Chester Charles Bennington (March 20, 1976 – July 20, 2017) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and actor. He served as lead singer for the bands Linkin Park, Dead by Sunrise, and Stone Temple Pilots.
Bennington first gained prominence as a vocalist following the release of Linkin Park’s debut album, Hybrid Theory, in 2000, which became a commercial success. The album was certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America in 2005, making it the best-selling debut album of the decade, as well as one of the few albums ever to hit that many sales. Linkin Park’s following studio albums, from Meteora (2003) to One More Light (2017), continued the band’s success. Linkin Park has sold over 65 million records worldwide.
Bennington formed his own band, Dead by Sunrise, as a side project in 2005. The band’s debut album, Out of Ashes, was released on October 13, 2009. He became the lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots in 2013 to release the EP High Rise on October 8, 2013, via their own record label, Play Pen, but left in 2015 to focus solely on Linkin Park. He was widely regarded as one of the top rock vocalists of the 2000s. Hit Parader magazine placed him at #46 on their list of the “100 Metal Vocalists of All Time”. He also appeared in cameo roles in several films, including Crank, Crank: High Voltage and Saw 3D.
On July 20, 2017, Bennington was found dead at his home in Palos Verdes Estates, California, having committed suicide by hanging.
Chester Charles Bennington was born on March 20, 1976, in Phoenix, Arizona. His mother was a nurse, while his father was a police detective who worked on child sex abuse cases.
Bennington took interest in music at a young age, citing bands Depeche Mode and Stone Temple Pilots as his earliest inspirations, and dreamed of becoming a member of Stone Temple Pilots, which he later achieved when he became their lead singer.
Bennington suffered sexual abuse from an older male friend when he was seven years old. He was afraid to ask for help because he did not want people to think he was gay or lying, and the abuse continued until the age of 13.
His parents divorced when he was 11 years old. The abuse and situation at home affected him so much that he felt the urge to kill people and run away. To comfort himself, he drew pictures and wrote poetry and songs.
After the divorce his father gained custody of him. Bennington started abusing alcohol, marijuana, opium, cocaine, meth, and LSD. He was physically bullied in high school. In an interview, he said that he was “knocked around like a rag doll at school, for being skinny and looking different”.
At the age of 17, Bennington moved in with his mother and was banned from leaving the house when his mother discovered his drug activity. He worked at a Burger King before starting his career as a professional musician.
Eventually, Bennington was able to overcome his drug addiction and would go on to denounce drug use in future interviews. During one Linkin Park tour, he started drinking heavily. In 2011, he said he had quit, noting, “I just don’t want to be that person anymore.”
Years later he revealed the abuser’s identity to his father but chose not to continue the case after he realized the abuser was a victim himself.
Bennington first began singing with a band called Sean Dowdell and His Friends? They released an eponymous three-track cassette in 1993. Later, Dowdell and Bennington moved on to form a new band, Grey Daze, a post-grunge band from Phoenix, Arizona. The band recorded three albums: Demo in 1993, Wake/Me in 1994, and …no sun today in 1997. Bennington left Grey Daze in 1998, but struggled to find another band.
Bennington was frustrated and almost ready to quit his musical career altogether when Jeff Blue, the vice president of A&R at Zomba Music in Los Angeles, offered him an audition with the future members of Linkin Park. Bennington quit his day job at a digital services firm and took his family to California, where he had a successful audition with Linkin Park, who were then called Xero. He managed to record the song for his audition in a day, missing his own birthday celebration in the process. Bennington and Mike Shinoda, the band’s other vocalist, made significant progress together, but failed to find a record deal. After facing numerous rejections, Jeff Blue, now a vice president of A&R at Warner Bros., intervened again to help the band sign with Warner Bros. Records.
On October 24, 2000, Linkin Park released their debut album, Hybrid Theory, through Warner Bros. Records. Bennington and Shinoda wrote the lyrics to Hybrid Theory based on some early material. Shinoda characterized the lyrics as interpretations of universal feelings, emotions, and experiences, and as “everyday emotions you talk about and think about.” Bennington later described the songwriting experience to Rolling Stone magazine in early 2002, “It’s easy to fall into that thing – ‘poor, poor me’, 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.”
Bennington primarily served as Linkin Park’s lead vocalist, but occasionally shared the role with Shinoda. All Music Guide described Bennington’s vocals as “higher-pitched” and “emotional”, in contrast to Shinoda’s hip-hop-style delivery. Both members also worked together to write lyrics for the band’s songs.
Dead by Sunrise
Bennington co-founded Dead by Sunrise, an electronic rock band from Los Angeles, California, with Orgy and Julien-K members Amir Derakh and Ryan Shuck in 2005 . Dead by Sunrise made their live debut in May 2008, performing four songs at the 13th anniversary party for Club Tattoo in Tempe, Arizona.
The band released their debut album Out of Ashes on October 13, 2009.
Stone Temple Pilots
In February 2013, Stone Temple Pilots parted ways with long-time lead singer Scott Weiland. The band recruited Bennington to replace Weiland in May 2013. On May 18, 2013, Bennington took the stage at KROQ’s Weenie Roast with the band. The setlist included original Stone Temple Pilots songs, as well as their first single with Bennington on vocals called “Out of Time”, which debuted on May 19 and was available for free download via their official website. It was later announced by Chester and the band in an exclusive KROQ interview that he was officially the new frontman of Stone Temple Pilots and discussed the possibility of a new album and tour. The song “Out of Time” is featured on their EP High Rise, which was released on October 8, 2013.
