Chris Cornell, the late lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave, was married twice. His first wife was Susan Silver, who managed both Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. The two were married until 2004 and had a daughter together, Lillian Jean.
Cornell died at age 52 on May 17, shortly after Soundgarden finished its performance in Detroit. Police told the Detroit Free Press that his death is being investigated as a possible suicide. Police said he was found with a band around his neck in his MGM Grand hotel room.
After his divorce from Silver, he married Vicky Karayiannis. The couple had two children, daughter Toni and son Christopher Nicholas.
Here’s what you need to know about Cornell’s first wife.
1. The Couple Divorced in 2004, but Years of Court Battles & Lawsuits Followed Until 2008
As a 2010 Spin profile on Soundgarden notes, the couple first split in 2002 and finalized their divorce in 2004. But that wasn’t the end of the battles between the two.
In 2005, he filed a $1 million lawsuit, claiming that the 58-year-old Silver cheated him out of royalties and never returned his Grammys, recordings and other memorabilia. As MTV News reported in 2006, Cornell also claimed that Silver violated California’s Talent Agency Act by booking gigs for Soundgarden without their permission. Also in 2006, he sued his former divorce lawyer and accountant, claiming they were negligent by letting Silver co-own musical works instead of just giving her a cut of his royalties.
In 2008, Cornell wrote on his website that he finally got back 15 guitars that were in Silver’s possession. “It seems to me that some strangely desperate people involved in the music business forget that they are not the ones that write these songs, spill their guts and expose themselves to the public on the most personal level. We invent this s**t and f**king own it and no matter what, nothing will change that,” Cornell wrote at the time.
In her interview with Spin, Silver said she was disappointed that the divorce battles went public.
“I turned the other cheek really up until this moment,” she told Spin. “I’ve never publicly talked about any of this. After he cut off the [Audioslave] guys, he seemed to surround himself with really bad choices. It didn’t ever have to be acrimonious. It’s incredibly painful, unnecessary, and expensive when someone is abusing the legal system to try to hurt another person.”
2. Silver Was Also Alice In Chain’s Manager
As Spin notes, Silver was an influential manager in the Seattle music scene. She also managed Alice In Chains (AIC) while managing Soundgarden.
In 2015, David De Sola’s Alice In Chains: The Untold Story included a 1993 anecdote about Silver’s relationship with AIC’s Layne Staley. Staley battled drug addiction for most of his adult life and died in 2002 at age 34.
According to the New York Daily News‘ review of De Sola’s book, Silver once yelled at Staley during a 1993 show. She saw him leave the stage during the middle of a song to get high. She told him that he would have to tell the audience that the show was ending early because of his drug use. He refused, but she yelled back, “I pay you… Go f***ing do it now.” This was during Staley’s last major tour.
The Daily News also notes that Staley’s mother filed a lawsuit, claiming that he tried to leave the band but Silver forced him to stay because he’d cause the band’s staff to lose their jobs.
“I loved him and will always love him,” Silver said in a statement after Staley’s death. “He was like a brother to me. He was this little broken but gentle spirit. We did everything we could thing of to help him choose life, but sadly the disease won instead.”
3. She Allegedly Hired a Private Eye to Snoop on Cornell & the Detective Was Charged With Trespassing
Before the lawsuits were behind them, Blabbermouth reported in 2007 that the New York Post claimed that the man who was arrested for allegedly breaking into Cornell and Vicky’s home was a private detective hired by Silver. The suspect, Matthew Turner, was caught literally with his pants down on a security camera the couple had installed in the bathroom.
“He broke into their home,” a source told the Post. “He even used the Cornells’ bathroom. Chris and his wife, Vicky, had gotten death threats in the past, so they have a state-of-the-art surveillance system which captured all of this on tape.”
4. Silver Retired From Managing Bands in 1998
She graduated from the University of Washington, where she majored in Chinese.
5. She Thought Cornell Reunited With Soundgarden in 2010 Because He ‘Didn’t Have Anywhere Else to Go’
In 2010, Soundgarden got back together and their reunion resulted in the 2012 album King Animal. They also released the greatest hits package Telephantasm in 2010.
In her interview with Spin at the time, Silver said she thought the reunion happened just because Cornell’s solo career wasn’t going well.
“Chris didn’t have anywhere else to go,” she told Spin. “His solo career was so unfocused that he started to modify his behavior to make this work and earn the other guys’ trust back. Making amends takes awhile, which is why there’s only been a club show and a commitment to one national show.”
Guitarist Kim Thayil disagreed with that.
“Susan certainly understands some aspects of Chris differently than I do,” Thayil told Spin. “I think her perspective is as grown-up, fair, professional, and objective as an ex-wife’s can be. But there was never any strong animosity with any of us. If there was some mountain to climb there, I wouldn’t waste my time with that and I can’t imagine Chris would.”