On July 20th 2017, Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington committed suicide in his home at the age of 41.
Chester Charles Bennington was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Abused as a child and broken up by his parents’ divorce at the age of 11, Bennington struggled with bullying and drug addiction before pursuing music as a career, always finding comfort in songs and poetry. The first band he remembered liking was Depeche Mode.
Bennington achieved his first success through local Arizona rock band Grey Daze, releasing three albums with the group. Sadly, its success would not last and Bennington would leave the group in 1998. It would sporadically reunite though, with shows even planned in 2017 before Chester’s passing.
After leaving Grey Daze, Bennington was considering quitting music altogether and going into real estate before he was offered an audition with Linkin Park (then known by its original name, Xero). Heading up to California for the occasion, there were two other vocalists auditioning alongside Chester. After hearing him sing, one of them just got up and left. The other said the members would be insane not to hire him.
The recording of Linkin Park’s debut Hybrid Theory would not be easy. Executives at Warner Bros Records wanted to either fire or demote emcee Mike Shinoda, wanting Chester to be the sole frontman. Even at this early stage of the band’s career, Bennington remained loyal to his bandmates and refused. Shinoda was Linkin Park’s primary songwriter and producer, and Bennington knew if the label fired him, the rest of the band would be walking out with him.
The band’s convictions paid off, with Hybrid Theory achieving the rare Diamond certification in America for ten million copies sold. The album also boasted four successful singles with “One Step Closer,” “Crawling,” “Papercut,” and “In the End”, the latter of which went as high as number two on the Hot 100 chart. Music publications called them an overnight success, even calling them a manufactured act (something Shinoda greatly resented because of the label interference), but Bennington knew it was all thanks to hard work and dedication. “For my part, I’ve been doing this for 12 years,” he quipped. “That’s one long night.”
Bennington received high praise for his vocals, able to effortlessly go from tender balladry to pitch-perfect screaming, which would complement Shinoda’s rapping, making the two an effective vocal tag-team on stage. Both based their lyrics off universal experiences and emotions, moments of doubt and anger that everyone goes through. “It's easy to fall into that thing — 'poor, poor me',” said Chester. “That's where songs like 'Crawling' come from: I can't take myself. But that song is about taking responsibility for your actions. I don't say 'you' at any point. It's about how I'm the reason that I feel this way. There's something inside me that pulls me down.”
Linkin Park didn’t rest on its laurels for long, touring incessantly behind Hybrid Theory and demoing new songs on the road in Shinoda’s mobile studio in the back of the tour bus. The band hinted at something more ambitious with its remix album Reanimation, where the band chopped up Hybrid Theory tracks and added significant input from friends and collaborators to the point it could almost be considered a new album. While recording the proper follow-up Meteora, songs were discarded or re-recorded many times. The lead single “Somewhere I Belong” featured significant contributions from Bennington, based around a backwards-recorded guitar part he played and composed.
The album’s greatest breakthrough though was the electronic ballad “Breaking the Habit,” which was written not by Bennington, but by Shinoda, in spite of Bennington’s history with addiction. It was one of Bennington’s greatest triumphs as a vocalist though thanks to his relation to the subject matter. The song hit so close to home that it had to be sporadically retired from Linkin Park’s live setlists, since Bennington would have a hard time singing it again.
Linkin Park’s output split its fanbase from this point onward. Its 2007 album Minutes to Midnight abandoned the group’s early hip-hop and post-grunge sound in favor of experimental arena rock, and 2010’s A Thousand Suns was more electronic. The band courted controversy in particular for its 2017 release One More Light thanks to its pop-heavy sound, but Bennington and his bandmates refused to repeat their early material, feeling copying music they no longer felt anything for would “truly be selling out.” Bennington initially lashed out at the criticism before backtracking and graciously apologizing. “I'm human and sometimes take things too personally,” he said. “There is a lot of passion on both sides and I am grateful to all of our fans.”
In 2005, Bennington form the band Dead by Sunrise with members of Orgy and Julien-K, releasing its debut Out of Ashes in 2009. Bringing in lyrics and themes he felt weren’t appropriate for Linkin Park, the raw, anthemic-sounding band also featured extensive guitar and keyboard work from Bennington. Sadly, the album was not a success and the band informally disbanded in 2011.
In 2013, Bennington fulfilled a personal dream of performing with Stone Temple Pilots after the firing of founding vocalist Scott Weiland. “I grew up listening to these guys,” he said. “When this opportunity came up, it was just like a no-brainer." Friends and well-wishers said his presence was transformative, adding a completely fresh sound and attitude compared to Weiland. He toured with the group and released the well-received High Rise EP before amicably leaving in 2015 to re-focus on Linkin Park.
Bennington also briefly got into acting, starring in hilarious cameos in both “Crank” films (two words: “nasal spray”) and playing one of the victims in “Saw 3D.” Even though the role only asked he scream a lot and get murdered on screen by the Jigsaw Killer’s trap, Bennington still hired an acting coach to give him advice, showing dedication even to the smallest of tasks.
A loved and respected figure in the rock industry, Bennington was a regular guest for Los Angeles cover band supergroup Camp Freddy. Chester was hit particularly hard by the suicide of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, as Cornell was the godfather of one of his children. He would make a personal appearance at his funeral, leading mourners in singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Billboard called Bennington “an important conduit for his far-ranging audience.” The Los Angeles Times complimented “the reassurance he offered from the dark.”
In a ScuzzTV interview, Bennington talked about the hearsay that Linkin Park was manufactured by Warner Bros Records. “It didn’t seem quite real to people. It had to come from some mythical ‘they’ instead of us. I don’t think you could manufacture was we did. People have tried since and it doesn’t work. I feel as long as you stay true to yourself, everything will be fine.”
Chester Bennington is survived by his wife Talinda Bentley and children Jaime, Isaiah, Draven, Tyler, Lilly, and Lila. Linkin Park has cancelled its 2017 tour in Chester’s memory. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Operators are available 24/7 and calls are confidential.