Anyone who was a ‘90s kid knows that in those days, Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain were the closest thing to a king and queen. Well, at least in the alternative rock world. For many people, Courtney and Kurt were the grunge version of John and Yoko, or better yet – the ‘90s version of Sid and Nancy.
According to one studio executive at the time (who has remained nameless), “[Courtney’s] going to be famous and [Kurt] already is, but unless something happens, they’re going to self-destruct. I know they’re both going to be big stars. I just don’t want to be a part of it.” let’s just call this guy a prophet, because it hit the nail on the head. Oh, they were stars all right. And self-destruction? Bingo.
This is the bizarre love story of two young rock star lovers who didn’t give a tiny rat’s a$$ about anything except each other… and music… and drugs.
When Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love first locked eyes on each other, it was 11 p.m. on Friday, January 12, 1990. And within a minute, the 23-year-old Kurt and the 26-year-old Courtney were already tussling on the floor of the dark and tiny Portland, Oregon nightclub called Satyricon. Kurt was there to do a Nirvana gig.
Courtney was there because she came with a friend who was dating a member of the band (Oily Bloodmen) that opened for Nirvana. Courtney, the lead singer of Hole, was already famous by then, and she was holding court in a booth when she caught eye of Kurt walking by a few minutes before he was set to perform on stage. Courtney, in her red polka-dot dress, said to him: “You look like Dave Pirner.” (Pirner was the lead singer of Soul Asylum).
Her first line (and I guess you can call it a pick-up line) was meant to be a small insult with a sprinkle of flirting. And the truth is, Kurt did look a bit like Pirner, with his long, tangled hair that he washed just once a week, and only with bar soap. Kurt fired back with an insult/pick-up of his own: he literally grabbed Courtney and wrestled her to the ground.
“It was in front of the jukebox,” Courtney recalled of their first moment together, “which was playing my favorite song by Living Color. There was beer on the floor.” While she was glad her line got his attention, she didn’t expect it to land her on the floor to wrestle with this scrawny blonde kid. To his discredit, Kurt didn’t count on her being so tough (she was three inches taller than him and a lot stronger).
And without Kurt’s high-school wrestling experience, Courtney could easily have won the tussle. But let’s be real here, the roll on the sticky floor was all in the name of fun. He quickly pulled her up and gave her a peace offering: a Chim Chim sticker (the “Speed Racer” monkey he chose to make his mascot).
Later on, Kurt admitted that he was immediately attracted to Courtney, saying rather candidly: “I probably wanted to f%&* her that night, but she left.” But here’s the thing – one the night he met Courtney, he was in a relationship with another girl. And she was with him at that bar! But here’s the other thing – the connection between Kurt and Courtney was clearly physical.
They went their separate ways that night, but Courtney followed Kurt and Nirvana’s career like a young boy would follow his favorite baseball player’s career. She put Kurt’s Chim Chim sticker on her guitar case, and she would read Nirvana’s clips in the rock press. And despite the fact that she was unconvinced about the band (their early material was too metal for her), she just couldn’t get enough of him.
She felt like most rock critics of the time, who preferred the alternative Mudhoney to hard rock Nirvana. But once she saw Nirvana in concert later on, Courtney was more struck by their odd physical appearance. “Krist [Novoselic] was really, really big,” she said, “and he dwarfed Kurt to the point where you couldn’t see how cute Kurt was because he looked like a tiny boy.”
Courtney’s opinion of Nirvana and the “tiny boy” changed completely when she bought Nirvana’s “Sliver” single in October of 1990. “When I played it, I was like, ‘Oh, my God — I missed this!'” On the B-side of the single was the song “Dive,” which ended up becoming her favorite Nirvana song of all time. “It is so sexy, and sexual, and strange and haunting,” she noted. “I thought it was genius.”
Her attraction to Kurt and this newfound love for his talent intensified her desire to be around him. She soon nicknamed him, “Pixie Meat.” Why? Because of both his little size and his worship of the Pixies. Courtney then confessed to Dave Grohl (Nirvana’s drummer) that she had a crush on Kurt. He then told her exactly what she needed to hear…
After Courtney admitted that she had a crush on his buddy and bandmate, Dave told her that Kurt was suddenly single. That’s all Courtney needed to hear because she then sent Kurt something to let him know that he was on her mind. What did she send? A heart-shaped box, and in it was a tiny porcelain doll, three dried roses, a mini teacup, and shellac-covered seashells.
