There was nothing particularly unusual about April 8, 1994. I reported for work as usual for my afternoon radio shift at 102.1 the Edge/Toronto and began preparing things in the usual way.
I made note that the Toronto Blue Jays, the defending World Series champions, were playing a sold-out home game against the Seattle Mariners with Al Leiter getting the start. The NHL was entering the final weekend of regular season play with the Leafs in a solid second place in the Central Division of the Western Conference. One of the stories in the news involved American troops who were upset about a smoking ban that had come into effect on some military bases. Otherwise, it was a sunny Friday in Toronto with a temperature around 7 C.
But at 1:45 pm, fifteen minutes before I was to go on the air, Anita, the woman who delivered the news in the afternoon, poked her head into the office. “Something is happening in Seattle. There’s a story on the wire that says a body has been found. Wanna guess who it might be?”
“Kurt. It’s gotta be. Ever since last month …”
“I think so, too. I’ll watch the wire.”
This was, of course, pre-internet, pre-social media, even pre-email. All we had to go on was what came over the newswire or whatever we could gather by making phone calls. Since we couldn’t get through to anyone in Seattle who might know what was going on, all we could do was wait for the printer to spit out any updates.
There’d been so many dark, scary stories about Kurt over the last few months, including what appeared to be an unsuccessful suicide attempt a month earlier in a Rome hotel room. Prior to that, there were stories about police and paramedics being called to the home he and Courtney Love shared at 171 Lake Washington Blvd. E., including an OD or two and at least one occasion when Kurt barricaded himself in a room with a bunch of his guns.
The general sense was that this wasn’t going to end well. And it didn’t.
2:00 pm EDT — Anita’s first news report. “Kurt Cobain is in the news again today. A body has been found in his Seattle home. No indication of who it is or if the body is that of a man or a woman. Police are on the scene and an investigation is underway.”
2:13 pm EDT — My first report of the afternoon. “I just want to update you on something that was reported on the news. Police in Seattle say the body of a man in his 20s has been found with a shotgun wound in the head at the home of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. A police spokesman says the body has been there for about a day. He says they’ll leave it up to the medical examiner to identify the body. Police say the body had been found by an electrician who had been doing some work at the home. He saw the body through a window and police had to break into the cottage above a detached garage where they discovered the man and a suicide note. That’s all the details we have now, but we’ll do our best to find out what’s going on.”
2:33 pm EDT — I jump in with a quick non-update update. Nothing new to report.
3:00 pm EDT — Anita’s second news report: “Still no official ID on the body found in Kurt Cobain’s Seattle home, but various sources are reporting that the body is that of Kurt Cobain.”
3:32 pm EDT — The BN newswire confirms Cobain’s death.
3:38 pm EDT — As I delivered the official news, I realized that this was going to be a where-were-you-when-you-first-heard moment. Don’t screw this up, this is important, I thought. “I really don’t want to do this. This is the latest from Seattle. ‘A record company official says Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain shot himself to death at his Seattle home yesterday. Police say Cobain’s body was found today with a shotgun wound to the head and a suicide note nearby. He had been recuperating from last month’s overdose of painkillers and Champagne. His mother says Cobain had been missing for six days and she says the last time she spoke to her son, she told him not to join ‘the stupid club’ of other rock stars who had died early.”
The rest of the afternoon was a blur as the shock set in. For Gen X, this was the equivalent of Boomers hearing about the assassination of John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980, or older rock’n’rollers learning of the death of Elvis on Aug. 16, 1977.
The grief, anger, and sadness were intense. If you weren’t around back then, think of the days Michael Jackson and Prince died. And with no other outlet to express themselves — again, these were the pre-internet days — fans began calling the radio station nonstop for the next 48 hours wanting to talk to someone, anyone, about what happened. There were vigils, spontaneous gatherings of fans —and lots and lots of Nirvana music was played.
Here’s an audio document of how it all unfolded that afternoon.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), available 24/7, at 1-833-456-4566. For more information on suicide and to find help nearest you, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for Global News.
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