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Kurt Cobain's Downward Spiral: The Last Days of Nirvana's Leader

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The days after Cobain's death were filled with grief, confusion and finger pointing for all concerned. "Everyone who feels guilty, raise your hand," Love told MTV the morning after Cobain was found. She said she was wearing Cobain's jeans and socks and carrying a lock of her husband's blond hair. According to Billig, a doctor was summoned to stay with Love at all times. "She's a strong enough person that she can take it," says Craig Montgomery, who was scheduled to manage a since-canceled spring tour for Hole.

"It was hard to imagine Kurt growing old and contented," adds Montgomery. "For years, I've had dreams about it ending like this. The thing that weirds me out is how alone and shut out he felt. It was him that shut out a lot of his friends."

Novoselic told a Seattle newspaper that he believed Cobain's death was the result of inexplicable internal forces: "Just blaming it on smack is stupid. . . . Smack was just a small part of his life."

The news of Cobain's death was first reported on Seattle's KXRX-FM. A co-worker of Gary Smith, the electrician who found Cobain's body, called the station with what he claimed was the "scoop of the century," adding, "you're going to owe me a lot of concert tickets for this one."

"Broadcasting this information was kind of an eerie decision to make," says Marty Reimer, the on-air personality who took the call. "We're not a news station." Cobain's sister, Kim, first heard of her brother's death through radio reports, as did his mother, Wendy O'Connor. "Now he's gone and joined that stupid club," O'Connor said to a reporter, referring to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones and Jim Morrison. "I told him not to join that stupid club."

After Reimer called the Associated Press with the story, MTV played reruns of Nirvana's Unplugged performance and Seattle DJs took to the airwaves. "He died a coward," barked one Seattle DJ on KIRO-FM, "and left a little girl without a father."

"I don't think any of us would be in this room tonight if it weren't for Kurt Cobain," Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder told a capacity audience during a Washington, D.C., concert the night that Cobain's death was announced. Vedder left the crowd with the admonition: "Don't die. Swear to God." (Two weeks later, Pearl Jam dropped plans for a summer U.S. tour because, according to the group's manager, Kelly Curtis, Cobain's suicide "knocked the wind out of the band.")

Outside Cobain's Seattle house the afternoon after his body was found, 16-year-old Kimberly Wagner sat on a wall for four hours, crying and fielding queries from news-hungry TV stations and magazines. "I just came here to find an answer," she sobbed. "But I don't think I'm going to."

Nearby, Steve Adams, 15, stood with a friend. As a Gray Line tour bus full of curiosity seekers passed by, he explained what Cobain's music meant to him. "Sometimes I'll get depressed and get mad at my mom or my friends, and I'll go and listen to Kurt. And it puts me in a better mood. . . . I thought about killing myself a while ago, too, but then I thought about all the people that would be depressed about it."

The Seattle Crisis Clinic received roughly 300 calls that day, 100 more than usual. Dr. Christos Dagadakis, director of emergency psychiatry at Harborview Medical Center, says, however, that "there was no particular increase in overdoses or suicide attempts coming in to our emergency room."

It wasn't until April 10, after an emotional vigil held for 5,000 fans in a park near the Space Needle, that Seattle experienced its first possible Cobain-related suicide. After returning home from the vigil, Daniel Kaspar, 28, ended his life with a single bullet.

The effects of Cobain's suicide reverberated around the globe. In southern Turkey, a 16-year-old fan of Cobain's locked herself in her room, cranked Nirvana music and shot herself in the head. Friends said she had been depressed ever since hearing about Cobain's death.

On the day of the candlelight vigil in Seattle, Cobain's family scheduled a private memorial service at the Seattle Unity Church nearby. There was no casket; Cobain's body was still in the custody of the medical examiners (he was later cremated).

The Rev. Stephen Towles began the service by telling some 150 invited guests: "A suicide is no different than having our finger in a vise. The pain becomes so great that you can't bear it any longer."

Novoselic delivered a short eulogy afterward, instructing mourners to "remember Kurt for what he was — caring, generous and sweet." Carlson read verses from a Buddhist poet.

Love, clad in black, read passages from the Book of Job and some of Cobain's favorite poems from Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations. She told anecdotes about Cobain's childhood and read from his suicide note. She included parts that she had not read on tape for the vigil. "I have a daughter who reminds me too much of myself," Cobain had written.

Gary Gersh, who signed Nirvana when he was with Geffen (he is now president of Capitol Records), read a faxed eulogy from Michael Stipe. Last to speak was Danny Goldberg. "I believe he would have left this world several years ago," Goldberg said, "if he hadn't met Courtney."

As of this writing, neither Grohl nor Novoselic has told his story to the press, though, along with Cobain's family and Gold Mountain, they will be setting up a scholarship fund for Aberdeen, Wash., high-school students with "artistic promise regardless of academic performance." Children's services departments in both Seattle and Los Angeles confirmed that they had no case workers assigned to Frances Bean. Love, meanwhile, donated all of Cobain's guns, including the one he used to kill himself, to Mothers Against Violence in America.

"Courtney is taking time off right now," says Roddy Bottum. "It's a traumatic time in her life. She's lost a husband, and there's photographers in the trees."

This story is from the June 2nd, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Don't Dream It's Over”

Crowded House | 1986

Early in the sessions for Crowded House's debut album, the band and producer Mitchell Froom were still feeling each other out, and at one point Froom substituted session musicians for the band's Paul Hester and Nick Seymour. "At the time it was a quite threatening thing," Neil Finn told Rolling Stone. "The next day we recorded 'Don't Dream It's Over,' and it had a particularly sad groove to it — I think because Paul and Nick had faced their own mortality." As for the song itself, "It was just about on the one hand feeling kind of lost, and on the other hand sort of urging myself on — don't dream it's over," Finn explained.

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