And yes, if you think that was the inspiration for his later song “Heart-Shaped Box,” you’re right. It was. But Before sending him that box, she rubbed her perfume on it. I don’t know why, but for some reason, Kurt was obsessed with dolls, and maybe Courtney knew it. He liked to repaint their faces and glue human hair onto their plastic heads. Yes, it’s creepy, but I think we all know by now that the man was troubled.
Kurt and Courtney then met for a second time, about a year and a half after their first meet-and-wrestle. They bumped into each other in May of 1991, during an L7 concert at the Palladium in Los Angeles. Kurt had been backstage, drinking cough syrup straight from the bottle. Courtney, backstage with him, opened her purse and showed him her own vial of cough syrup, although it was a more powerful brand.
The two were meant for each other. And whaddayaknow – they wrestled on the ground again. You could basically cut the sexual tension with a knife. When Kurt let her get up, they talked like civilized human beings. They talked about music, recording, producing, albums, and all that jazz (or better yet, rock).
Courtney bragged that her band, Hole, finished recording Pretty on the Inside, and Kurt talked about his own album that was still in production. Kurt was usually shy when he met someone for the first time, but since he was trying to impress Courtney, he was name-dropping, trying to one-up her at every turn. But Kurt soon discovered that not many people could beat her.
She knew way more about the music business than he ever did, and Hole’s career was rising as quickly as Nirvana’s at the time. During their backstage chat, Kurt told her that he was staying at the Oakwood Apartments. And how convenient – Courtney lived just a few blocks away. She wrote her phone number on a bar napkin, gave it to him, and told him to call her sometime.
Kurt called Courtney later that night, at three in the morning. “There was a lot of noise in the background,” Courtney said of that phone call. Kurt told her that he was only calling her because he wanted to know where she got her cough syrup. Yeah… that’s why he called. Apparently, he preferred cough syrup over other intoxicants at that time.
But he obviously called her because he wanted to talk to her. And as Kurt discovered, Courtney could really talk. This night, her typical booming voice was only a whisper as her ex-boyfriend and bandmate Eric Erlandson asleep in the next room. Oh, and it might be important to mention that at the time, she was in a long-distance relationship with Billy Corgan, the frontman of the Smashing Pumpkins.
The two young rock stars talked for an hour on the phone, and Kurt remembered that conversation for weeks. Though he was usually very direct and short-tempered on the phone, there were a handful of people who managed to bring out the conversationalist in him, and obviously, Courtney was one of them. He told her things over the phone that he couldn’t say to her face, just a few hours earlier.
Kurt mentioned the heart-shaped box that she sent him a while back and thanked her for it. And it really touched her that he noticed. Their conversation veered off though, and they talked about anything from producers to critics to cough syrup brands to songwriting. When Kurt described the conversation to his buddy Ian Dickson, he declared: “I’ve met the coolest girl in the whole world.”
That May of 1991, Ian Dickson, and Kurt’s other friends, would come to complain about how he would “not stop talking about her. It was ‘Courtney says this,’ and ‘Courtney says that.’” And the two weren’t even dating yet! It would be five months before they saw each other again. But during those months, Kurt would recall and refer to their conversation often.
He even wondered (out loud) if it was real or just a cough syrup-induced dream. According to Courtney’s claims, she had already kicked heroin to the curb by the time she met Kurt. But her future husband had a profound impact on her. And Kurt was someone who embraced his identity as a drug addict.
“I had already done heroin, beat the thing, had a rule,” Courtney admitted. “I loved it still, but I didn’t have a fantasy that he had. He had a fantasy. His fantasy was, ‘I’m gonna get to $3 million, and then I’m gonna be a junkie.’ Those are his words.” While the two drug-loving lovebirds seemed to have so much in common, Kurt characterized their relationship as a union of opposites, “like Evian water and battery acid.” Who’s the water and who’s the acid? That’s up to us to decide.
