Trauma and Addiction in the Life of Chester Bennington

Chester Bennington
Bennington performing in 2014

Chester Bennington, the lead singer for the rock band Linkin Park, was found dead in his home near Los Angeles on Thursday. His death is being investigated as a possible suicide.

The 41-year-old musician had long been open about his battle with drug and alcohol addiction, which inspired many of his biggest hits with Linkin Park. Music and substance use were Bennington’s desperate attempts to cope with his traumatic youth and chronic depression.

He started to use marijuana when he was only eleven after his parents divorced. It was not the only trauma he had to deal with. From the age of seven until he was 13, Chester was sexually abused by an older male friend. In high school, he was bullied and “knocked around like a rag doll for being skinny and looking different," as he once put it in an interview.

"When I was young, getting beaten up and pretty much raped was no fun," Bennington told The Guardian in 2011. "My God, no wonder I became a drug addict. No wonder I just went completely insane for a little while."

Chester tried to numb his emotional pain with cannabis, alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamines, opiates—and music. In 1999, Bennington joined Linkin Park and his traumatic experiences imbued the breakthrough album “Hybrid Theory” and its 2003 follow-up, “Meteora.”

The sudden fame of the band was overwhelming and drug use turned Bennington into somebody he didn’t recognize himself. "I'd become a person that wasn't me," he told The Guardian after he went into recovery. "I'm a nice, friendly guy that was always stuck behind this monster that was just really a hurt kid."

Like many people with substance use disorder, Bennington suffered from depression as well. In a recent conversation with Music Choice, Chester talked about his mental health issues.

“My whole life, I’ve just felt a little off,” he said. “I find myself getting into these patterns of behavior or thought—especially when I’m stuck up here [in my head]; I like to say that this is like a bad neighborhood, and I should not go walking alone.”

He was hopeful that working on Linkin Park's latest record had been therapeutic for him. In 2017 interviews for the new “One More Light” album, he spoke about the song “Heavy”, saying, “When I’m opening that song saying, ‘I don’t like my mind right now’, that’s … real. It is not a safe place for me to be unless I’m doing what I need to do—taking care of myself, being real, being open, getting it out, taking all the steps to make myself whole, then it’s a pretty safe neighborhood, but it goes bad real fast.”

I looks like it went bad really quickly for Chester last Thursday. That day would have been the 53rd birthday of his longtime friend and fellow musician Chris Cornell. The Soundgarden front man had hanged himself in May. Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda reported Bennington was extremely distraught when the band performed "One More Light" in Cornell’s honor. Chester could not finish singing the song live or in rehearsal.

It was more than he could carry.

Bennington leaves behind six children from two relationships. Linkin Park released their seventh album “One More Light” in May and the band was scheduled to start a tour on July 27 in Mansfield, Massachusetts.