How drugs, Kurt Cobain and the tabloids stopped the world from taking Courtney Love seriously.


Content warning: The following mentions suicide. For 24-hour crisis support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

In a 2005 red carpet interview, singer Courtney Love was asked to share some advice for a young woman moving to Hollywood. Her response?

“I’ll probably get libelled for saying this,” she began. “If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons, don’t go.”

Her warning, offered almost offhandedly, was met with laughter from those close by.

Video by Comedy Central

It wasn’t until 2017, when The New York Times published an exposé that aired wide-ranging sexual misconduct allegations against the producer (the story credited with kick-starting the #MeToo movement), that anyone truly heard her message. The clip of her comment ricocheted around social media, just 12 years too late.

The truth is Courtney Love has always struggled to be taken seriously beyond her loyal fanbase.

Twenty five years on from the release of ‘Live Through This’, her most acclaimed album with band Hole, the actor/musician’s public image continues to eclipse her successes and, often, her point of view.


“‘Rock Courtney’ and ‘Acting Courtney is where the talent is and that needs to be really protected by me, spiritually and in all sorts of ways,” she said, according to NME. “And then there’s ‘Celebrity Courtney’ who gets ripped off for money and gets in all sorts of tabloid trouble.”

Courtney Love’s childhood: The making of a rebel.

Love was born Courtney Michelle Harrison in 1965 to psychotherapist Linda Carroll and Hank Harrison, a publisher and manager for band Grateful Dead. Her parents split when she was five, amid allegations Harrison had threatened to abduct her and take her to another country. Carroll also claimed he’d given Love LSD when she was a toddler; a claim he has always denied.

“He was alleged in court — I don’t know if it actually happened — to have given me acid,” Love told The San Francisco Chronicle, “and gone around boasting about it, like some biological experiment.”

She spent her childhood the custody of her mother and stepfathers, living in communes in Oregon and briefly in New Zealand where she attended an all-girls school. But an arrest for shoplifting at age 14 was followed by a period in foster care, where she remained until she was legally emancipated at 16.

From there she earned money with various jobs: picking fruit, DJing, and as topless dancer in Portland, and later also Taiwan and Japan. She also stripped at clubs in Alaska, Oregon and Hollywood, which helped her fund equipment and a touring van for her new band, Hole. It was through that work that she adopted a pseudonym to protect her identity; a name that would ultimately be famous — or infamous — around the world. Courtney Love.

Courtney Love performing with Hole in 1990. Image: Getty.

Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain: The Vanity Fair profile.

Even before Cobain's death, Love's legacy was viewed in terms of how she influenced that of her husband, legendary Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.

They married on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 24, 1992, three years after they reportedly first met a Portland night club. Cobain wore pyjamas and Love wore a satin and lace dress once owned by Frances Farmer, an American actress who gained notoriety after being involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward.


Love was a long-term drug user by that point, having abused prescription drugs like Percodans and Valium as well as dipping in and out of heroin. There's a persistent narrative that it was Love who introduced Cobain to the latter, but it's a false one. They did, however, famously binge together in January of 1992, as told by a profile in Vanity Fair that September — Love's first major media exposure.

“We did a lot of drugs," she told the publication. "We got pills and then we went down to Alphabet City and Kurt wore a hat, I wore a hat, and we copped some dope. Then we got high and went to S.N.L. [Nirvana were performing on the show]. After that, I did heroin for a couple of months.”

Around that period (it's not clear when), Courtney found out she was pregnant with their daughter Frances Bean, who was born that August. The Vanity Fair article suggested she'd been using after learning of the pregnancy — a claim that generated a media firestorm and attracted the attention of child protective services who took the couple to court alleging they were unfit.

After a seven-month fight, Courtney and Kurt retained custody of their little girl.

A tabloid-driven narrative soon built around Love; the rock 'n' roll, the drugs, the high-profile romance were the bones of an irresistible Hollywood story. And she, with her platinum-blonde hair, signature red lip and free-thinking, was easily cast.

kurt cobain courtney love
Frances, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. Image: Getty.

Living beyond this: Love stands on her own.

In 1994, 'Live Through This' hit the shelves. Though critics consider it a modern classic and among the best rock albums of all time, its legacy has become tangled in a seminal pop culture moment: the death of Love's husband, Kurt Cobain. The musician took his own life at their Seattle home a week prior to its release.

Impressed by the power of the lyrics, people frequently asked if Cobain had penned them, if they were among his last work. He hadn't. They weren't.

