Chester Bennington rose to fame in 2000 as the frontman for the nu-metal band Linkin Park. With the help of his iconic vocals and bandmate Mike Shinoda’s rap skills, the group’s Grammy-nominated debut album, Hybrid Theory, dominated the charts with hits like “One Step Closer” and “Crawling.”
Bennington famously used song lyrics to express his feelings of frustration, and once told Rolling Stone, “It was like, ‘There’s a lot of songs about depression, fear and paranoia. Are you just making it up?’ And I said no.” Indeed, years of drug abuse, including bouts of sobriety and relapses, would unfortunately become a continuous cycle throughout the singer-songwriter’s life. While those closest to the music star believed he was in a good place, his personal struggles eventually became too much, and on July 20, 2017, Bennington died of an apparent suicide by hanging at the age of 41.
With the rock community losing one more light, Bennington left behind his wife, six children, extended family members, and friends. The void he left behind may never be replaced, but as we continue to honor his legacy, let’s explore the unfortunate events that plagued this highly-respected artist’s tragic life.
Chester Bennington's dad wasn't 'emotionally stable'
Chester Bennington’s tragic life dates back to his childhood. The late singer’s mom and dad, respectively nurse Susan Eubanks and police detective Lee Russell Bennington, divorced when he was 11 (via Rolling Stone). While Bennington went on to live with his father, things weren’t necessarily easy residing with the family’s patriarch, whom he once described as “not very emotionally stable” to Kerrang! in 2008.
Explaining that this period of his life was very challenging, Bennington went on to say, “It was an awful time. I hated everybody in my family.” The singer-songwriter spent much of his time home alone since his dad was often busy working double shifts. With no one to turn to for help, the Arizona native added, “The only thing I wanted to do was kill everybody and run away.”
Bennington eventually moved back in with his mother when he turned 17 and put his focus on making music. However, the musician’s emotional problems persisted and a dependency on drugs and alcohol would soon begin to wreak havoc on his entire life.
Bennington experimented with drugs and alcohol at an early age
During his teens, Bennington began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. “I was a lot more confident when I was high,” he explained to Rolling Stone in 2002. “I felt like I had more control over my environment when I was on hallucinogens or drinking.” They soon became his vices. “[I] dropped so much acid I’m surprised I can still speak,” he later told Metal Hammer magazine (via the The Guardian). “I’d smoke a bunch of crack, do a bit of meth and just sit there and freak out. Then I’d smoke opium to come down.”
Before meeting first wife Samantha Olit in 1996, Bennington temporarily quit abusing drugs. However, just seven months after they tied the knot, Olit called him out when she noticed he was consuming alcohol every day. “I lived on alcohol,” Bennington later told The Pulse of Radio (via E! News). “It was either beer, or Jack and Coke, or Jack Daniels in a pint glass with ice.” Sadly, he fell back into the habit of heavy drinking while on tour with Linkin Park in 2001, telling Rolling Stone, “I found myself not saying no to other things, things that would have made me another rock & roll cliche.”
Chester Bennington had a 'hard time with life'
During an interview with iHeart Radio in February 2017, Chester Bennington spoke with candor about the inspiration behind Linkin Park’s song “Heavy” — notably in connection to his struggle with mental illness. “I don’t know if anybody out there can relate, but I have a hard time with life … sometimes,” he said at the time (via Blabber Mouth). “Sometimes it’s great, but a lot of times for me, it’s really hard.”
Admitting that he tended to repeatedly fall back on certain bad behaviors, Bennington wondered how he often ended up in the same predicaments, but ultimately blamed being too much “inside” his own mind as the main culprit. “This place right here, this skull between my ears, that is a bad neighborhood, and I should not be in there alone,” the singer explained, before adding that it would get to the point where his entire life would get knocked off-kilter. “If I’m in there, I don’t say nice things to myself,” Bennington said. “There’s another Chester in there that wants to take me down.”
Bennington's divorce brought on suicidal thoughts
Bennington became a father for the first time at the age of 20 when his then-girlfriend, Elka Brand, gave birth to their son, Jamie, in 1996, according to Heavy. While their relationship wouldn’t last, the two remained very close, with Bennington adopting his ex’s son from a previous relationship, Isaiah, ten years later.
Back in 1996, however, the rock star married first wife Samantha Olit, with whom he welcomed son Draven in 2002. After their union sadly ended in a tumultuous divorce three years later, according to MTV News, things unfortunately got dark for Bennington. “I drank myself to the point where I couldn’t leave the house and I couldn’t function,” he told Kerrang! in 2009 (via Us Weekly). “I wanted to kill myself.”
After his divorce was finalized, Bennington met Talinda Bennington (pictured, left). “I knew she was the one pretty instantly,” he told Bullz-Eye. “She moved into my place after a week and a half or something like that.” They tied the knot soon after and later welcomed son Tyler and twin daughters Lila and Lily. However, Bennington’s drug and alcohol abuse and low mental state continued, until interventions from his second wife and Linkin Park bandmates prompted the singer to finally make “the choice between stopping drinking, and dying,” according to his 2016 interview with Louder.
Singing made Chester Bennington sick
Within the first few notes of a song, Chester Bennington’s voice is so overpowering, it commands the audience’s attention. It was his unique vocals that also helped Linkin Park snag two Grammy Awards in the early 2000s. But no one knew that Bennington was making himself physically sick every time he belted out one of the group’s iconic tunes.
