Kurt Cobain

The last words of Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain (1967 – 1994) was an American singer-songwriter, best-known as lead-guitarist and singer of the grunge-rock group Nirvana.

His final words, in his suicide note, were:

It’s better to burn out than to fade away.

From his suicide note

Background to Kurt Cobain’s last words

Kurt Donald Cobain suffered from bronchitis and intense stomach pain since childhood and he later experienced bouts of depression.

In the 1980s he formed the band Nirvana, with a small group of friends. After a period of little recognition or commercial success, Nirvana became, in the early 1990s, the most prominent of the alternative rock, or ‘grunge’ bands, The release of the band’s influential ‘Nevermind’ album in 1991 and particularly the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ single taken from it saw Nirvana, and Cobain especially, become an important influence on the post-Punk ‘Generation X’.

The rise in the group’s fortunes and his high-profile role in it did little to improve Cobain’s state of mind and his health deteriorated. In 1986, being already a heavy user of various drugs, he had begun to self-medicate his chronic health problems with heroin. He later stated in an interview:

“It started with three days in a row of doing heroin and I don’t have a stomach pain. That was such a relief,”

After one failed suicide attempt and a subsequent failed detox programme, Cobain shot himself, at home in Lake Washington, on 5 April 1994.

He took the line ‘it’s better to burn out than to fade away’ from his fellow Canadian rocker Neil Young’s song Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black).

The last words he spoke aren’t known, but he did leave a suicide note, addressed to his imaginary childhood friend ‘Boddah’:

To Boddah

Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complain-ee. This note should be pretty easy to understand. All the warnings from the punk rock 101 courses over the years, since my first introduction to the, shall we say, the ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has proven to be very true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guilty beyond words about these things. For example when we’re backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowd begins, it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seem to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd, which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is, I can’t fool you, any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do, God believe me I do, but it’s not enough). I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. I must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they’re gone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasm I once had as a child. On our last 3 tours, I’ve had a much better appreciation for all the people I’ve known personally and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone. There’s good in all of us and I think I simply love people too much, so much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man. Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know! I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what I used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become. I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along and have empathy. Only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess. Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody, baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out then to fade away.

Peace, Love, Empathy. Kurt Cobain.

Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your altar. Please keep going Courtney, for Frances. for her life will be so much happier without me. I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU

Note: towards the end of the message Cobain was quoting from Neil Young’s 1979 song My My. Hey Hey:

My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
It’s better to burn out
Than to fade away
My my, hey hey.

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.