He was the slim dude with the heaviest vocals we’ve heard in a long time. When Chester Bennington and his band Linkin Park took the world by storm in the early 2000s, it was a game changer. The band gave a new voice to male angst. With Crawling, In the End, and Numb, Linkin Park dominated the charts.
After a two-year stint as the frontman of Stone Temple Pilots (from 2013 to 2015), Bennington and Linkin Park released their album, One More Light, in May 2017. The album was described as more of a pop album and got some pretty bad reviews. About two months later, Bennington was found dead in his home. Even those closest to him missed the signs…
Less Than Two Months Earlier…
Chester Bennington’s death came less than two months after his close friend, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell’s suicide. The two were known friends who would perform together on stage. Bennington was also godfather to Cornell’s son, Nicholas. On May 24, 2017, at Cornell’s funeral, Bennington gave a speech: “My name is Chester,” he began.
Then, he sang the classic Hallelujah alongside Linkin Park bandmate Brad Delson on guitar. Bennington also paid tribute to Cornell on Twitter: “Your voice was joy and pain, anger and forgiveness, love and heartache all wrapped up into one. I suppose that’s what we all are. You helped me understand that.”
Within two months, it was Bennington’s turn to be mourned.
How Did Chester Bennington Die?
Most fans already know that the timing of Chester Bennington’s suicide was (most likely) on purpose, as he died on Chris Cornell’s birthday (Cornell would have been 53). It’s also hard to ignore their method of choice. Like Cornell, he too committed suicide by hanging on July 20, 2017, in his Palos Verdes Estates home in LA County.
It was a week before Linkin Park was to embark on their North American tour. Bennington was 41, married and a father of six. He had just returned from a vacation in Arizona with his wife, Talinda, and the kids, but he came home alone. He needed to work, he said.
His Addiction and Depression Were No Secret
Reportedly, the police found a partially empty bottle of alcohol in the bedroom, the room where he chose to spend his last moments. It was no secret: Bennington was always open about his struggles with addiction and depression. Why, then, were those closest to him so shocked by his suicide?
Especially, as has been reported, this wasn’t the first time the artist attempted to end his life. According to sources close to Bennington, he attempted suicide eight months prior. He supposedly had a “change of heart” and didn’t go through with it. There was one particular incident in 2006, when he threatened to take his life before leaving home with a gun.
Blood Doesn’t Lie
The autopsy report mentioned that Bennington was known to have “suicidal ideations after consuming alcohol.” In the months before his death, he was reportedly telling his friends that he had been sober for half a year. His toxicology report, however, said otherwise.
The report revealed that he had tested “presumptive positive” for MDMA. Where’s the confusion? Well, he tested positive on one test, but not on the other two. There was also a trace amount of alcohol in his system, as well as a bottle of Ambien and an empty bottle of beer found in his room.
He Seemed Happy
Still, his friends and family were stunned and shaken when they heard of the news. Well, it may be because the singer was giving mixed messages. And when you hear how his last months were, their surprised reactions make a lot of sense.
The day after Cornell’s memorial, Bennington tweeted how he was “feeling very creative” and that he had written six new songs. He also told his friend, Rene Mata, “We have to stick together, and we have so much to live for.” For the most part, it seemed like he was on the right path. And the truth is, the man had good reason to be happy…
A New Album, a Tour, a Reunion
For one, his band’s new album, One More Light, had topped the charts in May… despite the poor reviews. You remember the single Heavy, which was performing well on rock radio stations. There was a Linkin Park tour coming up and Bennington was planning a reunion with his old grunge band, Grey Daze, from back in the day.
It was supposed to take place in September. “He was on top of the world,” said Sean Dowdell, Grey Daze’s drummer, a childhood friend of Bennington’s. Dowdell even spoke to Bennington days before his death. For the most part, Bennington seemed to be on the sober train.
So Endearing, So Chester
He was part of an event in October 2016 called Rock to Recovery, an organization for sober musicians. Steve Stevens, who played guitar with Billy Idol, recalls Bennington holding a new puppy while saying hello to everyone backstage. “He was making sure that everybody got to meet the dog at the door,” Stevens said.
“It was so endearing and so Chester.” In his last months, during Linkin Park’s European tour, Bennington seemed to be at his best. “We saw the most alive and present Chester of my 15-and-a-half-year history with the band,” the group’s director of touring, Jim Digby shared.
