Like Hamlet, I have to choose between life and death.
—From the Rome suicide note.
When Kurt sat down to compose his suicide note in the Excelsior Hotel, he thought of Shakespeare and the Prince of Denmark. Two months earlier, during his attempt to dry out at the Canyon Ranch, his doctor warned he had to choose whether to continue with his addiction—which would ultimately mean death—or get sober, and that his answer would determine his very existence. Kurt replied, “You mean, like Hamlet?”
In his Rome note, Kurt cited Shakespeare’s most famous character: “Dr. Baker says that, like Hamlet, I have to choose between life and death. I’m choosing death.” The rest of the note touched on how sick he was of touring, and how Courtney “didn’t love him anymore.” This final point he reinforced by accusing his wife of sleeping with Billy Corgan, who he had always been jealous of. In one of their conversations that week, she’d mentioned Corgan had invited her to go on vacation. She declined, but Kurt heard it as a threat, and his vivid imagination went wild with it. “I’d rather die than go through another divorce,” he wrote, referencing his parents’ split.
Upon discovering Kurt’s lifeless body, Courtney called the front desk, and Kurt was rushed to Umberto I Polyclinic Hospital. Love had retrieved two empty blister packs of Rohypnol next to Kurt—he had taken 60 of the aspirin-size pills, individually removing each from a plastic-and-foil container. Rohypnol has ten times the potency of Valium, and the combined effect was enough to put him very close to death. “He was dead, legally dead,” Love reported later. Yet after his stomach was pumped, Kurt had a slight pulse, though he was in a coma. Doctors told Courtney it was a matter of chance: He might recover uninjured; he might have brain damage; or he might die. During a break in her vigil, she took a cab to the Vatican, purchased more rosary beads, and got down on her knees and prayed. She called his family in Grays Harbor, and they too prayed for him, though his half-sister, eight-year-old Brianne, couldn’t figure out why Kurt was “in Tacoma.”
Later that day, Cable News Network interrupted a broadcast to report Kurt had died of an overdose. Krist and Shelli picked up their phone to hear a Gold Mountain representative with the same sad news. Most of the initial reports of Kurt’s death had originated from David Geffen’s office—a female identifying herself as Courtney had left a message with the label head saying Kurt was dead. After an hour of panic and grief, it was discovered the caller was an impersonator.
As friends in America were being told he was dead, Kurt showed his first signs of life in twenty hours. There were tubes in his mouth, so Courtney handed him a pencil and a notepad, and he jotted, “Fuck you,” followed by, “Get these fucking tubes out of my nose.” When he finally spoke, he asked for a strawberry milkshake. As he stabilized, Courtney had him moved to the American Hospital, where she thought he’d get better care.
The next day, Dr. Osvaldo Galletta held a press conference and announced: “Kurt Cobain is clearly and dramatically improving. Yesterday, he was hospitalized at the Rome American Hospital in a state of coma and respiratory failure. Today, he is recovering from a pharmacological coma, due not to narcotics, but the combined effect of alcohol and tranquilizers that had been medically prescribed by a doctor.” Courtney told reporters that Kurt wasn’t going to “get away” from her that easily. “I’ll follow him through hell,” she said.
When Kurt awoke, he was back in his own small piece of hell. In his mind, nothing had changed: All his problems were still with him, but now were accentuated by the embarrassment of a highly publicized fall from grace. He had always feared arrest; this overdose, and having been declared dead by CNN, was about the only thing that could have been worse.
And despite a near death experience and twenty hours in a coma, he still craved opiates. Later, he would brag that a dealer visited his hospital room and pumped heroin through the IV; he also phoned Seattle and arranged for a gram of heroin to be left in the bushes outside his home.
Back in Aberdeen, Wendy was much relieved to hear Kurt was better. Wendy told the Aberdeen Daily World her son was “in a profession he doesn’t have the stamina to be in.” She told reporter Claude Iosso that she had handled the news well until she looked at the wall: “I took one look at my son’s picture and saw his eyes and I lost it. I didn’t want my son gone.” Wendy had health struggles of her own that year: She had been fighting breast cancer.
