Detroit police have released additional details surrounding the death of Chris Cornell. They fill in a few critical gaps in his last hour.
Following Wednesday night’s show (May 17) at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Chris returned to room 1136 at the MGM Grand Hotel.
Vicky, his wife, talked to Chris on the phone and became worried when he sounded groggy. “I’m just tired,” he kept saying. She began worried at how he sounded. His speech was slurry and after saying he was tired one more time, he hung up the phone.
From the Detroit News:
“He was different,” she said. “When he told me he may have taken an extra Ativan or two, I contacted security and asked that they check on him.”
Vicky phoned Chris’ bodyguard, Martin Kirsten, in a panic at 12:15 am, begging him to go to Chris’ suite to check on him. Kirsten had just left the suite around 11:30 pm because Chris had asked him for help fixing his computer. At that time, Kirsten is said to have given Chris the two Ativan pills, for which Chris had a prescription. It was about five minutes later that Vicky began her phone call with Chris. At that time, she says, he was already slurring his words.
When Kirsten arrived back at the suite with hotel security, there was no response when he knocked. When security refused to let him because he wasn’t a guest at the hotel, Kirsten was alarmed enough to kick in the door.
Inside the suite, Kirsten found a second door–the door to the bedroom–also locked. He kicked in that door, too.
Kirsten found Cornell unresponsive on the floor of the bathroom with “blood running from his mouth” and a “red exercise band around his neck.” (If you’ve been to a gym or worked with a trainer, you know that they’re essentially big elastic bands.)
A hotel medic arrived at the room at 12:56 am. EMS arrived a few minutes later, but it was too late. Chris was pronounced dead at 1:30 am.
TMZ reports that the exercise band was “attached to a carabiner to the top of his hotel bathroom door. A carabiner is a device commonly used by mountain climbers which they attach to a belt to keep them from falling. The device can withstand enormous weight.” Reports say that Cornell jammed the bathroom door shut at the top of the doorframe. It left an indentation in the door itself.
You can see why police would consider the circumstances consistent with someone who deliberately set out to take his own life. The medical examiner concurred that Chris died by hanging
His family disputes the hanging hypothesis, saying that prescription drugs–specifically an overdose of Ativan (which can have some dangerous side effects, including suicidal thoughts)–might have been involved.
Many (me included) are finding it difficult to come to terms with the verdict of an intentional suicide. Something just doesn’t feel right about that conclusion. Weigh those feelings with this statement from Vicky Cornell (via UPI):
“Chris’ death is a loss that escapes words and has created an emptiness in my heart that will never be filled,” Vicky Cornell added. “As everyone who knew him commented, Chris was a devoted father and husband. He was my best friend. His world revolved around his family first and, of course, his music, second. He flew home for Mother’s Day to spend time with our family. He flew out mid-day Wednesday, the day of the show, after spending time with the children. When we spoke before the show, we discussed plans for a vacation over Memorial Day and other things we wanted to do.”
While Chris did die by his own hand, there’s some evidence that his death wasn’t an intentional suicide. It could be a death-by-misadventure situation, which is completely different than someone who sets out to deliberately kill himself.
A lot is riding on the toxicology report.
Rolling Stone has a long article that includes these passages on the detrimental effects of Ativan.
The experts who spoke with Rolling Stone noted that prolonged use or misuse of Ativan can exacerbate negative feelings in people with depression or a history of suicidal ideation (Cornell, a recovering addict, had been public about his issues with depression). Though rare, researchers have found a correlation between benzodiazepine misuse and increased suicide risk (a similar link has been with alcohol dependency). But it’s highly unlikely that Ativan would be the sole cause of a completed suicide, as suicide has no single cause, says Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chair of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center and former president of the American Psychiatric Association.
If someone were to die by suicide during an Ativan blackout, he continues, they may have been dealing with underlying mental health issues. “Ativan would be the least contributory factor,” Lieberman tells Rolling Stone.
Though not always, people who’ve attempted or died by suicide often exhibit signs beforehand, says Dr. Joel Dvoskin, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s Department of Psychiatry. They may tell you they have no reason to live or that they feel like a burden to others. They may seem depressed or angry. They may act reckless, abuse drugs, or say goodbye without reason.
UPDATE: In the interests of clarity and truth, someone in the medical profession I know emailed me this:
I call bullshit on the implication that some extra lorazepam is to blame for whatever decision Cornell made.
The question must be asked: when will the more mainstream drugs such as benzodiazepines (benzos) and opiate pain drugs, along with the institutions that so casually allow them to be prescribed to millions of unsuspecting patients, become the targets of a media and government investigation? And exactly who are the people that are protecting these institutions from serious scrutiny in this epidemic?
There are close to one hundred million prescriptions a year written in the U.S. for benzodiazepines; most of these are long term prescriptions. These are drugs that many medical experts would say should rarely, if ever, be prescribed for longer than 2-4 weeks, counting time for a safe taper. Prescriptions lasting for a longer period of time will most certainly lead to dependency and/or addiction problems. And it must be pointed out that over 60% of all regular opiate/heroin users also access benzos on a regular basis.”