Chris Cornell’s death was not caused by prescription drugs. This is the conclusion reached by the Wayne County assistant medical examiner. Dr. Theodore Brown confirmed that the Soundgarden lead singer did have drugs in his system at the time of his death but reported that they did not contribute to his death.
Drugs that were found in Cornell’s body include barbiturates, caffeine (from No-Doz tablets), four doses of Ativan (an anxiety drug), a decongestant, and Naloxone (an anti-opioid drug). NBC News quotes Daryl Davies, a professor of clinical pharmacy at the USC School of Pharmacy, as calling this a “weird combination” of uppers and downers, but not likely a suicidal one. “When you mix that combination or cocktail, you can have drowsiness, you could be disoriented, but it seems like a stretch that you would hang yourself.” Previous reports indicated that Chris’s arms had fresh track marks on them. These were likely from EMTs administering Naloxone at the scene.
Chris’s wife Vicky had a phone conversation with him on the night of May 17, the night of his death. She noted that he was slurring his words and sounded odd in a way that she had not heard since his days of addiction. People involved in the Soundgarden show that night said he was acting strangely as well. He told his wife that he may have taken a couple of extra Ativan.
Dr. Brown described Cornell’s death scene as previously described by the Wayne County Police report, saying he was “found partially suspended by a resistance exercise band in his hotel room” and stated that “based on the circumstances surrounding this death and the autopsy findings, the manner of death is suicide” according to Rolling Stone. Chris’s wife has blamed his suicide on the high level of Ativan in his system. While the medical examiner agreed that the 200 ng/mL of the drug in his system was high (average dosage is 30 ng/mL), it was below the 300 ng/mL that is typically associated with suicides associated with the medication. In the face of news that fails to provide an explanation for Cornell’s untimely death, his wife issued this statement.
“Many of us who know Chris well noticed that he wasn’t himself during his final hours and that something was very off. We have learned from this report that several substances were found in his system. After so many years of sobriety, this moment of terrible judgment seems to have completely impaired and altered his state of mind.”
“Something clearly went terribly wrong and my children and I are heartbroken and are devastated that this moment can never be taken back. We very much appreciate all of the love we have received during this extremely difficult time and are dedicated to helping others in preventing this type of tragedy.”
Entertainment Weekly reported on a Facebook post from Chris Cornell’s brother Peter just a few days ago. He thanked everyone for their condolences and said that the outpouring from fans made him realize “how he belonged to the world. That he is an icon and a legend.” He continued by speaking of artists in general.
“We rely on these people to lift us up. To inspire us and distract us in times of trouble. Chris protected us when we needed him to. His one of a kindness surrounded us like a suit of armor. He was a warrior and a wizard. A howling wolf and a trusted mentor.”
Chris Cornell was 52-years-old at the time of his death on May 17. He fronted Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and Audioslave in addition to releasing five solo albums. He and Vicky were married for 13 years. He had one daughter from a previous marriage (16-year-old Lillian Jean Cornell) and two with Vicky (11-year-old Christopher Nicholas Cornell and 12-year-old Toni Cornell).
[Featured Image by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]