Chris Cornell's last show: 'Nothing seemed off"

James David Dickson, and Adam Graham
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Rocker Chris Cornell, who gained fame as the lead singer of the bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, has died at age 52, and the Wayne County Medical Examiner announced Thursday that the cause of Cornell's death was "suicide by hanging."

Chris Cornell performs with Soundgarden Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

A full autopsy report has not yet been completed, a medical examiner spokesman added in a statement.

Cornell, who had been on tour, died Wednesday night in Detroit, Cornell’s representative Brian Bumbery said in a statement to The Associated Press. Cornell had performed a Detroit concert with Soundgarden that night.

Bumbery called the death “sudden and unexpected” and said his wife and family are in shock.

Fan Allanah Wills said she was impressed with Cornell’s showmanship at Wednesday’s concert.

“The show was honestly great,” said Wills, 26, of Windsor. “Nothing seemed off or anything, as far as I could tell.”

Wills said Cornell was praising the Detroit crowd and saying the next city on the tour had a lot to live up to. She said he was lively and mobile and interactive with the fans, and she was thoroughly taken aback by his vocals. “That voice, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime voice,” she said.

Wills woke up to the news of Cornell’s death and found it shocking.

“I can’t even wrap my head around it. It doesn’t seem real,” she said. She looked at the time stamp on the final picture she took at the show, and it was 11:15 p.m.; officers were reportedly called to Cornell’s hotel around midnight.

“It’s like you want to take him out of the picture and say, ‘no!’ and talk to him,” she said. “It’s really heartbreaking, it made me want to tear up. You hear about being at someone’s final concert, but I can’t believe I witnessed that. You don’t ever think that will happen to you, it’s weird to be living it.”

While not identifying the man as Cornell, Detroit police social media manager Dontae Freeman told The News it was about midnight when a 52-year-old white male was found dead in a hotel room at the MGM Grand Detroit hotel with "a band around his neck."

"The victim's wife had called a friend, and asked that friend to check on her husband," Freeman said. "(The friend) forced open the door and found the man unresponsive." He was dead by the time medics arrived.

Police Sgt. Michael Woody confirmed Cornell died at the MGM Grand.

News of Cornell’s death prompted an outpouring of shock and sadness among fellow musicians and fans.

Kevin Kingma, 36, of Mount Brydges, Ontario, Canada, was on his way to Thursday’s Tigers game at Comerica Park when he decided to stop by the Fox Theater across the street to see if there were any traces of Cornell’s performance the night before.

“I heard what happened to (Cornell) and I wanted to see if I could come by and get a picture of the marquee with the Soundgarden show on it,” Kingma said. “I think he’s amazing.”

He snapped a photo of the theater’s electronic marquee, which had been changed to promote shows featuring Fleetwood Mac members Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie and Bring It! Live.

Kingma said he couldn’t be at the Soundgarden show Wednesday night because he was across the street at Comerica Park for the Tigers game. He heard about Cornell’s death through the Internet and news reports.

“I was shocked,” he said. “When you grew up in the ’90s, you always knew about Soundgarden and all of those grunge kings. I had to come out and see this.”

Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry tweeted: “Very sad news about Chris Cornell today. A sad loss of a great talent to the world, his friends and family. Rest In Peace.”

Soundgarden was one of the biggest groups in the 1990s alternative rock movement, and a key part of the Seattle scene that also spawned Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. Led by Cornell, whose powerful, plaintive wail was one of rock’s greatest instruments, the group channeled in dark, heavy, swirling guitar rock that always seemed to have a black cloud hanging over top of it. They didn’t make light music for happy times, Soundgarden made hard music for a dense, rainy day.

The band hit its commercial and creative peak with its 1994 album “Superunknown,” which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart, one spot ahead of Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral,” which was released the same week. “Superunknown” spun off the hit singles “Spoonman,” a tribute to a street performer in Seattle, and “Black Hole Sun,” whose literally eye-popping video was one of the key visuals of the grunge years.

Soundgarden disbanded after the release of 1996’s “Down on the Upside,” and Cornell teamed with the refugees from the breakup of Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave, a supergroup that pumped out three albums between 2002 and 2006. After churning out a pair of solo albums – Cornell released five solo sets over his career – he reunited with Soundgarden in 2010, and the band was a steady touring presence. It released its sixth studio effort, “King Animal,” in 2012.

Soundgarden has a long local history with Detroit, with concerts dating at least back to a January 1990 show at Saint Andrew’s Hall. The group’s performance at the Fillmore Detroit in January 2013 was its first area performance in more than 16 years; at the end of that show, a fan has wrestled the large ax from one of the decorative knights on either side of the stage and placed it on top one of the amps on stage. Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd grabbed the ax and handed it to Cornell, who promptly hoisted it high above his head, a moment of triumph after a dominating two hour-plus show.

The band also played at DTE Energy Music Theatre with Nine Inch Nails in summer 2014 before returning for Wednesday’s show, Cornell’s final performance ever. As a solo performer, Cornell visited Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater in December 2011, performing a mix of solo material, covers, and songs from Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, his one-off project with members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Audioslave logged several concerts in Detroit, including a February 2003 show at the State Theatre and a November 2005 performance at the Fox.

Temple of the Dog produced a self-titled album in 1991 in tribute to friend Andrew Wood, former frontman of Mother Love Bone.

Soundgarden disbanded in 1997 due to tensions in the band, and Cornell pursued a solo career. In 2001, he joined Audioslave, a supergroup that included former Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford. The band released three albums in six years and also performed at a concert billed as Cuba’s first outdoor rock concert by an American band, though some Cuban artists have disputed that claim.

Audioslave disbanded in 2007, but Cornell and Soundgarden reunited in 2010 and released the band’s sixth studio album, “King Animal” in 2012.

Cornell also released four solo studio albums and a solo live album. He released the single “The Promise” in March on iTunes, with all proceeds going to the International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid, relief, and development non-governmental organization.

In addition to his music, Cornell also became involved in philanthropy and started the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation to support children facing challenges, including homelessness, poverty, abuse and neglect.

George Hunter and the Associated Press contributed.

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