Many Nirvana fans called it a case of fly meets spider, with Courtney as the conniving web-making spider. But, Michael Azerrad, who wrote the Nirvana biography called Come As You Are, said, “Kurt had a very strong will and was not easily pushed around. Unless you can do a Vulcan mind-meld with Courtney, I would think twice about second-guessing her motives.”
In a manner that mirrored Kurt’s personal life, their courtship was intense and brief. After just four months of dating, Love found out that she was pregnant. They decided to make it official and keep with tradition and get married. They got married in Honolulu, Hawaii, on February 24, 1992. She wore a dress previously owned by actress Frances Farmer, while Kurt wore green flannel pajamas.
Their honeymoon period was anything but typical. After their wedding, Kurt fell into a funk. Despite Nirvana’s rise to superstardom, the frontman hated touring and further retreated into himself. He chose to scrap their touring plans (and all the money that would have come with it) and took six months off. “He wanted to stay in the apartment and do heroin and paint, and play his guitar,” Courtney explained.
During their honeymoon phase in 1992, they “went on a binge,” as Courtney put it. “We did a lot of drugs. We got pills, and then we went down to Alphabet City and Kurt wore a hat, I wore a hat, and we copped some dope. Then we got high and went to SNL. After that, I did heroin for a couple of months.” I think we should all keep in mind that the woman was pregnant at the time.
That same year, at a UK music festival, Kurt Cobain addressed the claims made about his wife, telling the audience: “There have been some pretty extreme things written about us and especially my wife. She thinks everybody hates her now.” Vanity Fair had published an article insinuating that Courtney got her husband hooked on heroin and that she used the drug while pregnant with their daughter, Frances.
Courtney later admitted to taking heroin before realizing she was pregnant. But the newlyweds attempted to get clean before their daughter, Frances Bean, was born that August. The couple made sporadic attempts at getting clean. In March of 1992, they each enrolled in separate detox programs, but after a number of days, they would check out and dive right back into their addictions.
The thing is that Courtney fully admitted that she was a junkie and had no intention of staying clean after their baby was born. “I knew she would be fine. I assured [Kurt] that I was built like an [ox] and could carry this pregnancy to term and not have any problems. I was a young woman. The pregnancy isn’t the problem. It’s being around a junkie while I’m pregnant when I’m a junkie too, and I know the minute that baby’s out, I’m gonna go shoot up in celebratory fashion. That was our lifestyle.”
Once Frances was born, Kurt had even considered quitting the band (for a brief moment) so that he could focus on being a father. But that didn’t happen. Despite his good intentions, he just couldn’t quit his drug habits, either. As a result of their addictions, Frances was briefly taken away from the couple by child services.
Kurt was beyond upset, and wrote a letter to boss David Geffen, describing the Vanity Fair article as “a crucifixion” and voiced his desire to leave the limelight. As he put it, “f*$% Nirvana.” When they got their daughter back, Kurt got back on heroin within weeks. Over the following months, he had multiple domestic disputes, mixed with overdoses and suicidal threats.
Their drug use is as bad or worse than you might expect. In the biopic of Kurt Cobain called Montage of Heck (from 2015), you can see a very raw and up-close look into their home life before he died. And if you see it, you’ll see how much their home looked like a stereotypical drug den.
Kurt was clearly an addict, but he never liked to talk about it publicly because his fans, and eventually, his daughter might imitate him. After one of his returns from rehab, he wrote about it in one of his journal entries: “It was a stupid thing to do and I’ll never do it again and I feel really sorry for anyone who thinks they can use heroin [sic] as medicine because um, duh, it doesn’t work.”
One thing is certain from seeing the biopic on Cobain: it will silence anyone who thought that Courtney manipulated Kurt into a relationship and that he was miserable with her. The real and uncut footage of the film shows you just how much he was in love with his wife, and their daughter, too.
The footage from Montage of Heck also shows Kurt’s descent into self-destruction. In one scene, he just walks out of Frances’ first birthday party. In another scene, he’s nodding off as she gets her first haircut. “Kurt, you don’t want your daughter to see you behaving like this, on drugs,” Courtney screamed off camera. “I’m not on drugs!” Kurt claimed. “I’m tired.” They loved their daughter, but their addictions spoke louder.
