Five years after Chris Cornell‘s death, his widow Vicky Cornell is still trying to piece together what happened to the late Soundgarden/Audioslave singer. “This was like a tsunami. This was nothing. This was not on the radar. This was not like ‘Oh, we have to deal with this’ in any sort of way,'” Vicky Cornell told Gayle King on the talk show host’s SiriusXM show Gayle King in the House on Thursday night (Sept. 15).
Cornell was on the air to talk about the ever-present grief she and her two children feel about the loss of the singer, but also to encourage anyone struggling with suicidal ideation to reach out and ask for help. “Allow us to talk about our loved ones. Allow us to talk about them every day,” Cornell said. “And for me and my children, the most important thing has been to keep Chris alive in our home. So he’s spoken about every single day.”
Cornell, 52, was found dead in his Detroit hotel room on May 17, 2017 in what the medical examiner ruled a suicide by hanging. Vicky Cornell told King that her husband showed no signs of depression or suicidal thoughts at the time, though she did describe a concerning phone call she had with the singer on the night of his death shortly after Soundgarden performed at Detroit’s Fox Theatre.
“Chris did not suffer suicidal ideation, and Chris was not even depressed. Chris was in recovery, and he had been on a benzos [benzodiaepines — commonly prescribed sedatives used to treat anxiety or insomnia],” she said. “But again, looking back, nothing even at that very moment felt like… it was impossible. It came from nowhere.”
From some accounts that night, Cornell was in good spirits during the gig and had talked about “the next place we play” during the show. While the coroner’s ruling found that drugs did not contribute to the cause of death specifically, Vicky Cornell has talked about her husband’s battles with substance use in the years since and authorities said there were seven different medications in his system at the time of his death.
One of the reasons Vicky Cornell said she wanted to speak to King was to help dispel the stigma around the subject of suicide. “There’s a taboo about it,” she said. “But I think that that also comes from the fact that we are not looking at what is the cause…. Yes, with us I do know the cause because I was on the phone with Chris, and he was in some sort of delirium the same night.”
Vicky Cornell said the singer called her after the gig and she could hear in his voice that “he wasn’t right,” and that he sounded “like he was high, and he was confused. His speech was slurred. And there was just something that was extremely off and just, I don’t know, thirty minutes later that was it.” As far as she’s concerned, the cause of his death matters and she wants to talk about it to help others.
“I think that our loved ones, especially when it comes to suicide, it can’t just be ‘Oh, they died by suicide. They look their own life.’ Okay, but why? What happened? How can we prevent?” she said. “And I believe that’s a really big part of prevention.”
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
Listen to Vicky Cornell’s interview below.