HOW DID KURT COBAIN DIE?|
The Toronto Sun - March 15, 1998
By Jean Sonmor
On April 8, 1994, Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain was found dead in the greenhouse of his Lake Washington home. Enough heroin was in his blood to kill three people. Beside him on the floor was a 20-gauge shotgun. He'd apparently bitten down on the barrel and pulled the trigger.
To the Seattle police, who were called to the scene, it was suicide--open and shut.
The media went into overdrive about the short, tragic life of one of the most talented musicians of his generation. Fuelled by the rumor mill and by comments made by his widow about earlier suicide attempts, they talked about his depression, his heroin addiction, his stomach pain--and his overpowering wish to die.
But very soon another story sprang up among musicians in Seattle and spread like wildfire on the Internet. Cobain, this version went, was never suicidal. He might have been pulling out of the music business. He might have been pulling out of his marriage to Courtney Love, but he was NOT, they said, pulling out of life.
And the whisper was that Courtney Love, the intense, unpredictable and brilliant lead singer of Hole, had something to do with the death. In fact, on the very day Cobain's body was found, the private eye she'd hired called police to announce his suspicions that it was murder. A few months later, he went public with allegations that Love--who was in Los Angeles at the time of Cobain's death--was involved.
That was four years ago. Since then, Tom Grant, the LA private eye, has kept up his vigil with a large, well-organized website (http://www.tomgrantpi.com) calling for a reopening of the case.
As for Courtney Love, she has threatened, bullied, even physically attacked a few of the many proponents of the murder conspiracy theory, but she's never sued. Since Cobain's death, she's also raised her profile and her stature enormously in the mainstream press with her music, her Oscar nomination and her Vogue magazine modelling. In the process she's emerged as one of the true enigmas of our age.
"I'm begging you not to mention the city where I'm living." Canadian journalist Ian Halperin's request is shocking. He's an investigative journalist. You know, fearless truth-seeker. But this night he sounds clearly worried.
It's taken me a couple of weeks to get his number. What's the big deal?
"I don't want her crazy people coming after me anymore," Halperin explains. "I had to change where I lived, take an unlisted number."
Seems the singer-actress, who made such a huge splash as a poster girl for the First Amendment right to free speech in The People vs. Larry Flynt, has it in for Ian Halperin because of a book he's co-authored. The book Who Killed Kurt Cobain? is due out April 1 from Birch Lane Press.
There has been no official attempt to halt publication. However, according to Halperin, Love's entourage has certainly made life interesting for him and by extension his co-author Max Wallace during the book's preparation.
They aren't the only ones. Documentary film-maker Nick Broomfield is also under fire. His 99-minute film Kurt and Courtney shows the work of the murder theorists and turns the spotlight on Love's attempts to quash such talk. The dramatic centre of the film is the hugely ironic moment when Broomfield is dragged off the stage at the awards ceremony for the American Civil Liberties Union. He was protesting that Courtney Love was one of the presenters.
Not surprisingly, no mainstream distributor would touch Broomfield's film. Love effectively barred its showing at the Sundance Film Festival last month (although Broomfield was able to stage a secret midnight screening).
But Broomfield was undaunted. He booked it into a three-week limited run at the Roxie Cinema, a small art house in San Francisco's Mission District. At the premiere, lawyers' letters flew warning the Roxie it would be "equally liable" in defamation lawsuits if they proceeded.
"We're not scared but we're paying attention," said Roxie publicist Elliot Lavine at the time. "Besides, we have insurance and an indemnity agreement with Nick (Broomfield)."
Broomfield was certain Love wouldn't sue--she never has--and he wanted to show nervous distributors they had nothing to worry about. He gambled a lawsuit would be much more uncomfortable for her than for him. She would have to prove defamation and in the process go to court and answer uncomfortable questions.
Last week he appeared to have won. There was no lawsuit and he had signed a modest distribution deal with Roxie Releasing, which will put the film into a dozen cities including New York, LA and Seattle next month.
Love's lawyer, Michael Chodoes, did not return repeated calls from The Sunday Sun, but was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner saying the film is "not worth any further response."
Love's ferocity has kept questions about her husband's death on the Internet and out of most mainstream media, but her heavy handedness is surprising. For example, Wallace and Halperin's book stops well short of accusing her of playing a role in Cobain's death but it does catalogue the many inconsistencies that still puzzle Nirvana fans.
Halperin says that after their 18-month investigation, "We found no smoking gun. . . I'm not convinced she was involved. . . That't what puzzles me the most. Why has she gone on this concerted campaign to silence the media? Why has she exerted so much pressure?"
Halperin and Wallace have been friends since their university days. In fact, they won a 1985 Rolling Stone award for investigative journalism in a university publication for a story that ultimately set off a 10-year lawsuit which they finally won last year.
That was a gruelling battle but Courtney Love's less-than-lovely attentions were even more unwelcome, says Halperin. He first stumbled on the story when he and his band were playing Seattle in the summer of 1994. He struck up an acquaintance with several of Cobain's friends. One in particular was very suspicious that Love was involved.