Kurt left the hospital on March 8 and four days later flew back to Seattle. On the plane, he asked Courtney for Rohypnol so loudly other passengers overheard him; she told him they were all gone. When they arrived at Sea-Tac airport, he was taken off the plane in a wheelchair, “looking horrible,” according to Travis Myers, a customs agent. Yet when Myers asked for an autograph, Kurt consented, writing, “Hey, Travis, no cannabis.” In America, the scrutiny he dreaded was mostly absent because the official Gold Mountain statement had declared Rome an accidental overdose—few knew he’d taken 60 pills or left a note. Kurt didn’t even tell his best friend, Dylan. “I thought it was an accidental OD, which was the party line, and was believable,” Dylan recalled. Even Novoselic and Grohl were told it was an accidental overdose. Everyone in the organization had witnessed Kurt’s overdoses before; many were resigned his drug use would one day claim his life.
The European tour had been postponed, but the band and crew were told to prepare for Lollapalooza. Kurt had never wanted to play the festival, and he had yet to sign the contract, but management assumed he’d yield. “Nirvana had confirmed they were going to appear on the 1994 Lollapalooza,” said promoter Marc Geiger. “Nothing was in writing at that point, but they were totally confirmed, and we were working on finishing up the contracts.” Nirvana’s take of box office revenues would have been around $8 million.
Kurt felt the offer wasn’t fair; he didn’t want to perform in a festival environment, and he simply didn’t want to tour. Courtney felt he should take the money, arguing that Nirvana needed the career boost. “He was being threatened with being sued for the shows he didn’t do in Europe,” Dylan recalled. “And I think he felt like he was going to be financially ruined.” Rosemary Carroll remembered Kurt emphatically announcing he didn’t want to play the festival. “Everyone around him basically told him that he had to, in his personal life and his professional life,” she said. Kurt handled this situation as he dealt with most conflict: He avoided it, and by stalling, he killed the deal. “He was withdrawing, not from drugs, but from dealing with people,” Carroll recalled. “It was such a difficult time that I think people exaggerated and blamed his drug use when they weren’t getting what they wanted out of him.”
Yet the drugs were present, in quantities greater than ever before. Courtney had hoped Rome would scare Kurt—it had terrified her— so his heedless overuse alarmed her. “I flipped out,” she told David Fricke. She decided to establish an iron-clad rule she hoped would keep Kurt, Cali, and herself clean: She insisted no drugs were to be done inside the house. Kurt’s response was simple and typical: He left his $1.13 million–dollar mansion and checked into $18-a-night motels on seedy Aurora Avenue. Throughout the worst spans of his addiction, he had frequently retreated to these dark places, not even bothering in most instances to check in under an assumed name. He frequented the Seattle Inn, the Crest, the Close-In, the A-1, and the Marco Polo, always paying cash, and in the privacy of his room he would nod off for hours. He favored establishments in northern Seattle: Though they were less convenient to his home, they were close to a favorite dealer. On nights he wouldn’t return home, Courtney became panicked, worried that he’d overdosed. She quickly rescinded her policy. “I wish I’d just been the way I always was, just tolerant of it,” she later told Fricke.
But it wasn’t just Courtney’s disappointment driving Kurt; something was different about him after Rome. Novoselic wondered whether the coma had indeed left him with brain damage. “He wouldn’t listen to anybody,” Krist recalled. “He was so fucked up.” Dylan noticed a shift as well: “He didn’t seem as alive. Before, he had more to him; after, he seemed monochromatic.”
A week after Rome, Kurt’s father phoned, and they had a pleasant but short conversation. He invited his dad to visit, but no one was home when Don arrived. Kurt apologized the next day by phone, claiming he’d been busy. Yet when his father returned two days later, Cali reported Kurt again gone. Truth was Kurt was home but was high and didn’t want his father to see him in such a state. When they next spoke, Kurt promised to call as soon as he got a break from his busy career.
That career—at least when it came to Nirvana—was essentially over by the second week of March. Kurt’s decision to cancel the tour, turn down Lollapalooza, and refuse to practice had finally confirmed what Novoselic and Grohl had suspected was looming for some time. “The band was broken up,” Krist recalled. The only musical project Kurt planned was with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. Stipe had gone so far as to send Kurt plane tickets to Atlanta for a session they had scheduled in mid-March. At the last minute, Kurt cancelled.
