On what would have been Chris Cornell’s 53rd birthday in 2017, Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington committed suicide at his home in Palos Verdes, California. On May 18, 2017, following a successful concert with Soundgarden, Cornell committed suicide in his Detroit hotel room. Both deaths are inexplicable, but they shed light on mental illness in the rock and metal communities and beyond. When I traveled to a gig to conduct a magazine interview with Mike Shinoda about his obsession with DJ culture and his portable studio rig, I first met Chester. While I was conversing with Shinoda on the bus, Bennington boarded. “Don’t listen to a word he says,” Chester joked with a twinkle in his eye. He spends the entire day sitting back there and playing video games. Bennington offered me a drink before leaving the bus so that we could continue the interview.
The second time I interacted with Chester Bennington was during a more personal interview I conducted on camera for MTV when the band was promoting their second album, Meteora (2003). This time, he had a strict schedule and was all business. Despite this, he was cordial and forthright, discussing the childhood trauma that inspired him to scream and rant in Linkin Park. “On this album, I addressed how I dealt with a great deal of pain in my life, how I was sexually abused as a child, and what I went through as a result [with drugs and alcohol].” Then I consider where I am now and transform these negative experiences into positives,” said the singer.
During the Meteora tour, I saw Linkin Park multiple times, and they always seemed upbeat as they skillfully fused modern hip-hop and angsty rock with an irresistible pop bow. Even their stage choreography was flawless, to the point where I jokingly compared them to *NSYNC and Nine Inch Nails. I intended it as a backhanded compliment, but it accurately described their meticulous work ethic, flawless vocal exchanges, and seamless integration of beats, guitar, and scratching. Bennington might have perceived it as a compliment in retrospect.
I had no idea at the time, but he grew up listening to aggressive industrial music. In 2010, just prior to a video interview I conducted with him and Shinoda for AOL, Bennington video chatted with his young children on his cellphone and was ecstatic about every aspect of their ordinary school lives. Despite Bennington’s delight, his children quickly grew tired of the conversation and the technology they were required to use and hung up on him, much to Chester’s amusement. “Fans wait in line for hours and scuffle in order to meet us,” he remarked in awe. “And my own children become bored after two seconds of conversation.” That’s alright, perhaps it keeps me humble.”
That was not the only factor that kept Bennington humble. When not in a depressive cycle, he was affable, easily excited, and devoted to his loved ones. Whether it was the rest of Linkin Park or his side project Dead By Sunrise, which featured Orgy members Amir Derakh and Ryan Shuck, Elias Andra, Anthony “Fu” Valcic, and Frank Zummo, the men he played with were among his closest friends. Bennington cherished music above all else and jumped at the opportunity to meet his idols. He also enjoyed discussing his favorite musicians. I told Bennington prior to the start of filming that I enjoy industrial dance music from Chicago and Europe. It sparked a shared interest, and he spoke enthusiastically about Front 242, Frontline Assembly, and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. I mentioned that when he screamed at full volume, he reminded me of Al Jourgensen, the lead singer of Ministry. “That is so cool of you to say!” he exclaimed. “That band is my favorite, and I used to scream along to their records. At the time, I was unaware that Al Jourgensen used a distortion box, so I simply screamed as loudly as I could to achieve the same effect.
In the year 2000, when heavy music was at its lowest point, Linkin Park reintroduced distorted guitars and angst-ridden vocals to the mainstream. Some were envious of the band’s enormous success, but it was difficult to dislike them. They appeared to be regular guys who always went the extra mile, whether it was extra radio promotions, signing autographs, or goofing off at a promotional event. Even when performing in the sweltering summer heat, they rarely gave less than 110% of themselves to the crowd. Bennington’s voice radiated with strength, range, sensitivity, and barely controlled volatility.
When he was promoting Dead by Sunrise’s Out of Ashes in the fall of 2009, was the only time I had any indication that he still had a seriously dark side. He discussed the stress he was under and the funk he was in while working on the album, which lacked rapping and was heavier than the majority of Linkin Park’s music. “For a time, we were known as Snow White Tan because I was always at home or in the studio. Benington said, “I never saw the sun.” “I wasn’t injecting myself with heroin or anything, but I was drinking a lot of Jack Daniels while sitting in my closet.” A rock star’s admission that he binged on Jack is hardly a red flag on its own. No one could have foreseen Bennington taking his own life after overcoming his bouts of depression for nearly seven and a half years after the release of Out of Ashes. It may have been a sign that he was dealing with some personal baggage, but no one could have foreseen him taking his own life.
Talinda told Anderson Cooper that Chester had both good and bad days during their nearly 13-year marriage. She realized, with the heartbreaking wisdom of hindsight, that there were indications that something lethal may have been hiding beneath her husband’s persona. “She stated, “I am now more knowledgeable about these signs.” “They were unquestionably present: hopelessness, a change in behavior, and isolation were all a part of our daily lives. Occasionally, some signs were more prevalent than others. Occasionally, they were completely absent.” Jon Wiederhorn, a Loudwire contributor, is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as Scott Ian’s autobiography I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, Al Jourgensen’s autobiography Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen, and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Courage, grit, and glory.