Courtney Love Photo Gallery Text
Courtney Michelle Love was the ultimate child of the tumultuous ‘60s than Courtney Love, right down to her birth in 1964 in San Francisco’s Haight district, the countercultural Mecca where drugs, sex, and rock & roll attracted a new generation of self-styled hippies from every corner of America. Love’s parents, Linda Carroll and Hank Harrison, were immersed in the scene, though their marriage was a fleeting and casual affair. Harrison was road manager for the Grateful Dead for a spell, and when just a toddler, Courtney was featured on the back cover of their acid-inspired album, Aoxomoxoa. Dad has vehemently denied rumors that he enrolled his daughter in LSD kindergarten, but in 2006 Courtney, with characteristic aplomb, said, “Because I was given acid at four, I think my mind was freed.” Courtney was, predictably enough, a wild child, whose “behavior problems” Mom kept in check with a steady supply of stimulants and sedatives. But Linda Carroll betrayed a restlessness of her own, an orphan (her mother is Paula Fox, a distinguished novelist) who married four times, moving her growing brood of kids from the Haight to a commune in Eugene, Oregon, and then to a sheep farm in New Zealand, but not before abandoning Courtney to the care of friends. At 14, Love was locked up in a local juvenile-detention center after being busted for theft. “Her academic ability is seen to be far beyond the typical student,” the staff reported, albeit noting “her boisterous, negative and hurtful behavior”—an apt description of her sensational rock persona. At 16, Love sued the state to be declared a legal adult, thereby gaining access to a $500-a-month trust-fund allowance.
The newly emancipated Love spent the early ‘80s exploring the West Coast’s vibrant alternative-music scene, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, with detours in Ireland and Britain. She did time as a stripper to pay the rent, taught herself how to play the guitar, and hung out with punk rockers and drag queens who, she later said, raised her. “I found my inner bitch and I ran with her,” she told TK. In 1984, in Los Angeles, she formed her first band, the short-lived Sugar Babydoll, with bassist Jennifer Finch, who later gained fame with L7. Love and Finch’s music ambitions, however, soon fell victim to their drug use. “There was this huge amount of peer pressure to do heroin, huge,” Love told VH1. In 1986, Courtney caught the eye of director Alex Cox, who cast her as a walkon in Sid and Nancy and then as the lead in Straight to Hell. “I just thought she was marvelous and she should be a leading lady because she was very charismatic and determined and funny and interesting looking,” Cox recalled. A handful of other forgettable film roles followed. “I became kind of famous in a celebutant-downtown-New-York-’80s way,” she told VH1. “I hated the whole thing.” Love reverted to stripping.
In 1989, Love formed Hole, the band that would cement her place in the rock pantheon. Wearing ripped little-girl dresses and a rhythm guitar and backed up by bassist Jill Emery, drummer Caroline Rue and lead guitarist Eric Erlandson, Love projected an estrogen-fueled explosion of vulgarity, poetry, and sensational aggression unlike anything seen since Patti Smith. Labeled a “feminist punk rocker,” Love coyly deflected attempts to hang political messages on her slut/diva performance. It's not my job to articulate female rage,” she said. “I think it's more my job to craft songs really well because I don't see a lot of rock women doing it.” As for the band’s name, Love equally coyly denied the obvious, referring music critics to Euripides’ Medea and her cry “there's a hole that pierces my soul.” Hole’s debut album, Pretty on the Inside, was embraced by critics (“the most compelling album to have been released in 1991, according to The New Yorker). The signature track “Teenage Whore” was a hit in Britain, and the album sold over 600,000 copies.
WITH KURT COBAIN
In 1991 Courtney Love and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain met, romanced, and quickly married after Love got pregnant. The wedding, on a Hawaiian beach, was characteristically eccentric. “The groom dressed in green flannel pajamas, while the bride wore a dress that had belonged to Frances Farmer, the tragic Hollywood actress,” EW reported. By all reports, the honeymoon was on heroin. With Nirvana newly crowned the flagship band of Generation X and Cobain its Hamlet-like heartthrob, Love was the butt of more than her fair share of trash talk, with detractors portraying her as a foul-mouthed Yoko Ono exploiting Cobain for celebrity. Their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, was born in August 1992. In a Vanity Fair cover story that year Love attempted to address the gossip about the couple’s drug abuse in a typically nonchalant manner. “We went on a binge,” she said. “I did heroin for a couple of months.” A scandal ensued when the piece portrayed Love as having been on heroin during her first trimester, exposing her unborn daughter. In the wake of the media uproar, L.A. child-welfare officials ordered the two-week-old daughter removed from the custody of her parents. After months of court appearances and urine tests, Love and Cobain regained custody of their daughter.