On March 12 Seattle police were dispatched to the Lake Washington house after someone called 911 but hung up. Courtney answered the door, apologized for the call, and explained there had been a fight but it was now under control. Kurt told the officer, “There was a lot of stress” in his marriage. He said they should “go to therapy.”
On March 18 Kurt threatened suicide once again, locking himself in the bedroom. Courtney kicked the door, but was unable to break it down. He eventually opened it willingly, and she saw several guns on the floor. She grabbed a .38 revolver and put it to her head. “I’m going to pull this [trigger] right now,” she threatened. “I cannot see you die again.” It was the same game of Russian Roulette they had played in Cedars-Sinai Hospital in 1992. Kurt screamed, “There’s no safety! You don’t understand, there’s no safety on that. It’s going to go off!” He grabbed the gun from her. But a few minutes later, he locked her out again, and was back threatening suicide. Courtney called 911, and two police officers arrived within minutes.
Officer Edwards wrote in his police report that Kurt claimed he was “not suicidal and doesn’t want to hurt himself....He stated that he had locked himself in the room to keep away from Courtney.” Once police arrived, Courtney tried to downplay the episode so Kurt might avoid arrest. Just to be safe, she pointed out his guns, and police seized three pistols and the Colt AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle from the incident the previous summer—these weapons had been returned to Kurt a month after the original domestic violence arrest. The police also impounded 25 boxes of ammunition and a bottle of “white pills”— these later turned out to be Klonopin, a benzodiazepine used primarily for seizure control. Kurt was taking massive quantities of this tranquilizer, thinking it would help him with withdrawal. Klonopin made him paranoid, manic, and delusional. It had not been prescribed; he was instead buying the drug on the street. The officers took Kurt downtown but didn’t formally book him.
Ian Dickson was walking on Pine Street that night and ran into Kurt on a street corner. When Dickson asked what his old friend was up to, Kurt said, “Courtney had me arrested. I just got out of jail.” He described the fight, downplaying the guns. “He said it was a lovers’ spat,” Dickson remembered, “and that he was bummed because he really loved Courtney.” They walked to Piecora’s Pizza, where Kurt complained of being broke. “He asked to borrow $100, and if he could stay at my place,” Dickson recalled. “He was talking about how he was going to get his mom to wire him some money.” Kurt suddenly left, announcing he had to make a phone call.
Four days later, Kurt and Courtney were quarrelling when they took a cab to the American Dream car lot. Courtney urged Kurt to consider another Lexus, but Kurt had other ideas: He bought a 1965 sky blue Dodge Dart for $2,500. He put a “for sale” sign on his trusty Valiant.
He didn’t really need the car because he spent most of that March too messed up to drive. As his overuse spiraled, he found his usual dealers refused to sell to him: No one wanted the trouble of a famous junkie dying in their stairwell. He found a new dealer named Caitlin Moore, who lived at the intersection of 11th and Denny Way and would sell him “speedballs,” a mixture of heroin and cocaine. This was not Kurt’s preferred high, but Moore would allow rock-star clients to fix in her apartment, which was essential because Kurt no longer felt welcome at home.
When he wasn’t at Moore’s or at the Taco Time on Madison—his favorite place to buy a burrito—he could frequently be found at the Granada Apartments, home of Cali’s girlfriend Jennifer Adamson. Jennifer found herself in awe, watching the most famous rock star in the world sitting on her sofa, many times doing drugs, but on other occasions just killing time. “He’d sit in my living room with the hat with the ear coverings, and read magazines,” she said. “People came and went; there was always a lot of activity going on. Nobody knew he was there or recognized him.” In the world of junkie culture, Kurt found some of the anonymity he lacked elsewhere. Yet as Jennifer grew to know Kurt better, she was bewildered at how lonely he seemed. He told Jennifer and Cali, “You guys are my only friends.”
Courtney was unsure what to do to rein him in, and most discussions turned into arguments. “They started to fight a lot,” Jennifer observed. “Clearly he wasn’t reaching out to her at his most desperate time of need, or to anybody else for that matter.” As Kurt moved away from Courtney, he favored Dylan, if only because Dylan never lectured him to clean up his act. One night that spring the two men cemented their relationship by hot-wiring a car and ditching it on Kurt’s Carnation property. “I’ve got this millionaire husband,” Courtney recalled, “and he’s out stealing cars.”
