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Chester Bennington: The Life And Legacy Of Linkin Park’s Beloved Singer
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In Depth

Chester Bennington: The Life And Legacy Of Linkin Park’s Beloved Singer

A much-missed presence on the rock scene, Linkin Park’s frontman Chester Bennington set a shining example through his art and his beliefs.

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As the vocalist for Linkin Park, Chester Bennington gave a voice to anyone who felt they were a square peg in a round hole. His talent was indisputable and his distaste for pigeonholing well known – fittingly, his legacy has been recognised by artists as diverse as the genre-straddling US singer blackbear, Japanese rock group One Ok Rock and UK MC Stormzy. Born on 20 March 1976, the singer was just 41 when he committed suicide by hanging, on 20 July 2017, but his influence continues to pervade all areas of music, from rock to electronica and hip-hop, as truly befits a genre-blind artist that paved the way for so many others to follow.

Bennington took his own life on what would have been Chris Cornell’s 53rd birthday. The Soundgarden vocalist and grunge pioneer had hanged himself just two months before, and Bennington was said to have struggled with the loss of such a close friend. His performance of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah at Cornell’s memorial, at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, on 27 May 2017, was regarded as one of his most moving. It was also his last.

The voice of a generation

Chester Bennington’s own influences were an eclectic mix that ran from Soundgarden to US punks Misfits, indie heroes Arcade Fire and industrial pioneers Nine Inch Nails. The singer even acknowledged Madonna as an influence, crediting the Queen Of Pop for being one of the reasons he became a musician. As frontman of Linkin Park, Bennington himself became recognised as one of the greatest rock vocalists of his generation, a technically gifted singer whose three-octave vocal range could travel from low bass G to tenor G.

Throughout his career, Bennington maintained this vocal prowess, though his lyrics were just as important as his voice – if not more so. Releasing six albums in almost two decades with Linkin Park, from one of the best debut albums of all time, 2000’s Hybrid Theory, to 2017’s One More Light, the singer never sacrificed his individuality or shied away from discussing difficult topics close to his heart.

“People have a right to believe what they want”

Much of the darkness Bennington explored in his music can be traced back to his difficult childhood in Phoenix, Arizona. At around seven years old, he became the victim of sexual abuse, later telling Metal Hammer, “Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t want people to think I was gay or that I was lying. It was a horrible experience.” When he was 11, his parents divorced and he moved in with his father, kick-starting a long-term battle with substance abuse – what he nicknamed his “dark passenger” – as he tried to control his feelings of pain and loneliness.

Six years later, Bennington moved in with his mother, but once she caught him using drugs she banned him from leaving the house. Proving he could take his life in a different direction, Bennington scored work at Burger King and picked up other odd jobs to earn money, but he remained a musician at heart. Joining local rock group Grey Daze, he helped them grow their fanbase until 1998, when he traded Phoenix for LA, leading to his musical breakthrough.

“He left his own birthday party to go to the studio”

While working as an assistant at a digital-services firm, Bennington finally got his foot in the door of the music industry when Jeff Blue, then vice president of A&R at Zomba Music, suggested that fledgling rock group Xero send the hopeful singer their demo. Writing his own material and recording his vocals on top of the band’s instrumentals, Bennington returned it within a day and got the gig. Speaking to Kerrang! years later, guitarist Brad Delson recalled, “… we were looking for a vocalist, and someone… a friend of a friend, had worked with Chester in Arizona. Chester’s story – which I’m certain is true – is that he left his own birthday party to go to the studio.” Years later, a song called Pictureboard would be released on the Forgotten Demos disc of the 20th-anniversary super deluxe edition of Hybrid Theory, revealing a taste of what Bennington’s audition tape sounded like.

Changing their name first to Hybrid Theory and then Linkin Park, the group knew they didn’t fit into the same category as their nu metal contemporaries Limp Bizkit – nor did they try to. But while Bennington quickly made progress alongside the group’s other vocalist, Mike Shinoda, the group initially struggled to secure a record deal. With Jeff Blue now an executive at Warner Bros, however, their longstanding ally brought them to the label for Hybrid Theory, which ended up shifting ten million copies to become the biggest-selling album since Guns N’ Roses 1987 debut, Appetite For Destruction.

Linkin Park’s belief in creating their own sound had paid off, and ultimately scored them five US No.1 albums, starting with Hybrid Theory’s follow-up, 2003’s multi-platinum-selling Meteora. Each new record expanded upon the group’s trailblazing fusion of heavy metal and hip-hop, with Bennington exploring inner frustrations, vulnerability and anger throughout his lyrics. Though he was unafraid of discussing emotions, he steered away from the usual rock tropes of love and heartbreak and took a truly introspective approach to his songwriting.

“We’re making music for us”

If their third album, 2007’s Minutes To Midnight, built on what had come before, its follow-up, 2010’s A Thousand Suns, saw Linkin Park incorporate more electronic-sounding elements. While some critics questioned the group’s decision to move away form Hybrid Theory’s breakout style, Bennington told Associated Press, “We’re making music for us, that we like. We’re not making music for other people. We’re not thinking, Let’s make a pie-graph of all our fans and find out how many people fit in whatever category and then make the perfect album for them. Like, that would be absolutely ridiculous.”

