Chester Bennington, lead singer of the band Linkin Park, was found dead in his home Thursday, and his death is being investigated as a possible suicide, the L.A. County Coroner’s Office confirms to PEOPLE.
Law enforcement officials responded to an emergency call from Bennington’s home in Palos Verdes Estates, California, around 9 a.m., an officer told PEOPLE. TMZ reports Bennington, 41, hanged himself and was discovered by his housekeeper.
Bennington’s band mate, guitarist and vocalist Mike Shinoda, confirmed the news on Twitter Thursday, writing: “Shocked and heartbroken, but it’s true. An official statement will come out as soon as we have one.”
The rock frontman was a close friend of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell — who also committed suicide by hanging in May — and spoke at his funeral. Bennington’s body was found on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday.
Since the news of his death broke, collaborators, friends and fans have taken to social media to pay their respects.
Cameron Strang, the head of Linkin Park’s label Warner Bros Records, said in a statement: “Chester Bennington was an artist of extraordinary talent and charisma, and a human being with a huge heart and a caring soul. Our thoughts and prayers are with his beautiful family, his band-mates and his many friends. All of us at WBR join with millions of grieving fans around the world in saying: we love you Chester and you will be forever missed.”
Born in Phoenix, Arizona on March 20, 1976, Bennington suffered several childhood traumas that would haunt his life for years to come. His parents divorced when he was 11 and he was sent to live with his father, a police detective who specialized in child sex abuse cases. It wasn’t until years later that Bennington revealed that he was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of an older male friend beginning at just 7 years old.
“It escalated from a touchy, curious, ‘what does this thing do’ into full-on, crazy violations,” he told Kerrang! in 2008. “I was getting beaten up and being forced to do things I didn’t want to do. It destroyed my self-confidence. Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t want people to think I was gay or that I was lying. It was a horrible experience. The sexual assaults continued until I was 13.” He eventually told his father about the abuse, but declined to pursue the case when he learned that the abuser was himself a victim. “I didn’t need revenge,” he told the Guardian later.
The splintered family life coupled with vicious molestations triggered feelings of intense rage in the boy, and he sought solace in drugs. As a young teen he began using marijuana, opium, cocaine, meth, and LSD, as well as alcohol. “I was on 11 hits of acid a day,” he told Metal Manner magazine. “I dropped so much acid I’m surprised I can still speak! I’d smoke a bunch of crack, do a bit of meth and just sit there and freak out. Then I’d smoke opium to come down.”
High school was no less of a refuge. “I was knocked around like a rag doll at school, for being skinny and looking different,” he said later. At 17 he was sent to live with his mother, who largely confined him to the house when she learned of his burgeoning drug abuse.
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By the end of high school he began to explore music, notably in the Phoenix-area band Grey Daze. The group released three albums between 1993 and 1997, but failed to make an impact on the industry. After having a son, Jaime, with girlfriend Elka Brand in 1996 (he later adopted the boy’s half brother, Isaiah, in 2006) Bennington married his first wife, Samantha Marie Olit, that Halloween. By day he worked at a digital services firm to make ends meet while he tried to make a living from his band.
Discouraged, he nearly quit music altogether until Jeff Blue, the Vice President of A&R at Zomba Music in Los Angeles, suggested he audition with a group called Xero, who were looking to replace their recently departed lead singer. Bennington recorded an audition song—missing his birthday celebration in the process—and got the job in the spring of 1999, playing alongside Mike Shinoda, Brad Delson, Rob Bourdon, and Joe Hahn. They eventually took the name Linkin Park in honor of Santa Monica’s Lincoln Park.
The band were rejected by nearly all the major (and independent) labels until Blue, now with Warner Brothers, signed them and financed sessions to re-record nine songs off their 1999 demo tape. This formed the basis of their breakthrough smash, Hybrid Theory, which became the best selling album of 2001 and ultimately was certified platinum (sales of 10 million or more) by the RIAA, putting them at the forefront of the nu-metal movement.
Many of the lyrics on the album were inspired by the tumultuous emotions swirling inside Bennington as a result of his tortured upbringing. “It’s easy to fall into that thing – ‘poor, poor me’, that’s where songs like ‘Crawling’ come from: I can’t take myself,” he told Rolling Stone in 2002. “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.”
The album’s meteoric success didn’t cure Bennington’s demons. Despite the birth of Draven Sebastian in April 2002 his marriage to Olit began to deteriorate and they were divorced in 2005. During the recording of the band’s second album, 2003’s Meteora, he was hospitalized for serious stomach problems which required surgery. His battles with drugs and alcohol resurfaced when Linkin Park went on the road. Looking back on this troubled time, he admitted in a 2011 Kerrang! interview that he was “a full-blown, raging alcoholic. In later years, the drinking would come to take over my life.”
However, he reached a level of sobriety towards the end of his life. “I don’t drink. I choose to be sober now,” he continued in 2011. “I have drunk over the last six years, but I just don’t want to be that person anymore.” In 2006 he married Playboy model Talinda Bentley, with whom he had three children: son Tyler Lee in March 2006, and twins Lilly and Lila in March 2011.
His health recovered, and the band’s career continued to soar. Meteora became the third best selling album of 2003, selling over 4 million copies and earning numerous awards. They followed it up with the genre-melding remix album Collision Course, a mashup collaboration with JAY-Z which mixed former Linkin Park songs with the rapper’s tracks.
In addition to his multi Grammy-winning work with Linkin Park, Bennington also sang with the group Dead by Sunrise, and performed as the front man for Stone Temple Pilots for several years starting in 2013—filling in for former singer Scott Weiland, who died in December 2015. He also worked with Santana, Mötley Crüe, and had small roles in the films Saw 3D and Crank and Crank: High Voltage.
In February he released what would prove to be his last hit, “Heavy,” which some say offered a glimpse into his troubled psyche. “I don’t like my mind right now / Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary / Wish that I could slow things down,” he sang. “If I just let go, I’d be set free.” Shinoda says that Bennington was emotionally struggling while working on the track.
“I remember Chester walked in and it was, ‘Hey, how are you doing today?’ and he’s like, ‘OH, I’m fine,’ and we were hanging out for a minutes and he was like, ‘Y’know what? I have to be honest. I’m not fine. I’m not OK. Too much stuff is just happening to me. I just feel underwater,” he told Billboard. “It was like that saying, ‘when it rains it pours.’ It’s that kind of feeling that stuff is piling up one on top of the other, and it creates this feeling of just being overwhelmed, like, ‘Things feel so heavy to me…’”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).