On 20th July 2017, Chester Bennington killed himself in his home in LA. As sad a day as this is—taking nothing away from his life—the singer’s suicide is another in a long line among musicians, especially rock stars. From Ian Curtis to Kurt Cobain, there has been something of a romantic image placed on rockstars who take their own life. But there’s nothing romantic about the struggles these musicians go through, and Bennington’s death, coming just a few months after his friend and fellow musician Chris Cornell killed himself, is a stark reminder that even those close to you can’t necessarily do enough to save you.
Bennington had a dark past: an abusive, fractured childhood, a long history of substance abuse and extensive therapy. And of course, his words in Linkin Park, especially the band’s first two albums, are eerily prescient. In ‘Somewhere I Belong’, Bennington sings of letting go ‘of the pain I’ve felt so long’; ‘Breaking the Habit’, as evidenced by the title, refers to coming off of drugs, and has some heart-wrenching lines (‘I don’t know why I got this way/I’ll never be all right’). Their music, though outwardly perfect angsty-teen listening, was never written that way; it’s only after Bennington’s untimely death at the age of 41 this becomes obvious.
Bennington has spoken about how his addiction, however horrible it was, helped him creatively, especially in one of his side projects, Dead By Sunrise. (The name alone.) Indeed, there is a mythology around musicians and their addictions that goes back at least to jazz (all your favourite jazz musicians were heroin addicts), and was popularised by the widely-publicised addictions of Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and, more recently, Amy Winehouse. The music of all these artists has helped people through their worst times, especially the frustrated, searing screams of Bennington. His lyrics dealt with how his addiction helped him to overcome his pain (‘It’s easier to run/Replacing this pain with something more’), but also served as a cry for help.
Why can’t we help musicians, even when they cry out in the very lyrics they write? Cobain always said his lyrics never meant anything, but upon scrutinising them it’s impossible this was the case. Ian Curtis, another tragically lost to his own hand, wrote despairing lyrics that perfectly reflected the music Joy Division made, and yet his band members have all said they never saw his death coming. (They have expressed regret they never took what Curtis was writing about more literally.) Bennington, though, had been open about his addictions and depression for some time; he had even been through multiple bouts of therapy, and was seemingly healthy.
His death is a potent reminder that however someone seems outwardly—Bennington has ostensibly been happy, even informing his friends thus recently—it’s difficult, impossible, even, to know exactly how someone is feeling. More than that, though, it shows there are deep rooted problems within the music industry with regards to addiction, depression and suicide, and it’s not getting much better. Rates of depression are on the increase; indeed, its the leading killer of men below the age of 45. Bennington was 41. Linkin Park’s music ensures he won’t just become another statistic; unfortunately, his legacy will now be solidified as the tortured artist.
Depression is becoming an epidemic, and the solutions aren’t clear. What’s certain is that Brian Welch and others like him calling Bennington a coward is doing nothing to help. Welch spoke with good intentions: he thought Bennington’s death set a bad example to his young fan base. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as ‘being strong’ when you are faced with a particularly cruel ultimatum: carry on in pain, or find an escape in death. Unfortunately, Bennington chose the latter, rather than struggling on. It is a grave loss for his family, friends, and music in general. Hopefully his death will help to keep the discussion around suicide open, and save lives, like his music did.