After Rome, even Kurt’s drug buddies observed an increasing desperation to his usage. “When most people are doing a shot of heroin, they pay attention to how much,” Jennifer observed. “They think, ‘let’s make sure this isn’t too much.’ Kurt never thought about that; there was never any hesitation with him. He really didn’t care if it killed him; things would be taken care of that way.” Jennifer began to fear Kurt would OD in her apartment: “It amazed me for such a small person, and such a slight guy, how much he could do. You couldn’t fit enough in the syringe for him.” The third week in March, she chastised Kurt on how he was putting his life in danger, but his reply frightened her even more: “He told me he was going to shoot himself in the head. He said, half jokingly, ‘That’s how I’m going to die.’ ”
By the third week of March, like his beloved Hamlet in the fifth act, Kurt was a changed man and in a frenzy that showed no signs of abating. The drugs, combined with what many around him described as a lifelong undiagnosed depression, shrouded him in madness. Even heroin had betrayed him; he reported it wasn’t as effective a painkiller anymore; his stomach was still hurting. Courtney and Kurt’s managers decided to force him into treatment. In Kurt’s case, everyone knew this was a last-ditch effort at best, with little chance of changing him—he had previously gone through several interventions, and he wasn’t likely to be surprised. He had already been in a half dozen drug treatment facilities, and none had worked for more than a few weeks. But as Courtney saw it, at least an intervention was something they could do, a physical action. As with many families around an active addict, those around Kurt felt increasingly hopeless themselves.
Danny Goldberg contacted Steven Chatoff, of Steps recovery center. “I started having telephone conversations with Kurt where he was very, very loaded,” Chatoff recalled. “He was using quite a bit of heroin, or some other painkillers. But we also discussed, during some of his more coherent times when he wasn’t gravely impaired, about some of his childhood issues and some of his unresolved family of origin issues, and the pain he was in. He had a lot of stomach pain, which he was medicating with these opiates.” Chatoff felt underneath Kurt’s addiction was “a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, or some form of depressive disorder.” He recommended an inpatient treatment program. Chatoff described Kurt’s earlier rehabs as “detox, buff, and shine,” suggesting that they were designed to get Kurt sober, but not deal with the underlying problems.
Chatoff found Kurt surprisingly cooperative, at least at first: “He agreed that he needed [inpatient treatment]; that he needed to work on his ‘psychic pain,’ as he put it.” But one thing Kurt didn’t admit to— and Chatoff at the time wasn’t told by management—was that Rome was a suicide attempt: Chatoff believed what he’d read in the paper, that it had been an accidental overdose.
Kurt expressed grave doubts to Dylan whether rehab would help. Having tried treatment on a half dozen previous occasions, Kurt knew the odds were against repeat patients. Though there were brief moments when he would claim to be willing to go through the pain of withdrawal, most of the time he simply didn’t want to stop: Jackie Farry recalled picking up Kurt from a $2,000-a-day rehab, only to have him direct her to a house she suspected was his dealer’s. His other trips to rehab had all been the result of ultimatums from his managers, wife, or the court, and all had the ultimate same result: He’d gone back to using again.
Chatoff planned his intervention for Tuesday, March 21, but before those involved could even be assembled, Kurt was tipped off, and it was cancelled. Novoselic admitted he had tipped Kurt off, feeling the idea would backfire and that Kurt would flee. “I just felt so bad for him,” Krist recalled. “He looked so fucked up. I knew he wouldn’t listen to it.” Krist saw Kurt for the first time since Rome that week at the Marco Polo Motel on Aurora Avenue. “He was camped out there. He was delusional. It was so weird. He was like, ‘Krist, where can I buy a motorcycle?’ I was like, ‘Fuck, what are you talking about? You don’t want to buy a motorcycle. You’ve got to get the fuck out of here.’ ” Krist invited Kurt to go away on vacation, just the two of them, to talk things out, but Kurt refused. “He was really quiet. He was just estranged from all his relationships. He wasn’t connecting with anybody.”
