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Chester Bennington Was the Hero of My Adolescence [Editorial]

Chester Bennington
Photo Credit: iHeart Radio

It’s been a month since his passing, and my feelings haven’t waned much since that day. When the news of Chester Bennington’s death reached my ears, I was in absolute shock, and like many other Linkin Park fans, utter disbelief. I had a lot of hope that it was just another death hoax story, but then Mike Shinoda’s heartbreaking Twitter post confirmed it. That was when I knew that I had to face that my childhood hero was gone.

I felt as though I’d lost a longtime friend.

In what’s purported to be his last interview, Chester Bennington talked openly about his depression, and how he should never be left to his own thoughts because his mind was a “bad neighborhood, and I shouldn’t be there alone,” going on to describe this “other Chester who wants to take me down.”

Chester Bennington was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona on March 20, 1976. Around the age of seven, an older friend started sexually abusing him. In his words: “It escalated from a touchy, curious, ‘what does this thing do’ into full-on, crazy violations. I was getting beaten up and being forced to do things I didn’t want to do. It destroyed my self-confidence.”

Between the abuse and his parents’ divorce, he felt as though he had no one to turn to, and thus turned to writing poetry, listening to music, and more tragically, drugs that included opium, amphetamines, alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. “I’ve done everything,” he admitted, “I got really, really bad.” His drinking and drug use was further fueled by the fact that under the influence, he felt more confident and more in control of his surroundings. Bennington also struggled greatly from bullying in high school. “I was knocked around like a rag doll at school, for being skinny and looking different,” he said.

In 1992, he was hanging out at a friend’s house and a gang known as the Mexican Mafia burst through the door. They pistol-whipped his friends, swept the house for money, and stole Bennington’s bike from outside. In that moment, he decided to change his life by quitting drugs. Not long after, he started singing in the band Sean Dowdell And His Friends?. After releasing a three-track cassette, Bennington and Dowdell moved on to form a new band, Grey Daze.

Grey Daze members: Steve Mitchell, Jonathan Krause, Chester Bennington, Sean Dowdell
Photo Credit: Grey Daze

Grey Daze released one demo tape and two albums during their six years as a band. Demo (a four-track mixtape) was released in 1993. Wake Me was released in 1994 and …no sun today was released in 1997. After some disputes about differences in musical pursuits, Bennington left Grey Daze in 1998. He struggled to find another band, and swore off music for a time, taking a job as an assistant at a digital services firm.

Then there was Xero, the brainchild of Mike Shinoda, Rob Bourdin and Brad Delson. After graduating from high school, the three of them decided to seriously pursue music. This led to the recruitment of Joe Hahn, Dave “Phoenix” Farrell and Mark Wakefield. After a number of failed attempts to land a record deal, Wakefield left the band to pursue other musical projects. Phoenix also left the band to tour with Tasty Snax.

Jeff Blue, the VP of A&R at Zomba Entertainment, offered Bennington an audition with Xero. And so, Bennington recorded the audition song in a day. Bennington’s voice stood out from all the other applicants, and they decided he was just what they needed. Bennington made the move from Phoenix, Arizona to Los Angeles, California. With the new co-lead singer, Xero changed its name to Hybrid Theory.

First Photo of Xero.
Photo Credit: Mike Shinoda

In 1999, with the help of an online street team, the band released Hybrid Theory EP through chat rooms and forums. Soon after that, another Warner Brothers band called Hybrid came onto the scene, and the band had to change their name. Bennington suggested they change their name to Lincoln Park, a park he regularly passed in Santa Monica. But they were unable to obtain the website, and decided a change in spelling was best. And thus, Linkin Park was born.

Their first full-length album Hybrid Theory was released on October 24, 2000. The album represented about half a decade of the band’s work, and it was a massive commercial success. In its debut year, Hybrid Theory sold more than 4.8 million copies and singles, while Crawling and One Step Closer because mainstays on alternative radio stations.

In addition to some of the singles making their way into movies like Little Nicky, Dracula 2000 and Valentine, the band received Grammy Nominations for Best New Artist and Best New Album, as well as a nomination and win for Best Hard Rock Performance. MTV awarded the band their Best Rock Video and Best Direction awards for In the End. After their Grammy win, the band was launched headfirst into mainstream success. Eventually, Hybrid Theory would become certified diamond and a point of comparison for the fans.

Linkin Park were invited on a number high profile tours, including Ozzfest, Family Values Tour, and KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas. In November 2001, the band worked with Jessica Sklar to get Linkin Park Underground (their official fan club and street team) up and running. Former bassist Dave Farrell was reunited with the band in November 2001, and they got to work on a remix album called Reanimation.

In 2002, Reanimation was released, and in its first week it sold over a quarter of a million copies and claimed the second spot on Billboard 200. That same year, Linkin Park started the Projekt Revolution Tour, which featured other notable artists like Cypress Hill, Snoop Dog, and Adema. Chester Bennington and Joe Hahn even made a guest appearance on Adema’s music video for The Way That You Like It.

Linkin Park started working on their second original studio album, Meterora, while touring around the United States, announced to fans in December 2002. Almost instantly after its release on March 25th, 2003 Meteora shot up to the No. 1 spots on US Billboard 200 and UK Albums chart.

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