If you’re of a certain age (that is, mine — or thereabouts), there’s a pretty good chance that the suicide of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was something more than just the most significant celebrity death of your lifetime — for many, it was the nearest thing we had to a, for lack of a better term, “JFK moment.” It’s not terribly uncommon, for instance, for members of the so-called “Generation X” to be able to remember exactly where they were when they heard the news that fateful day in 1994. For my own part, I was on the bus, headed to work (at my second job at the time) when some kid randomly just decided to tell everybody about it, and as I walked home at the end of my shift around 10:00 or so that evening, I came across a small, impromptu candlelight vigil for Cobain in the middle of Minneapolis’ Loring Park. Don’t ask me how the gathering even managed to get organized in those pre-social media “flash mob” days — it just sort of happened. And you know what? As it turns out, they happened almost everywhere : Seattle had the largest mass gathering, of course, but there were entirely makeshift memorial services of one form or another in almost every major American city. It may sound grandiose to say this, but I assure you that it’s absolutely true : Cobain’s passing was a cultural touchstone event and the man himself was the nearest thing our generation had to an unofficial “leader.”
Not that he ever asked for that burden, mind you — in fact, a genuine sense of uncomfortability, even unhappiness, with his fame was one of the reasons that the idea of him killing himself was so easily accepted by so many. Here was a guy who seemed to epitomize the “nothin’ matters and what if it did” (sorry, John Mellencamp) zeitgeist of the time, and the very idea of a person in his position being so utterly despondent at the state of his existence that he would choose to end it was, sadly, enough to convince a number of kids around the country that life really was pointless and that there was no way to escape that inevitable conclusion no matter how far you “made it” in the world. And so began the string of so-called “copycat suicides” that provided a number of salacious headlines for newspapers from coast to coast for awhile there, as confused and despondent young people decided to emulate their hero by punching their own ticket off life’s rollercoaster ride.
There’s just one problem with this whole (to paraphrase Bauhaus) “Kurt Cobain is dead — I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead” scenario : what if he didn’t kill himself after all? What if he was, in fact, murdered?
These rumors have been circulating almost since the news of the icon’s death broke, of course, and the chief villain in every so-called “conspiracy theory” tends to be the same : the one, the only, the genuinely infamous — Courtney Love. Yeah, okay, Kurt and Courtney were the “power couple” of the so-called “slacker” scene, and along with their then-infant daughter, Frances Bean, represented something of a “Generation X Royal Family,” but who are we kidding? As much as many folks seemed to want to desperately believe that theirs was a romance that somehow proved that love was alive and well in an otherwise-meaningless world, we all knew their relationship sucked, and whether she was behind her husband’s death or not, Love was certainly able to parlay the tragedy into the creation of a whole new public persona for herself, going from gold-digging psychic, emotional, and financial vampire into respected grieving widow (and soon-to-be Hollywood “A”-lister) almost overnight. The Kurt and Courtney marriage, likewise, underwent a transformation of its own, from one that was constantly on a morbid kind of “death watch” (seriously, most people thought their split was more a matter of “when” than “if”) to a Shakespearean tragedy of doomed, and consequently eternal, love.
On a purely circumstantial level, of course, there’s no doubt that Love had plenty to gain from her husband’s demise, especially if the rumors (which Love herself confirmed before later recanting) that he was planning on dumping her were true, but come on — that hardly constitutes proof that she was behind his death, and as her legion of fans suddenly swelled, with even a fair number of her former critics joining their ranks, there was never any shortage of folks willing to defend the supposedly heartbroken and shellshocked power-pop starlet from accusations that she was, well, anything but.
And yet, the whispers continued — and even rose, for a time, to the level of conversational tones when Nick Broomfield released his 1998 documentary, Kurt & Courtney, which examined the allegations of Love’s involvement/masterminding without drawing any firm and fast conclusions. In fact, that may be putting things a bit too kindly, given that Broomfield sort of went out of his way to give the impression that Love’s critics, most notably her own father, were kind of — well, nuts. Case closed, then — at least cinematically speaking — for another 17 years.