Kurt complained of being hungry, so Krist offered to buy him dinner at a fancy restaurant; Kurt insisted he wanted a Jack in the Box hamburger. As Novoselic drove toward Jack in the Box in the nearby U-District, Kurt protested: “Those hamburgers are too greasy. Let’s go to the one on Capitol Hill—the food is better there.” Only when they arrived on Capitol Hill did Novoselic realize Kurt didn’t want hamburgers at all: He was simply using his old friend to get a ride to score drugs. “His dealer was right by there. He just wanted to get fucked up into oblivion. There was no talking to him. He just wanted to escape. He wanted to die, that was what he wanted to do.” The two men began screaming at each other and Kurt bolted from the car.
A new counselor named David Burr was hired, and another intervention was scheduled for later that week. Danny Goldberg remembered Courtney pleading on the phone, “You’ve got to come. I’m afraid he’s going to kill himself or hurt someone.” Burr’s intervention occurred on Friday, March 25. Just to make sure Kurt didn’t flee, Courtney slashed the tires on the Volvo and the Dart; the Valiant’s tires were so bald she thought Kurt wouldn’t risk driving it.
This intervention did surprise Kurt, though the timing ultimately was unfortunate: Kurt and Dylan had just gotten high. “Me and Kurt had been up all night partying,” Dylan explained. “And both me and him had just woken up and done a wake-up shot, and walked downstairs, and this sea of people were there to confront him.” Kurt was furious, showing the anger of a newly caged beast. His first reaction was to grab a recycling bin and throw it at Dylan, who he thought had lured him. Dylan told Kurt he wasn’t in on it, and urged Kurt to leave. But Kurt stayed and faced a room full of his managers, friends, and band-mates. It was as if he were on trial, and like a remorseful criminal in a capital case, he kept his eyes focused on the floor during the entire proceeding.
In the room were Courtney; Danny Goldberg, John Silva, and Janet Billig from Gold Mountain; Mark Kates and Gary Gersh from his label; Pat Smear from the band; Cali, the nanny; and the counselor David Burr. Kurt’s mother wasn’t there because she was in Aberdeen caring for Frances. Many of the participants had flown on red-eye flights to arrive in Seattle on short notice. One by one, each person recounted a list of reasons Kurt should go into treatment. Each speaker ended with a threat, the consequence Kurt could expect if he didn’t acquiesce. Danny, John, and Janet said they’d no longer work with him; Gary Gersh said Geffen would drop Nirvana; Smear said Nirvana would break up; and Courtney said she would divorce him. Kurt was silent during these warnings: He had already anticipated these endings, and in every instance he had already hazarded to sever these unions himself.
Though Burr told everyone they “had to confront Kurt,” few present were capable of that. “Everyone was so scared of Kurt,” Goldberg observed. “He had this aura around him, where even I would feel like I was walking on eggshells, and I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. He was so powerful an energy, the other people, with all respect, literally didn’t talk to him at all. They just kind of hung around, and lurked around in the background.” The person who said the most was Burr, who was attempting to professionally run an intervention, but in this case the patient was Kurt Cobain, who wasn’t listening: His addiction was too strong and ingrained a shield for these blows to break it.
The real drama began when Courtney spoke. She was by far the most direct of those in the room, but then she had the most to lose. She begged Kurt to go to treatment, imploring, “This has got to end!...You have to be a good daddy!” And then she threw down the threat she knew would hurt the most: If they divorced, and he continued with his addiction, his access to Frances would be limited.
After everyone other than Kurt had spoken, there was a brief moment of silence, like that which precedes a major battle in a John Wayne movie. Kurt’s eyes slowly rose and malevolently went from person to person, until he won every stare-down contest. When he finally spoke, he spat out words in anger. “Who the fuck are all of you to tell me this?” he bellowed. He took his own inventory of everyone in the room, describing, in explicit detail, instances he had witnessed of their drug usage. Danny Goldberg responded by telling Kurt it was his health they were all concerned with, not anyone else’s. “How are we going to even have a conversation if you are fucked up?” Goldberg implored. “So you get a little clean, and then at least you can have a conversation about it.” Kurt got angrier and angrier, and being a skilled verbal tactician he began to dissect everyone in the room, hitting each with an assault he knew would strike to their core weakness. He called Janet Billig “a fat pig,” and he called everyone in the room a hypocrite. He frantically grabbed the Yellow Pages and turned to the section for psychiatrists. “I don’t trust anybody here,” he declared. “I’m going to get a psychiatrist out of the Yellow Pages I can trust.”
