Courtney Love

Also Credited As:

Courtney Love-Cobain, Courtney Michelle Harrison, Love Michelle Harrison
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Alternately described as talented, tragic, Machiavellian, or simply mad, musician-actress Courtney Love achieved both fame and infamy in the years that followed the sudden death of her husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Coming from a dysfunctional, fractured family, Love spent years in correctional facilities prior to becoming emancipated at age 16 and working as an exotic dancer in locales as far away as Taiwan and Japan. In her twenties, …
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Job Title

Actor, Producer, Music, Executive


July 9, 1964



Alternately described as talented, tragic, Machiavellian, or simply mad, musician-actress Courtney Love achieved both fame and infamy in the years that followed the sudden death of her husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Coming from a dysfunctional, fractured family, Love spent years in correctional facilities prior to becoming emancipated at age 16 and working as an exotic dancer in locales as far away as Taiwan and Japan. In her twenties, she began to dabble in the music scene as well as hard drugs and managed to land small roles in films like Alex Cox's "Sid and Nancy" (1986). Love formed the band Hole in 1989, but by 1992 found herself in the spotlight more for being Cobain's wife, than for fronting own rock outfit. The tragic confluence of two separate events - Cobain's suicide and the release of Hole's seminal Live Through This, both in 1994 - threw Love into a maelstrom of intense personal grief and public scrutiny. Following an extended period of bizarre, self-destructive public behavior, the punk princess stunned critics with her bravura performance in director Milos Forman's "The People vs. Larry Flynt" (1996), making the newly glamorized Love a Hollywood favorite on the red carpet. As she enjoyed her rebirth as a serious actress, she never lost sight of her hard-driving rock, releasing the well-received 1998 album Celebrity Skin while still making a mark in films like "Man on the Moon" (1999) and "200 Cigarettes" (1999). However, Love was still Love, so headline-making legal woes, public sparring matches with Cobain's former bandmates, battles with addiction, and estrangement from her and Cobain's daughter Frances Bean became routine over the decades. Whether condemned or praised, Love never failed to fascinate a public eagerly awaiting her next spontaneous combustion or her possible Phoenix-like rise from the ashes.

Born Courtney Michelle Harrison on July 9, 1964 in San Francisco, CA, Love was the daughter of counter-culturists Linda Carroll and Hank Harrison, the latter a devotee of the Grateful Dead, who served as the band's manager for a brief period. After a bitter divorce trial in 1969 - in which it was alleged that Hank had given four-year-old Courtney LSD on one occasion - Carroll was given sole custody of Courtney. Carroll soon remarried and took Courtney with her to Oregon, where she studied psychology at the University of Oregon while increasing the family number with two more daughters. On a whim, Carroll, recently divorced for a second time, moved to a sheep farm in New Zealand. It was a move that did not sit well with the young Courtney, who became increasingly dissatisfied and distanced from the rest of her family as she shuttled between New Zealand and Oregon. Acts of rebellion and instances of shoplifting ultimately landed her in a pair of youth correctional facilities by the time she was 14. Shuffled through several facilities and foster homes over the next two years, Courtney was eventually granted legal emancipation at the age of 16 and promptly moved to Portland, OR, where she lied about her age in order to work as a dancer at various strip clubs in the area.

Having newly anointed herself with the surname of Love and empowered by a recently discovered trust fund - courtesy of her maternal grandmother - she embarked on a global journey that took her to locales such as Japan, Taiwan, Ireland and England, during which time she earned money as an exotic dancer, attended Dublin's Trinity College, and attempted a quickly-aborted reconciliation with her estranged biological father. Already set on achieving fame and fortune, Love began toying with the idea of fronting rock bands, such as a never fully-realized project named Sugar Baby Doll, and a brief stint as the lead singer for an early incarnation of the San Francisco area band Faith No More. In 1984, Love and friend Kat Bjelland formed the short-lived band The Pagan Babies in addition to taking various classes at San Francisco University and the San Francisco Art Institute. Sensing that acting might be another means of entrée into the world of celebrity, Love auditioned for the female title role in Alex Cox's punk rock biopic "Sid and Nancy" (1986), believing she was born to play the tragic role of Sid Vicious' (Gary Oldman) doomed groupie/girlfriend. Instead, she was given the role of Gretchen, a friend of the late Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). Impressed by her work in the small part, Cox gave her another more substantial role in "Straight to Hell" (1987), a little-seen neo-Western that did nothing to increase her onscreen profile with the public at large.

