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Rock Singer Cobain in Drug Coma : Music: Nirvana's leader is hospitalized in Rome after overdose. The band's manager reports signs of recovery.

March 05, 1994|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Kurt Cobain, lead singer for the best-selling rock band Nirvana, was rushed to a hospital in Rome early Friday after collapsing into a drug-induced coma.

The 27-year-old Seattle singer-songwriter--who has been hailed as a "spokesman for his generation" because of the anger and alienation in his music--was comatose throughout the morning but began to show signs of recovery by midday.

"Kurt opened his eyes, he moved his fingers, and he responded to his name--those are good signs," Nirvana manager Janet Billig said after speaking by phone to Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, who has been at the singer's side since calling paramedics to the rescue.

"It's very serious, but based on what we've been told by the doctors we are optimistic that he will make a full recovery," Billig said.

Cobain, who canceled concerts Wednesday and Thursday in Germany because of illness, overdosed on a mixture of champagne and "painkillers" in a hotel room, where he had been recuperating with his wife, who heads the rock group Hole, and their 2-year-old daughter.

Because so many young rock figures, from Jimi Hendrix to Jim Morrison, have died tragically over the years, the rock world braced itself early Friday for the worst as sketchy reports of Cobain's overdose surfaced in Italy. Some U.S. radio stations even reported that he had died.

Although the singer has acknowledged taking heroin and other illegal substances in the past, Cobain told The Times in late 1992 that the birth of his child had caused him to swear off drugs.

"I don't want my daughter to grow up and someday be hassled by kids at school. . . . I don't want people telling her that her parents were junkies," he said.

Billig said the drugs pumped from Cobain's stomach by doctors in the emergency room of the Umberto I Polyclinic Hospital were prescribed to fight off influenza and a throat condition.

In most cases, doctors rarely prescribe anything stronger than antibiotics to combat flu.

But tranquilizers are sometimes given to ease throat problems, medical experts said Friday.

The Italian news agency ANSA said Cobain went into a coma after combining a large dose of a strong sedative with champagne. The drug, known in Italy by the name Roipnol, is used mostly for insomnia and is not carried by many Italian pharmacies.

Billig said she spoke to Cobain upon his arrival in Rome this week and described him as "in great spirits. He was happy to be going to Rome. He feels comfortable there and was looking forward to having some time off from the tour with his family."

Thanks to Cobain's songwriting skills and blaring guitar style, Nirvana went from underground rock cult status to international stardom in 1991 after the release of the group's "Nevermind" album.

The collection generated more than $120 million in sales worldwide and established Nirvana as a force that changed the course of modern rock 'n' roll.

The group--whose latest album, "In Utero," is also a best-seller--was on a European tour, following a highly successful U.S. tour last year that included a sold-out date in December at the Forum in Inglewood.

Cobain was transferred from the public hospital to a private clinic called the American Hospital.

The singer's mother, Wendy O'Connor, told the Daily World in Aberdeen, Wash., that the singer's vital signs were strong and he should recover. "He's going to make it," she said.

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