Chester Charles Bennington was born on March 20, 1976 in Phoenix, Arizona. His mother was a nurse, while his father was a police detective who worked with child sex abuse cases and took double shifts. Bennington took interest in music at a young age, citing bands Depeche Mode and Stone Temple Pilots as his early inspirations, and dreamed of becoming a member of Stone Temple Pilots, which he later achieved.
Bennington’s parents divorced when he was 11 years old, and his father gained custody of him. After the divorce, Bennington started abusing marijuana, alcohol, opium, cocaine, methamphetamine, and LSD. He eventually overcame his drug addiction, and would go on to denounce drug use in future interviews. During one Linkin Park tour, he started drinking heavily. In 2011, he claimed to have quit, noting, “I just don’t want to be that person anymore.”
In an interview, Bennington revealed that he had suffered sexual abuse from an older male friend when he was seven years old. He was afraid to ask for help because he did not want people to think he was gay or lying, and the abuse continued until the age of 13. The abuse and situation at home affected him so much that he felt the urge to kill people and run away. To comfort himself, he drew pictures and wrote poetry and songs. He later revealed the abuser’s identity to his father, but chose not to continue the case after he realized the abuser was a victim himself.
At the age of 17, Bennington moved in with his mother, and was banned from leaving the house when his mother discovered his drug activity. He worked at a Burger King before starting his career as a professional musician. He was physically bullied in high school. In an interview, he said, “I was knocked around like a rag doll at school, for being skinny and looking different.”
Bennington first began singing with a band called Sean Dowdell and His Friends?. They released an eponymous three-track cassette in 1993. Later, Sean Dowdell and Bennington moved on to form a new band, Grey Daze, a post-grunge band from Phoenix, Arizona. The band recorded three albums; Demo in 1993, Wake/Me in 1994, and …no sun today in 1997. Bennington left Grey Daze in 1998, but struggled to find another band.
Bennington was frustrated and almost ready to quit his musical career altogether when Jeff Blue, the vice president of A&R at Zomba Music in Los Angeles, offered him an audition with the future members of Linkin Park. Bennington quit his day job at a digital services firm and took his family to California, where he had a successful audition with Linkin Park, who were then called Xero. He managed to record the song for his audition in a day, missing his own birthday celebration in the process. Bennington and Mike Shinoda, the band’s other vocalist, made significant progress together, but failed to find a record deal. After facing numerous rejections, Jeff Blue, now a vice president of A&R at Warner Bros., intervened again to help the band sign with Warner Bros. Records.
On October 24, 2000, Linkin Park released their debut album, Hybrid Theory, through Warner Bros. Records. Bennington and Shinoda wrote the lyrics to Hybrid Theory based on some early material. Shinoda characterized the lyrics as interpretations of universal feelings, emotions, and experiences, and as “everyday emotions you talk about and think about.” Bennington later described the songwriting experience to Rolling Stone magazine in early 2002, “It’s easy to fall into that thing – ‘poor, poor me’, that’s where songs like ‘Crawling’ come from: I can’t take myself. But that song is about taking responsibility for your actions. I don’t say ‘you’ at any point. It’s about how I’m the reason that I feel this way. There’s something inside me that pulls me down.”
Bennington primarily served as Linkin Park’s lead vocalist, but occasionally shared the role with Shinoda. All Music Guide described Bennington’s vocals as “higher-pitched” and “emotional”, in contrast to Shinoda’s hip-hop-style delivery. Both members also worked together to write lyrics for the band’s songs.
Bennington co-founded Dead by Sunrise in 2005 with Orgy and Julien-K members Amir Derakh and Ryan Shuck. Dead by Sunrise made their live debut in May 2008, performing four songs at the 13th anniversary party for Club Tattoo in Tempe, Arizona.
The band released their debut album Out of Ashes on October 13, 2009.