Across their next three albums, the group would offer a culmination of all their inspirations so far (Living Things, 2012), stage a return to the heavy rock they started out playing (The Hunting Party, 2014) and make an overt foray into pop music (One More Light, 2017). But despite having straddled genres from the beginning, One More Light found some critics asking if Linkin Park had sold out. “If you like the music, fantastic. If you don’t like it, that’s your opinion, too,” Bennington told NME, adding, “If you’re saying we’re doing what we’re doing for a commercial or monetary reason, trying to make success out of some formula, then stab yourself in the face!” Many fans agreed, and they soon sent the album to the top of the chart.

A drive to leave genres behind

Linkin Park have always had the statistics to back up their success: they were the first rock band to achieve more than one billion views on YouTube and, at one point, were the most-liked group on Facebook. They are also the only band with two songs in the Top 10 of Spotify’s “Most Timeless” list, as compiled by poly-graph.co editor Matthew Daniels. Using Billboard’s Top 100 from the 50s through to 2005, and factoring in their Spotify play counts, Daniels placed Linkin Park’s In The End and Numb at No.6 and No.3, respectively.

The group have also earned a string of awards for their music, beginning with Billboard’s Modern Rock Artist Of The Year, in 2001. Hybrid Theory’s hard-hitting Crawling won them their first Grammy, for Best Hard Rock Performance, the following year, while their collaboration with Jay-Z on Numb/Encore scored them their second, in 2005, for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

The Jay-Z collaboration was just another testament to Linkin Park’s drive to leave genres behind. In 2002, they had released the fourth best-selling remix album of all time, Reanimation, sitting just behind remix projects by Michael Jackson, Madonna and The Beatles. Featuring a range of artists, from Jurassic 5 MC Chali 2na to English singer Kelli Ali, Reanimation was released at a time when such cross-genre collaborations were almost unheard of; ultimately, it paved the way for future unlikely collaborations such as Post Malone and Ozzy Osbourne’s Take What You Want From Me and Miley Cyrus and Billy Idol’s Night Crawler.

“There’s a non-violent way to express yourself”

Outside of his music, Bennington’s beliefs and strong moral compass ensured that fans looked to him for guidance. An advocate for mental-health awareness.

, he spent various periods battling drug and alcohol addition, overcoming the latter following an intervention from his Linkin Park bandmates. Seeking to use his platform to help others, revealed that he had stopped drinking in 2011, telling NME, “I just don’t want to be that person anymore.”

Similarly, Bennington never shied away from world affairs, disputing any notions that music and politics shouldn’t mix. Publicly criticising the 2011 Tuscon shooting, in which gunman Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a constituent meeting and killed six people, including the chief judge of the US District Court for Arizona and a nine-year-old girl, Christina-Taylor Green, 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 also a vocal critic of Donald Trump, once declaring that the former US president was “worse than terrorism”. Following Bennington’s death, when Trump used Linkin Park’s song In The End for his 2020 re-election campaign, the remaining members of Linkin Park sent him a cease-and-desist order.

“I don’t think anyone but us could have done this”

Bennington’s last show with the group was on 6 July 2017, at Birmingham’s Barclaycard Arena, in support of the One More Light album. Storming through 26 of their best songs – among them Crawling, What I’ve Done and a five-song encore that included a haunting acoustic version of Sharp Edges – the group also performed Bennington’s self-proclaimed favourite Linkin Park track, Papercut, and closed the show with Bleed It Out, from the Minutes To Midnight album. “I said to the band, ‘I don’t think anyone but us could have made a song like this,’” Mike Shinoda had once told Kerrang! of the song. “It’s a fucking bizarre death-party-rap-hoedown!” A fitting closer to their final performance together, it also offered a lasting reminder that Linkin Park – and, by extension, Chester Bennington – were true masters of their own creations.

Following his death, Linkin Park hosted a tribute concert in Los Angeles on 27 October. The event, titled Linkin Park And Friends: Celebrate Life In Honor of Chester Bennington, featured the group’s first performance since Bennington’s passing, as well as appearances from members of System Of A Down, Korn, Avenged Sevenfold and Bring Me The Horizon, among others. Jay-Z also paid tribute to Bennington by performing Numb/Encore live several times during his own shows, while Coldplay’s Chris Martin dedicated a live acoustic version of Crawling to him. Many other artists, from Machine Gun Kelly to Imagine Dragons, have since dedicated either Linkin Park covers or their own original songs to Bennington’s memory. Significantly, Logic performed the song 1-800-273-8255 live at the 2018 Grammy Awards alongside Alessia Cara and Khalid, its title being the number for the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. In 2019, Bennington’s widow and second wife, Talinda Bennington, launched the 320 Changes Direction campaign in honour of her late husband and to continue his work on reducing the stigma surrounding mental health.

Bennington’s success wasn’t only due to his vocal talent. He strove to make music from the heart, rather than to satisfy other people’s needs or compromise his values. That’s the sort of commitment everyone could learn something from.

Find out the full story behind Linkin Park’s groundbreaking Hybrid Theory.

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