walking time bomb, and nobody could do anything about it,” says Goldberg.
Cobain decided to stay in Europe. The plane trip and jet lag were too much to take in his condition. “He as much as anyone else was bummed out that they had to pull these two shows,” says Macleod. “But there was no way that he could have gone on the next night.”
On March 3, Cobain checked into Rome’s five-star Excelsior Hotel. That same day, in a London hotel room, a writer for the British monthly Selectwas interviewing Love, who was preparing for an English tour with her band Hole. The writer says that during their talk, Love was popping Rohypnol, a tranquilizer manufactured by Roche, which also makes Valium. According to pharmacists, the drug is used to treat insomnia. It has also been used to treat severe anxiety and alcohol withdrawal and as an alternative to methadone during heroin withdrawal. (Gold Mountain denies withdrawal as an issue in Love’s and Cobain’s cases.) Known in some parts of Europe as Roipnol, the drug is not available in the United States. “Look, I know this is a controlled substance,” Love said in the interview. “I got it from my doctor. It’s like Valium.”
According to Gold Mountain, Love, Frances Bean and Cali met Cobain in Rome the next afternoon. That evening, Cobain sent a bellboy out to fill a prescription for Rohypnol. He also ordered champagne from room service.
At 6:30 the following morning, Love found Cobain unconscious. “I reached for him, and he had blood coming out of his nose,” she told Select in a later interview, adding, “I have seen him get really fucked up before, but I have never seen him almost eat it.” At the time, the incident was portrayed as an accident. It has since been revealed that some 50 pills were found in Cobain’s stomach. Rohypnol is sold in tinfoil packets; each pill must be unwrapped individually. A suicide note was found at the scene. Gold Mountain still denies that a suicide attempt was made. “A note was found,” says Billig, “but Kurt insisted that it wasn’t a suicide note. He just took all of his and Courtney’s money and was going to run away and disappear.”
Cobain was rushed to Rome’s Umberto I Polyclinic Hospital for five hours of emergency treatment and then transferred to the American Hospital just outside the city. He awoke from his coma 20 hours later and immediately scribbled his first request on a note pad: “Get these fucking tubes out of my nose.” Three days later, he was allowed to leave the hospital. Cobain’s doctor Osvaldo Galletta says that the singer was suffering “no permanent damage” at the time.
The couple then returned to Seattle. “I saw [Kurt] the day he got back from Rome,” says Carlson. “He was really upset about all the attention it got in the media.” Carlson didn’t notice anything abnormal about Cobain’s health or behavior. Like many of Cobain’s friends, he regrets that neither Cobain nor anyone close to Cobain told him that Rome had been a suicide attempt.
Novoselic told a Seattle newspaper that he believed Cobain’s death was the result of inexplicable internal forces: “Just blaming it on smack is stupid. . . . Smack was just a small part of his life.”
A few day ago, for the first time in a number of years, I went into a second hand store and spent a couple of hours looking over the store displays and was very happy to find some items that seemed like “treasures” to me. Ten years ago when I was living the “high life,” you would have never seen me in a second hand store looking for bargains. I was reminded of an interview I saw with Kurt and realized once again, money is fleeting and can actually get in the way of real life.