When Eric Roberts met Chris Cornell on the set of the video shoot for the 2015 song, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart,” the two men bonded over “respect, admiration and pure love for our kids,” the actor tells Variety.
“What we were most struck by during our boiling hot days on set shooting the video was that Chris was the warmest, most mama-bear-like dad we had every known,” he says. “He glowed way more talking about his kids that day than he did from the heat. His youngest, his son, was in the video and was a natural. He had his dad’s presence.”
The video — which portrays characters played by Cornell and Roberts (brother of Julia Roberts) in a western prison awaiting execution by hanging — eerily foreshadowed Cornell’s death in his room at the MGM Grand casino in Detroit, Michigan. Cornell, 52, was found “unresponsive lying on the bathroom floor,” according to Michael Woody, Director of Media Relations for the Detroit Police Department.
His death came as a shock to Roberts.
“Chris was a longtime sober guy, and had boundless sensitivity to the depression and self-abuse that can occur among artists at every level, having their day in the sun, hoping for their day and re-discovering their day,” “The Expendables” star says. “The only message we ever knew him to send was one of hope and the unselfishness of self-respect.”
That humility shone through as Cornell happily listened to Roberts talk about his stepson, Keaton Simons, an artist in his own right who has played with Snoop Dogg and Gnarls Barkley. As any proud father would do, Roberts slipped Cornell a CD of Simons’ music, and the Soundgarden frontman was so impressed he reached out to see if Simons would join him on a promotional tour supporting the single.
“Chris was so supportive of his kids, and so loved his kids that he was really receptive to that kind of thing,” Simons, 38, remembers. “He hit me up on Twitter and said I’m really into your music. Your guitar playing is amazing.”
The stops would include appearances on “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and Sirius XM. Simons said yes, and Cornell reached out to Roberts in an email to share the news.
“Looks like we have some great TV coming for the single,” Cornell wrote. “TV is always a little weird but it’s also an opportunity to step up. You see what a proud and smart father can do. You set a great example for me! Television here we come. Excited to meet him and hear this song start to evolve!”
With that, Cornell and Simons set out on a brief tour that included the now iconic stop at Sirius XM Radio, performing the acoustic version of the Prince penned hit for Sinead O’Conner, “Nothing Compares to You.” Cornell graciously introduced Simons by name as he took to the guitar solo. According to Simons, the two only rehearsed it once before they went live with it, and performing the song was important to Cornell.
“He talked a lot about Prince,” he says. “He knew Prince and the guy who was doing lights for his tour also did the lights for Prince. He had all these stories.”
Simons says that Cornell’s approach to covers was to “just sing it how he remembered. … He didn’t go over the song or learn it, he would go with the flow, We did it one time. It was entirely live and it was just magical. It was improvised on the spot. That was pretty profound. We [also] did “Fell on Black Days”, “Like a Stone”, all acoustic, and his voice was so effortless. That was the thing about him. He was an effortless genius. He was so humble and generous and kind and cool. He wanted everybody to bring their own thing. So many people want to perform songs so rigid and exactly like the record, and Chris wanted everyone to bring their own personality and interpretation. I immediately connected with him. I knew he had something special to offer as a person — music aside. He was so true to himself and what he wanted to make. He wasn’t worried about the hit song. He just wanted to create what he was passionate about. That’s the key. “
Simons said Cornell’s death is a “shock,” and “never in a million years” did he think he would take his own life.
“That was the farthest thing I would expect,” Simons says. “He seemed so happy, so relaxed. He was always cool. He took it all in stride. He was an amazing and wonderful talented man. He was so paternal. Every word out of his mouth was sage-like. Everybody who hung out with him came away a better person. I felt so comfortable when I was with him. He was a dad, and he was like that with everybody.”