"Doctor Saw Cobain's Suicide Coming" Newsday Ellis Henican; 04-10-1994.

Doctor Saw Cobain's Suicide Coming

Ellis Henican

The telephone rang Friday night at a doctor's office in Rome, Italy.

Dr. Osvaldo Galletta, who was working late, picked up the phone himself. "Of course," the doctor said. He remembered the musician from America, Kurt Cobain. It was barely a month ago that Cobain, his mind in a mile-deep coma and his belly full of drugs and alcohol, was wheeled into Galletta's hospital, which is the American Hospital in Rome.

Cobain was not expected to live through the night. But the doctor, with patience and a powerful stomach pump, managed to stabilize the musician's vital signs. And after a couple of days, the coma completely evaporated.

"Now, everything I have done has been useless," the doctor said.

Before last month's overdose, the Italian doctor, who is 59 years old, had never heard of Kurt Cobain. He had never listened to the music of the band Nirvana, and the whole concept of "grunge" was completely foreign to him.

But he knew a junkie when he met one.

"After he woke up, he told me it was an accident," the doctor said. "He said he had been confused. He had taken pharmaceuticals and alcohol together. He said it was just a mistake."

The doctor had his doubts. Cobain, he could tell, was a veteran needle-drug user. He could see that from the veins. And longtime drug users, the doctor knew, are rarely ignorant about the facts of pharmacology. "I made sure he had a room with no windows," the doctor said.

Cobain had the usual enablers around him. The wife, a former stripper named Courtney Love, was backing up the big-mistake theory of the overdose. So were the various Nirvana hangers-on who had rushed to the hospital in Rome. And when Cobain woke, he had the usual junkie's charm, enough of it at least to quiet the doctor's questions.

"He was very tender with his little girl, who is about 2 years old, I suppose," the doctor said. "He told me he was feeling much better. He said he was happy to be going home. I suggested he take a period of extended rest. I told him, `Nobody ever died from too much rest.' "

The doctor was right about that, too. When Cobain died last week at home in Seattle, it wasn't from too much rest. It was a single blast from a shotgun, which he had pointed directly at his own head.

"It does confirm my suspicions," the doctor said from Rome. "I don't know what you can do in cases like this."

Cobain's death at age 27 may not mean too much to people over 35. But to millions of unhappy young people across America, the songs of Nirvana said something loud and true. The sound fell somewhere between pop and punk. The band spoke to an alienated generation, especially to young people in their 20s, adrift with no jobs, no ambition, no future and little hope.

The album "Nevermind" sold 10 million copies and made Cobain a star. It also turned Seattle into the hottest music town in America and convinced young people everywhere to wear flannel shirts again. "Grunge," the music and the style was called.

Cobain, with his stringy blond hair and waifish physique, was the top grunge poster boy. He played guitar, sang and wrote most of Nirvana's songs. And he was, by all accounts, utterly unequipped to handle the band's phenomenal success.

Since the big album hit, he'd been spending most of his time shooting huge amounts of heroin, lying about his drug use and bemoaning the burdens of superstardom.

"Teenage angst has paid off well," he sang on the band's latest album, which came out last fall. "Now I'm bored and old."

He was, in fact, a new kind of pop idol, full of aches and pains and hopelessness. This is who young people look to, when their lives are not full enough.

Cobain said he had a terrible stomach disorder. But it never seemed to show up on any medical test.

He said he used heroin to "self-medicate" the stomach pain. He said, but nobody believed that explained his ferocious drug use.

In February of 1992, he married Courtney Love. She was loud and blond and pushy, everything Cobain was not. She had her own band, called Hole. After she married Cobain, Hole was signed to a million-dollar contract. The two of them were the John and Yoko of the 1990s. Or the Sid and Nancy, depending on how old you are.

Later that year, they had a baby, Frances Bean Cobain. Courtney said she was using herion during the pregnancy. Then, she denied she had said any such thing. After the baby was born, Cobain said he had given up his drug use once and for all.

That, of course, was a lie.

When Cobain got out of Dr. Galletta's hospital in Rome, he again announced that drugs were a thing of the past. Again, not quite true. He was binging so hard, his friends finally dragged him to a Los Angeles drug-rehab clinic. But he quickly checked himself out. He said he didn't need the help.

Yeah, right.

Despite all the lying, Cobain always had a special credibility with the fans. Partly, this was because of the angst-filled lyrics. Partly, it was his powerful singing voice. And partly, it was because his own early biography so mirrored so many of theirs.

He came out of Aberdeen, Wash., a ragged logging town where the timber mill jobs were disappearing. His parents divorced when he was 8. He was bounced among relatives who would grow quickly tired of him. Even in his middle-20s, Cobain still had the look of a kid who got beat up a lot in high school, a kid who had found his success in rock-and-roll and his solace in too many drugs.

"What a terrible message to leave for the people who loved him, the young people who loved his music," Dr. Galletta said, after hearing the news of Cobain's final hopeless step. "I hate to think he was moving in that direction all along."

Ellis Henican, Doctor Saw Cobain's Suicide Coming. , Newsday, 04-10-1994, pp A07.

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