Bennington reflected on joining Stone Temple Pilots, stating, “Every band has its own kind of vibe. Stone Temple Pilots has this sexier, more classic rock feel to it. Linkin Park is a very modern, very tech-heavy type of band. I grew up listening to these guys. When this opportunity came up, it was just like a no-brainer.” Bennington stated in interviews that singing lead vocals in Stone Temple Pilots was his lifelong dream. He left the band on good terms due to his commitments with Linkin Park in 2015.
Bennington had a child, Jaime (born May 12, 1996), from his relationship with Elka Brand. In 2006, he adopted Brand’s other son, Isaiah (born November 8, 1997). He married his first wife, Samantha Marie Olit, on October 31, 1996. They had one child together, Draven Sebastian (born April 19, 2002). Bennington’s relationship with his first wife declined during his early years with Linkin Park, and they divorced in 2005. In 2006, he married Talinda Ann Bentley, a former Playboy model with whom he had three children: Tyler Lee Bennington (born March 2006) and twins Lilly and Lila (born November 6, 2011).
Bennington and his wife were harassed by a cyberstalker named Devon Townsend (not to be confused with Canadian musician Devin Townsend) for almost a year. Townsend was found guilty of tampering with the couple’s email, as well as sending threatening messages, and was later sentenced to two years in prison.
Bennington was a tattoo enthusiast. He had done work and promotions with Club Tattoo, a tattoo parlor in Tempe, Arizona. Club Tattoo is owned by Sean Dowdell, Bennington’s friend since high school with whom he played in two bands.
Bennington was a fan of the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Arizona Coyotes.
In a January 2011 interview, in response to the 2011 Tucson shooting, Bennington said, “There’s a non-violent way to express yourself and get your point across—regardless of what you’re saying or what your point is. In a free society, people have a right to believe whatever they want to believe. That’s their business and they can speak their mind… but nobody, even in a free society, has the right to take another person’s life. Ever. That’s something that we really need to move beyond.”
Health and injuries
Bennington was plagued with poor health during the making of Meteora, and struggled to attend some of the album’s recording sessions. In the summer of 2003, he began to suffer from extreme abdominal pain and gastrointestinal issues while filming the music video for “Numb” in Prague. He was forced to return to the United States for surgery, and filmed the remainder of the music video in Los Angeles.
Bennington sustained a wrist injury in October 2007 while attempting to jump off a platform during a show in Melbourne at the Rod Laver Arena. Despite the injury, he continued to perform the entire show with a broken wrist, before heading to the emergency room. He received five stitches.
In 2011, Bennington fell ill again, and Linkin Park was forced to cancel three shows and reschedule two from the A Thousand Suns World Tour. Bennington injured his shoulder during the band’s tour in Asia and was advised by doctors to have immediate surgery, cancelling their final show at Pensacola Beach, Florida, and ending their tour.
Bennington injured his ankle in January 2015 during a basketball game. He attempted to cope with the injury and perform with the aid of crutches and a knee scooter. Linkin Park later canceled the remainder of their tour to allow Bennington to undergo surgery and recover.
Bennington committed suicide by hanging at his home in Palos Verdes Estates, California; his housekeeper discovered his body around 9:00 a.m. PDT on July 20, 2017. Mike Shinoda confirmed his death on Twitter, writing, “Shocked and heartbroken, but it’s true. An official statement will come out as soon as we have one”. On July 21, Brian Elias, the chief of operations for the office of the medical examiner-coroner, confirmed that a half-empty bottle of alcohol was found at the scene, but no other drugs were present. The band announced that they had canceled the North American leg of their One More Light Tour following Bennington’s death and that tickets would be refunded.
Bennington’s funeral was held at South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes, California on July 29. In addition to his family members and close friends, many musicians who toured or played with Linkin Park were also in attendance. The service also included a full stage for musical tributes.
On December 5, 2017, Billboard magazine wrote that Bennington’s toxicology report showed “a trace amount” of alcohol in the singer’s system at the time of death.
Memorial and tributes
Bennington filmed an episode of Carpool Karaoke six days before his death. Bennington’s family allowed the episode to be aired on October 12, 2017. On August 27, during the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony, Jared Leto received media attention for his tribute to Bennington and Chris Cornell. Some of his former bandmates from Dead By Sunrise and Grey Daze united to perform a tribute for Bennington during a concert on September 2 in Las Vegas. Linkin Park also hosted a public tribute for Bennington in Los Angeles on October 27, titled Linkin Park and Friends – Celebrate Life In Honor of Chester Bennington. The event featured the band’s first performance following his death, along with performances from Blink-182 and members of System of a Down, Korn, Avenged Sevenfold, Bring Me the Horizon, Yellowcard, and singer Kiiara, among others.
Connections to Chris Cornell’s death
Bennington’s death occurred on what would have been Chris Cornell’s 53rd birthday. Cornell, who was a close friend of Bennington, had also committed suicide two months prior. Bennington commented on Cornell’s death on Instagram by stating, “I can’t imagine a world without you in it.” Shinoda noted that Bennington was very emotional when the band performed “One More Light” in his honor on Jimmy Kimmel Live, where he could not finish singing the song and started getting choked up during both the rehearsal and at the live performance setting. The band was due to record a live performance of their single “Heavy” on the show, but decided instead to play “One More Light” after hearing the news about Cornell’s death because the song is about the loss of a friend. Bennington sang Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” at Cornell’s funeral. He was also the godfather of Cornell’s son Christopher.
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