Despite their love for their daughter Frances, the couple’s marriage was unraveling, and the drug use clearly made it worse. Courtney later admitted that the reason Kurt attempted suicide in Rome in March 1994 was because she was thinking about having an affair. “He must have been psychic or something,” she told TVGuide.com.
But Cobain’s problems weren’t just with his wife. He was never able to suppress the inner demons that stemmed from his troubled and lonely youth. According to People, Kurt Cobain hated his life. He hated sports, hunting, school, and his hometown of Aberdeen, Washington, which in his words was “full of bigoted rednecks.” To understand Kurt Cobain a little better, it’s worth taking a brief look into his past…
For years, Kurt had been uncooperative. As a child, he was seen as hyperactive and received Ritalin at age seven to help him concentrate. He was also taking sedatives to fight the insomnia that Ritalin caused. So clearly, drugs were a part of his life from a very early age. Cobain’s grumpier side started to emerge when he was eight years old.
When he was eight, his parents got divorced. But before his folks split, the young Kurt was actually an upbeat kid who would sing the Beatles songs and draw pictures. After the split, he still drew pictures, but they weren’t the same. He would title them “Mom Sucks” or “Dad Sucks.” School also sucked for Kurt…
According to a friend of his, Kurt “stood out like a turd in a punch bowl.” He would dye his hair “wild colors” and would spit at “jock types” who sometimes beat him up. According to the Independent, Cobain said how many of his peers thought he was gay because he tended to hang out with girls. But he wasn’t gay; he just wanted “to piss off homophobes.”
When Kurt Cobain was in junior high, he joined the wrestling team, and not because he wanted to; his father, Don, pressured him into it. During a wrestling match, Kurt decided to push back against his father. While his father sat and watched in the audience, Kurt simply let himself get pinned down and lose the match.
Growing up, the young Kurt got ping-ponged between his parents and having to live with other relatives because nobody really knew how to handle him. His deep-seated pain drove him to lash out, smoke marijuana, and eventually quit school. But even if he stayed in school, he would have failed to graduate. He also couldn’t find a job, so his mom kicked him out of her house.
Kurt ended up getting by (and high) with a little help from his friends. He crashed on their couches and in the backs of their vans. He landed and lost jobs, even working for a brief time as a janitor at his own high school. When he was a teenager, Kurt witnessed his mother threaten his stepfather. And it got ugly…
Wendy Cobain threatened her new husband with a rifle before throwing his gun collection into the river. Kurt grabbed the guns and decided to sell them and buy his first amp. Firearms became an issue in Kurt’s marriage to Courtney, too. He bought a gun, but she didn’t want guns in their home. In 1993, their disagreement about the issue sparked an ugly exchange that sent Kurt Cobain to jail.
According to the Seattle Times, he was arrested for allegedly pushing Courtney to the floor and choking her. She later denied ever being assaulted but did claim that he attacked her. Plus, she had scratches to prove it. About a year later, authorities had to return to the Love-Cobain household when Cobain threatened to shoot himself – with that same gun.
Not only did Kurt Cobain have long-time pain from a complicated upbringing, feeling unloved and unfit for normal society, he also couldn’t handle his newfound fame. He was never able to embrace his celebrity, which he thought only delegitimized his music. But while many people see Kurt Cobain as a fragile-hearted poet who broke down under the pressure of undesired fame, it’s not really true.
It’s a compelling story, but there’s more to the story. Nirvana’s ex-manager, Danny Goldberg, said that Cobain “definitely wanted to be famous” and “worked assiduously” to make Nirvana into what it became. His emotional issues were far more deep-rooted than some celebrity-induced pressure. But regardless, his world was caving in on him, and the musician just couldn’t take the pressure anymore.
Tragically, about two weeks before he was found dead, Courtney arranged an intervention for his drug use, which occurred on March 25, 1994. There were ten people involved: musician friends, record company execs, and one of Kurt’s closest friends, Dylan Carlson. At first, the intervention was unsuccessful, with Kurt insulting and piling blame on them, eventually locking himself in the upstairs bedroom.