His Texts Had a “Looking-Forward-to-the-Future” Tone
“He was arguably in the best physical condition of his life,” Digby noted. In the days leading up to his suicide, he was texting back and forth with Robert DeLeo, his STP bandmate (between 2013 and 2015). According to DeLeo, Bennington’s tone was “loving, positive, looking-forward-to-the-future, growing-old kinds of things,” he said.
The day before his death, Bennington even emailed former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum, telling him that he’d like to perform again with their cover band, Kings of Chaos. All signs were pointing to hope and happiness. But there were darker, hidden signs that went overlooked.
The Dark Passenger
Some of Bennington’s friends admitted that they might have overlooked signs – signs of Bennington’s darker, more uncomfortable side. That side of his was very much present, so much so that the singer even gave it a name: the “dark passenger.”
The name is a reference to the force that motivated the TV character Dexter (the serial killer), and this dark passenger was creeping back into his life. Bennington was last in rehab in 2006 and appeared to be sober ever since. But his friends revealed that he suffered a three-day relapse in August of 2016.
Hindsight Is 20/20
During this relapse, Bennington had drunk so much that he blacked out. He was then allegedly drinking again in October that same year. These are precisely the signs that his loved ones likely chose to ignore, preferring to focus on the positive light that Bennington also projected.
A month before his suicide, Bennington told his long-time friend Ryan Shuck (the guitarist from Bennington’s side project Dead by Sunrise) that he had been sober for six months. Shuck had his own addiction issues, and Bennington had sent him some text messages that, in hindsight, were quite significant…
“He was describing an hour-by-hour battle with addiction. When I look at it now, it’s horrifying,” Shuck revealed of their final conversations. “He was telling me, down to the detail, what he would do in the first hour he wanted to drink.” Bennington had told him, “I basically just take it hour-by-hour every day.”
Bennington didn’t keep his demons in the closet; he spoke about them openly, which was admirable. He talked about his issues in an interview in February 2017 with Music Choice. “I have a hard time with life,” he confessed while describing the song Heavy and the meaning behind it.
“I Don’t Like My Mind Right Now”
“Even when it’s good, I just am uncomfortable all the time,” Bennington shared. The opening line of the song Heavy – “I don’t like my mind right now” – Bennington said, “that is me 24 hours a day. And if I get stuck in here, like, I just find life really hard,” adding that it “doesn’t have to be.”
According to Shuck, Bennington “had a couple of drinks” just before he committed the act. But if you ask Shuck or Dowdell if Cornell’s death inspired Bennington’s, they’ll both tell you it’s not likely.
The Fire Within Him Was Already Burning
Of course, it’s hard to ignore the similarities. But these two believe it’s merely a coincidence. “It could be a part of it, but it’s a small part of it,” Shuck explained. “I think that it’s just another horrible event that gets put in your subconscious. It’s kindling, but the fire was already burning.”
The fire in Bennington had been burning since he was a child, apparently. His youth was traumatic. Born on March 20, 1976, in Phoenix, he was the youngest of four kids. His mother, Susan, was a nurse and his father, Lee, was a detective who investigated child-sex crimes.
His Childhood Was a Living Nightmare
When Bennington was 11, his parents divorced. He lived with his dad, feeling as though he was abandoned by his mother. His dad, however, was not “emotionally stable” at the time. That alone is a lot for a kid to handle.
But the real trauma started when he was seven or eight until he was 13: the years when he was sexually abused by an older male friend. “I was getting beaten up and being forced to do things I didn’t want to do,” Bennington once revealed. “It destroyed my self-confidence.”
Unleashing His Anger Through Music
It’s no wonder that Bennington found his escape through drugs and alcohol. His first known suicide attempt was when he was 13. His sister found him before he was about to shoot himself. From that point, Bennington used alcohol and drugs to self medicate and mask the trauma from his childhood.
By the time he reached his teens, he was already using opium, amphetamines, marijuana, and cocaine. Bennington said that he kicked the habit for the first time in 1992, when a gang burst into the spot where he and his friends were getting high. The gangsters beat and robbed them.
The Angel and the Demon
Later, he had Linkin Park to really channel his anger and unleash his fury. “He had a distinct voice, at once delicate and ferocious,” 30 Seconds to Mars frontman (and actor) Jared Leto said of Bennington’s voice. The two had met on the festival circuit in the 2000s (both their bands toured together in 2014).
“It’s the angel and the demon, sitting on both shoulders,” Leto rationalized. “You could feel the tension between the two when he sang, and I think the reason so many people connected to his music was because of that balance he achieved between the two.”
