In speaking out against a medical examiner’s preliminary finding that Chris Cornell died of suicide by hanging, his family said he was not suicidal and suggested that side effects of prescription drugs could have led to his death.
Specifically, they point out that the Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman may have taken “an extra Ativan or two” before his death and wonder if this commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medication affected his actions, People reported.
Cornell, 52, was found in his hotel room at the MGM Grand Detroit following his Seattle-based grunge band’s performance Wednesday night. According to his wife Vicky, Cornell was slurring his words when she spoke to him on the phone after his show. He admitted to her that he had taken more than his prescribed dose of Ativan. Vicky Cornell said that call prompted her to contact security to ask that they check on him.
Cornell family’s attorney Kirk Pasich said in a statement that the family is “disturbed” by inferences that Cornell knowingly and intentionally took his life. Pasich said such conclusions shouldn’t be made before the results of toxicology tests come in.
“Without the results of toxicology tests, we do not know what was going on with Chris — or if any substances contributed to his demise,” Pasich said. “Chris, a recovering addict, had a prescription for Ativan and may have taken more Ativan than recommended dosages. The family believes that if Chris took his life, he did not know what he was doing, and that drugs or other substances may have affected his actions.”
Ativan is the brand name for lorazepam,a benzodiazepine, that is used to treat anxiety, drug withdrawal, agoraphobia and seizure disorders, among other things. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, serious side effects of using Ativan include worsening depression, unusual mood or behavior and suicidal thoughts.
Like all benzodiazepines, Ativan is mostly intended for short-term use and comes with a risk of dependance and addiction. The addiction and recovery website The Fix puts dependance on “benzos” in more dire terms, describing addiction to drugs in this class as particularly grueling and potentially lethal.
“When it comes to prescription drugs that are not only able to kill you but can drag out the final reckoning for years on end, with worsening misery at every step of the way, it is hard to top the benzodiazepines,” writer Christopher Byron says in the 2011 post, which is headlined “Is this the world’s deadliest pill?”
The brand name for other benzos include Valium, famously known as “mother’s little helper”; Restoril, which was developed as a short-term treatment for insomnia but became known as the “date rape” drug; and Xanax, which at one point may have accounted for 60 percent of all hospital admissions for addiction, Byron said.
Then there is Klonopin, the brand name for the pill known as clonazepam, which was originally brought to market in 1975 as a medication for epileptic seizures. Since then, Klonopin, as well as other benzos, have become “a prescription of choice for drug abusers from Hollywood to Wall Street.”
Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks spoke openly in interviews about overcoming her addiction to Klonopin, the Fix post says. But other celebrities didn’t survive their experience with benzodiazepines: model and actress Margaux Hemingway committed suicide by overdosing on a barbiturate-benzodiazepine cocktail in 1996 and Hollywood producer Don Simpson died from an unintentional benzo-based overdose. Author David Foster Wallace, who was suffering from profound depression, was prescribed Klonopin before he hanged himself in his back yard in September 2008.
With regard to the Soundgarden singer, Vicky Cornell’s statement Friday describes her husband as a devoted father and husband whose world revolved around his family first and his music second.
“Chris’s death is a loss that escapes words and has created an emptiness in my heart that will never be filled,” she said about her husband, whom she wed in Paris in 2004. Together, they have two children, Toni, 12, and Christopher, 11. The singer also had a daughter Lillian, 16, from his previous marriage to Susan Silver.
Vicky Cornell said her husband flew home for Mother’s Day to spend time with his children and stayed through Wednesday before flying to Detroit to perform. During his visit home, she said, he talked about vacation plans for Memorial Day weekend and “other things we wanted to do.”
“What happened is inexplicable and I am hopeful that further medical reports will provide additional details,” she said. “I know that he loved our children and he would not hurt them by intentionally taking his own life.”