Death of Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain
Kurt Donald Cobain was an American singer-songwriter, musician and artist, best known as the lead singer and guitarist of the grunge band Nirvana...

 was found dead at his home located at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard in Seattle, Washington, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 on April 8, 1994. Cobain, the lead singer of the American
Music of the United States
The music of the United States reflects the country's multi-ethnic population through a diverse array of styles. Among the country's most internationally-renowned genres are hip hop, blues, country, rhythm and blues, jazz, barbershop, pop, techno, and rock and roll. The United States has the...

Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged during the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in the Seattle area. Inspired by hardcore punk, heavy metal, and indie rock, grunge is generally characterized by heavily distorted electric guitars, contrasting song...

 band Nirvana
Nirvana (band)
Nirvana was an American rock band that was formed by singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987...

, had checked out of a drug rehabilitation
Drug rehabilitation
Drug rehabilitation is a term for the processes of medical or psychotherapeutic treatment, for dependency on psychoactive substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs, and so-called street drugs such as cocaine, heroin or amphetamines...

 facility and been reported suicidal by his wife Courtney Love
Courtney Love
Courtney Michelle Love is an American rock musician. Love is the lead vocalist, lyricist, and rhythm guitarist for alternative rock band Hole, which she formed in 1989, and is an actress who has moved from bit parts in Alex Cox films to significant and acclaimed roles in The People vs...

. The Seattle Police Department incident report states that Cobain was found with a shotgun
A shotgun is a firearm that is usually designed to be fired from the shoulder, which uses the energy of a fixed shell to fire a number of small spherical pellets called shot, or a solid projectile called a slug...

 across his body, had a visible head wound and there was a suicide note discovered nearby. The King County Medical Examiner noted that there were puncture wounds on the inside of both the right and left elbow.

Despite the official ruling, several theories have arisen offering alternate explanations for Cobain's death. Tom Grant, a private investigator hired by Cobain's wife Courtney Love to find Cobain after his departure from rehab, put forth his belief that Cobain was murdered. Grant's theory has since been analyzed and questioned by television shows, films and books. Authors and the filmmakers have also attempted to explain what might have happened during Cobain's final days, and what might have led him to suicide.

Discovery of Cobain's body

On April 8, 1994, Kurt Cobain was discovered in the spare room above the garage (referred to as "the greenhouse
A greenhouse is a building in which plants are grown. These structures range in size from small sheds to very large buildings...

") at his Lake Washington
Lake Washington
Lake Washington is a large freshwater lake adjacent to the city of Seattle. It is the largest lake in King County and the second largest in the state of Washington, after Lake Chelan. It is bordered by the cities of Seattle on the west, Bellevue and Kirkland on the east, Renton on the south and...

 house by Veca Electric employee Gary Smith. Smith arrived at the house in the morning to install security lighting and saw Cobain lying inside. Smith found what he thought might be a suicide note
Suicide note
A suicide note or death note is a message that states the author has died by suicide, and left to be discovered and read in anticipation of suicide....

 with a pen stuck through it beneath an overturned flowerpot. A shotgun, purchased for Cobain by Dylan Carlson
Dylan Carlson
Dylan Carlson is the lead guitarist, lead singer, and only constant member of the Drone doom group Earth.Carlson was born in Seattle, Washington, United States. His father worked for the Department of Defense, and, as a result, as a child he moved quite frequently, living in Philadelphia, Texas,...

, was found resting on Cobain's chest. He had been listening to R.E.M.
R.E.M. was an American rock band formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1980 by singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry. One of the first popular alternative rock bands, R.E.M. gained early attention due to Buck's ringing, arpeggiated guitar style and Stipe's...

's album, Automatic for the People
Automatic for the People
Automatic for the People is the eighth album by the American alternative rock band R.E.M., released in 1992 on Warner Bros. Records. While R.E.M...

, before taking his own life. Cobain's death certificate stated that his death was a result of a "contact perforating shotgun wound to the head", and concluded his death a suicide. The report estimated Cobain to have died on April 5, 1994.


