The rock singer who struggled with his demons
Chester Bennington 1976–2017
Chester Bennington endured a deeply troubled childhood. The Linkin Park singer, who hanged himself last week at age 41, was repeatedly beaten and molested by an older friend during his preteen years. The experience, which began when he was 7 or 8 and continued until he was 13, “destroyed my self-confidence,” he said. “I was too afraid to say anything.” By his late teens, he had become a drugabusing alcoholic. “I dropped so much acid, I’m surprised I can still speak,” he said. Music offered a cathartic outlet for Bennington. With Linkin Park, the hugely successful rock band he launched with rapper Mike Shinoda, he poured his heart out in angry, vulnerable lyrics that struck a chord with millions of fans. “If it wasn’t for music, I’d be dead,” he once said. “One hundred percent.”
Born in Phoenix, Bennington was “the youngest of four children,” said The New York Times. He went to live with his police-detective father at age 11, after his parents divorced. Emotionally damaged by his friend’s abuse, he took to alcohol and drugs, and “found solace in writing angst-filled poetry, in drawing, and eventually in music.”
Bennington launched his first band, Grey Daze, in his late teens, before joining forces with Shinoda. Linkin Park’s debut album, Hybrid Theory (2000), was a “breakout hit,” said RollingStone.com. A “blend of rap, metal, and electronic music,” it made it to No. 2 on the Billboard chart and sold more than 10 million copies. All but one of Linkin Park’s six subsequent studio albums have topped the charts; in 2004, they “teamed with Jay-Z on the platinum-selling Collision Course EP.” Between 2013 and 2015, Bennington also stepped in for Scott Weiland as the frontman for Stone Temple Pilots, a band he’d worshipped growing up.
Throughout his life Bennington “tackled his addiction issues with some success,” said The Guardian (U.K.). After veering between sobriety and substance abuse in the early days of Linkin Park, he got clean in 2006. But Bennington was deeply affected by the May suicide of Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, one of his closest friends. “Your voice was joy and pain, anger and forgiveness, love and heartache all wrapped up into one,” he wrote in a tribute. “I can’t imagine a world without you in it.” ■