Bennington was born in Phoenix, Arizona. His mother, Susan Elaine Johnson, was a nurse, and his father, Lee Russell Bennington, a police detective who often worked on child abuse cases. They divorced when he was 11, after which his father gained custody of Chester. He had two older sisters and an older half-brother, Brian. Since his father often worked double shifts, Chester frequently found himself at home alone. He fell into a pattern of drug and alcohol abuse, and, he once told Metal Hammer magazine, “dropped so much acid I’m surprised I can still speak. I’d smoke a bunch of crack, do a bit of meth and just sit there and freak out. Then I’d smoke opium to come down.”
His emotional state was further affected by the fact that he suffered sexual abuse by an older friend between the ages of seven and 13. “It destroyed my self-confidence,” he told Kerrang! in 2008. “Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t want people to think that I was gay or that I was lying.” He was also bullied at school.
He found some respite in drawing and songwriting, and was a fan of Depeche Mode and Stone Temple Pilots. At 17 he moved in with his mother, and worked at Burger King while attempting to become a musician. His first group, Sean Dowdell and His Friends?, made a three-track cassette in 1993, after which Bennington and Dowdell formed the alternative-rock band Grey Daze, who released three albums during the 1990s.
Bennington married Samantha Olit in 1996, quit Grey Daze in 1998 and moved to Los Angeles to further his musical career. He auditioned for a band called Xero, and when he was hired as vocalist he completed the original line-up of what then became Linkin Park (a pun on Lincoln Park in Santa Monica), alongside Shinoda, Brad Delson, Dave Farrell, Rob Bourdon and Joe Hahn.
In 2005 Bennington put together a side project, Dead By Sunrise, featuring musicians from Orgy and the Street Drum Corps and comprising songs he considered “darker and moodier than anything I’d come up with for the band”. In 2009 they released their only album, Out of Ashes, which scraped into the US Top 30.
Linkin Park returned in 2007 with the album Minutes to Midnight, co-produced with Rick Rubin and marking a deliberate step towards a more mainstream rock sound. This delivered the big hit singles What I’ve Done, Bleed It Out and Shadow of the Day, which all scored heavily in the American alt and rock charts. New Divide, from the soundtrack compilation album Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen (2009), gave them another major hit. Their subsequent albums, A Thousand Suns (2010) and Living Things (2012), saw sales falling way below their earlier peaks, but they still delivered big hit singles including The Catalyst, Waiting for the End and the anthemic Burn It Down.
In 2013 Bennington joined Stone Temple Pilots after they fired the vocalist Scott Weiland, and, after recording the EP High Rise, stayed with them until 2015. “I got to create and perform with one of the greatest rock bands of our generation, that had so much influence on me growing up,” he said afterwards. He was back with Linkin Park for The Hunting Party (2014), on which they tacked back towards a heavier rock sound. One More Light (2017) was, by comparison with the group’s original sound, virtually a pop record. “It’s a great record, we love it,” insisted Bennington to hostile critics, and the album shot to the top of the US Billboard chart.
Bennington had tackled his addiction issues with some success, admitting falling off the wagon in 2005 when he divorced, but getting clean again in 2006 when he married Talinda Bentley, a schoolteacher and former model. In the run-up to the release of One More Light, he seemed optimistic and positive, saying that he had shaken off the depression he had felt two years earlier. “I know exactly who I am, I know exactly what I’m made of and I’m totally happy with it,” he said.
He is survived by Talinda and their children, Tyler Lee, Lily and Lila; by a son, Draven Sebastian, from his first marriage; and by two sons, Jaime and Isaiah, from a relationship with Elka Brand.
- Chester Charles Bennington, singer and songwriter, born 20 March 1976; died 20 July 2017
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