But by the end of the day, he agreed to go to a detox program. At the Exodus Recovery Center in Los Angele, he seemed in good spirits, talking to counselors about his drug abuse and personal problems, and even happily played with his daughter Frances when they came for a visit. But sadly, that was the last time he saw his daughter.
The following night, Kurt went outside to have a cigarette, climbed over a six-foot-high fence, and just left the facility (which he said to people a day before would be a stupid thing to do). He took a taxi to the airport and flew back to Seattle. True story: on that flight, he sat near Duff McKagan (of Guns N’ Roses), and although Kurt Cobain hated their band, he “seemed happy” to see McKagan.
McKagan later claimed that he knew from “all of my instincts that something was wrong.” Kurt didn’t tell his family or friends that he left rehab. On April 2 and 3, he was spotted in different locations around Seattle. On April 3, Courtney Love hired a private investigator, Tom Grant, to find her missing husband.
Isolated and inconsolable, Kurt succumbed to the grip of addiction. He killed himself by a gunshot wound to his head at his Seattle home on April 5, 1994. He was 27 years old. On April 8, his body was discovered by electrician Gary Smith, who arrived at the house to install a security system. Apart from seeing a minor amount of blood coming out of Kurt’s ear, the electrician reported no visible signs of trauma.
He actually thought that Cobain was asleep. That is until he saw the shotgun directed at his own chin. Not only did he leave behind an inconsolable wife, but he also left behind a daughter, who was just 20 months at the time of her father’s death. Today (2020), Frances Bean Cobain is 27 – the same age her father was when he took his life.
Frances was actually a part of her father’s biopic, Montage of Heck, and was credited as an executive producer. “I’m really, really proud of my daughter,” Courtney Love said. “I think her dad would be very proud of her.” Despite never knowing her father on a personal basis, Frances grew up seeing him everywhere.
“I was around 15 when I realized he was inescapable,” Frances told Rolling Stone. “Even if I was in a car and had the radio on, there’s my dad.” Understandably, after years of being constantly bombarded by a father, she couldn’t possibly remember took a toll. Her life wasn’t any less complicated than his was, either. It probably didn’t help that she would go through 27 homes in 25 years and quitting high school in the 10th grade.
“I defaced my room, all the walls and doors, and ceiling,” Frances recalled. She also turned to drugs to ease her pain – which is exactly what Kurt wouldn’t have wanted for his daughter. Sadly, she ended up marrying a man who was so obsessed with her late father that he even tried to look like Kurt Cobain. He also took possession of Cobain’s guitar when they eventually got divorced.
In 2018, Frances found a more positive outlet for her internal angst. She created an art exhibit dedicated to her father’s upbringing. Rather than retreating into herself as her father did, she learned to embrace the (vicarious) memories of her father. We can only imagine how different her life would be if her father overcame his demons. As Frances put it: “I would have had a dad. And that would have been an incredible experience.”
Frances Bean Cobain is coming to terms with her financial situation. Her father left behind a large fortune for her to enjoy. But for Frances, inheriting such an amount of money under tragic circumstances comes with a fair amount of guilt. “My relationship to money is different because I didn’t earn it,” Frances Cobain said on RuPaul’s podcast.
According to Frances, the guilt stems from inheriting money “from somebody that I’ve never met, let alone haven’t earned myself.” She also said on the podcast that she learned the importance of money management after she finally got sober in 2016. People reports that Frances Bean Cobain receives nearly $100,000 each month from her father’s estate. That means that the 27-year-old has a net worth of over $11.2 million! And it’s only getting bigger.
Frances revealed that she only learned of her father’s death when she was five years old. “I wasn’t told my dad committed suicide until the age of 5, so my mom pre-emptively sent me to therapy a year before telling me so I could be eased into that conversation.” For a drug addict mother, Courtney Love actually had a head on her shoulders during some major parenting milestones.
She added that being the child of a celebrity isn’t easy. She calls herself the “OG Blue Ivy.” However, being the daughter of a major celebrity created some real friendships with other like-minded kids of deceased celebrities. She became childhood friends with Billie Lourd, the daughter of late actress Carrie Fisher.