“Crawling” Said It All
Most of Linkin Park’s songs were written by Bennington and Mike Shinoda, and they became anthems for youth struggling with similar emotional issues. Crawling was the “most literal song lyrically I’d ever written for Linkin Park,” Bennington said of the song.
He said that the song is “about feeling like I had no control over myself in terms of drugs and alcohol.” Clearly, the man was struggling, and at least he had an artform to express it. But anyone who knew Bennington says he never let his struggles define his personality.
A Doting Father to Six
Let’s not forget the fact that Bennington was a dad to six children, no less. He started young: he got married and became a dad in 1996, when he was 20 years old. His first marriage ended in divorce, which took a toll on him and sent him into a relapse.
It was a time when he “drank to the point where I couldn’t leave the house and I couldn’t function… I wanted to kill myself,” he admitted. In 2005, he married Talinda. They then had a son and twin daughters.
His Kids Were His Happiness
Jared Leto recalls going to the Bennington household for dinner one night. “I walk in, and it’s just jam-packed with the biggest family you’ve ever seen… I just couldn’t believe that he had such a beautiful and thriving family life, especially for someone so young.”
Bennington loved being a dad and found peace at home with his kids. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, who toured with Bennington in Kings of Chaos, said how he “always had enjoyable tales of his six kids, which he always referred to with a beaming smile.”
No Suicide Note
Aside from the bottle of beer and half a pill of Ambien in his room at the time of his death, there was a journal in which he wrote by hand. Yet there was no suicide note. They also found fingernails underneath his iPhone, which his wife said was a habit he had when he grew anxious.
She said that he had recently been in an outpatient treatment program and that he wasn’t taking antidepressants for at least a year. One can only imagine how his children are dealing with their father’s death.
“I Don’t Believe Chester Killed Himself”
Interviews with Bennington’s mother, father, and sister Tobi Knehr revealed that they don’t believe he committed suicide. “I don’t believe Chester killed himself,” his mother Susan said. “If he did… I am convinced someone coerced him to do it, or worse…”
Officer Aaron Belda was the first on-scene and made a definitive decision to label the death a suicide within 11 minutes, which he based on the visual circumstances. Since the initial assessment of suicide was rushed, and the fact that there wasn’t a suicide note, led the Bennington family to assume it wasn’t suicide after all.
Some Strange Behavior Witnessed by the Maid
Some, including Bennington’s parents and sister, want to know why his death was so easily dismissed as a suicide without a thorough investigation of potential foul play. Reportedly, the family maid, who was there when Bennington arrived home at 10:30 pm that night, told Officer Belda that she “did not notice anything unusual about his behavior.”
Susan begs to differ. According to her, the maid absolutely did see some unusual behavior, especially since she witnessed Bennington “crawling through the dog door with a 7-Eleven bag.” Why this didn’t make the incident report is unknown.
There Was Blood Everywhere
Susan and Tobi had arrived at the house later that day, not long after Bennington’s body was removed. They noticed the carpets were very wet and towels were strategically placed throughout the house. The maid told them that the family dog had “killed” two other family pets that morning: a chicken and a turtle.
Because of this, according to the maid, there was blood throughout the house – from the living room to the upstairs to the bedroom where Bennington was found. The maid got to the house at around 8:30 that morning.
The Benningtons Aren’t Convinced
She had called 911 at 8:50 and Officer Belda arrived on scene at 9:03. The Benningtons bought the house only a few months before his death. Due to his fame, and a history of stalker incidents, security cameras had been installed.
Susan and Tobi inquired about the security footage, only to be told that the cameras weren’t functioning and they “didn’t have time to set them up.” The point his family has been trying to make is that there was no proper investigation, despite the strange incidents that occurred at the time of his death.
The Ripple Effect
Bennington’s death left a ripple effect. For instance, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported that on the day after the news broke of his death, they received a 14 percent spike in calls. Ten days after his death, his house was bordered by a temporary six-foot fence.
Fans would leave flowers, drawings, signs, guitar picks and crosses. One note read, “Fly free now! With love all the way from Texas.” Another note said, “Dear Chester Bennington, It hurts all of us to know that you saved so many lives, yet we couldn’t save you.”
The Bad Reviews Tore Him Apart
No one is claiming that Linkin Park’s last album was a driving factor in Bennington’s suicide. However, the negative reviews of One More Light were part of the reason why he was unhappy in his final weeks. Sean Dowdell (the Grey Daze drummer) told Kaaos TV that Bennington was “really bothered” by the album’s reviews.
