September 26, 2011 – The long legacy of depression and suicide in Kurt Cobain’s family history is tragic. The tragedies are nearly incomprehensible when you consider that three Cobain brothers, (Kurt’s great-uncles), died within years of each other, two suicides by gunshot, and one who died from an alcoholism-related illness. No one understands the genesis of the despair that ran through the Cobain family, but bi-polar disorder has been suggested. None of that was known much about in “the old days.” The Cobain family background has come to light as a result of Kurt’s fame that resulted in such a horrible ending.
It is widely known now that Kurt suffered from stomach disorders, headaches and various other maladies that followed him through his rock star years. He was obsessed with death and suicide, going back to his childhood years. He seemed to always know his destiny. He spent his early days growing up in the timber town of Aberdeen and Montesano, Washington. The plaid shirts and greasy hair he was known for was the backdrop of his youth. The gloomy attitude was exasperated by the rainy, grey days that are so prominent in Grays Harbor. Kurt and his family most likely also suffered from S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder) due to the lack of sunny days and Vitamin D.
The three great-uncles mentioned above were fathered by John James Arthur Cobain. Interestingly, he also died by gunshot wound—and the first impression is to think he must have also committed suicide. But looking into the old documents and newspaper articles, we discover it was clearly an unfortunate accident. His fascinating story is as follows:
ARTHUR COBAIN, Deputy Sheriff of Montesano Wa.
Arthur Cobain, great grandfather to Kurt Cobain,was born March 19, 1889 in Ellensburg, Washington State to John James Cobain, an Irish immigrant from Tyrone County, Northern Ireland, where the original spelling was Cobane. After first migrating to Canada, the Cobains settled in Ellensburg, Washington as some of the earliest pioneers. Arthur was the first Cobain to be born in Washington.
Arthur married Grace Gibson in 1909 in Ellensburg, and later moved to the wild and rough lumber town of Montesano, Washington on the west coast, (just east of Kurt’s birthplace of Aberdeen.) They had six children, but one son died before 1930. He became Deputy Sheriff of Montesano in 1923, and Grays County Jailer, a position of prominence that he held for 15 years until his accidental death.
In 1930 the Cobains lived on South 6th Street in “Monte”. His five surviving children filled his home–Burle was 16, Kenneth was 14 and worked as a janitor, daughter Hazel was 11, Ernest was 9, Leland (Kurt’s grandfather) the youngest, was 6. Montesano was a rough town to be a Deputy Sheriff. It was a logging town full of burly men, and on top of that, it was still Prohibition.
On September 8, 1938, Arthur was sitting at a stool in Markham’s Store,(now the location of the Ocean Spray Cranberry plant, west of Aberdeen on the way to Westport) at the beer counter. (Prohibition was repealed five years earlier.) He reached into his pocket for a cigarette, causing his gun to fall from its holster. As it hit the floor, the gun discharged, and shot him in the hip. The bullet travelled up through his vital organs. Not knowing he was the one shot, he reached down to retrieve it, asking if anyone had been hit. He then fell to the floor, dying instantly. (Read Ellensburg newspaper article here.) Also read a memorial page for “Officers Down” devoted to Cobain.)
TRAGEDIES OF NEXT GENERATION
Guns and alcohol, while featuring–almost innocently–in Arthur’s death, would prove to be the foretelling of a deadly future for three of his children, and Kurt, his famous great-grandchild. In the 1970s Ernest had a fatal aneurysm at the age of 57 when falling down the stairs drunk. (The argument for virtual suicide is that he’d been warned sternly that he would die if he didn’t stop drinking.) Burle shot himself in the head and stomach a year later; soon after, Kenneth also shot himself in the head.
Kurt, who’s mother’s ancestry also had a history of mental illness and suicide, was discovered dead in his home in Seattle on April 8, 1994, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It was reportedly not his first attempt at suicide; he survived the first attempt in Rome earlier in 1994. But yet—there are conspiracy theories that suggest he was murdered. (Read here for all the purported evidence.) We will probably never know for sure what the truth was—but because of his family history, most people accept the suicide story. Should we? Or like in Arthur’s case, is there a different story beyond the surface appearance?
Leland Cobain is the last surviving child of Arthur Cobain, his sister Hazel having died a few years ago. Leland, the Cobain patriarch, has a shrine to his grandson and gladly accomodates visiting fans. He still lives in Montesano.