In June 2003, the band was forced to cancel their European tour after their frontman complained of “severe back and abdominal pains,” according to BBC News. During Bennington’s subsequent hospitalization, he underwent surgery after it was discovered that he was suffering from a hiatus hernia. While describing just how brutal the condition was to DotMusic.com at the time (via BBC News), Bennington revealed, “There’s a lot of burning that happens every once and a while. But I’ll pretty much be nauseous forever. It’s going to be that way indefinitely.”
A crazed fan made Bennington more guarded
Chester Bennington enjoyed going through Linkin Park’s fan mail, which would often include letters from their younger fans which revealed personal things they didn’t feel comfortable telling their own family and friends. “That’s something special,” the singer told MTV News in 2003, “that they feel like our music helps them through that.” However, there was one fan who unfortunately took things way too far.
According to BBC News, a woman named Devon Townsend allegedly used resources at her job in a national security laboratory to hack into Bennington’s computer, access his email, voicemail, travel plans, and family photos, and also harass his wife, Talinda Bennington, via telephone. The obsessed fan also reportedly had a shrine featuring hundreds of pictures of the rock star in her home.
CBS News reports that Townsend eventually pleaded guilty to “charges including stalking and unlawful access to stored communications” for crimes that occurred during a ten-month period in 2006. She was later sentenced to two years behind bars (via BBC News). While opening up about the ordeal with Revolver in 2008, Bennington said, “Needless to say, that unfortunate situation and a couple other unfortunate situations have made me and the rest of the band a little more guarded when it comes to fans.”
Bennington texted a friend his 'hour-by-hour battle with addiction'
Those closest to Chester Bennington had no reason to suspect that he was going through such a rough time in the weeks leading up to his untimely death. However, the singer’s friend and former Dead by Sunrise bandmate, Ryan Shuck, later looked back on those final moments and noticed some signs that Bennington had been struggling with his inner demons.
In August 2017, Shuck told Rolling Stone that Bennington revealed he’d been sober for six months just weeks before his death. However, staying on the straight and narrow was difficult for him, so he reached out to Shuck, who’d also gone through his own battle with alcoholism, in a series of text messages. “He was describing an hour-by-hour battle with addiction,” Shuck told the publication. “When I look at it now, it’s horrifying. He was telling me, down to the detail, what he would do in the first hour he wanted to drink: ‘I basically just take it hour-by-hour every day.'”
Chester Bennington's death caught his family by surprise
Months following his death, Chester Bennington’s wife, Talinda, took to Twitter to share a sweet video captured shortly before the frontman’s passing. “This is what depression looked like to us just 36 hrs b4 his death,” she captioned the clip, which featured the rocker laughing and enjoying some downtime with his children and friends. “He loved us SO much & we loved him.”
Further emphasizing this point, Talinda revealed how she thought her husband had overcome his years-long battle with substance abuse issues and depression while appearing on ABC News‘ Life After Suicide podcast in May 2019. “If you knew Chester, you would know that he was in a good place,” she said (via People). However, as time progressed and Talinda further processed Chester’s passing, she told CNN’s Finding Hope: Battling America’s Suicide Crisis that there were some signs that something was amiss. “The hopelessness. The change of behavior. Isolation. That was all part of our daily lives,” she explained. “Sometimes, some signs were there more than others. Some signs, they weren’t there at all, as [was] the case right before he passed. He was at his best right before he passed.”
In his honor, Talinda later launched 320 Changes Direction, an organization which aims to “change the culture of mental health so that those in need … can seek the care they deserve.”
One of Bennington's last interviews shed light on his mental state
In May 2017, Chester Bennington gave one of his very last interviews prior to his death in July of that year. While opening up about his longtime battle with depression, the Linkin Park frontman told music journalist Will Lavin, “I came to a point in my life where I was like, ‘I can either just give up and fucking die or I can f**king fight for what I want'” (via the Mirror).
Bennington went on to explain that he’d made the decision to fight for everything he wanted in life: “I wanted to have good relationships. I wanted to love the people in my life. I wanted to enjoy my job.” He then added that he hoped to simply enjoy the little things in life, such as “being a dad and having friends and just getting up in the morning. Because that was a struggle for me.” Admitting that the band’s 2017 album One More Light actually helped him escape the “darkest time” in his life, Bennington called it “a very personal and very therapeutic kind of record.”
Chester Bennington may have been deeply affected by the death of Chris Cornell
According to TMZ, Chester Bennington’s wife, Talinda, reportedly told authorities that he’d had previous suicide attempts and was enrolled in outpatient treatment at the time of his July 2017 death. However, there may have been one incident that deeply affected the Linkin Park singer more than anyone knew: the tragic passing of his close friend, SoundGarden and Audioslave lead vocalist Chris Cornell (pictured, right), who also died of an apparent suicide by hanging that May. The Washington Post reports that Bennington died on the same day that would’ve been Cornell’s 53rd birthday.
While this connection may have been a coincidence, it should be noted that Bennington famously sang a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at Cornell’s funeral. Additionally, a source cited by Radar Online later claimed, “Chester and Chris were so close, and he was never the same after Chris’s death.” Meanwhile, Heart singer Ann Wilson later recalled how Bennington had asked to speak with her when she and Linkin Park were both booked to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Describing him as “really a mess” to Rolling Stone, she added, “I think that Chris’s departure hit [Chester] hard because he recognized the impulse. He had been hit by this news. There was a lot of fear there.”
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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