How Krist Novoselic warned Kurt Cobain off heroin... with no success

19 September 2020, 21:00

Nirvana in Japan, 19th December 1992: Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl
Nirvana in Japan, 19th December 1992: Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl. Picture: Gutchie Kojima/Shinko Music/Getty Images

The frank story of how the Nirvana bassist tried to help his bandmate at the start of their career.

Nirvana were on their way to being one of the biggest bands of the 1990s. Their second album Nevermind had captured the imagination of the world and the follow-up, 1993's In Utero, was a return to their punk roots. What would the future bring?

However Kurt Cobain's long hard battle with heroin addiction had resumed, which began a tragic series of events that culminated in the frontman taking his own life in April 1994, aged just 27.

Nirvana - Heart-Shaped Box (Director's Cut)

In a long and incredibly frank interview conducted in 2009, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic said that he continuously warned his bandmate to stay away from the drug.

"Kurt called me the first time he did heroin and he told me he did it," Novoselic revealed. "And I told him, 'Don't do it man. You're playing with dynamite’."

He went on: “I made my feelings known very early on. And I was outspoken about a few things, and if that was advice, it wasn’t heeded. In a lot of ways I was saying things that weren’t very welcome, so that strained things with the relationship."

The first time Kurt us3e heroin occurred back in 1986, when Cobain and Novoselic were starting out in their new band. At the time, Novoselic recalled, many of Kurt's peers and musical heroes were dying from heroin overdoses, including Andrew Wood of the Seattle band Mother Love Bone, who died in 1990 aged just 24.

Mother Love Bone - Stargazer

Kurt Cobain's use of heroin became more worrying when he started to use the drug to self-medicate, to relieve the pain of an undiagnosed stomach condition. "It started with three days in a row of doing heroin and I don't have a stomach pain," Cobain told Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad. "That was such a relief."

"I’ve never seen heroin," revealed Novoselic. "But I’ve seen people on it. And people fool themselves with all kinds of things – gambling, sex, denial, all kinds of things to get hung up on. There’s a whole romance about heroin."

Novoselic was taking part in Washington State’s Legacy Project, which aimed to capture an oral history of the area that includes Nirvana's home of Seattle. The musician was interviewed in 2009 by Secretary Of State John Hughes to cover stories of his youth and his time with the legendary grunge band.

Among a number of frank revelations was the bass player’s admission that he had warned Cobain about the perils of heroin very early on.

Nirvana in 1993: Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl
Nirvana in 1993: Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl. Picture: Stephen Sweet/Shutterstock

He admitted: “I couldn’t just say it over and over again. When you deal with those issues people have to make their own realisations, hit rock bottom or whatever. Then they’re going to turn things around.

"Well obviously, that rock bottom didn’t happen. I think it’s a potent cocktail... fame, personal issues, personal histories. There was just a lot going on."

Before Nirvana's show-stopping appearance on TV's Saturday Night Live in January 1992, Kurt was seen at a photo session nodding out, having apparently taken the drug. "I mean, what are they supposed to do?" Cobain told Azerrad. "They're not going to be able to tell me to stop. So I really didn't care."

(Improved Audio) Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit (SNL, 1992)

That night, Kurt almost had a fatal overdose, but was resuscitated by his girlfriend Courtney Love. A similat event happened again in July 1993, before Nirvana were due to make a high profile live appearance in New York, but Love brought her husband round and the show went ahead.

"Then it was all distorted," remembered Novoselic. "Being so medicated, just being on a lot of drugs. And so catastrophe happened."

The trio of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl - then with Pat Smear on second guitar - headed out on a tour of Europe in February of 1994 to support the In Utero album.

Nirvana performed what was to be their last show on 1 March, in Munich. Following the show, Cobain was diagnosed with bronchitis and laryngitis and flew to Rome for a break and urgent medical treatment. The rest of the European tour was cancelled - including four nights at London's Brixton Academy, which were due to take place between 3 and 6 April 1994.

Three days later, Cobain was hospitalised after taking an overdose of rohypnol and a prescription anaesthetic. Love later told Rolling Stone that "He probably forgot how many he took. But there was a definite suicidal urge, to be gobbling and gobbling and gobbling."

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana onstage at the Roseland Ballroom, New York, July 1993. Earlier that day, he'd had a heroin overdose/
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana onstage at the Roseland Ballroom, New York, July 1993. Earlier that day, he'd had a heroin overdose/. Picture: Steve Eichner/WireImage/Getty Images

In the following weeks, as Cobain recuperated back home in Seattle, he slipped back into using heroin.

After an intervention by Courtney Love and a number of close friends and colleagues on 25 March, Kurt agreed to go into rehab in Los Angeles. But it didn't last; Cobain flew back to Seattle, where his body was found at his home on 8 April. The cause of death was given as suicide.

Fans at the vigil for Kurt Cobain on 10 April 1994 at the Seattle Center, WA
Fans at the vigil for Kurt Cobain on 10 April 1994 at the Seattle Center, WA. Picture: THERESE FRARE/AFP/GettyImages

Speaking 15 years after the loss of his friend and colleague, Krist Novoselic had a unique perspective on Cobain's attitude.

He recalled going to a fast food restaurant as penniless musicians: the bassist bought a hot dog for sustenance, while Kurt bought an ice cream. "I’m like, 'No wonder your stomach hurts. Why are you eating ice cream?'

"And then he looks at me and gets all pissed off, like I’m telling him what to do. So it’s just like, you know, 'Oh, don’t do heroin.' And I’d get the same look. You know what I mean?"

Read the full interview with Krist Novoselic from 2009

If you or anyone you know has been affected by this story, please seek help from the helplines below:

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