Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love: Inside the relationship that shaped a legend's legacy.

Warning: The following deals with suicide. For 24-hour crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

1992. An unnamed record executive offers Vanity Fair his thoughts about the relationship between Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and Hole singer Courtney Love.

“Courtney and Kurt are the nineties, much more talented version of Sid [Vicious, of the Sex Pistols] and Nancy [Spungen]… She’s going to be famous and he already is, but unless something happens, they’re going to self-destruct.

“I know they’re both going to be big stars. I just don’t want to be a part of it.”

It was tragically prophetic, that statement.

Kurt Cobain died by suicide two years later at the age of 27, leaving behind Courtney, their 18-month-old daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, and a legacy as the voice of his generation. Twenty five years on, that legacy endures, as do inflated tales about his relationship and the role it may have played in dragging Kurt into the depths of addiction and despair, onto that path of self-destruction.

When Kurt Cobain met Courtney Love.

Like much of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s relationship, the details of how they came together are sketchy. Reports from various articles and books put their first meeting between the mid and late 1980s. According to the book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana by Michael Azerrad, they first spoke after one of Kurt’s concerts at a Portland nightclub in 1989, and were both immediately struck by each other. Courtney described him as “beautiful”; Kurt, her as “a classic punk rock chick”.

Kurt Cobain in 1990. Image: Getty.

Mixed in the same alt music scene, Courtney later befriended Kurt's bandmate, drummer Dave Grohl (today famous as the Foo Fighters frontman). Azerrad wrote that she saw Kurt again at a show in Los Angeles in May 1991, and expressed her affection by punching him in the stomach. He punched back and they began wrestling. "It was a mating ritual for dysfunctional people," Courtney quipped.


No matter the dates, most reports of their early relationship point to Courtney's dogged pursuit of Kurt Cobain: “People say, ‘How did she get Kurt?’” an unnamed friend told Vanity Fair. “Well, she asked. And she wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

She was the flair and flamboyance to his quiet introspection. But there were shared traits, too. Intelligence, musical talent, as well as broken, house-hopping childhoods (Courtney's psychotherapist mother took her to New Zealand, Australia and back to the US, while Kurt jumped around Washington's Grays Harbor County). And then there were drugs.

"We went on a binge": Kurt Cobain, Courtney and drugs.

Courtney Love had been a long-term drug user by the time she met Kurt Cobain. She's said she abused prescription drugs like Percodans and Valium, plus dipped in and out of heroin.

There's a persistent narrative that it was she who introduced Kurt to heroin, but he told Azerrad he'd dabbled long before. He began with a Percodan addiction, and moved on to various illicit drugs until his drug dealer introduced him to heroin in 1986: "I always wanted to do it," he said. "I always knew I would." He said the drug was the only thing that eased the pain of a chronic, undiagnosed stomach condition he'd suffered through for years, and by 1990, he was using regularly.

But it was in January 1992 that Kurt and Courtney binged together.

“We did a lot of drugs," she told Vanity Fair. "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. The Vanity Fair article suggested she'd been using after learning of the pregnancy - a claim that generated a media firestorm which Courtney has since firmly denied.

Kurt Cobain's wedding and the birth of his daughter.

Courtney and Kurt were married on Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, on February 24, 1992. He wore pajamas (he felt "too lazy" to put on a suit ) and she a silk and lace dress that once belonged to Frances Farmer, an American actress who gained notoriety after being involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward.

Then on August 18 that year, Frances Bean was born. But the coverage of her parents' heroin use 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.

Kurt Cobain's death.

After a brief period of detoxing, Kurt Cobain, then a young father, continued using. After an overdose in Rome in March 1994 that Courtney Love later told Rolling Stone was a suicide attempt, she staged an intervention involving ten friends and colleagues. He checked into the Exodus Recovery Center in Los Angeles on March 30, where he spent the day speaking to counsellors about his addiction and playing with his daughter. It was the last time he'd see her.


The following night Kurt scaled the facility's six-foot-high fence, went to LAX and caught a plane home to Seattle. For two days he was spotted in various places around the city, but was unreachable, to the point that Courtney hired a private investigator to track him down. It was an electrician who found him, The Seattle Times reported. The man, who had arrived at the singers' Lake Washington Boulevard home on April 8 to install a security system, came across Kurt Cobain's body, a weapon and a note. The coroner estimated he'd died on April 5.

Public vigil for Kurt Cobain on April 10, 1994. Image: Getty.

Two days after the news broke, more than 7000 people attended Kurt Cobain's public memorial in Seattle. Prerecorded messages from friends were played, and Courtney Love read portions of his note and handed out some of his clothes to mourners. Then five years after his suicide, his mother organised a proper memorial for May 31, 1999 - Memorial Day in the US. According to the biography Heavier Than Heaven, monks chanted as six-year-old Frances Bean scattered some of her father's ashes into McLane Creek, behind their family home.

Courtney Love, now 54, has said she found love "with a few other people" in her life. But she never married again after Kurt Cobain.

“He is considered to be the rock star who didn’t want fame, the weak pathetic guy who was taken over by this controlling female, and yadda yadda. It kind of f---ed me up," she told V Magazine in 2015. "He’s a hard act to follow. I love him and I always will.”

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For help tackling substance abuse, visit the Australian Drug Information Network website to find support services in your area.

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