It has been more than twenty years since Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, committed suicide via shotgun to the head, at age 27.
Yes, that’s right – 20 years. Where has the time gone?
And who could forget the suicide note: “I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Some still say his widow, Courtney Love staged the suicide. It was all tragic.
Rock stars that die at the height of their fame never truly recede from the public, and the iconic Cobain is no exception. Nirvana’s music sales last year translated into revenue of $4.4 million. That’s on top of revenue from 72 million online streams at websites like YouTube, about 300,000 radio plays, merchandise, and name and likeness usage deals. The brand of Kurt Cobain is clearly big business, and is even expected to grow as Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Kurt Cobain’s Estate has an estimated net worth of $450 million, and has had its share of legal problems with Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, at the center of it all. First, in 2002 there was a lawsuit to dissolve a limited liability company Love had created with Cobain’s former Nirvana bandmates, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic to “manage all Nirvana-related projects.” On the eve of the release of a 45-track box set of Nirvana rare recordings, Love filed a lawsuit to dissolve the LLC claiming that her 1997 agreement with the pair should have been voided because Grohl and Novoselic were only “sidemen.”
In addition, Love allegedly discovered, in 2004, that those who hand been managing Kurt Cobain’s estate had stolen $30 million in cash and a whopping $500 million in real estate holdings. She hired a lawyer who said she was going to sue a series of ex-managers, former assistants, lawyers, accountants and even banks. Her Lawyer at the time accused the would-be defendants of “such greed and moral turpitude” that the case would “make Bernard Madoff look warm and fuzzy.” This lawsuit never came to fruition.
Love’s relationship with her and Cobain’s daughter has also suffered. In 2009, Frances Cobain went to court for a restraining order against her mother. Love lost custody of her daughter as well control of a trust fund that had been set up through Kurt Cobain’s estate for Frances’ benefit.
We all know legal fights don’t come cheap; Love ended up selling a share of the publishing rights to Nirvana music in 2006, for $50 million. Love also gave up control of Cobain’s image and licensing rights, in exchange for a 2.75 million dollar loan in 2009 from the trust that was created for Frances. On August 18, 2010, at the age of 18, Frances Cobain inherited 37% of her late father’s estate.
Clearly, Cobain’s image, publicity rights, and songs have led to a continual income stream for Courtney Love and her daughter Frances. With that much value, one would have thought that Cobain set up a detailed estate plan, with a Will, various trusts, and other legal protections so his family wouldn’t fight, right? Nope. Kurt Cobain never even made out even a simple Will. His assets passed intestate, meaning to Courtney Love and Frances Cobain. By dying intestate, not only did Cobain have no say in who received his assets, (or how, or when, they received them) he was not able to name an executor or trustee to manage his assets. This included his image rights, publishing and performance royalties, and his valuable licensing rights. As a result, Love was left in charge, despite her well-publicized struggles with drugs, psychiatric problems, and instability.