His greatest rage was reserved for Courtney. “His big thing was that Courtney was more fucked up than he was,” Goldberg recalled. Kurt’s attack on Courtney was deflated when he was told she was flying to Los Angeles for rehab. He was urged to accompany her. He refused and continued to dial psychiatrists, getting only answering services. Courtney was a mess herself—the intervention and the last three weeks, where every day she expected to hear news of his overdose, had taken their toll. She had to be helped to a car, and Kurt was offered one more chance to accompany her. He refused, and as her car left, he was frenetically flipping through the Yellow Pages. “I did not even kiss or get to say good-bye to my husband,” Love later told David Fricke.
Kurt insisted no one in the room had any right to judge him. He retired to the basement with Smear, saying that all he wanted to do was play guitar for a while. Those present slowly began to leave; most had to catch flights back to Los Angeles or New York. By evening, even Burr and Smear were gone, and Kurt was left with the same emptiness he felt most days. He spent the rest of the evening at his dealer’s complaining about the intervention. The dealer later told a newspaper that Kurt had asked her, “Where are my friends when I need them? Why are my friends against me?”
The next day Jackie Farry came back to work for the Cobains and took Frances to Los Angeles to be near Courtney. Kurt’s mother and sister drove to Seattle, urged by Courtney, to try to talk to him. Their confrontation went no better than the intervention, and it left all parties with a greater sense of heartache and loss. Kurt was obviously high, and it anguished Wendy and Kim to see him in so much emotional pain. He wouldn’t listen: It had come to a point where nothing could be talked through anymore. As mother and sister were leaving—both in tears—Kim, being the most direct of the family, asked her brother one more question as she stood in the door: “Do you really hate us this much?” As she said this she was weeping, which must have appeared extraordinary to Kurt: Kim was always the tough one, the one that never cried. And here she was at the door of his house, and it was he who was making her cry. “Oh yeah,” he replied, sounding as sarcastic as she had ever heard him. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I really hate you guys. I hate you guys.” Kim couldn’t say anything else—she had to leave.
In Los Angeles Courtney checked into the Peninsula Hotel to begin a controversial treatment plan called “hotel detox.” She was to be seen several times a day by a drug counselor in a hotel suite, avoiding the glare of a more public treatment center. She tried calling the Seattle house but got no answer.
Kurt, as she suspected, was out doing drugs. He was now alone in the house with Cali. Kurt showed up at a local dealer’s house later that day, but had bought and used so much heroin that the dealer refused to sell him any more: They did this both out of feigned concern for his health and fear that if he overdosed on their dope, it might bring the police upon them. “He was on a binge,” reported Rob Morfitt, who knew several people who encountered Kurt that weekend. “He was going around and getting extremely screwed up.” Kurt’s normal carelessness was replaced by a death wish that frightened even the most seasoned, cynical junkies. The last few months of his drug use, he had wantonly shared needles with other users, ignoring public health warnings about HIV and hepatitis. Black tar heroin frequently caused abscesses from the impurities used to cut it. By March, Kurt’s arms had scabs and abscesses, which themselves were a potential health danger.
Later that day he bribed other users to score heroin for him, promising them drugs in return. When the drugs were split up in their apartment and cooked, Kurt prepared a syringe that was as black as coal— he had failed to use enough water to dilute it. His compatriots looked on in horror as upon injecting himself, he immediately began to suffer the consequences of an OD. A panic went through the apartment, as Kurt began to gasp for air: If he died there, the police would inevitably be involved. The apartment residents ordered Kurt to leave, and when he was incapable of moving, they dragged him outside. His Valiant was parked on the street and they planted him in the back seat. One person offered to call 911, but Kurt was conscious enough to hear this and shook his head. They left him alone, figuring that if he wanted to die, he was going to do it on his own watch.
This is what it all had come to: The most famous rock star of his generation was lying in the backseat of a car, unable to talk, unable to move, and one more time coming just inches away from dying. He had spent many nights in this car—it was as reliable and cozy a home as he ever had—and it was as good a place to die as any. The “for sale” sign on the back window, written on a piece of a cardboard, had his home phone number on it.
Kurt didn’t die that weekend. In yet one more feat that defied science, his constitution survived another dose of heroin that would have killed most people. When he woke up in the car the next day, his emotional and physical pain were back: What he wanted more than anything was to be free from all hurts. Even heroin wasn’t helping now.
