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Chester Bennington and Linkin Park: A Musical Legacy of Darkness and Hope

The loss of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, found dead of an apparent suicide at his home in a Southern California coastal community, leaves a hole in the hearts of family, friends, and fans, but also a strong musical legacy — with Linkin Park, Stone Temple Pilots, and numerous projects — that can both comfort and offer clues to the demons that haunted the prolific and popular frontman.

In both interviews and music, the 41-year-old singer made no secret of a childhood marked by sexual abuse, divorce, and drug and alcohol use. He explored the fallout from those issues through music. “Nobody Can Save Me,” the first track on Linkin Park’s seventh and most recent album, “One More Light,” includes the lyrics “I’m dancing with my demons, I’m hanging off the edge. … nobody can save me now.”

Lyrics by Bennington and band co-founder/keyboardist Mike Shinoda were at once personal and universal. Though Linkin Park formed in Los Angeles in 1996 and were locally popular, numerous record labels passed on the band before longtime champion Jeff Blue signed them to Warner Bros. in 1999. The lineup — rounded out by drummer Rob Bourdon, guitarist Brad Delson, and DJ/programmer Joe Hahn — were put into the “nu metal” category of bands that included Korn, meshing metal, rap, alternative, and other genres. Linkin Park bristled at that categorization, naming their October 2000 debut album “Hybrid Theory” to help explain their musical approach, which featured dual singers in Bennington and Shinoda, and, as the years passed, numerous collaborations and guests, including rappers Jay-Z and, more recently, Pusha T.

The group’s 18-year-career saw very few low points, at least from the outside, and “One More Light” marks Linkin Park’s sixth Billboard No. 1 album, an achievement only reached by a small cadre by big names, including Metallica, the Eagles, and Bon Jovi.  That winning streak began with “Hybrid Theory,” which has sold more than 11 million copies domestically, and kickstarted the young band into the mainstream thanks to the singles “One Step Closer,” “Crawling,” “Papercut,” and “In the End.”

Linkin Park’s high-profile and creative expansiveness led to varied projects, including the 2004 collaboration with Jay-Z, “Collision Course.” That success also allowed Bennington the luxury to branch out sans the band, working with friends and idols including Chris Cornell and Stone Temple Pilots, as well as solo forays on the 2002 “Queen of the Damned: Music from the Motion Picture” soundtrack. A side project band, Dead by Sunrise, released one album, “Out of Ashes,” in 2009, and another career notch was Bennington’s 2010 collaboration with Santana and Ray Manzarek on a cover of the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” Still, it was with Linkin Park that Bennington was most closely identified, through the band’s nine headlining concert tours since 2001, and six albums since “Hybrid Theory.”

From an industry perspective, Linkin Park consistently hit high marks. As of 2013, its 2003 album “Meteora” has sold an estimated 27 million copies worldwide, and was certified four times platinum by the RIAA. Bennington and the band were also unafraid to step away from a proven formula: the Rick Rubin-produced “A Thousand Suns” was a multi-concept album that dealt with human fears such as nuclear warfare. It was followed a few years later by Linkin Park’s heaviest outing, “The Hunting Party,” which itself was followed by their most pop-leaning effort, “One More Light.”

If some fans wished the band had stuck to its “nu metal” roots, Bennington was unapologetic about the band’s growth and expansion, and most fans grew up along with the band. On a Facebook fan page, thousands of tributes poured in, many echoing the sentiments of posters like Emma Shamaya, who wrote, “You touched so many hearts and saved so many souls. The world is gonna miss you, beautiful man. Thank you for being a part of making me who I am today.”

Bennington didn’t hide much from his legions of fans, and spoke publicly about 12-step meetings and his struggles to remain sober from drugs and alcohol. Through it all, however, he remained, by all accounts, a thoughtful and kind presence in both his personal and professional life. As Roxy Myzal, executive producer/rock programming for United Stations Radio Networks, says, “Chester Bennington was one of the most outgoing and creative artists of his generation. While we’ll never understand why, it’s more important now that we take a moment to check in on those who struggle with drugs or alcohol, even if they’ve chosen a different path.”

A highlight of the singer’s career — and, no doubt, his life — was being chosen as the singer for Stone Temple Pilots, a band he’d worshiped and whose own frontman lost his battle with substance abuse in 2015. Bennington first appeared with STP in a May 18, 2013, concert at L.A. radio station KROQ’s annual Weenie Roast. He wrote a song with the band, “Out of Time,” and became an official STP member. The group’s 2013 tour with Bennington saw the singer fitting in seamlessly, and shining on stage with his new bandmates, though two years later he amicably left to focus on Linkin Park.

By all accounts, in recent years Bennington was very committed to wife, Talinda Ann Bentley, and his six children, and seemed to have turned a corner in his dealings with substance abuse and the issues that triggered them. The Mirror U.K. ran a recent Bennington interview where the singer said of “One More Light,” “We brought in various issues and situations into the writing process. When you hear it in the context of the music there’s hopefulness and there’s a sense of moving forward and moving on and that’s really where we’re coming from.”

Bennington took his life on the birthday of his close friend, the late Chris Cornell, whose suicide obviously affected him deeply. Bennington performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at Cornell’s private memorial service, and in a tribute letter to the singer, Bennington wrote in part: “Your voice was joy and pain, anger and forgiveness, love and heartache all wrapped up into one. I suppose that’s what we all are. You helped me understand that.”

Introspective and committed to personal growth, the lyrics from the infectiously bouncy pop gem “Sharp Edges,” the last song on “One More Light,” do indeed indicate a place of hope, as Bennington sings, “We all fall down/ We live somehow/ We learn what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

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