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Grunge Rock's Kurt Cobain Dies in Apparent Suicide : Tragedy: A shotgun blast to the head claims leader of Nirvana. He was seen as voice of a generation adrift.

April 09, 1994|JOHN BALZAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — Kurt Cobain, who with his band Nirvana shaped modern rock music from the restless alienation of today's youth, was found dead Friday, an apparent suicide from a shotgun blast to the head. He was 27.

Cobain's body was found about 8:30 a.m. by an electrician at the musician's Seattle home. Authorities said he had been dead about a day; the Seattle medical examiner confirmed Cobain's death.

A single-page suicide note was found next to the body. Authorities would not release its contents, but the electrician, in an interview with KNBC-TV news, said that the note was covered in dirt from a potted plant and written in ballpoint pen--ending with the words: "I love you, I love you."

Almost immediately after learning of Cobain's death, fans in this town--which he helped propel into the vanguard of '90s rock 'n' roll--gathered outside the home to mourn. A steady drizzle fell from chilly gray skies.

Cobain's death came while he was struggling with drug use and the kind of deep, personal turmoil that made his music so gripping to his generation. Just last month, Cobain was hospitalized in Rome in a drug-and-alcohol induced coma. And this week Nirvana pulled out of a headliner's spot in the upcoming national "Lollapalooza '94" tour amid reports that the band was breaking up and concerns about his health.

With his shaggy blond hair and slight physique, Cobain brought his style of edgy, blasting, rock known as grunge into the mainstream of pop music--and his influence spread into the trendy fashion of shabby flannel shirts and granny dresses.

By the end, he had come to define the very attitudes of the alienated young and was acclaimed as the voice of a generation adrift.

Perhaps the band was best known for its 1991 album "Nevermind" and the sarcastic anthem "Smells like Teen Spirit." The album sold 10 million copies worldwide. The follow-up album, 1993's "In Utero," also was a critical and commercial hit.

Capitol Records CEO Gary Gersh--who signed Cobain's trio to Geffen Records during his tenure there in the late 1980s as an artist and repertoire executive--said he was stunned.

"This is a terribly sad day for the music industry," said Gersh, who guided the recording and release of "Nevermind" and has known Cobain since 1988.

"When people look back over the years at the industry, I believe there will be a pre-Nirvana business and a post-Nirvana business. The group's 'Nevermind' album will be looked back on as a seminal record in the history of rock."

Word of Cobain's death first spread Friday morning when the electrician called a local radio station and described showing up at the musician's wooded home to work on a security system. The electrician said he looked into the large glass windows of a cottage above a detached garage and saw a body. He called police and then the radio station.

Later, a statement from the King County medical examiner's office said, in part, "An autopsy has shown Kurt Cobain died of a shotgun wound to the head and at this time the wound appears to be self-inflicted."

Cobain previously had admitted difficulties with heroin use, but insisted he conquered them in 1992 after he and his wife, rock singer Courtney Love, became the parents of a girl, Frances Bean Cobain.

But rumors of periodic relapses persisted. Then last month in Rome, the singer was hospitalized in a coma apparently brought on by mixing prescription sedatives and champagne. He recovered, but Nirvana's successful European tour was in tatters.

There were rumors at the time that the episode was a suicide attempt, but they were dismissed as the ghoulish speculation that always seems to surround rock star tragedies.

Privately, however, those closest to the singer were deeply concerned. His condition was apparently so bad that sources said his friends confronted him about the problem and tried to persuade him to seek treatment. A few days later Cobain was believed to have entered a Los Angeles drug recovery program, but soon checked himself out.

Love, of the band Hole, was in Los Angeles when the body was found Friday and reportedly was being comforted by her attorney. She could not be reached for comment.

Cobain's mother, Wendy O'Conner, told reporters from her home in Aberdeen, Wash., that she had not heard from the singer in six days and had been worried for his life. She said she warned him of the troubled lives and early deaths of rock stars. "I told him not to join that stupid club."

His wife and management company had not known of his whereabouts for days, sources said.

Critics compared Cobain's musical influence to that of Bob Dylan and John Lennon. On Friday, many here drew another tragic parallel--with the great guitarist and Seattle native Jimi Hendrix, who died at age 27 in a London flat in 1970, the result of a drug overdose.

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