Advocates of the verdict (death by self-inflicted gunshot wound) cite Cobain's persistent drug addiction, clinical depression, and handwritten suicide note as conclusive proof. Members of Cobain's family have also noted patterns of depression and instability in Kurt before he achieved fame. Cobain himself mentioned that his stomach pains from an undiagnosed stomach condition during Nirvana's 1991 European tour were so severe, he became suicidal and stated that taking heroin was "[his] choice", stating "This is the only thing that's saving me from blowing my head off right now."

Cobain's cousin Beverly, a nurse, pointed out that there was a family history of suicide. By her account, two of his uncles committed suicide with guns. Beverly was also of the opinion there was a history of mental illness in Kurt, claiming that he was diagnosed as a youth with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a developmental disorder. It is primarily characterized by "the co-existence of attentional problems and hyperactivity, with each behavior occurring infrequently alone" and symptoms starting before seven years of age.ADHD is the most commonly studied and...

 and as an adult with bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder, historically known as manic–depressive disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one or...

. Beverly claimed that bipolar disorder and his struggles with drug addiction led him to commit suicide.

In Charles Cross's Heavier than Heaven, bandmate Krist Novoselic talked about seeing Cobain in the days before the intervention: "He was really quiet. He was just estranged from all of his relationships. He wasn't connecting with anybody." An offer to buy a nice dinner for Cobain resulted in Novoselic unintentionally driving him to score heroin. "His dealer was right there. He wanted to get fucked up into oblivion. ... He wanted to die, that's what he wanted to do." In his own book, Of Grunge and Government: Let's Fix This Broken Democracy, Novoselic alluded to circumstances of Cobain's death: "Tragically, [Cobain] picked the wrong way to resign from the position he was thrust into."

Richard Lee

The first to publicly object to the report of suicide was Seattle public access host Richard Lee
Richard Lee (journalist)
Richard Lee is an independent journalist from Seattle, Washington. Since 1994 he is only known for his investigations into the death of Kurt Cobain which he believes was a homicide. Lee was the first to make this claim...

. A week after Cobain's death, Lee aired the first episode of an ongoing series covering Cobain's death called Kurt Cobain Was Murdered. Lee claimed several discrepancies in the police reports, including several changes in the nature of the shotgun blast. Lee acquired a video that was taped on April 8 from the tree outside Cobain's garage, showing the scene around Cobain's body, which Lee claimed showed a marked absence of blood for what was reported as a point-blank shotgun blast to the head (several pathology
Forensic pathology
Forensic pathology is a branch of pathology concerned with determining the cause of death by examination of a corpse. The autopsy is performed by the pathologist at the request of a coroner or medical examiner usually during the investigation of criminal law cases and civil law cases in some...

 experts have noted that a shotgun blast inside the mouth often results in less blood, unlike a shotgun blast to the head).

Tom Grant

The main proponent of the existence of a conspiracy
Conspiracy theory
A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.-Usage:The term "conspiracy...

 surrounding Cobain's death is Tom Grant, a private investigator employed by Courtney Love after Cobain's disappearance from rehab. Grant was still under Love's employ when Cobain's body was found. Grant believes that Cobain's death was a homicide
Homicide refers to the act of a human killing another human. Murder, for example, is a type of homicide. It can also describe a person who has committed such an act, though this use is rare in modern English...


There are several key components to Grant's theory:

Credit Card

Love told Grant to cancel her husband's credit card in order to find out where he was and bring him back to rehab. However, Grant did not understand why she would want to cancel the credit card because it would be easier to track him down if it was still active. His credit card reports showed that a person tried to use his credit card after his death.

Bloodstream heroin levels

Grant cites a figure published in an April 14, 1994, article by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is an online newspaper and former print newspaper covering Seattle, Washington, United States, and the surrounding metropolitan area...

, purportedly from the official toxicology
Toxicology is a branch of biology, chemistry, and medicine concerned with the study of the adverse effects of chemicals on living organisms...

 report, which claimed, "the level of heroin in Cobain's bloodstream was 1.52 milligrams per litre." Grant argues that Cobain could not have injected himself with such a dose and still have been able to pull the trigger.

However, several different studies on heroin use have noted the difficulty in pinpointing the level of heroin that an addict can tolerate. In a 2004 story, Dateline NBC
Dateline NBC
Dateline NBC, or Dateline, is a U.S. weekly television newsmagazine broadcast by NBC. It previously was NBC's flagship news magazine, but now focuses on true crime stories. It airs Friday at 9 p.m. EST and after football season on Sunday at 7 p.m. EST.-History:Dateline is historically notable for...

 questioned five medical examiners about the figure from the toxicology report. Two of them noted the possibility that Cobain could have built up enough of a tolerance through repeated usage to have been able to pull the trigger himself, while the three others held that the information was inconclusive.