In February 2013, Stone Temple Pilots parted ways with long-time lead singer Scott Weiland. The band recruited Bennington to replace Weiland in May 2013. On May 18, 2013, Bennington took the stage at KROQ’s Weenie Roast with the band. The setlist included original Stone Temple Pilots songs, as well as their first single with Bennington on vocals called “Out of Time”, which debuted on May 19, and was available for free download. It was later announced by Chester and the band in an exclusive KROQ interview that he was officially the new frontman of Stone Temple Pilots and discussed the possibility of a new album and tour. On May 19, 2013, the band released a free download of their first single, “Out of Time” that features Bennington via their official website. The song “Out of Time” is featured on their EP High Rise, which was released on October 8, 2013.
Bennington reflected on joining Stone Temple Pilots, stating, “Every band has its own kind of vibe. Stone Temple Pilots has this sexier, more classic rock feel to it. Linkin Park is a very modern, very tech-heavy type of band. I grew up listening to these guys. When this opportunity came up, it was just like a no-brainer.” Bennington stated in interviews that singing lead vocals in Stone Temple Pilots was his lifelong dream. He left the band on good terms due to his commitments with Linkin Park in 2015.
Bennington had a child, Jaime, from a previous relationship with Elka Brand. He also adopted his son, Isaiah. He married his first wife, Samantha Marie Olit, on October 31, 1996. They had one child together, Draven Sebastian Bennington (born April 19, 2002). Bennington’s relationship with his first wife declined during his early years with Linkin Park, and they divorced in 2005. He subsequently married Talinda Ann Bentley, a former Playboy model with whom he had three children: Tyler Lee Bennington and twins Lilly and Lila (born 2011).
Bennington and his wife were harassed by a cyberstalker named Devon Townsend for almost a year. Townsend was found guilty of tampering with the couple’s email, as well as sending threatening messages, and was later sentenced to two years in prison.
Bennington was a tattoo enthusiast. He had done work and promotions with Club Tattoo, a tattoo parlor in Tempe, Arizona. Club Tattoo is owned by Sean Dowdell, Bennington’s friend since high school. They played together in two bands.
Bennington was a fan of the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Arizona Coyotes.
In a January 2011 interview, in response to the 2011 Tucson shooting, Bennington said, “There’s a non-violent way to express yourself and get your point across—regardless of what you’re saying or what your point is. In a free society, people have a right to believe whatever they want to believe. That’s their business and they can speak their mind… but nobody, even in a free society, has the right to take another person’s life. Ever. That’s something that we really need to move beyond.”
Bennington was plagued with poor health during the making of Meteora, and struggled to attend some of the album’s recording sessions. In the summer of 2003, he began to suffer from extreme abdominal pain and gastrointestinal issues while filming the music video for “Numb” in Prague. He was forced to return to the United States for surgery, and filmed the remainder of the music video in Los Angeles.
Bennington sustained a wrist injury in October 2007 while attempting to jump off a platform during a show in Melbourne at the Rod Laver Arena. Despite the injury, he continued to perform the entire show with a broken wrist, before heading to the emergency room. He received five stitches.
In 2011, Bennington fell ill again, and Linkin Park was forced to cancel three shows and reschedule two from the A Thousand Suns World Tour. Bennington injured his shoulder during the band’s tour in Asia and was advised by doctors to have immediate surgery, cancelling their final show at Pensacola Beach, Florida and ending their tour.
Bennington injured his ankle in January 2015 during a basketball game. He attempted to cope with the injury and perform with the aid of crutches and a knee scooter. Linkin Park later canceled the remainder of their tour to allow Bennington to undergo surgery and recover.
Bennington died of an apparent suicide by hanging at his home in Palos Verdes Estates, California; an employee discovered his body around 9 a.m. PDT on July 20, 2017. Shinoda confirmed his death on Twitter, writing, “Shocked and heartbroken, but it’s true. An official statement will come out as soon as we have one.” Bennington’s death occurred on what would have been Chris Cornell’s 53rd birthday. Cornell, who was a close friend of Bennington, had also died of suicide by hanging two months prior. Bennington sang Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” at Cornell’s funeral. He was also the godfather of Cornell’s son, Christopher.
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And today, I dedicate to him by his song: