Why losing an idol like Chris Cornell to suicide is so hard

Chris Cornell was more than a standard-issue rock star. The Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman took his stunning voice and deep lyrics in search of something more meaningful than fame, wealth, and adoration. 

His sudden death at 52, hours after Soundgarden played a show in Detroit, would have been heartbreaking in any circumstance. But on Thursday, the county medical examiner ruled his death a suicide. That finding has disturbed Cornell’s wife, who called his death “inexplicable.” 

“The family believes that if Chris took his life, he did not know what he was doing, and that drugs or other substances may have affected his actions,” Kirk Pasich, the family’s lawyer, said in a statement

Regardless of the factors that may have contributed to Cornell’s death, grieving a celebrity that embodied a defining moment in pop culture — the grunge era, in Cornell’s case — feels too familiar after a year in which we lost the likes of Carrie Fisher, Prince, Alan Rickman, Chuck Berry, and Gene Wilder.

But there’s something about losing an idol to suicide that stirs different emotions: Someone you admired, maybe even loved, may have endured despair so profound that it felt permanent. A suicide death prompts searching questions that few of us feel like we can ever truly answer, and that grief tests us in ways that are hard to describe or explain, even if we didn’t know the person who died. Remember, for example, the outpouring of sorrow over the suicide death of Robin Williams, in 2014.

“It’s a very real loss,” says Michael Anestis, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi whose research focuses on suicide prevention. “The bottom line is, I think folks should try not to think of celebrities as different. He was a person, and they knew this one great part of him. Their struggles…

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