Grant does not believe that Cobain was killed by the heroin dose. He suggests that the heroin was used to incapacitate Cobain before the final shotgun blast was administered by the perpetrator.

Suicide note

While working for Love, Grant was given access to Cobain's suicide note, and used her fax machine to make a photocopy, which has since been widely distributed.

After studying the note, Grant believed that it was actually a letter written by Cobain announcing his intent to leave Courtney Love, Seattle, and the music business. Grant asserted that the few lines at the very bottom of the note, separate from the rest of it, are the only parts implying suicide. While the official report on Cobain's death concluded that Cobain wrote the note, Grant claims that the official report does not distinguish the questionable lines from the rest of the note, and simply draws the conclusion across the entire note.

Grant claims to have consulted with handwriting experts
Questioned document examination
Questioned document examination is the forensic science discipline pertaining to documents that are in dispute in a court of law...

 who support his assertion. Other experts disagree, however. When Dateline NBC sent a copy of the note to four different handwriting experts, one concluded that the entire note was in Cobain's hand, while the other three said the sample was inconclusive. One expert contacted by the television series Unsolved Mysteries
Unsolved Mysteries
Unsolved Mysteries is an American television program, hosted by Robert Stack, from 1987 until 2002, and later by Dennis Farina, starting in 2008...

 noted the difficulty in drawing a conclusion, given that the note being studied was a photocopy, not the original.


The shotgun was not checked for fingerprints until May 6, 1994. According to the Fingerprint Analysis Report, four cards of latent prints were lifted but contained no legible prints.

The Seattle Police Department's follow-up report states that the shotgun was inverted on Cobain's chest with his left hand wrapped around the barrel.
However, no prints were found on the trigger.

Police report

Grant also cites circumstantial evidence from the official report. For example, the report claimed that the doors of the greenhouse could not have been locked from the outside, meaning that Cobain would have had to lock them himself. Grant claims that when he saw the doors for himself, he found that the doors could be locked and pulled shut. Grant also questions the lack of fingerprint evidence connecting Cobain to the key evidence, including the shotgun. Grant notes that the official report claims that Cobain's fingerprints were also absent from the suicide note and the pen that had been poked through it, and yet Cobain was found without gloves on his hands. None of the circumstantial evidence directly points to murder, but Grant believes it supports the larger case.

Rome incident

After Cobain's death, Love claimed that Cobain's overdose in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 was a suicide attempt. Love told Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone is a US-based magazine devoted to music, liberal politics, and popular culture that is published every two weeks. Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J...

s David Fricke, "He took 50 pills. He probably forgot how many he took. But there was a definite suicidal urge, to be gobbling and gobbling and gobbling."

In studying the Rome incident, Halperin and Wallace contacted Dr. Osvaldo Galletta, who treated Cobain after the incident. Galletta contested the claim that the Rome overdose was a suicide attempt, telling Halperin and Wallace, "We can usually tell a suicide attempt. This didn't look like one to me." Galletta also specifically denied Love's claim that fifty Rohypnol pills were removed from Cobain's stomach.

Grant believes that the claim that the Rome incident was a suicide attempt was not made until after Cobain's death. Grant claims that people close to Cobain, including Nirvana's management Gold Mountain, specifically denied the characterization prior to Cobain's death. Grant believes that if Rome had truly been a suicide attempt, Cobain's friends and family would have been told so that they could have watched out for him.

Others have asserted that the claims by Gold Mountain and others were simply efforts to mask what was happening behind the scenes. Lee Ranaldo
Lee Ranaldo
Lee M. Ranaldo is an American singer, guitarist, writer, record producer, and visual artist, best known as a co-founder of the alternative rock band Sonic Youth...

, guitarist for Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth is an American alternative rock band from New York City, formed in 1981. The current lineup consists of Thurston Moore , Kim Gordon , Lee Ranaldo , Steve Shelley , and Mark Ibold .In their early career, Sonic Youth was associated with the No Wave art and music scene in New York City...