In 2015, several events occurred that finally pushed the “Kurt didn’t kill himself” theory off of various blogs and YouTube ( where a guy named Brendan Hunt had assembled a staggeringly meticulous five-hour-plus presentation on the subject that you may want to check out despite the fact that he also appears to be a Sandy Hook “truther”) and into the spotlight in a more prominent way, and frankly went some way towards taking the tin foil hat off those who had been espousing it all these years : the first was the release of the HBO documentary Montage Of Heck, which put Cobain’s life and legacy back front and center in the public consciousness; the second was the release of John Potash’s superb book Drugs As Weapons Against Us, which not only lays out a fairly concise case for Cobain being murdered, but places his death within a larger historical framework of activist musicians who have met untimely ends and raises serious questions about Love’s potential police and intelligence agency questions along the way; and finally, and perhaps most significantly, the release of documentarian Benjamin Statler’s Soaked in Bleach did the previously-unthinkable : gave voice to the “other side” of the argument without the sneering condescension the major news media had been attaching to it for decades. Throw in the fact that she finally lost ownership of the Nirvana song library — as well as its attendant royalty payments — to daughter Frances Bean Cobain, and you’d have to say that it hasn’t been a very good year for Courtney Love.
Based largely on the case notes, tape recordings, and investigative findings of Tom Grant (pictured above) — a private detective that Love hired to track down her husband after his supposed “escape” from an L.A.-area rehab center just prior to his death — Soaked In Bleach, despite leaning heavily on the sort of cheesy staged “re-creations” common in cable-television true crime shows — actually enumerates a fairly convincing argument, and while it didn’t play theatrically in too many cities (it certainly never made it here to Minneapolis), now that’s it’s streaming on Hulu (yes, I finally took the plunge) it’s definitely worth a look, and may even change your mind on the matter. Grant has been on this case like a dog on a bone since the minute he began to suspect that Love’s motives for hiring him may have been less than pure, and while the numerous tape recordings he (legally, and with her consent) made of their phone conversations don’t implicate her directly, they certainly go a long way towards proving what most of us already knew — namely, that she’s an almost pathologically deceptive and untrustworthy individual (remember how she turned Cobain’s accidental overdose in Rome into a “previous suicide attempt” after his death?), but hey — more evidence than that is needed to re-open the case, right?
Enter a number of “star witnesses” that really are just that —like Dr. Cyril Wecht, arguably the nation’s leading forensic pathologist, who states unequivocally that there’s no way in hell that a person with as much heroin in his system as Cobain had could pull the trigger of a gun, and that the angle of the shot is all wrong for a suicide, and former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, who admits that a number of mistakes were made, on his watch, in the handling of the crime scene and says that if he were still on the job he’d open the investigation back up immediately. Adding these voices, and others, to Grant’s goes some way toward dispelling the media myth that the “Courtney did it” theories are nothing but the basis of a cottage industry for one disgruntled P.I.
Where will all this lead? Who knows. Pressure has been mounting on the Seattle police to take a fresh look at the so-called “suicide” for some time now, but with Love more than sufficiently “lawyered up,” and even her daughter stating for the record that she’d oppose a new investigation, maybe all of this is, in fact, for nothing. Statler himself never states flat-out what he’s clearly intimating at in his film — specifically that Cobain was murdered by someone, most likely family “friend” (and Love’s former boyfriend) Michael “Cali” DeWitt, on Love’s orders — but it’s not really possible to infer any other conclusion as to what his beliefs are based on the evidence he assembles. I’d like to think that there’s more than enough here not just to re-open the case, but to obtain an eventual conviction against Love, but we may just have to settle for collectively saying “Oh, Courtney — you gotta lotta ‘spalinin’ to dooooo,” — and to be met, of course, with either silence or hysterical gibberish on her end.