The death of Chester Bennington, vocalist with the rap and nu-metal band Linkin Park, at the age of 41, curtails a brilliantly successful career that brought a string of awards and multimillion-selling albums and singles. Linkin Park enjoyed enormous and immediate acclaim with their debut album Hybrid Theory (2000), released on Warner Bros after the band had been rejected by several labels. The combination of Mike Shinoda’s rapping and Bennington’s soaring, impassioned singing became the band’s instant focal point, with the group’s metallic thunder enhanced by edgy electronic treatments. Their sound became emblematic of the nu-metal genre, alongside like-minded artists such as Korn and Limp Bizkit.
Hybrid Theory sold nearly 5m copies in its first year and to date has sold more than 20m, and reached No 2 on the US chart and No 4 in the UK. The singles Crawling, One Step Closer and In the End became radio favourites, receiving heavy airplay on MTV, and in 2002 Crawling won a Grammy for best hard rock performance. The album Reanimation (2002) comprised remixes of Hybrid Theory songs plus additional material, and was another international multimillion-seller.
When the band released Meteora in 2003, following intensive touring in the US, including dates with their own multi-artist Projekt Revolution tour, it shot to the top of the US and UK album charts and spawned a fresh batch of hit singles, including Somewhere I Belong, Breaking the Habit and Numb, the last of these an anthem of Bennington’s disconnection from the world. The album went on to sell more than 10m copies. In 2004, Linkin Park teamed up with Jay-Z on the EP Collision Course, mixing rap with metal; the track Numb/Encore, splicing together the band’s Numb with Jay-Z’s Encore, went to 20 on the US singles chart and 14 in the UK. In 2005 it won a Grammy for best rap/sung collaboration.
But while his music provided a cathartic outlet, Bennington had experienced an assortment of emotional and drug-related issues since childhood. He was a close friend of Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden, who killed himself in May, and wrote a heartfelt posthumous letter to Cornell. Bennington was found dead at his home in California on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday.
Bennington was born in Phoenix, Arizona. His mother, Susan Elaine Johnson, was a nurse, and his father, Lee Russell Bennington, a police detective who often worked on child abuse cases. They divorced when he was 11, after which his father gained custody of Chester. He had two older sisters and an older half-brother, Brian. Since his father often worked double shifts, Chester frequently found himself at home alone. He fell into a pattern of drug and alcohol abuse, and, he once told Metal Hammer magazine, “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.”
His emotional state was further affected by the fact that he suffered sexual abuse by an older friend between the ages of seven and 13. “It destroyed my self-confidence,” he told Kerrang! in 2008. “Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t want people to think that I was gay or that I was lying.” He was also bullied at school.
He found some respite in drawing and songwriting, and was a fan of Depeche Mode and Stone Temple Pilots. At 17 he moved in with his mother, and worked at Burger King while attempting to become a musician. His first group, Sean Dowdell and His Friends?, made a three-track cassette in 1993, after which Bennington and Dowdell formed the alternative-rock band Grey Daze, who released three albums during the 1990s.
Bennington married Samantha Olit in 1996, quit Grey Daze in 1998 and moved to Los Angeles to further his musical career. He auditioned for a band called Xero, and when he was hired as vocalist he completed the original line-up of what then became Linkin Park (a pun on Lincoln Park in Santa Monica), alongside Shinoda, Brad Delson, Dave Farrell, Rob Bourdon and Joe Hahn.
In 2005 Bennington put together a side project, Dead By Sunrise, featuring musicians from Orgy and the Street Drum Corps and comprising songs he considered “darker and moodier than anything I’d come up with for the band”. In 2009 they released their only album, Out of Ashes, which scraped into the US Top 30.
Linkin Park returned in 2007 with the album Minutes to Midnight, co-produced with Rick Rubin and marking a deliberate step towards a more mainstream rock sound. This delivered the big hit singles What I’ve Done, Bleed It Out and Shadow of the Day, which all scored heavily in the American alt and rock charts. New Divide, from the soundtrack compilation album Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen (2009), gave them another major hit. Their subsequent albums, A Thousand Suns (2010) and Living Things (2012), saw sales falling way below their earlier peaks, but they still delivered big hit singles including The Catalyst, Waiting for the End and the anthemic Burn It Down.
In 2013 Bennington joined Stone Temple Pilots after they fired the vocalist Scott Weiland, and, after recording the EP High Rise, stayed with them until 2015. “I got to create and perform with one of the greatest rock bands of our generation, that had so much influence on me growing up,” he said afterwards. He was back with Linkin Park for The Hunting Party (2014), on which they tacked back towards a heavier rock sound. One More Light (2017) was, by comparison with the group’s original sound, virtually a pop record. “It’s a great record, we love it,” insisted Bennington to hostile critics, and the album shot to the top of the US Billboard chart.
Bennington had tackled his addiction issues with some success, admitting falling off the wagon in 2005 when he divorced, but getting clean again in 2006 when he married Talinda Bentley, a schoolteacher and former model. In the run-up to the release of One More Light, he seemed optimistic and positive, saying that he had shaken off the depression he had felt two years earlier. “I know exactly who I am, I know exactly what I’m made of and I’m totally happy with it,” he said.
He is survived by Talinda and their children, Tyler Lee, Lily and Lila; by a son, Draven Sebastian, from his first marriage; and by two sons, Jaime and Isaiah, from a relationship with Elka Brand.
• Chester Charles Bennington, singer and songwriter, born 20 March 1976; died 20 July 2017