Halperin called his old pal Max Wallace immediately. At the time, Wallace was managing North America's first alternative music station," he says.
They started their investigations the next summer and raised enough of a stir to hit Love's radar screen by May '96. Halperin was then living in Montreal and one Sunday evening he came home to find a large, nattily dressed Californian in shaeds smoking in his backyard.
"I was frightened," Halperin remembers. "I asked him what he was doing and he handed me his business card."
"'My name's Jack Palladino. I work for Courtney Love. I want to take you to dinner.'"
Palladino is the San Francisco lawyer-private eye who is currently ducking a subpoena from the Paula Jones lawyers in her sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton. He was hired by the Democrats in 1992 to dig up dirt on Gennifer Flowers and 26 other women allegedly connected to Clinton.
In a recent piece in The New Yorker, a University of Virginia political scientist described Palladino's work on the Clinton file as "a very aggressive campaign to suppress information."
TRASH HIS DAUGHTER
Halperin had a good opportunity to observe Palladino's $1,500-a-day methods up close. He couldn't reach his own lawyer on that Sunday, but decided he had nothing to lose by taking Palladino up on his offer of dinner. For the next six hours they danced around the topic of the writer's investigation of Cobain's death. Halperin says Palladino hinted he could smooth Halperin's route to a recording contract.
"He wanted us to back off," Halperin says. "He wanted the manuscript . . . He's a pro, he knows how to endear himself."
After that meeting, Halperin says Palladino kept in touch through regular phone messages.
1.52 MG of HEROIN
This isn't the first campaign to stop a book. In 1992, when Cobain and Love were first married, a pair of British journalists attempted to write a biography of them. After a series of threats, one thrown glass and more harassing phone calls from both Cobain and Love, the publisher backed off.
Now, six years and millions of records later, Kurt's gone and the stakes for Love are much higher.
The questions Wallace and Halperin (and private-eye Tom Grant) raise are compelling:
* Why did the shotgun that Kurt forced into his mouth after shooting up 1.52mg of heroin not have any fingerprints on it? Not only were there no Cobain prints, according to the police report, there were no prints, period. None from the salesman who sold him the gun. None from Dylan Carlson, the friend who also handled the gun when it was bought.
* How did Cobain, even if he was "an experienced and severe junkie," roll down his sleeve, put away his drug paraphernalia and manoeuvre the shotgun into his mouth? With three times the lethal dose of heroin in his system, he would have been "unconscious within seconds," Wallace reports on his interviews with pathologists.
* Why was someone attempting to use Cobain's credit cards several days after he died?
* Why, when he claimed that Courtney Love had offered him $50,000 to kill Kurt Cobain, did a porn-metal rocker named Eldon Hoke (aka El Duce) pass a stringent lie-detector test "beyond the possibility of deception," according to one of America's most highly respected polygraph experts?
* Why did that same El Duce die mysteriously on a deserted train track eight days after he made those allegations on tape for Broomfield's movie?
* Why is there the appearance of two different pieces of handwriting on the alleged suicide note, according to several published reports and an Unsolved Mysteries episode? The note, incidentally, does not mention suicide.
"It's enough to re-open the case," Wallace insists. "People deserve answers to these questions--especially the families of the 68 youngsters who have succeeded in copycat suicides since Cobain died."
The same questions bother Grant. Although he's now working on the Paula Jones case, Grant is haunted by the belief that someone is getting away with murder. He remembers, a few days after the death, Rosemary Carroll, Love's friend and entertainment lawyer, putting her head down on the desk and shaking it from side to side. "Do you think Courtney had something to do with it [Kurt's death]?" Grant says she asked. Grant, an ex-police officer, says the police work was shabby.
Over the long distance lines from Seattle, homicide-squad commander E. Kelsie doesn't sound too friendly. He knows nothing, he insists, about the new information on Cobain's death. He's offended that Halperin and Wallace showed up with their "satchel of new information" with a film crew.
Still, he insists, police would reopen the case if they got new information. Wallace and Halperin hope their book will do just that.
As for Hank Harrison, Love's biological father, he says he and his 86-year-old mother just want closure. "We want her to take a private lie detector test that she had nothing to do with Kurt's death. It can be done by an expert of her choice. We'll pay for it. . . My daughter's a multi-millionaire and she needs her breeches slapped."
In Defence of Courtney
"We are told that Mr. [Nick] Broomfield's movie conveys the message (including displaying statements by Mr. Harrison and others) that Ms. Love killed her husband Kurt Cobain or somehow participated in his murder. We know Mr. Harrison has made similar statements in the past, and assume that he plans to use your theater as a forum in which to make them again.
Such accusations are false and defamatory, nothing more. They are extremely damaging to Ms. Love and very hurtful."
-Part of a letter from Courtney Love's San Francisco attorney, Michael Chodos, to the Roxie Theater