The Story Of Wendy Cobain And Her Relationship With Her Troubled Son, Kurt

Published May 28, 2024
Updated May 29, 2024

Kurt Cobain’s mother Wendy said she and her son were so close that they were "like twins" — and when he went just a few days without calling her during one stretch in early 1994, she correctly suspected it was because he had finally taken his own life.

Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and/or images of violent, disturbing, or otherwise potentially distressing events.

Wendy Cobain

PA Images / Alamy Stock PhotoKurt Cobain’s mother Wendy O’Connor (left), daughter Frances Bean Cobain (center), and sister Kim Cobain.

Kurt Cobain, the frontman of 1990s rock band Nirvana, has long been a tragic figure. A talented songwriter, Cobain seemed to always struggle with not just his fame, but also his personal demons. Still, when Cobain died by suicide in 1994, it was a shocking, sorrowful moment for fans and friends alike. But perhaps no one was more impacted by his death than his own mother, Wendy Cobain.

After his death, Cobain’s mother would say of their relationship that they “were like twins.” She described her son as a “goofy” child who would always laugh, but as he grew up — and largely after his parents’ divorce — that laughter went away.

Wendy Cobain watched as her son came of age, struggled with his mental health, and fell into a lifestyle of drug use and grunge. Even as his fame rose, it did little to help his mental state.

But in the wake of his death, Wendy Cobain has worked to preserve her son’s legacy and share his story with the world.

How The Divorce Of Kurt Cobain’s Parents Impacted Him As A Boy

In 1965, Wendy Fradenburg, then a waitress, married a mechanic named Donald Cobain. Within two years, on Feb. 20, 1967, they had their first child, Kurt, and three years after that had another child, Kimberly.

For a time, they seemed like a typical, happy family. Kurt showed an early interest in the arts — it was in the family, after all. Wendy’s brother Chuck had been in a band called the Beachcombers, and his paternal grandmother, Iris, was a professional artist.

It’s not surprising, then, that Kurt would come to embrace his own artistic side, drawing pictures of his favorite cartoon characters in his room and showing early promise as a musician.

“He would play his drums for me — he was a drummer before he was a guitarist — and I would be just gone on it,” Wendy Cobain told Entertainment Weekly in a 1994 interview. “He thought I was just being his mother.”

Kurt Cobain Drumming

Wikimedia CommonsYoung Kurt Cobain playing a snare drum.

Wendy described Kurt as a goofy kid who liked to laugh, but that changed suddenly when he was seven years old and she and Donald divorced.

The sudden split had a profound effect on Kurt, who, in a “lost” 1993 interview told British rock journalist Jon Savage that he was “ashamed” that he could no longer have a “typical family” after the split. He came to deeply resent his parents.

Kurt And Wendy Cobain Stay Close After The Divorce

Kurt Cobain went about 10 years without speaking to his father. However, he remained close to his mother. “I’ve always kept a relationship with my mom,” he said, “because she’s always been the more affectionate one… My father is incapable of showing much affection, or even of carrying on a conversation.”

Wendy Cobain And Kurt

Family HandoutWendy and Kurt Cobain.

Wendy Cobain said they had an almost telepathic connection.

“We never did get that umbilical cord cut,” she said. “When I would think of him, he would call me — it was really weird.”

But she also started to notice a change. Her son was smiling less and becoming more rebellious. And it just continued to get worse.

“Kurt’s problems were ongoing, and we struggled with them for years. I talked him through so many nights. He was probably a mis- or undiagnosed depressive, which runs in my family,” she said. “My grandfather, I would say, died from that, ’cause he tried to commit suicide and eventually died from the injuries.”

Unfortunately, in this instance, Wendy Cobain’s mother’s intuition was right.

The Tragic Death Of Kurt Cobain

Just over half a year after Nirvana released their album In Utero, on April 5, 1994, Kurt Cobain died by suicide in the greenhouse above his garage at his Seattle home. He was just 27 years old at the time of his death, and alongside Cobain’s body police found a heroin kit, cigarettes, Cobain’s suicide note, and a shotgun.