, told Rolling Stone, "Rome was only the latest installment of [those around Cobain] keeping a semblance of normalcy for the outside world."

Rosemary Carroll

Grant spoke to Cobain's attorney, Rosemary Carroll, at her office on April 13, 1994. He says that she pressed him to investigate Cobain's death, and claimed that Cobain was not suicidal. Grant also claims that Cobain had asked her to draw up a will excluding Love because he was planning to file for divorce. Grant claims that this was the motive for Cobain's death. Carroll has not confirmed Grant's allegations or commented publicly on the matter.

Nick Broomfield

Filmmaker Nick Broomfield
Nick Broomfield
Nicholas "Nick" Broomfield is an English documentary film-maker. He is the son of Maurice Broomfield, a photographer.Broomfield works with a minimal crew, recording sound himself and using one or two camera operators...

 decided to investigate the theories for himself, and took a film crew to visit a number of people associated with Cobain and Love, including Love's estranged father, Cobain's aunt, and one of the couple's former nannies. Broomfield also spoke to Mentors'
The Mentors
The Mentors are an American heavy metal band noted for its deliberately sexist shock rock lyrics.They formed in 1977 in Seattle, Washington and relocated to Los Angeles, California in 1979, where their irreverent attitude aligned them with the city's punk rock scene. Their music has developed...

 bandleader El Duce
Eldon Hoke
El Duce redirects here. The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was known as "Il Duce."Eldon Wayne Hoke was an American musician. Nicknamed El Duce, he was best known as the drummer and lead singer of the self-described "rape rock" band The Mentors...

, who claimed that Love had offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain, and passed a polygraph
A polygraph measures and records several physiological indices such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity while the subject is asked and answers a series of questions...

 administered by polygraph expert Edward Gelb. Though El Duce claimed that he knew who killed Kurt, he failed to mention a name, and offered no evidence to support his assertion. However, during the interview, he mentioned speaking to someone called Alan, before quickly saying,"I mean, my friend" then laughing, saying, "I'll let the FBI catch him". Broomfield inadvertently captured El Duce's last interview, as he died days later when he passed out on train tracks and was run over.

Broomfield titled the finished documentary Kurt & Courtney
Kurt & Courtney
Kurt & Courtney is a 1998 documentary film by Nick Broomfield investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Kurt Cobain, and allegations of Courtney Love's involvement in it...

, and it was released in 1998. In the end, however, Broomfield felt he hadn't uncovered enough evidence to conclude the existence of a conspiracy. In a 1998 interview, Broomfield summed it up by saying, "I think that he committed suicide. I don't think that there's a smoking gun. And I think there's only one way you can explain a lot of things around his death. Not that he was murdered, but that there was just a lack of caring for him. I just think that Courtney had moved on, and he was expendable."

Ian Halperin and Max Wallace

Journalists Ian Halperin and Max Wallace took a similar path and attempted to investigate the conspiracy for themselves. Their initial work, the 1999 book Who Killed Kurt Cobain? drew a similar conclusion to Broomfield's film: while there wasn't enough evidence to prove a conspiracy, there was more than enough to demand that the case be reopened. A notable element of the book included their discussions with Grant, who had taped nearly every conversation that he had undertaken while he was in Love's employ. In particular, Halperin and Wallace insisted that Grant play the tapes of his conversations with Carroll so that they could confirm his story. Over the next several years, Halperin and Wallace collaborated with Grant to write a second book, 2004's Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain
Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain
Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain, published by Simon & Schuster, is a collaborative investigative journalism book written by Ian Halperin and Max Wallace purporting to show that rock star Kurt Cobain, believed to have committed suicide, was in fact murdered, possibly at the behest of his...


Contesting the murder theory

Grant counters the claim that he profits from the sale of casebook kits on his website by stating that it goes to offset some of the costs of his investigation. As Grant related, "I wrestled with that ... but if I go broke, I'll have to give up my pursuit and Courtney wins."

