It’s been nearly four years since the death of rock legend Chris Cornell, who died at age 52 by suicide in a Detroit hotel room on May 17, 2017.
Since then, his widow Vicky and his surviving Soundgarden bandmates have been tangled in a heated legal battle over the late frontman’s royalties, recordings and more.
We’ve compiled everything that has happened in the complicated, ongoing legal strife between the two parties since Cornell’s death. See below.
December 2019 – Vicky Cornell sues Soundgarden
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Florida on Dec. 9, 2019, Vicky accused surviving band members Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Hunter Benedict Shepherd — along with the band’s longtime business manager Rit Venerus — of attempting to “strong-arm” her into turning over seven unreleased audio recordings Chris made prior to his death by withholding royalties owed to his estate, of which she is the personal representative. She says that the group reached out to her in July 2017 about using Chris’ unreleased recordings for an upcoming Soundgarden album, which she agreed to as long as her late husband’s s longtime “trusted producer” be involved in the process and that she be apprised of the album’s marketing strategy.
Vicky went on to claim that while the band initially agreed to the conditions, after discussions with the producer they went back on their promise, contending that the recordings were the sole property of the Soundgarden partnership. She said the band then refused to engage in any “meaningful discussions” around the unreleased recordings and that in retaliation, they withheld Cornell’s share of royalties totaling “hundreds of thousands” of dollars.
Vicky claimed the band has no rights to the recordings, which she says were “solely authored” by her late husband. “Through this action, Vicky seeks to vindicate her late-husband’s rights in the sound recordings that he created, to recover the substantial sums of money and personal property that are being unlawfully withheld by Venerus and the band, and to emphatically answer the lyrical question her husband raised about his former bandmates, ‘how much more can they get?’ NOTHING,” the complaint reads.
February 2020 – Soundgarden demands Vicky hand over unreleased recordings
In court papers in response to the initial lawsuit, Thayil, Cameron and Shepherd claimed that they worked jointly on these final tracks with Chris and that Vicky has no right to withhold from them what they call the “final Soundgarden album.” To back up their claims, the band members point to interviews Chrisand his bandmates made at the time confirming they were working together on what would be Soundgarden’s eighth album.
“Thayil, Cameron and Shepherd were utterly devastated to lose their beloved friend, brother and comrade, and were in a state of shock,” reads the filing. “They organized a vigil in a conference room at their Columbus hotel, where they were accompanied by their crew, assistants and friends who hugged, wept and attempted to console each other for many hours.”
The band members did, however, agree that Vicky is owned money. “In fact, all of the band members are also owed monies, but none of the band members nor [Vicky Cornell] will be paid until expenses are paid and the partnership shares of earnings can be calculated and distributed,” according to a statement from the surviving band members’ legal team.
March 2020 – Soundgarden asks court to dismiss lawsuit
Thayil, Cameron and Shepherd asked a judge to either dismiss the widow’s Florida case against them or to move it to Washington state. The band claimed that Cornell should not have filed her lawsuit in Florida, arguing that despite her claim that she and Chris “permanently moved to Miami,” she actually lives in New York and that her claimed residence in Florida is only a South Beach condo, which is also the principal residence of her mother and brother.
The members also argued that there is no evidence that Chris did any relevant recording work in Florida or that the band had any substantial contact with Florida.
May 2020 – Soundgarden countersues Vicky Cornell
The band claimed that Vicky Cornell and the estate engaged in “fraudulent inducement” by allegedly attempting to use the revenue from the January 2019 “I Am the Highway: A Tribute to Chris Cornell” concert, which was meant to go to the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation, for “personal purposes for herself and her family,” according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by Billboard.
The band said Vicky has only accounted for $643,000 of what they claimed could be “many millions of dollars” going to medical research charity Epidermolysis Bullosa Medial Research Foundation (EBMRF), and demanded a full accounting of the disbursement of funds. The countersuit also added that Vicky Cornell took over Soundgarden’s social media accounts and identified herself as Soundgarden while refusing to “deliver the log-in information and other access rights to the Soundgarden Social Media Accounts or to otherwise relinquish control” over them.
July 2020 – Soundgarden drops benefit concert claims
Following threats of sanctions from Vicky’s legal team, Soundgarden dropped their counterclaims.
At the time of the countersuit, Cornell’s attorney Martin Singer responded in a statement to Billboard, saying, “every single penny of the proceeds generated by the concert were properly allocated and accounted for and their statements are not only false and defamatory but demonstrate the depths to which Chris’ former bandmates are willing to sink to tarnish his legacy.”
“When we threatened Soundgarden with the undisputed facts that their claims concerning Vicky Cornell and the Cornell Charitable Foundation were disgraceful and fabricated by requesting the court sanction them for their appalling conduct, they caved in and agreed to drop their claims,” Singer added in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “We were looking forward to having the court make Soundgarden and their attorneys accountable for their shameful conduct, but they instead backed off their meritless claims since they knew they would lose the Rule 11 motion, which is used in court to punish and deter parties and their attorneys from pursuing objectively frivolous claims.”
February 2021 – Vicky Cornell files another lawsuit
In the 11-page complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington, Vicky claimed that the remaining Soundgarden members have undervalued her share of the group, offering her “the villainously low figure of less than $300,000.”
She said the group offered her $300,000 despite receiving a $16 million offer from another investor for the act’s master recordings. In response, Vicky said she counter-offered $12 million for the band’s collective interests, equaling $4 million per surviving member, which they denied. She then offered them $21 million for the band’s interests, and that offer was also rejected.
In response, Soungarden said in a statement that the “buyout offer that was demanded by the estate has been grossly mischaracterized and we are confident that clarity will come out in court.”
“All offers to buy out our interests have been unsolicited and rejected outright,” the statement continued, before noting that they also haven’t had access to their social media accounts, which has resulted in “misleading and confusing our fans.”
As a result, they started new Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts under the name Nude Dragons, which is an anagram for Soundgarden.
Marty Singer claimed Soundgarden “received a third party offer to buy just a portion of their interests for 16 million dollars, and yet subsequently offered to buy out Chris’ interest for a mere $278,000. And then Vicky offered $21 million for their shares, which they turned down — not because they wanted to preserve their life’s work but because they know that they will make even more off … the music that Chris wrote and the legacy that he created.”
March 19, 2021 – Judge recommends dismissal of two claims
A federal judge recommended in a report that claims the surviving band members improperly withheld “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and that the group’s manager breached his duty to look after Vicky’s interested be dismissed, citing lack of evidence.
March 25, 2021 – Soundgarden demands social media and website passwords
The surviving members of the band filed court documents asking a judge to order Vicky Cornell to hand over all passwords for the group’s social media accounts and website, or to make a final post that reads “Soundgarden has temporarily suspended its official social media accounts due to pending litigation.”
In court documents, they accuse her of “holding hostage the login information” despite their repeated requests for her to share the passwords. Per Soundgarden, the lack of posting on the band’s Twitter account has led to the loss of their verified tag, a non-operational “official store” page on Facebook, and additional issues.