Singer, songwriter, actress. Born Courtney Michelle Harrison on July 9, 1964, in San Francisco, California. Outspoken, brash, and sometimes out of control, Courtney Love has become one of alternative rock’s most fascinating figures. She is the widow of legendary Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain as well as an accomplished solo artist in her own right. Love, however, has made more headlines for her outrageous exploits than her talent.
Her parents—Hank Harrison, an associate of the Grateful Dead and Linda Carroll, a therapist—divorced when she was only five years old. Raised by her mother, Love lived in a commune for several years. She then spent time in a reform school in her early teens for shoplifting and became a stripper at the age of 16, according to an article in Stella magazine. While living in Oregon, she befriended Kat Bjelland.
After a few attempts at college, Love spent a lot of time traveling the world, visiting places such as Japan, Ireland, and even Liverpool where she met a musician named Julian Cope and moved in with him, becoming a regular face at his gigs. She funded her travels with money she received from her grandmother and from working as a stripper.
The relationship didn’t last and Love eventually returned to America. Love joined up with old friend Bjelland, forming the all-female punk trio Sugar Baby Doll with Jennifer Finch. Love and Bjelland developed their trademark fashion style around this time, appearing on stage in babydoll dresses, heavy make-up, and with messy hair. The band split up after Bjelland kicked Love out of the group. Finch went on to become the bassist in L7, another female-driven alternative rock group. Later Love and Bjelland reunited to create Babes in Toyland in 1987 with Lori Barbero on drums. But soon Love was pushed out by Bjelland.
In addition to music, Love tried acting. She caught the attention of film director Alex Cox in 1986 who decided to cast her in a small role in Sid and Nancy. The film told the story of punk music’s most famous star-crossed lovers, Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his lover Nancy Spungen, which starred Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb. Sid and Nancy wasn’t a success but Love persisted with her acting career with another of Cox’s ventures, Straight To Hell, the following year, but this was even more of a flop, going straight to DVD.
Living in Los Angeles, Love started to take music more seriously, learning to become a better guitar player. She founded her own band Hole in 1989 with Eric Erlandson after he replied to an ad she placed for musicians. They then brought in Jill Emery on bass and Caroline Rue on drums. Soon the group was making waves in the underground music scene with such singles as “Dicknail” and “Retard Girl.” Produced by Don Fleming of Gumball and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Hole’s debut album, Pretty on the Inside (1991), attracted some critical attention in England. Love soon began to meet and befriend more influential musicians such as Michael Stipe of REM and Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins.
The year before Hole’s album release, Love met Kurt Cobain from the band Nirvana at the Satyricon club in Portland. They later ran into each other at another show in 1991. Two months after the release of Nirvana’s huge hit album, Nevermind, the couple started up a whirlwind romance. They were married on a Hawaii beach in February 1992. This was her second marriage, having been wed very briefly to James Moreland in 1989. In August 1992, the couple welcomed their first and only child, daughter Frances Bean. As the wife of an alternative rock icon, Love received a boost to her own music career, with major record labels suddenly began to take more serious notice of Love’s work.
The couple soon found themselves in legal hot water. Love told Vanity Fair that she used heroin while unknowingly pregnant with Frances. The story touched off an official investigation by social services. But in the end, Love and Cobain retained custody of their daughter.
Love’s joint drug abuse with her husband began to accelerate at a rapid pace, culminating in the tragic events of April 5, 1994. Cobain, deeply depressed, committed suicide using a shotgun to his head. His death was thought to be a suicide, and Love made the brave and public step of reading out the note he left behind to hoards of distressed fans at his memorial service a few days later.
Cobain’s suicide came just before Hole’s first huge commercial album release Live Through This (1994). And while still grieving for her husband, Love was then forced to endure more emotional torment when Hole’s bassist Kristen Pfaff overdosed on heroin and died just two months later.