Kurt Cobain Playing With Nirvana

Fabio Diena/Alamy Stock PhotoKurt Cobain playing a show with Nirvana in February 1994.

“Please keep going Courtney, for Frances, for her life which will be so much happier without me. I love you I LOVE YOU!” the note concludes.

By this point, Cobain’s relationship with fellow musician Courtney Love was well known — and somewhat controversial — and the two had a daughter together, Frances Bean Cobain. For Cobain to have taken his own life, believing his daughter would be happier without him, offers a deep insight into his mental state, and how greatly it had declined over the years.

Fringe theories about his death aside, it was a heartbreaking and tragic conclusion to a story that, for many, had only seemingly just begun.

Wendy Cobain And The Rest Of Kurt’s Loved Ones React To His Passing

“People have asked me, aren’t you angry at Kurt for taking such a cheap way out, for leaving Frances and you, and I said no, not at all,” Wendy Cobain said. “People don’t understand what depression is… He was a wonderful person, but he just couldn’t stand the pain anymore. That’s why I’m not angry at Kurt.”

Fans of Nirvana haven’t always looked kindly back at Cobain’s relationship with Courtney Love, and some have even blamed her for his suicide (or outright accused her of murder).

Courtney Love And Kurt Cobain

Barry King/Alamy Stock PhotoCourtney Love and Kurt Cobain, pictured with their infant daughter Frances Bean.

Love has certainly been a controversial figure in her lifetime, but she did still raise their daughter alongside Wendy and other family members, and the shock and pain of losing Cobain never seemed to fade.

Love has spoken about their relationship publicly many times, but in 2019, Cobain’s mother and sister got together to create their own dedication to the late rock star, sharing how their experiences with Kurt Cobain differed from those of Love’s.

Wendy O’Connor And Kimberly Cobain Pay Tribute To Kurt Cobain’s Legacy

In 2019, the Irish Independent interviewed Cobain’s daughter, Frances Bean, about a new exhibition her grandmother and aunt had curated to honor the Nirvana frontman.

Kurt And Wendy Cobain On Christmas

Family HandoutKurt Cobain, his mother Wendy, and Courtney Love seated together opening presents.

The exhibition, entitled “Growing Up Kurt Cobain,” included a collection of Cobain’s personal belongings, including handwritten lyrics, clothing, awards, photographs, drawings, toys, and home videos among other items.

The goal, according to Kim and Wendy Cobain, was to paint a more balanced narrative of his life, which has largely been looked at through a dark lens since his death.

Courtney Love And Wendy O'Connor

Barry King / Alamy Stock PhotoCourtney Love and Wendy O’Connor in December 1996.

“We love to think of him as this mysterious, dark poet laureate and he was but he was also quite funny and warm and a brother and son and I think this is more reflective of that,” Frances Bean Cobain said. “And I think it’s important to the narrative to recognize that those were equally as important aspects of his personality as the darker serious poet laureate we know him to be.”

Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor (who changed her name when she remarried), largely stayed out of the public eye since the exhibition, but from what both she and her son have said of their relationship, it’s clear they were always close.

In April 2024, Kurt Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean posted a tribute to her dad to Instagram on the 30th anniversary of his death. In the post, she seemed to indicate that Wendy O’Connor had died.

“Wendy would often press my hands to her cheeks & say, with a lulling sadness, ‘you have his hands,'” Frances Bean wrote. “She would breathe them in as if it were her only chance to hold him just a little bit closer, frozen in time. I hope she’s holding his hands wherever they are.”

After reading about Kurt Cobain’s mother Wendy, read about the members of the 27 Club, a group of musicians who all died at the age of 27. Then, see inside Kurt Cobain’s house where he spent his final days.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or use their 24/7 Lifeline Crisis Chat.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Harvey, Austin. "The Story Of Wendy Cobain And Her Relationship With Her Troubled Son, Kurt.", May 28, 2024, Accessed June 22, 2024.