"I wanted to be better than Kurt. I was really competing with Kurt. And that’s why it always offends me when people would say, 'Oh, he wrote Live Through This.'" she told SPIN in 2014. "I’d be proud as hell to say that he wrote something on it, but I wouldn’t let him. It was too Yoko [Ono] for me. It’s like, 'No f***ing way, man! I’ve got a good band; I don’t f***ing need your help.”


The assumption was even more offensive given the deeply personal, feminine and, yes, feminist nature of the album. It touched on motherhood, body image and railed against gendered violence and sexual assault.

One of the songs, Asking For It, was a response to an incident a show in Glasgow in 1991. In a moment of abandon, Love dove into the crowd. The clambering audience clawed at her clothes, grabbed her breasts, tore off her underwear and sexually assaulted her.

"[The audience was] screaming things in my ears like ‘pussy-whore-c**t,’" she told New York Magazine in 1996. "When I got back onstage I was naked... But the worst thing of all was that I saw a photograph of it later. Someone took a picture of me right when this was happening, and I had this big smile on my face like I was pretending it wasn’t happening… I can’t compare it to rape because it’s not the same. But in a way it was. I was raped by an audience, figuratively, literally, and yet, was I asking for it?”

Ironically, it was Love's desire to forge an independent identity that underpinned the album. Hole's drummer Patty Schemel, described the singer's marriage and life as "looming" over the band, always bigger than them, bigger even than Love.


"Being a wife and being a mother, and all the drama that came with that; being a feminist, and then being known as Mrs. Kurt?" she told SPIN. "I think a lot of all of that frustration and competitiveness went into lyrics, went into the force behind that record."

Courtney Love with her 'Larry Flynt' co-stars, Woody Harrelson and Ed Norton. Image: Getty.

It was after Cobain's death, that Love achieved many of her biggest professional successes. She returned to acting in 1996 for the Jean-Michel Basquiat biopic, Basquiat, but it was her role in as Larry Flynt's wife, Althea, in Miloš Forman's critically acclaimed The People vs. Larry Flynt that earned her a Golden Globe nomination.


Love stopped using heroin for the film, and went through rehab at his insistence. The film also introduced her to co-star Ed Norton, whom she dated for three years.

Back in favour with brands and media, Love appeared in campaigns for Versace and in the pages of Vogue Italia. And her next album, 1998's 'Celebrity Skin', received three Grammy nominations.

The end of Hole and the Letterman incident.

Hole announced their breakup in 2002, after Love's failed side venture, Bastard — a "punk rock femme supergroup", with Schemel, Louise Post and bassist Gina Crosley. A solo album, 'America's Sweetheart', followed to a mixed response from critics and commercial failure after its 2004 release.

It came in the midst of what seemed to be another public unravelling.

In February 2003, Love was arrested at Heathrow Airport for disrupting a flight, and subsequently banned from Virgin Airlines. That October, she was arrested in Los Angeles after breaking windows at the home of her producer and then-boyfriend, James Barber. She was charged with being under the influence of a controlled substance and temporarily lost custody of Frances Bean as a result.

But it was an appearance on Late Night With David Letterman in March 2004, that had the world talking. Love, erratic, rambling and stumbling, lifted her shirt multiple times, flashed her breasts to Letterman and stood on his desk.

Later that night, she performed a gig at a New York venue, where she was arrested on allegations that she'd struck a fan in the face with a microphone stand.


A Comedy Central roast of Pamela Anderson the following year brought yet more scrutiny, as she appeared visibly intoxicated. (It was at that event she made the comments about Weinstein.)

She was subsequently convicted of being under the influence of a controlled substance — a violation of her parole  — and was sentenced to rehabilitation.

Love later told media she'd been struggling with addictions to prescription drugs and "everything bad". She would later refer to the period as "the Letterman years". As she told the veteran talk show host on a second and sober appearance in 2010, "I did a lot of cocaine back then. I had bad people around me," she said. "I abused it. There's nothing else you can do with cocaine."

Recovery and Hole reunion?

Love reportedly claims to have been sober since 2007, and has roles on television (Sons of Anarchy, Revenge and Empire), an art exhibition and even a fashion line.

Last week, in an interview with The Guardian, she even confirmed the possibility of Hole reuniting in hour of 'Live Through This' turning 25.

“We are definitely talking about it,” she told the British newspaper. “There’s nothing wrong with honouring your past; I’ve just kind of discovered that.

"If you don’t, people will rewrite history and you will become an inconvenient woman."