Chester Bennington, the singer of Linkin Park who died today (July 20) aged 41, was a pivotal figure in the 21st Century US rock scene and a leading light of the nu metal genre, selling over 70 million albums worldwide and working with a vast array of acts from Jay-Z to Motley Crue and Santana. Yet his work was driven by his internal struggles – a deeply troubled artist, he battled alcohol and drug abuse issues and spoke in interviews about being a victim of child abuse.

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, on March 20, 1976, Chester was raised by his mother, a nurse, and his detective father who investigated child abuse cases, until his parents divorced and his father gained custody of him. His childhood was troubled – suffering sexual abuse from an older male friend from the age of seven until he was 13, Chester turned to drugs including opium, amphetamine and cocaine in the wake of the divorce, and was physically bullied at school – “I was knocked around like a rag doll at school, for being skinny and looking different,” he said. He took solace in artistic work such as poetry, drawing and writing songs, and in the music of Depeche Mode and Stone Temple Pilots.

Aged 17, Bennington moved in with his mother and began his music career singing in a band called Sean Dowdell And His Friends? and later, with Dowdell, Grey Daze, who recorded three albums during the 1990s. In 1996, he married his first wife Samantha Olit, with whom he had a son Draven. Leaving Grey Daze in 1998, Bennington was ready to quit music when Jeff Blue, vice-president of A&R at Zomba Music, gave him the chance to audition as lead singer with the band that would become Linkin Park in 1999. Finding a creative bond with co-vocalist Mike Shinoda, Linkin Park eventually signed to Warner Bros. and rode the rising wave of nu metal to Number Two on the US Billboard chart with their 2000 debut album ‘Hybrid Theory’.

Their amalgam of hard rock, rap and electronica, combined with Bennington’s lyrics about his parents’ divorce and drug abuse, helped the band becoming a culture-shifting phenomenon, winning multiple Grammys and selling 30 million copies of the album within two years of its release, making it the biggest selling debut album of the 21st Century so far. Fourteen years after its release, Linkin Park performed the record in its entirety during their Download Festival headline set in 2014.

Chester Bennington performs with Linkin Park

Linkin Park’s standing as heroes to a generation of teenage rap-metal fans has barely waned since. Their 2003 follow-up ‘Meteora’, featuring the global hit ‘Numb’, sold 27 million copies – the third best selling album of 2003 – and gained the band further critical acclaim when several songs were mashed-up with Jay-Z tracks on the collaborative ‘Collision Course’ EP; they would go on to perform their joint hit ‘Numb/Encore’ together at Live 8 in Philadelphia. Four of their subsequent five albums hit the US Number One, including this year’s ‘One More Light’ album, spawning huge hits such as ‘What I’ve Done’ and ‘New Divide’. Linkin Park have enjoyed almost twenty years as one of the biggest US rock bands, not only rising to headline many major rock festivals around the world but also encourage new acts such as My Chemical Romance and HIM by taking them out on their own Projekt Revolution tours.

Bennington also took time out from the band to indulge in several offshoots. Around the time he divorced his first wife, later to marry former Playboy model Talinda Bentley, he co-founded a “darker and moodier” band called Dead By Sunrise in 2005 which released an album ‘Out Of Ashes’ in 2009, and fulfilled a childhood ambition of fronting Stone Temple Pilots when he replaced Scott Weiland as singer in 2013. “Every band has its own kind of vibe,” Bennington said of taking on the role. “Stone Temple Pilots has this sexier, more classic rock feel to it. Linkin Park is a very modern, very tech-heavy type of band. I grew up listening to these guys. When this opportunity came up, it was just like a no-brainer.”

Chester Bennington plays live with Stone Temple Pilots

During his time in Linkin Park, Bennington kicked his drink and drug habits and appeared in several films including Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, Crank and the sequel Crank: High Voltage.

In 2017 interviews for the ‘One More Light’ album, Bennington opened up about his recent issues, which had inspired the album. “During 2015, 2016… there was a bunch of other stuff in my personal life that just went fucking crazy,” he told Rock Soundin March. “I spent a lot of those two years trying to hold my world together and everybody else was going through a lot of crazy shit too on a personal level… I feel like it was a legitimate breakdown of me as a human being and then going through all of the effort and hard work it takes to rebuild it and reaping the rewards. A huge part of that is being able to be open and honest and real with the people in my life, and that means my band members and being able to put it down in music and get it out.”

He spoke specifically about the song ‘Heavy’, saying, “When I’m opening that song saying, ‘I don’t like my mind right now’, that’s fucking 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 neighbourhood, but it goes bad real fast. It’s great to get that shit out. I recommend that everyone goes and writes their problems down on a piece of paper, takes it outside and fucking burns that shit. Talk to somebody about it. I’m fortunate enough to be a member of some twelve-step programs, and we get in a room with a bunch of people who don’t know each other and we all talk about our lives… I know exactly who I am, I know exactly what I’m made of and I’m totally happy with it. So it’s really great to be able to be doing what I do, especially for a person like me.”

Bennington was found dead in his Palos Verdes states home in California, from an apparent suicide. He leaves behind a wife and six children.