It has been nearly three months since musician Chris Cornell died. In that time, his widow, Vicky Cornell, and the family have set up a music therapy program in his name, planned for a statue of him in Seattle, and more.
Nearly three months have passed, and still, Vicky Cornell can’t listen to her husband’s music or bear the sound of his voice.
To do so would bring her back to that awful night, that phone call, when Chris Cornell told her through slurry words that he had taken a couple of extra Ativan for anxiety after performing a Soundgarden show in Detroit on May 17.
After they hung up, Vicky Cornell called security to check on him. He was found in the bathroom. He had hanged himself. He was 52.
“Chris’ passing was so sudden,” Vicky Cornell said via email the other day. “It came with no warning except in that last call, which will stay with me forever.
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“I understand everyone is looking for answers that make sense to us. The truth is, it will never make sense. Because it wasn’t meant to happen.”
Despite her grief, there is comfort in the outpouring of support that she and her children — Toni, 12, Christopher, 11 and her stepdaughter, Lily, 17 — have received from friends and fans, especially in Seattle, where Cornell was born and nurtured his music career.
“It has been amazing,” she said, “and it has really helped sustain my family and me.”
And she is working to preserve her husband’s legacy, something that she was eager to share in a note this week.
While there was never an official Seattle memorial for her husband — save for a gathering at KEXP — Cornell has hired the artist and sculptor Wayne Toth to create a statue of him to be placed somewhere in the city. (Toth created the statue of Johnny Ramone that stands at his grave at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, where Chris Cornell is buried.)
“He has already given me a design and the children and I love it,” Vicky Cornell said of Toth, adding that it will take about seven months to create.
In the meantime, Seattle attorney and family friend Mark Johnson is working with the city of Seattle to find a location.
Cornell would love to hear from fans about where they think the statue should be placed: “He is Seattle’s son,” she said, “and we will be bringing him home and honoring him, I hope, with all of you, your love and support.”
In addition to the statue, Cornell has committed $100,000 toward the Chris Cornell Music Therapy Program at the Seattle nonprofit Childhaven. The organization provides care to children who are abused, neglected and chemically affected, and teaches parents how to care for and nurture their kids.
“Chris was always interested in protecting traumatized children who had suffered physical or psychological abuse,” Vicky Cornell said. “He always felt music was a way to heal even neurological and emotional conditions.
“His promise was to help the most vulnerable children,” she continued. “My vow now is to keep his promise, and what better way to honor Chris and his hometown than by creating a music program to help these babies heal.”
It is the second time the Cornells have donated to Childhaven. In 2013, the nonprofit was chosen to receive a portion of ticket sales from Cornell’s 30-city “Songbook” tour. The Cornell Family Foundation also gave money that year to the YouthCare job-training program.
“Seattle streets are the streets I ran around on,” Chris Cornell said at the time. “It’s my home. It seemed like a natural place to start.”
The foundation is also donating all profits from the sales of Cornell’s last single, “The Promise,” to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which helps refugees and tries to rebuild communities that have been destroyed by war or other disasters.
That donation was inspired by a visit last April to the Eleonas refugee camp in Athens, Greece, where the Cornells and their daughter visited with families that had fled Syria and Afghanistan.
“We heard their stories and the horrors they’d been through,” Vicky Cornell recalled. “It was a humbling experience, one you cannot ever forget.”
There was a 7-year-old girl who had been traumatized, but who still danced with them.
“Bright blue eyes, full of love and hope,” Vicky Cornell recalled. “I think of her every day. Our foundation — and our family, personally — will keep the promise to the IRC, this very special little girl and refugee children.”
Cornell also pledged that she and her children would stay connected to the Childhaven music program.
“I have no doubt that helping others, while at the same time fulfilling Chris’ mission, will help us heal,” she said. “I know Chris will be proud.”
The former Vicky Karayiannis — then a Paris-based publicist — married Cornell in 2004. They had two children. (Cornell’s daughter Lily is by his former wife, Susan Silver.)
“Everyone closest to Chris knew that nothing came before his family,” Cornell said. “He gave 110 percent of himself. There was nothing he would not do for us. If you were his friend, not time nor distance mattered, he was there if you needed him.”
She called him humble, caring and “the most patient man I ever met.”
She recalled how he took care of her father when he was hospitalized last fall, staying overnight with him, helping him walk again.
“How proud I was,” she said of her husband. “How he lifted my heart. His wholehearted devotion as a father has left our children knowing how much he loved them and that he would never deliberately leave them.”
Cornell knows that people want to read into “lyrics and darkness” to explain his death.
“If that soothes you and gives you some comfort in your grief, that’s fine,” she said. “His lyrics and his music were for you to interpret as it suited you. And in his death you can make it and take what you want, if it helps you in your grief and understanding.”
For her, and her children, Chris Cornell will always be “a different man” from the rock star the public knew, “One who didn’t wrestle with demons and ever question his desire to live.”
He loved performing, Vicky Cornell said. He loved the noise. The bigger the stage, the louder the audience, the better. He loved performing, he loved writing. He loved coming home to his children.
“Two months still feels like yesterday,” she said. “It is still very recent and I’m sure this will be a process of years, to come to terms with what happened. If that’s ever actually possible.”
And while she can’t yet listen to her husband’s voice, Vicky Cornell and her children have been going through family photos, “and keeping Chris alive with our memories.
“He loved us so much that it’s difficult to imagine life without such love,” she said. “So we are holding on so tight to what we have.”