When he returned home, there were numerous messages from Courtney, and also messages from a new psychiatrist named Dr. Steven Scappa, who Buddy Arnold had recommended. Kurt called Scappa back and began to have long conversations with him. He seemed to be softening and connecting with Scappa in a way that he hadn’t with some of the other doctors. That Monday, he also took a call from Rosemary Carroll, who tried to talk him into treatment. “You are making it easy,” she told him, “for a lot of these people that you want to stop controlling your life to paint a completely negative picture of you; for them to essentially maintain control, because of the drug issue. If you go do the treatment thing, you give them one less arrow in their quiver, you radically diminish their ammunition. It may not make any sense, and it may not be based in logic, but that’s the way it is. So you go, and deal with this. It will make solving these problems easier when you get out. It will give us a basis to stand on.” Kurt’s response was, “I know.” He told Carroll he would try treatment one more time.
That Tuesday, reservations were made for Kurt to fly to Los Angeles, and Krist was enlisted to take him to the airport. When Kurt arrived at Krist’s house, it was obvious he did not want to go. As they took the 25-minute drive, Kurt sobbed and yelled and screamed. On Interstate 5, near the Tukwila exit, Kurt tried to open the door and jump from the moving car. Krist couldn’t believe this was happening, yet with his long arms he managed to hold on to Kurt as he drove, even as his car swerved. They made it to the airport a few minutes later, but Kurt hadn’t improved: Krist had to drag him by the collar, the way a schoolmaster might escort a ruffian to the principal’s office. In the main terminal, Kurt punched Krist in the face and attempted to flee. Krist tackled him, and a wrestling match ensued. The two old friends brawled on the floor of the crowded airport terminal, cursing and punching each other like two drunks in an Aberdeen bar brawl. Kurt freed himself from his friend’s grasp and ran through the building screaming, “Fuck you!” as shocked passengers looked on. The last Krist saw of Kurt was his blond mop turning the corner.
Krist drove back to Seattle alone, sobbing. “Krist had such a huge, huge amount of love for Kurt,” Shelli recalled. “We both did. He was family to us. I’d known him for almost half his life.” As a teenager, Shelli had slipped Kurt free Big Macs from behind the counter at the Aberdeen McDonald’s. For a couple of weeks back in 1989, Kurt, Tracy, Krist, and Shelli had all shared the same double bed, sleeping in shifts. Kurt had once lived in a van behind their house, and Shelli would bring him blankets to make sure he didn’t freeze to death. Krist and Kurt had driven what seemed like a million miles together, and they had told each other things they had never told another soul. But that Tuesday night, Krist told Shelli he knew in his heart he would never see Kurt alive again, and he was right.
Later that night, Kurt talked on the phone with Scappa several times, and also had what Courtney remembered as a pleasant conversation with her. He nodded out during it, but despite his actions earlier with Krist, he again was agreeing to treatment. Arrangements were made for him to fly out the next day.
Having resignedly agreed to go, Kurt did what most active addicts do before heading into treatment: He tried to do so much heroin that some would remain in his system during those first horrible days of withdrawal. The next afternoon, Kurt drove to Dylan’s with a favor to ask: He wanted to buy a gun “for protection and because of prowlers,” since the police had taken away all his other weapons, and he wondered if Dylan would purchase it for him. Dylan accepted this logic, even though there was no registration in Washington for rifles. They drove to Stan Baker’s Sports at 10000 Lake City Way. “If Kurt was suicidal,” Dylan later recalled, “he sure hid it from me.” Inside, Kurt pointed to a Remington M-11 twenty-gauge shotgun. Dylan bought it and a box of shells, paying $308.37 in cash, which Kurt handed him. Having purchased the shotgun, Kurt went home.
That night Harvey Ottinger, a driver for Washington Limousine Service, arrived in his town car as scheduled at the Lake Washington house. He waited an hour, and Kurt finally came down carrying a small satchel. On the way to the airport, Kurt realized he had left the box of shotgun cartridges in his bag, and asked Ottinger if he’d dispose of them. The driver said yes, and as they pulled up to Sea-Tac, Kurt exited the car and hurried for his flight to Los Angeles.