Chris Cornell’s Widow Implores Congress to Act on Opioid Crisis: His 'Death Was Not Inevitable'
Vicky Cornell is working to turn her tragedy into change.
The widow of late rocker Chris Cornell, who died by suicide in May 2017 at the age of 52, traveled to Capitol Hill on Monday to speak to Congress about the opioid crisis and the impact addiction has on families in the United States and around the world. Though Cornell’s death was ruled a suicide, Vicky has stated in the past that she believes that the side effects of the prescription drug Ativan — which can cause worsening depression and thoughts of self-harm in rare cases — may have impacted Cornell.
Testifying before the Bipartisan Heroin and Opioid Task Force, Vicky shared her personal story of loss, discussed the stigma surrounding addiction and advocated on behalf of the steps congress can take to integrate addiction medicine into healthcare. Additionally, she stressed the need to address the overprescribing of prescription medication, the training and education of doctors and the necessity of eliminating stigma.
“The part that hurts most is Chris’ death was not inevitable, there were no demons that took over — Chris had a brain disease and a doctor who unfortunately, like many, was not properly trained or educated on addiction,” Vicky said. “We must integrate addiction treatment into our health care system — no more false narratives about the need to hit rock bottom, no more secret societies, no more shame — we must educate health care providers on how to treat addiction and best support recovery.“
The discussion was led by Bipartisan Heroin and Opioid Task Force co-chairs Congresswoman Annie Kustler and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, and Congressman Donald Norcross and Representative Martha Roby.
Along with Vicky, other panelists included in the discussion were U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health Brett P. Giroir and American Society of Addiction Medicine President Dr. Kelly J. Clark.
A month after the Soundgarden frontman’s death in 2017, Vicky opened up to PEOPLE exclusively about her loss and husband’s addiction.
“My Chris was happy, loving, caring and warm,” she said. “This was not a depressed man — it wasn’t like I missed that. What I missed were the signs of addiction.” Vicky believes that if her husband had not relapsed on drugs that night, he would not have died.
“He didn’t want to die,” she said of Cornell, who was prescribed Ativan as a sleep aid but doubled his dose the night of his death. “If he was of sound mind, I know he wouldn’t have done this… Addiction is a disease. That disease can take over you and has full power.”
In November 2018, Vicky and the two children she shares with Cornell — daughter Toni, 14, and son Christopher, 13 — sued Cornell’s doctor, Robert Koblin, for allegedly “negligently and repeatedly [prescribing] mind-altering and controlled substances” starting in September 2015.
Cornell was also father to 18-year-old Lily from his previous marriage.
Earlier in February, Cornell was honored with a posthumous Grammy in the best rock performance category for “When Bad Does Good.” His two youngest children accepted the award on their father’s behalf.
“We miss him so much and we saw him work on this so hard — he was always working on music [because] it was his passion,” Toni told reporters backstage. “It was really sad in a way to feel like he couldn’t be there himself to accept it for something that he was so proud of and worked so hard on. Again, we’re so proud of him and it was amazing.”