Halperin and Wallace spoke to several people involved in the investigation of Cobain's death who refute the conspiracy. The Seattle medical examiner who examined Cobain's body, Dr. Nicholas Hartshorne, insisted that all of the evidence pointed to a suicide. Sergeant Donald Cameron, one of the homicide detectives, specifically dismissed Grant's theory, claiming, "[Grant] hasn't shown us a shred of proof that this was anything other than suicide." Cobain's friend, Dylan Carlson
Dylan Carlson
Dylan Carlson is the lead guitarist, lead singer, and only constant member of the Drone doom group Earth.Carlson was born in Seattle, Washington, United States. His father worked for the Department of Defense, and, as a result, as a child he moved quite frequently, living in Philadelphia, Texas,...

, told Halperin and Wallace that he also did not believe that the theory was legitimate and in an interview with Broomfield, implied that if he believed his friend was murdered, he would have dealt with it himself.

Reactions by Cobain's friends

Several of Cobain's friends have accepted that he committed suicide, but noted being surprised when it happened. Mark Lanegan
Mark Lanegan
Mark Lanegan is an American rock musician and songwriter. Lanegan began his music career in the 1980s, forming the grunge group Screaming Trees with Gary Lee Conner, Van Conner and Mark Pickerel. During his time in the band Lanegan would start a low-key solo career...

, a long-time friend of Cobain's, told Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone is a US-based magazine devoted to music, liberal politics, and popular culture that is published every two weeks. Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J...

, "I never knew [Cobain] to be suicidal. I just knew he was going through a tough time." In the same article, Dylan Carlson noted that he wished Cobain or someone close to him had told him that Rome was a suicide attempt.

Danny Goldberg, husband of Rosemary Carroll and founder of Nirvana's management agency Gold Mountain Entertainment, refers in his book Dispatches From The Culture Wars: How The Left Lost Teen Spirit to "the crazy Internet rumors that Kurt Cobain had not committed suicide but had been murdered" and states that Cobain's suicide "haunts me every day".

In August 2005, Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth is an American alternative rock band from New York City, formed in 1981. The current lineup consists of Thurston Moore , Kim Gordon , Lee Ranaldo , Steve Shelley , and Mark Ibold .In their early career, Sonic Youth was associated with the No Wave art and music scene in New York City...

's Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon
Kim Althea Gordon is an American musician, vocalist, artist, record producer, video director and actress. She has sung and played bass and guitar in the alternative rock band Sonic Youth, and in Free Kitten with Julia Cafritz...

 was asked about Kurt's death in an interview for Uncut
UNCUT (magazine)
Uncut magazine, trademarked as UNCUT, is a monthly publication based in London. It is available across the English-speaking world, and focuses on music, but also includes film and books sections...

 magazine. When asked what she thought to be Kurt's motive in committing suicide, Gordon replied:
When asked if she thought someone else had killed him, Gordon answered,

However, in the same interview, Gordon's soon to be ex-husband Thurston Moore
Thurston Moore
Thurston Joseph Moore is an American musician best known as a singer, songwriter and guitarist of Sonic Youth. He has also participated in many solo and group collaborations outside of Sonic Youth, as well as running the Ecstatic Peace! record label...

 stated that

A musical hero of Cobain's, Greg Sage
Greg Sage
Greg Sage was the principal songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist for the influential Portland, Oregon-based punk rock band Wipers. Greg Sage's first recording was on the pro-wrestler Beauregarde's full length album, released in 1971 . He met Beauregarde, recorded and played with him when he was only...

, said about him in an interview:
Cobain's grandfather, Leland Cobain, has publicly said that he believes Kurt was the victim of murder, and not suicide. He explicitly stated that he thinks Kurt "was murdered." Also of note, Courtney Love's first husband, "Falling" James Moreland, lead singer of the indie rock
Indie rock
Indie rock is a genre of alternative rock that originated in the United Kingdom and the United States in the 1980s. Indie rock is extremely diverse, with sub-genres that include lo-fi, post-rock, math rock, indie pop, dream pop, noise rock, space rock, sadcore, riot grrrl and emo, among others...

 band the Leaving Trains
The Leaving Trains
The Leaving Trains were an American indie rock band from Los Angeles, California. The Leaving Trains were founded in 1980 by Falling James Moreland, a frontman who became known for his chaotic performances and penchant for cross-dressing...

, has publicly expressed that if he had remained married to Love, then he would likely have "wound up like Kurt, shoving a shotgun down my throat." Moreland also said that "She was always threatening me with violence and loved the idea of paying someone else to do her dirty work," after she threatened to pay someone to beat him up.

External links

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