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Inside the loving friendship of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell

July 20th is a date intensely entrenched in sadness. In a perfect world, Chris Cornell would be celebrating his 57th birthday today and, alongside him, Chester Bennington would still be gracing us with his delightful presence. Instead, tragically, it marks four years since the Linkin Park singer departed us, just two months after losing Cornell.

Cornell and Bennington are two of the most admired frontmen in recent memory. Together, they enriched millions of lives with their music, yet, they still faced the same torturous battles that can brutally attack anybody. Mental health doesn’t give a shit about how many zeroes extend your bank balance, what car you drive, or any materialistic object, and nobody is free from its destructive wrath.

The two icons first cemented their friendship in the mid-2000s, a meeting of minds which led to Cornell supporting Linkin Park on their Projekt Revolution tour in 2008. Each night during the run, Bennington jumped on stage with Cornell to perform ‘Hunger Strike’, and the favour was graciously returned during Linkin Park’s set when the band played ‘Crawling’. Furthermore, Bennington was dutifully handed the ultimate badge of friendship in 2005, a time when Cornell asked him to be the godfather to his son, Nicholas.

Footage from the aforementioned 2008 tour has been given an extra tonne of emotion in the wake of their passing, and it remains difficult to watch without getting teary. The palpable chemistry that exudes out of every single performance they gave together is impossible to do justice with words alone.

The pair were kindred spirits in a lonely business, and Cornell’s death on May 17th, 2017, turned Bennington’s life upside down. The Linkin Park frontman knew that the bond they shared was irreplaceable, and he bravely shared a poetic open letter on social media in tribute to Cornell, which captured his immediate grief.

“Thoughts of you flooded my mind, and I wept,” Bennington emotionally wrote. “I’m still weeping, with sadness, as well as gratitude for having shared some very special moments with you and your beautiful family. You have inspired me in many ways you could never have known. Your talent was pure and unrivaled.”

He added from the heart: “Your voice was joy and pain, anger and forgiveness, love and heartache all wrapped up into one,” he wrote. “I suppose that’s what we all are. You helped me understand that…I can’t imagine a world without you in it. I pray you find peace in the next life. I send my love to your wife and children, friends and family. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.”

In hindsight, Bennington should have put his work commitments on hold. However, Linkin Park had a performance on Jimmy Kimmel just the day after Cornell’s passing. He led the band through an emotionally charged rendition of the powerful, ‘One More Light’, which they played in tribute to their late friend. “We were going to come out and play ‘Heavy’ first,” Bennington told the crowd. “In light of our dear friend Chris Cornell passing away, we decided to play our song, ‘One More Light’… We love you, Chris.”

“Who cares when someone’s light goes out…Well, I do,” Bennington cried at the end of the track.

Bennington plucked up remarkable inner strength and courage to pay tribute to Cornell in front of the millions who were watching at home. Nevertheless, Bennington seemed – from a viewer’s perspective – as though the stage was the last place he should have been. However, he wanted to perform and honour his friend. 

Days after the performance, his bandmate Mike Shinoda spoke to about the appearance. He said: “When we were doing a soundcheck, Chester couldn’t even make it through the song, he was getting halfway through and getting choked up. And even when we did play the whole song, and it was live on TV, or taped for film for TV, he kind of just stopped like towards the end like he missed the last couple lines, just couldn’t finish the song.”

Bennington somehow garnered even more bravery and delivered a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ at Cornell’s memorial service. Simultaneously, even before Cornell’s death, Bennington was struggling in his fight against alcoholism. The singer suffered from addiction problems his entire adult life, which stemmed from sexual abuse by an older male ‘friend’ from seven until age 13. “I was getting beaten up and being forced to do things I didn’t want to do,” he once said in an interview. “It destroyed my self-confidence.”

Despite all the fame and adulation that came with it, Bennington always had a hole in his life, one he attempted to fill with a drink. A month before his death, he confided in his close friend, Ryan Shuck, that he’d only been sober for six months and was on the verge of falling back into his old habits. An autopsy report would later confirm that there were traces of alcohol in his system.

Similarly, Cornell had also struggled with substance issues for most of his life but had successfully managed to get sober in 2003. Tragically, he’d suffer a shoulder injury in 2016, and a doctor advised him to take Ativan. The singer’s addictive tendencies kicked in, and he became hooked to the benzodiazepine medication.

The deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington are unrelated. However, they do show the need for adequate care to be in place to help musicians who are suffering from addiction problems. In an industry such as music, where temptation is around every corner, it can be even more difficult to resist these deadly vices. Besides, young bands are often paid in bar tabs when their career is in its infancy, and alcohol is more accessible than food. 

Unfortunately, Cornell and Bennington’s stories are not anomalies. Keith Flint from The Prodigy passed away in almost identical circumstances in 2019, and there are thousands of others who aren’t famous musicians that have also lost their battle but matter just as much. It’s an all too common crutch prevalent in all walks of society, and addiction is something that anyone can sleepwalk into without even realising.

If you are struggling with your mental health, please call CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) on 0800 58 58 58 to get through to their helpline, which is open 365 days a year from 5pm until midnight.

If you’re able, and if you can afford to, please consider a small donation to help the CALMcause. £8 can answer one potentially life-saving call.