Chris Cornell, who served as an early grunge music pioneer as frontman to the band Soundgarden, died while on tour with the band in Detroit on Wednesday at age 52. According to the Associated Press, his death has been ruled a suicide.
Representative Brian Bumbery called Cornell’s death, which occurred at the MGM Grand Detroit hotel, “sudden and unexpected” in a statement Thursday, according to the Associated Press. Bumbery added that Cornell’s family would work “closely with the medical examiner to determine the cause” of the singer’s death.
Cornell rose to fame as the lead singer of seminal 1990s grunge band Soundgarden, a group that came to define the genre alongside fellow Seattle-based bands Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana. The group debuted in 1988 with their first studio album Ultramega OK, but later broke into the mainstream with 1994’s Superunknown, their fourth album.
Superunkown put Soundgarden on the map with tracks such as “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” “My Wave,” and “The Day I Tried To Live.” Then-Inquirer music critic Tom Moon called the album “taut and tightly wound, gloss-free and a whole lot more musical than the band’s 1991 display of virtuosity, Batmotorfinger”:
Despite that album’s success, the group would disband in 1997, with Cornell later pursuing a solo career, forming Audioslave with several former Rage Against the Machine members, and rebooting Soundgarden in 2010. Ultimately, his influence on grunge — and his reported four-octave singing range — cemented Cornell as one of modern rock music’s most notable performers.
But before all that, he was in a little band called Temple of the Dog.
Formed in 1990, the group consisted of future Soundgarden and Pearl Jam members including Cornell, rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, lead guitarist Mike Mcready, drummer Matt Cameron, and guest vocalist Eddie Vedder. A tribute act, Temple of the Dog formed in honor of Andrew Wood, Cornell’s late friend and the former singer of Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose, also in 1990.
The group released one album, the self-titled Temple of the Dog, in 1991, and disbanded shortly thereafter, splitting to form Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. In a 1991 review of the album, former Inquirer music critic Moon wrote that “if metal has a future beyond painted faces, ghoulish themes and gruelingly cliched shows, it should sound like this”:
As Soundgarden and Pearl Jam continued their careers as grunge pioneers through the '90s and 2000s, Temple of the Dog became little more than a hard-rocking memory.
Until 2016, that is, when the band reunited to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Dog’s lone album. The group decided on a short run — eight dates total — of reunion shows for November last year. The first two, on Nov. 4 and 5, 2016, were in Philadelphia. With Cornell’s death this week, they are the final shows he played here.
Music writer A.D. Amorosi covered the first show — meaning the first Temple of the Dog reunion show ever — for the Inquirer, calling it an “epic squall of watery, bruised blues, rubbery rhythms, and gruff guitars.”
As Amorosi notes in his review, Dog’s show that night included tracks such as “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Wooden Jesus” mixed with an extensive list of covers including David Bowie’s “Quicksand” and “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath. The result, Amorosi writes, was “a dynamic show of brotherhood and love for a fallen friend,” meaning Wood:
Interestingly, Cornell seemed to view the Philadelphia show as a special one, and not just because Temple of the Dog had reunited to play there. As XPN reports, Cornell told the crowd that night that “this is the first Temple of the Dog show” and “we did that on purpose, just so you know.”
What Cornell meant still isn’t entirely clear, but it could be a reference to his canceled 2012 Made in America performance, which had folks hoping for a Temple of the Dog reunion way back then. That year, Pearl Jam headlined Made in America, and Cornell was also scheduled to play. As Dan Gross noted in the Daily News in 2012, that sent Temple of the Dog rumors flying.
A 2012 reunion, however was not to be, with Cornell canceling his MIA appearance to play a campaign rally for President Barack Obama in Des Moines, Iowa, as the rocker reported on his website at the time. Four years later, though, Philly got exactly what it wanted.
As news of Cornell’s death spread Thursday, fans and celebrities remembered the late singer on social media. Philly native Kevin Bacon called Cornell “one of the greatest rock voices to ever pick up a microphone,” while Elton John said Cornell was “a great singer, songwriter, and the loveliest man.”
"Very sad news about Chris Cornell today,” wrote Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry of Cornell’s death. “A sad loss of a great talent to the world, his friends and family. Rest In Peace.”