Disappointed with her rate of ascension as a film star, Love left New York and briefly decamped to Alaska - where she again supported herself as an exotic dancer - then relocated to Los Angeles in 1989. It was during this time that she rekindled her desire to start a band, taught herself to play guitar, and placed an ad in the classifieds, seeking musical collaborators who shared her affinity for such influential rock acts as Sonic Youth. The group that eventually coalesced was named Hole. By 1990, they had released their first single on an independent label and after more than a year of playing venues nationwide, released their debut studio album Pretty on the Inside in 1991. Sonically abrasive and lyrically confrontational, the album received generally positive notices and sold relatively well for an independent release. Love had met Kurt Cobain, frontman for the hugely influential grunge band Nirvana, as far back as her early days in L.A. in 1989, but soon after the release of Pretty on the Inside the two officially became a couple. Much to the dismay of Cobain's bandmates, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, the couple slid into heavy heroin usage that affected the band and Cobain's ability to function at times. By February of 1992, she and Cobain were married in Honolulu, HI, and within six months Love gave birth to their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. With Nirvana being heralded as the greatest rock band of the decade, it was not long before the inevitable comparisons of Love to Yoko Ono began to circulate amongst wary Nirvana fans. For many observers, an ill-considered comment during a Vanity Fair interview about using heroin in the first trimester of her pregnancy was all it took to move her from the "scandalous" to "contemptuous" column.

Everything changed for Love when Cobain died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Seattle, WA home on April, 5 1994. With Love in shock over the death of her husband, Hole's second album, ironically titled Live Through This was released less than two weeks after Cobain's suicide. Live Through This, which featured such hits as "Violet" and "Doll Parts," proved to be a huge critical and commercial success. Forced to tour in support of the album, the emotionally devastated Love relied more and more upon narcotics in an effort to cope with her grief. Anecdotes of her increasingly bizarre, confrontational and at times violent behavior on stage had become commonplace. With her life and career under more scrutiny than ever before, she was a featured subject on an MTV rock-n-roll documentary and was anointed into the mainstream on the special "Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 1995" (ABC, 1995). Love's newfound notoriety also resulted in offers to pursue a wide variety of creative outlets, previously not available to her. In early1996, Hole went on hiatus so that she could act in several film projects, beginning with a turn in "Basquiat" (1996), a biopic about the street artist and Warhol contemporary, Jean-Michel Basquiat. That year also saw Love's appearance in the Keanu Reeves-Cameron Diaz romantic crime-comedy "Feeling Minnesota" (1996).

Despite her abrasive, self-destructive public image, Love made headway with critics and audiences with her third film performance that same year. In director Milos Forman's acclaimed biographical drama "The People vs. Larry Flynt" (1996), she played Althea Leasure, the troubled wife of controversial Hustler magazine publisher Flynt (Woody Harrelson), who died at the age of 33, addicted to drugs and ravaged by AIDS. Love's difficult and self-destructive reputation preceded her, so prior to the film's production, the studio refused to insure her. After paying for the insurance herself, along with the director, Harrelson and others, Love was then forced to submit to weekly drug screenings throughout filming. It was a gamble that paid off, as critics hailed both the film and Love's fully-realized performance, one that earned her several awards for Best Supporting Actress, including one from the New York Film Critics Circle. Riding the crest of her triumph in "Larry Flynt," Love and Hole returned to the studio to record their third full-length album Celebrity Skin. Released in 1998, the LP took the band in a more pop-influenced, cleaner direction, while still maintaining much of the edginess Love and the band had become associated with. Hit singles like the titular "Celebrity Skin" and "Malibu" made the album Hole's most commercially successful, while reviewers held it in nearly as high esteem as Live Through This, an album that would eventually become regarded as one of the greatest rock-n-roll records of the '90s.

Try as she might to move forward, Love's sordid past refused to go away. Nick Broomfield's documentary "Kurt & Courtney" (1998) investigated allegations about possible Love's involvement in Cobain's death, some of which were perpetuated by none other than her own father, Hank Harrison. Love tried unsuccessfully to prevent the film's completion and release; efforts that made their way into the movie's final cut, as Broomfield shifted the focus from the dubious conspiracy theories and into what the director viewed as Love's efforts to restrain his freedom of speech. After a brief role in the ensemble comedy-drama "200 Cigarettes" (1999), the newly minted Hollywood star reteamed with director Forman for another non-conformist biopic. "Man on the Moon" (1999) starred funnyman Jim Carrey as the idiosyncratic comedic actor and performance artist Andy Kaufman and featured Love in one of her more restrained portrayals as Lynn Margulies, the girlfriend Kaufman met after wrestling her in one of his more infamous stunts. Over the next few years, Love found herself embroiled in several personal disputes, both with her record company and the former members of Nirvana, Novoselic and Grohl, who openly questioned her mental health in their battle over the rights to Nirvana's music, which she insisted were solely the property of Frances Bean and herself as daughter and widow, respectively.