HOLE IN HEYDAY
In April 1994, Kurt Cobain died in his Seattle home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound just days after he had fled Exodus rehab facility in LA, where he had gone to kick his heroin habit after Love staged an intervention. Love had previously saved him from an overdose and a suicide attempt. Some seven thousand mourners attended a vigil at the Seattle Center at which a tape of a Love reading—and angrily deconstructing—Cobain’s suicide note was played before Love herself unexpectedly arrived, weeping, keening and handing out pieces of Cobain’s clothing to the crowd. A week later, Hole’s second album, Live Through This, was released to enormous critical and commercial acclaim for a sound that was deemed more streamlined than its noisy predecessor. The lyrics, however, were just as gutsy, including songs about breast-feeding and rape. In a show-must-go-on spirit, Love went on tour with Hole, giving erratic performances. Then, in June, Hole bassist, Kristen Pfaff was found dead in her Seattle apartment, a heroin casualty. Reflecting in 2010 on Cobain’s and her own heroin abuse, she told the Guardian: “I was the kind of drug addict that just wanted to be comfortable in my skin. Escapism once in a blue moon, but it wasn't for me”; Kurt, by contrast, was an “oblivion seeker.…[He] would just go on until he dropped."
On July 4, 1995, while on tour with Hole, at the famed Lollapalooza festival, Love gave the tabloids fodder for ugly headlines when she flicked a cigarette, threw candy, and punched Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna backstage. After Hanna pressed charges, Love pleaded guilty and was ordered to attend a course in anger management. Commenting on her increasingly uncontrollable behavior, an understating Love said, “My number one thing to work on is not being reactive—but appropriateness doesn't come easily to me sometimes.”
In 1996 director Milos Foreman tapped Love to star opposite Woody Harrelson in his big-budget The People vs. Larry Flynt. As Althea Flynt, the Hustler magazine publisher’s wife and muse, who suffered with addiction and AIDS before drowning in her swimming pool, Love stunned movie critic with a performance of great restraint and pathos. Columbia Pictures had refused to insure Love because of her own drug problems, so Foreman, Love, Harrelson, Edward Norton and other cast members covered the cost. Love took and passed weekly urine test. Love was nominated for a Golden Globe but was shunned by the Oscar crowd. Love also began a four-year relationship with Norton. She followed up with roles in Man on the Moon, Julie Johnson, and Trapped.
In 1998 Hole released its third and final album, Celebrity Skin, a pop-infused, big-selling, Grammy-nominated production. Three years later, after an on-again, off-again career and many changes of band members, Hole broke up. In 2001, Love sued the surviving members of Nirvana to prevent them from receiving any profits from the release of previously unpublished songs by Cobain and the band. The two sides settled out of court, opening they way for the release of a Nirvana box set followed by a greatest-hits collection. In 2003 Love’s antics wreaked further havoc with her persona life. First she was arrested for attempting to break into an ex-boyfriend’s home. After admitting she was under the influence of OxyContin, she was jailed; after her release, she accidentally overdose on the drug. Then she lost custody of her daughter for the second time; Frances Bean, age 9, was placed in the care of Cobain’s mother. She was returned to Love’s custody a year later. She told US Weekly, ‘[Prescription painkillers] are the new LSD: Lead Singer's Drug. I know three lead singers doing Vicodin right now.” According to US, Love spent two weeks in the residential Wavelengths facility in Malibu, California in December 2003.
In 2004 Love saw the onset of what she calls her “Letterman Years,” a woeful period marked by deepening drug abuse, sporadic violent behavior, stints in rehabilitation, courtroom appearances and seemingly nonstop tabloid horror headlines. On March 17, she made her infamous appearance on the David Letterman Show to promote her first solo album and ended up standing on his desk and flashed her breasts. She topped that off with an arrest at downtown club for injuring someone after throwing a microphone stand into the audience. And in a repeat performance, the cops found painkillers on her person for which she did not have a prescription. As for her solo album, America’s Sweetheart, received an even worse reception, with even longtime backers like Rolling Stone magazine flipping the finger: “For people who enjoy watching celebrities fall apart, America's Sweetheart should be more fun than an Osbournes marathon.” Reflecting later on her state of mind while making the flop, Love said, “'It was my hell time. I was doing cocaine and had incredible financial trouble.” That summer she was ordered by an L.A. judge to undergo mandatory drug treatment for her addiction to cocaine and Rx narcotics. Love spent six months in a rehab center for her violation of probation on prior drug charges.
- Kevin Granger