She also befriended Sean Lennon, the son of Yoko Ono and John Lennon. “He’s probably one of the only people on the planet who understands in close detail what I’ve gone through.” Frances explained how she has sober companions and people that she can talk with and communicate with.
Frances also shared a sad truth about her mother and her drug addiction. “And it was headlines everywhere. The kind of drug addict I was, the type that nobody knew I was a drug addict because I was at my house, by myself, whereas Courtney is a very loud drug addict, likes to expose herself in that way, and her antics are sort of louder than mine.”
After Kurt Cobain died, many fans not only mourned the loss but fixated on it. It got to the point that Cobain became even more famous posthumously. Decades after he ended his life, people would print his suicide note on T-shirts to sell them on eBay and Etsy. A lot of fans were unwilling or unable to accept the thought of him submitting to his own mental illness.
So many started pointing the finger at his widow, Courtney Love. In 2014, The Guardian reported that Courtney’s own estranged father implicated her in Kurt Cobain’s death as he was trying to market a book he wrote about her. The chaos that surrounded his death got even worse when conspiracy theorist Richard Lee came into the picture.
According to Love, Lee “stalked and harassed” her and her family “for many years.” Lee apparently spent 23 years attempting to solve Cobain’s suicide, going so far as to sue to get graphic images of the musician’s carcass released for public consumption. According to the Seattle Police Department, they receive at least one weekly request to reopen the investigation on Cobain’s death.
In 2014, the Seattle police developed four rolls of film that were sitting in an evidence vault. A reason was never provided for why they weren’t developed earlier. The 35mm film photographs show the scene of the death more clearly than previous Polaroid images that were taken by the police. Detective Mike Ciesynski was instructed to look at the photos because “it is 20 years later, and it’s a high media case.”
Detective Ciesynski stated that the death remains a suicide and that the images would never have been released publicly. But those photos were indeed later released, one by one, only weeks before the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. One photo reveals Cobain’s arm, which still had the hospital bracelet from the rehab facility he walked out of.
As for the 2015 biopic, Courtney was interviewed for the film, and the footage of her relationship with Kurt was the primary focus of it, but she had no creative control over the project. “As a subject of the film, I didn’t want to have anything to do with producing it because I think it would have impugned on the credibility of it. I gave him the keys to my storage, and I was like, ‘Just tell the truth.’ And I never bugged him again,” Courtney said.
When Cobain was found lifeless, so was a note that lay next to him. He wrote a letter that was addressed to his childhood imaginary friend Boddah. It stated that he had not “felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music, along with really writing … for too many years now.” As per the coroner’s report, a high concentration of heroin and traces of diazepam were found in his body.
Sadly, his body had been lying there for days. A public vigil was held on April 10, 1994, at the Seattle Center, attracting about seven thousand mourners. Prerecorded messages by Krist Novoselic and his wife were played at the memorial. She also read portions of his suicide note to the crowd, both mourning and punishing her husband.
Dave Grohl said that hearing of Cobain’s death was “Probably the worst thing that has happened to me in my life. I remember the day after that, I woke up and I was heartbroken that he was gone. I just felt like, ‘Okay, so I get to wake up today and have another day, and he doesn’t.'” Grohl also said that he knew Cobain would die early.
According to Grohl, “sometimes, you just can’t save someone from themselves.” He basically prepared himself emotionally for that to be a reality. Dave Reed, Cobain’s foster father for a period of time, said, “he had the desperation, not the courage, to be himself. Once you do that, you can’t go wrong, because you can’t make any mistakes when people love you for being yourself. But for Kurt, it didn’t matter that other people loved him; he simply didn’t love himself enough.”
When asked if they would have had more children if Kurt got clean and never killed himself, Courtney Love responded with: “God, yes.” According to her, “We were all we had, so making a family as fast as possible was important. If I had had more time, I’d have had more kids with him.” But they didn’t have more time.
“He is considered to be the rock star who didn’t want fame, the weak, pathetic guy who was taken over by this controlling female, and yadda yadda,” Love once told Loudwire. “It kind of f%$# me up… He’s a hard act to follow. I love him and I always will.”