He recalled how Bennington took to Twitter to fire back at people who had bad things to say about the album. Dowdell said he would reassure his friend and former bandmate that the music was “good” and he had nothing to worry about.
Getting Choked Up
While the album is no reason to kill himself, Cornell’s death really did have a lasting effect on the singer. It was particularly evident at a promotional show where Linkin Park played the song One More Light in Cornell’s memory.
“When we were doing a sound check, Chester couldn’t even make it through the song, he was getting halfway through and getting choked up,” Shinoda told Radio.com. “And even when we did play the whole song, and it was live on TV… he kind of just stopped like towards the end like he missed the last couple lines, just couldn’t finish the song,”
She Missed the Warning Signs
Talinda spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the warning signs she admittedly missed. She said how his frequent feelings of hopelessness, isolation and the changes in his behavior had become “part of their daily life.”
“Sometimes, some signs were there more than others… sometimes, they weren’t there at all,” she told Cooper. On the night before his death, she recalled him being “at his best.” He left the family vacation early to do a television commercial, which was “not a time where we or any of our family suspected this to happen.” It was “terrifying,” she shared. “We thought everything was OK.”
She Couldn’t Relate
Talinda also told Cooper that she “could not relate” to how her husband was processing his depression. She personally doesn’t suffer from depression, which means she couldn’t really understand what he was going through.
“Watching my husband go through it, I had no idea. I could not relate.” His death, however, pushed her to educate herself on depression and how loved ones can help people go through the tough times. She knows better now, although it’s too late. “I am now more educated about those signs,” she explained.
Two Songwriters With Similar Backstories
Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda looks back on his friend fondly but somberly. His and Bennington’s relationship deepened after years of writing songs together. “Especially the early, early stuff, Chester and I tended to talk in a very universal kind of way,” Shinoda said in an interview with ABC News.
“It was almost in code.” In those “early” years, they were “still learning a little bit about each other’s backstories… so when we were writing a song, we wanted to make sure that each song was very much true for both of us.”
Nobody Can Save Him
Shinoda and Bennington found “parallels” between their lives, which they poured into their lyrics. By the time they started working on their final 2017 album, their friendship was so strong that Shinoda could actually write songs from Bennington’s perspective, such as the track Nobody Can Save Me.
“I just knew how he felt about certain things so well, that I wrote the thing for him to sing, and I played it for him, and he loved it immediately,” Shinoda revealed. “He was like, ‘Yes, that’s exactly it, I love this song!'” Linkin Park united for a tribute to Bennington but have yet to perform together.
Inside the Bennington and Cornell Friendship
Their bands played different kinds of rock, and they had more than a decade between them, but the two artists became fast friends after Cornell, then as a solo artist, opened for Linkin Park in 2007 during their Australian tour.
Cornell supported Linkin Park on their Projekt Revolution tour in 2008. Every night, Bennington hit the stage with Cornell to perform Hunger Strike. Cornell returned the favour when Linkin played Crawling. Their friendship was cemented in 2005, when Cornell asked Bennington to be the godfather to his son, Nicholas.
An Emotional Set the Day After
Bennington probably should have taken some time off after Cornell’s death, but the band had events to perform at. They were on Jimmy Kimmel the day after Cornell’s passing. Bennington led the band through an emotional set with One More Light, played in tribute to their late friend.
“We were going to come out and play Heavy first,” he told the crowd. “In light of our dear friend Chris Cornell passing away, we decided to play our song, One More Light… We love you, Chris.” To everyone at home watching, it looked like Bennington needed some time to process it all.
Cornell Suffered From Similar Issues
Like Bennington’s history of alcohol and drug abuse, Cornell also struggled with addiction for most of his life. It was in 2003 when he successfully managed to get sober. The problem was he suffered a shoulder injury in 2016, and his doctor prescribed him Ativan.
Cornell’s addictive tendencies kicked in, and he became hooked to the medication. While his and Bennington’s deaths are unrelated, it shows how important it is to notice signs among addicts and those suffering from depression. Relatedly, Keith Flint from The Prodigy died in very similar circumstances in 2019.
His Singing Made Him Sick… Literally
Bennington’s voice made heads turn, ears perk up, and won the band Grammys. But people don’t know that he was making himself physically sick when he belted those powerful chords. In June 2003, Linkin Park had to cancel their European tour after Bennington started to suffer from “severe back and abdominal pains.”
