The Tragic Life of Kurt Cobain
The Tragic Life of Kurt Cobain

The Tragic Life of Kurt Cobain

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
Enigma, tortured artist, music legend. For this list, we're taking a look at the tragic life of 90s music icon and Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain. Our video includes a deep dive into Cobain's childhood, his meteoric rise to the top of the music world, and his struggles with drug addiction.

Script Written by Michael Wynands

The Tragic Life of Kurt Cobain

Enigma, tortured artist, icon. Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be discussing The Tragic Life of Kurt Cobain.

There are few figures in the history of rock music who made a more significant and lasting contribution to the genre than Kurt Cobain. With Nirvana, he played a seminal role in defining and popularizing the subgenre of rock that would come to be known as grunge. Many say that grunge — at least in its original form — died with Kurt Cobain. Whether that’s exaggeration or not, Cobain undeniably shook popular rock music to its core, forever changing its sound. And he managed to do it all by the age of 27.

Kurt Cobain was born on February 20th, 1967 in Aberdeen, Washington to parents Donald and Wendy Cobain. His father was a mechanic and his mother was a waitress. And while Cobain’s life ended in tragedy, it started out like any other.

As a young child, Kurt is remembered as having been happy, excitable and caring. He showed an interest and natural ability towards music from a young age, as noted by his aunt, Mari Earle, who was a guitarist. Kurt began singing and playing piano when he was just a few years old and developed a passion for drawing, all of which his family supported. Unfortunately, he was labelled hyperactive around the age of 7 and he was prescribed ritalin, as well as sedatives to counteract the insomniac side effect. His life was quickly becoming a complicated and medicated one; sadly, this would remain the case for much of his remaining twenty years on earth.

Though he’d already begun acting out for some time, when his parents got divorced, 9 year old Kurt Cobain reportedly became a different person. Discussing the divorce later in life, Cobain described feelings of shame about the divorce and that it made it hard for him to stay connected with friends. He became rebellious and anti-social.

Unfortunately, with two homes, Kurt managed to get into twice as much trouble. His father, Donald, remarried, and this only caused his resentment to grow. Around the same time, his mother Wendy began an abusive relationship with a man who would go on to break her arm, and Kurt witnessed the domestic violence firsthand. When she refused to leave him, Kurt drifted from his mother in kind. According to his stepmother, what Kurt craved most was affection and attention, but often wound up disappointed or frustrated instead.

All this negativity took a serious toll of Kurt’s schooling and social life. He pushed back against the status quo however possible, which invited bullying. Unfortunately, he’s also said to have become something of a bully himself. By the time he entered his teens, it apparently wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that he seemingly lived to piss people off. At his father’s insistence, he joined the wrestling team, only to purposely lose a fight to upset him. Kurt was sent to a therapist, but the father-son relationship got so bad that Donald Cobain eventually sent his son to live with relatives. Around this time, Kurt started smoking weed and frequently got in trouble with the law for spray-painting cars.

In his senior year of high school, Cobain dropped out, knowing he didn’t have the grades to graduate. When he didn’t get a job like he’d been told, his mother kicked him out of the house. He began sleeping on friends’ couches, but was essentially homeless. Though in a dark place, Cobain found consolation in music - particularly the scene in Olympia, where he began making frequent trips. Kurt had played music throughout high school, but not in any serious projects. After dropping out however, he formed Fecal Matter, a group featuring members of the proto-grunge group, The Melvins. The band only lasted from ‘85 to ‘86, but it was a stepping stone towards Nirvana, which formed the next year in 1987.

Despite his personal issues, Cobain poured everything he had into the band and they quickly established a following. Their first album, “Bleach” managed to hit an initial sales figure of 40,000 units despite limited promotion. Then their second album, “Nevermind” came out, and suddenly… Nirvana was the biggest band in the world. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was playing everywhere you went, the album was topping charts around the globe and their tour dates were selling out. Kurt’s band had reached heights of success that likely surpassed his wildest dreams. Unfortunately, the newly crowned rock icon found it utterly overwhelming.

Cobain first started smoking marijuana when he was 13 but by the early 1980s, had moved on to LSD and other drugs. As Nirvana bassist Kris Novoselic put it, Kurt was “really into getting [f-ed] up”. His addictive behavior equally extended to alcohol and even inhaling solvents. In 1986, he was introduced to heroin, which, a few years later, became his drug of choice and defining addiction. Though it’s something of a point of contention, Cobain often cited an unspecified chronic stomach condition as his reason for self-medicating. Many, however, argue that his solution created a vicious cycle, while others dismiss it as a simple excuse. Whatever the case, fame worsened Cobain’s dependency on drugs and his addiction became all-consuming.

While Cobain’s addiction certainly didn’t help his mental health, depression was an issue in its own right. Much of Cobain’s behavior in high school (if not earlier) points towards existing issues of anxiety and depression. His family had a history of mental health issues, including multiple suicides in the extended family. There’s even a contested claim that Kurt attempted to take his own life in his early teens. With his rise to stardom, Cobain’s mental health issues seemingly intensified in tandem with his drug use.

In 1991, Kurt Cobain began dating Courtney Love. By all accounts, their relationship was an intense and volatile one from the very beginning, fueled by equal parts passion and shared addiction. They were married approximately 10 months later in Hawaii, by which time Love was already pregnant with their child. Their drug use, coupled with the pregnancy and Kurt’s fame, made their relationship the subject of intense media scrutiny. They were even taken to court by Los Angeles County, who attempted to have them deemed unfit parents, which only added to the pressure.

The same year he became a father, Cobain’s addiction got so bad that he was nodding off during important photoshoots. In 1993, Love had to treat Cobain with naloxone when he overdosed immediately before a performance. By 1994, however, he’d moved on from accidental overdoses to actively trying to take his own life. On March 3rd, he was hospitalized in Rome after having washed down pills with champagne. Just 15 days later, back in Seattle, police were called to his house when he locked himself in the bathroom with a gun and another bottle of pills. Following an intervention by friends and family in late March of 1994, Cobain finally agreed to seek professional help and was admitted to rehab. Though he gave everyone the impression that he was happy to comply, just a few days later, he fled the facility by hopping the fence.

Cobain’s last days remain one of rock history’s most enduring mysteries; not even a private investigator could track him down. Then, on April 8th, 1994, his body was found by an electrician coming to do work on his home in Seattle. The autopsy determined that he had died from a self-inflicted shotgun wound three days earlier on the 5th of April. In a note addressed to his imaginary friend from childhood, Cobain explained that he had not "felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music, along with really writing ... for too many years now".

Rumors of foul play have persisted in the decades since his death, but the general consensus is that Kurt Cobain did, in fact, take his own life.

Kurt Cobain’s death was mourned the world over. Over a quarter century after his death, fans still gather together on the anniversary of his death to commemorate all which he achieved in life. He is remembered as one of the greatest rock musicians of all time and an icon - one immortalized in the public memory at the tender age of 27. We can’t help but wonder about the songs he never got to write, but Kurt Cobain lives on through the rich musical legacy he left behind.

His music will live forever