Chester Bennington, the lead singer for Linkin Park, died of a suspected suicide Thursday, July 20. The rock star reportedly had a history of substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. His body was found hanging in his Palos Verdes Estates home around 9 a.m. local time, according to media reports.
He was 41 years old.
The death shocked an industry that was still mourning the loss of another rocker. Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave, committed suicide by hanging on May 18. The news devastated Bennington, who was Cornell’s longtime friend.
The Linkin Park singer wrote an open letter to Cornell on Twitter and performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at Cornell’s funeral.
Bennington’s struggles with alcohol and drug abuse were well known. He’d used hard drugs regularly as a teenager, and he struggled with alcohol addiction as an adult. Bennington also suffered from depression that stemmed from being sexually abused and neglected as a child.
In a 2008 interview with Kerrang! magazine, Bennington said an older friend had bullied him and sexually assaulted him from age 8 until age 13. Bennington’s parents divorced when he was 11, and he told the magazine that he felt abandoned by his mom and disregarded by his father who worked constantly.
“My dad was not very emotionally stable then, and there was no one I could turn to — at least that’s how my young mind felt,” Bennington told Kerrang! “The only thing I wanted to do was kill everybody and run away.”
Instead, Bennington turned to alcohol and other drugs to numb his feelings, and he used music and poetry to vent his emotions. After enjoying local success with a band called Grey Daze in the mid-1990s, Bennington joined Linkin Park in 1999. The group went on to release seven albums. Its first album, “Hybrid Theory,” received a Grammy nomination for best rock album, and the single “Crawling” won a Grammy for best hard rock performance.
Six of the band’s albums reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts. Only nine other rock bands have had at least six albums rank No. 1 on Billboard, including Bon Jovi, the Eagles and Metallica.
Bennington’s fierce vocals complemented Mike Shinoda’s rhythmic raps and the band’s nu-metal sound. The group experimented with different styles, including a collaboration with Jay-Z on the album “Collision Course,” which won a Grammy for best rap/sung collaboration.
Shocked and heartbroken, but it's true. An official statement will come out as soon as we have one.— Mike Shinoda (@mikeshinoda) July 20, 2017
Linkin Park released its latest album “One More Light” in May 2017. The band toured South America and Europe in May, June and July. It was preparing to return from a break in the tour when Bennington died.
By age 16, Bennington was drinking and using LSD to cope with the trauma he experienced as a child. He began experimenting with cocaine and meth, and he’d use opium or pills to come down from those highs. He eventually replaced the drugs with marijuana and alcohol, but he couldn’t control his drinking, according to multiple interviews.
Bennington had his first child and got married in 1996, when he was 20 years old. He had another son in 2002, but alcohol addiction continued to plague him. The drinking problems contributed to his divorce in 2005. In 2006, his band members held an intervention.
“In 2006, I had a choice between stopping drinking or dying,” Bennington said. “I did some counselling with the guys and they really opened up and told me how they felt.”
He remarried that year, and he went on to have three more children. During the next decade, Linkin Park released five albums and remained a commercial success. In 2009, he told Noisecreep that he wasn’t shy about sharing details about his recovery from substance abuse.
“I don’t have a problem with people knowing that I had a drinking problem,” Bennington said. “That’s who I am, and I’m kind of lucky in a lot of ways cause I get to do something about it… It’s not cool to be an alcoholic, meaning it’s not cool to go drink and be a dumbass. It’s cool to be a part of recovery.”
In multiple 2017 interviews, Bennington expressed frustration with criticism from fans about Linkin Park’s newest album. Many fans thought the band “sold out” by experimenting with pop sounds. Bennington told Kerrang! Radio that he knew the band would be criticized by rock fans, but the personal attacks bothered him.
“If you’re gonna be the person who says like ‘they made a marketing decision to make this kind of record to make money’ you can fucking meet me outside, and I will punch you in your fucking mouth because that is the wrong fucking answer,” Bennington said on May 19, 2017.
Days later, he issued a series of tweets showing appreciation for all of Linkin Park’s fans.
Time to recalibrate my perspective. So I say to all of our fans… Thank you and I love you all. Peace, love and happiness🙏— Chester Bennington (@ChesterBe) May 24, 2017
It’s unclear how or why Bennington’s mental health deteriorated in the days leading up to his death. In interviews throughout his life, he implied that he was always haunted by the abuse he experienced as a child.
“I remember that stuff happening to me at that stage, and even thinking about it now makes me want to cry,” Bennington told The Guardian in 2011. “Oh my God, that was fucking happening to me and I was just that little, much earlier than I’d remembered. My God, no wonder I became a drug addict. No wonder I just went completely insane for a little while.”