The late Linkin Park frontman battled drink, drugs and sexual abuse before being given his chance to succeed
Chester Bennington’s family, fans and bandmates have been left devastated by the Linkin Park frontman’s tragic death at the age of 41, just eight weeks after the suicide of his close friend Chris Cornell.
But without one lucky break, there may never have been a Linkin Park – and millions of fans would never have heard their idol’s powerful vocals.
Chester was always open about his abusive childhood and the ripples it made on his life as a restless teenager, having been sexually abused between the ages of seven and 13 by an older friend and feeling as though he had no one to turn to.
“Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t want people to think I was gay or that I was lying,” he told Tom Bryant of Kerrang! magazine in 2008.
“It was a horrible experience.”
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The abuse led to experimentation with drink and drugs when Chester was still a young teen. Unable to deal with his parents’ divorce and feeling abandoned by his mother, he sought solace in LSD, meth, pills and even opium, as well as writing the music that would eventually make him a household name.
An encounter with gun-toting drug-dealing gangsters at the age of 17 shook Chester out of his drug-taking ways, and he moved back into his mum’s house to get back on track – although the demons of his past continued to haunt him and pushed him into full-blown alcoholism.
Chester married his first wife Samantha Marie Olit in 1996, when he was 22. They went on to have a child – Draven – together, but while Chester’s heart was still in the music he continued to write, he found himself in a dead-end job as an assistant in a digital services company.
That was until his 23rd birthday, when a phone call from Jeff Blue, then the vice president of A&R at Zomba Music, changed his life.
Jeff had been monitoring the progress of Chester’s future bandmates, who at that point were looking for a frontman for their band, then called Zero. He called Chester and asked him to listen to a demo of Zero’s music to see if he’d be a good fit.
“The music was really cool and the band were very talented but I knew I could do it better,” Chester recalled to Kerrang!.
“I went into a studio and cut my vocals over their demo the very next day. That was a Saturday and on Sunday I called Jeff Blue back and said: ‘I’m done, when should I come out?'”
Chester was accepted into the band after a gruelling audition process and went through a period of homelessness where he was forced to sofa-surf or crash in their rehearsal studio to survive.
Eventually Jeff Blue – by now working for Warner Brothers – was able to offer the band a record contract in 1999, and the band went on to sell more than 4.8 million copies of its debut album Hybrid Theory in 2000.
But tragically for Chester, commercial success wasn’t the panacea to his personal problems.
He was still using drugs and booze to self-medicate and once admitted that he hadn’t been able to perform a gig sober for the first few years of Linkin Park.
His addictions reached crisis point in 2005 when his first marriage broke down and he felt unable to leave his house, spending the day shaking in his wardrobe before taking more drugs.
“I’d wake up and have a pint of Jack Daniels to calm down, then I’d pop a bunch of pills and go back in my closet and f***ing freak out for the rest of the day,” Chester told Kerrang!.
“I was a mess. I was falling through windows, having seizures and going to hospital the whole time. It was f***ing ridiculous. I was a total wreck.”
Eventually Chester confided in his bandmates and got divorced, sought professional help to get sober and married his second wife Talinda Bentley , with whom he had five more children.
“After everything we’re been through to get here, we’re in the best place we could possibly be,” Chester reflected in 2008.
“We couldn’t be enjoying ourselves more.”
Tragically, Chester continued to suffer from depression on and off for the rest of his life.
He was found dead at a private residence on July 20 2017.