Rumors circulated that Cobain had co-written a large part of Hole’s second album but Love vehemently denied this. To protect the band and Cobain’s name, Love maintained a fairly professional relationship with the remaining Nirvana band mates and formed a partnership with them in 1997 called Nirvana LLC which would control all Nirvana related releases and try and protect the interests of all parties. However, the relations between Love and the group eventually became strained and by 2001, Love sought to terminate the company.
Not one to sit back and crumble, Love picked herself up and recruited a new replacement for Pfaff before touring with Hole internationally in 1995, appearing at worldwide festivals including Reading. Live Through This had become a critical success and the song “Doll Parts” did well on the pop and modern rock charts.
Still interested in acting, Love took on the role of Althea Flynt, the wife of Hustler publisher Larry Flynt in The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996). Woody Harrelson portrayed her on-screen husband in the film, which was directed by Milos Forman. Love’s performance won great acclaim and earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. She became romantically linked to Edward Norton who had a supporting role in the film. Three years later, she reteamed with Forman for Man on the Moon, a biopic about comedian Andy Kaufman (played by Jim Carrey).
Meanwhile, Hole released their third album, Celebrity Skin, in 1998, which managed to garner the same amount of fan interest as her previous release. Friend Billy Corgan helped Love and Erlandson write the title track, which reached the top of the modern rock charts. The entire recording climbed as high as the number nine spot on Billboard’s album chart.
The band went on a world tour again to promote the album, ending back in America with a co-headline set of gigs with Marilyn Manson. The collaboration didn’t gel well and Hole dropped out, citing no animosity but stating that they had to pay 50 percent of Manson’s stage costs as the sole reason.
Hole’s fame may have been at the level Love desired but after giving a speech at the Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference in 2000, she branded the recording contract system corrupt and was famously quoted as saying the band “may as well be working at a 7-Eleven.”
Love had begun to lose interest in Hole by 2001 and formed the short-lived all-female punk rock band Bastard. A demo was completed but amounted to nothing after conflicts between Love and the bassist Gina Crosley. In May 2002, Hole announced that they were splitting up and it was time for Love to go it alone.
Seemingly, Love’s one-time musical and acting acclaim had fallen by the wayside as her drug addictions had clearly become the dominating factor in her life. So followed the self-destructive downfall of Love and the increase of her rowdy public behavior.
In February 2003, Love was arrested at Heathrow airport on arrival from Los Angeles for a benefit at the Old Vic theatre. During the Virgin Atlantic flight it was claimed that she had been abusive to the crew and when the plane landed, Love was met by police officers and escorted to a van where she was held in custody overnight before being released without charge.
In October, Love was arrested in Los Angeles in the act of breaking several windows to enter her then-boyfriend, manager and producer Jim Barber’s home. Barber did not press charges but Love was charged for being under the influence of a controlled substance. She was released on bail. But just four hours later, she was rushed to hospital to be treated for an accidental overdose. Eight days later, Love’s daughter Frances Bean was put in the care of Wendy O’Connor, Cobain’s mother.
Following the incident, Love pleaded not guilty to drug charges related to possession of painkillers but in February 2004, an arrest warrant was issued after she failed to appear at a preliminary hearing.
Getting her act together temporarily, Love appeared in court the same month, having also released her first solo venture album America’s Sweetheart simultaneously. The album was panned, probably not helped by Love’s constant media coverage for her behavior under the influence.
Since Love’s drugs possession charge in 2003, her daughter had resided with her paternal grandmother but in January 2005, she finally regained custody of her after completing a rehab program and entering a probation period. However by August the same year, Love admitted using drugs again in violation of her probation. She was ordered onto a 28-day drug treatment program which Love then also violated and was subsequently sentenced to six months in a closed rehab unit.
Three months after being released from the court-ordered rehab, Love began to record her second solo album which she’d taken time out to write during her period of confinement. The album entitled Nobody’s Daughter was delayed and as of June 2009 it is reportedly forthcoming but instead of a solo album, it will be released as a Hole record.