As personal drama and public controversies swirled about her, Love continued her acting pursuits in films like the independent drama "Julie Johnson" (2001) alongside Lili Taylor and the thriller "Trapped" (2002) in which she played a member of a gang of kidnappers. The media, however, was more firmly focused on the singer-actress' increasingly notorious personal exploits than on her career, which by this point were returning to the drug-fueled outbursts so prevalent in the months after Cobain's death. In late 2002, she was named as a possible patient of her friend Winona Ryder's physician, a doctor who went on to lose his medical license for illegally dispensing prescription medicine to celebrities under his care, after Ryder was arrested for shoplifting. In early 2003, Love made headlines when she was detained on a Virgin airlines flight for allegedly abusing the flight crew, although no formal charges were filed. Later that same year, she was arrested after attempting to break into a Los Angeles home reportedly owned by her then-boyfriend/manager while under the influence of an unspecified intoxicant. Shortly after being released on bail that night, she was rushed to a Beverly Hills hospital after what was widely reported as an overdose of the prescription drug OxyContin.

Things spiraled out of control further for Love when, shortly after the OxyContin incident, Los Angeles County Child Protective Services stepped in and temporarily removed Frances Bean from the troubled celebrity's custody. For the next two years her daughter would live with Cobain's mother, Wendy O' Connor. Pushing forward, Love made her debut as a solo artist with the album America's Sweetheart in 2004. Unfortunately the record proved to be a commercial failure, one that Love later regretted making, citing her out of control drug abuse during its production and record label interference as reasons for its poor quality and lukewarm reception. As the months progressed, the performer grew increasingly erratic and slurred during her public appearances. A guest spot on the "Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS, 1993- ) in 2004, during which she frequently flashed her breasts to the host, went on to become a particularly uncomfortable low point. Love was a semi-lucid train wreck as a participant on the "Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson" (Comedy Central, 2005), despite her constant declarations that she had been sober for a year.

Love continued to travel a rocky road. In 2004, she was arrested twice; once for assaulting a woman with a beer bottle at the home of her ex-boyfriend, and later for disorderly conduct after allegedly striking a concert-attendee in the head with a microphone. She also faced lawsuits, liens and tax audits from her former legal team, travel agents, her condo board and the state of California. Love suffered a highly publicized 2005 fainting spell at a Hollywood hot spot which saw her rushed to an emergency room. The event then prompted a Los Angeles court to order her into rehab for 28 days after it was deemed that she had violated her probation by allegedly relapsing into drug use. She was initially sentenced to 180 days in county jail for violating her probation in three criminal cases, until a lenient judge ruled that the singer could serve her time at a live-in chemical dependency program. Incredibly, and seemingly against all odds, Love somehow managed to regain custody of Frances Bean in 2005. In 2006, the court ended Love's house arrest for drug-related probation violations, and the jubilant singer adamantly proclaimed that she had put her "gnarly drug problem" behind her.

Love's admirable progress in her battle against addiction would not be enough to prevent her losing custody of Frances once again in 2009. Returning to her paternal grandmother, those close to the situation asserted that the 17-year-old's separation from Love had been of her own choosing. At about the same time, Love escalated her public statements about a massive fraud committed against her and Cobain's estate, claiming that she had been bilked out of hundreds of millions of dollars since 2003 due to identity theft, credit card forgery and a myriad of other byzantine manipulations by unscrupulous, unnamed parties. After an abandoned solo follow-up to America's Sweetheart, which was to be titled How Dirty Girls Get Clean, Love reformed Hole with an all-new line up for the release of the album Nobody's Daughter in 2010. Greeted with mixed reviews and poor sales, Hole's first recording in 12 years was considered one of the year's biggest disappointments. The subject of a lengthy story in Vanity Fair magazine in November 2011, Love was seen dividing her mercurial attentions between uncovering the conspiracy she referred to as "the fraud," insinuating herself into British high society and grieving over the continued estrangement from her daughter. At the same time, Love announced she would write her memoirs and lay wide open the truths of her storied life and career.

By Bryce Coleman

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