He was hospitalized and even underwent surgery after doctors learned he was suffering from a hiatal hernia. It’s a condition that “occurs when part of the stomach slides above the diaphragm, allowing stomach acid to flow freely into the esophagus.”
“There’s a lot of burning that happens every once and a while,” Bennington revealed. “But I’ll pretty much be nauseous forever. It’s going to be that way indefinitely.” He added, “Every night when I sing, it kind of pisses off the hernia. Last night I was vomiting when I was singing.”
The singer had such bad digestive problems that he had to cancel shows due to the stomach acid burning his throat so badly that he got an infection from it.
The Cyberstalker Incident
In 2006, some cyberstalker took control of nearly every online account of Bennington’s (his and Talinda’s). The stalker was female, and she reportedly called the couple at random hours of the night, saying creepy things like, “I know where your kids are,” and “I have complete control of your lives.”
The situation took a turn for the worse when a former Secret Service agent traced the stalker’s location to a computer at Sandia National Laboratories, which is a nuclear weapons facility in Albuquerque, NM. The stalker turned out to be a computer technologist as well as an obsessive Linkin Park fan.
She Was “Bored”
Her name is Devan Townsend and when she was confronted at work, she told the investigator that she wanted to terrorize the Benningtons because “she was bored. Her job at Sandia took about half an hour a day, and she was looking to pass the time.”
Townsend was obviously arrested, and the stalking ended. But Bennington remained on edge. Townsend reportedly had a shrine featuring hundreds of pictures of Bennington in her home. She eventually pleaded guilty to “charges including stalking and unlawful access to stored communications.” She was later sentenced to two years behind bars.
Things Changed After That
“When you find out some total stranger has personal pictures of your kids in the bath, has phone numbers of your parents and close friends and every business associate, listens to every voicemail you’ve had for the last year…it fuels my desire to make sure this kind of action is viewed as criminal,” he told Wired.
Bennington spoke about it in 2008 in an interview with Revolver, saying, “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.”
He Once Lived in His Car
Before Linkin Park went big, they were known as Xero, and were rejected by every major label. Warner Bros. sent them away at least three times before eventually signing them in 1999. At the time, Bennington was basically homeless, living out of his car.
“It wouldn’t go over thirty-five miles an hour,” the singer told Rolling Stone. “Two lights were burned out. I had no money to replace them.” He was actually a late addition to the band, but his dedication motivated the group.
Success Was a Hard Pill to Swallow
“We each made our own sacrifices, but Chester’s was unique,” guitarist Brad Delson shared with Rolling Stone. “Because he had so much to risk, he was extremely motivated. He would actually tell us, ‘Guys, I don’t think we’re working hard enough.'”
Linkin Park then debuted with Hybrid Park, and it became the best-selling album of 2001. In the beginning, the success was hard for Bennington to swallow. He learned to open up to bandmate Shinoda while writing songs, but he still felt isolated. At the time, he was with his ex, Samantha, and their relationship was toxic.
The Linkin Park Guys Conducted an Intervention
Touring only made his addiction issues worse, with such easy access to drugs. His bandmates eventually were forced to conduct an intervention. “I had no idea that I had been such a nightmare,” Bennington told Team Rock.
“I didn’t realize how much that was affecting the people around me until I got a good dose of ‘Here’s-what-you’re-really-like.’” He said how the guys told him that he was two people — “Chester and then that f**king guy. I didn’t want to be that guy.” Divorcing his first wife brought him closer to the band.
Not a Fan of Guns
After the horrific shooting in Tucson, Arizona in 2011, which left six dead and Senator Gabby Giffords in critical condition, Bennington felt the need to speak up. He broke away from a promotional event to talk about the tragic event.
“I personally feel that violence and war and murder are primitive, and I think that we’ve evolved as a species beyond that… In a free society, people have a right to believe whatever they want to believe… But nobody, even in a free society, has the right to take another person’s life. Ever. That’s something that we really need to move beyond.”
The Stevie Ray Vaughan Award
Linkin Park was always big on supporting charitable causes. In 2013, Bennington was the recipient of the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award for his charity work helping recovering addicts (via the MusiCares MAP Fund).
“It’s been so rewarding to support them and see firsthand what they’ve accomplished for so many artists.” Given his troubled past with addiction, it’s impressive and noble that he spent his time helping others combat substance abuse.