Kurt Cobain Through the Years

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Kurt Cobain was many things: A rockstar, an icon, a father—an entire aesthetic. By the time of his untimely death in 1994, Cobain’s influence had spread like wildfire. Here, we look back at his time on stage, backstage, and most iconically, his arrival at the 1992 MTV VMAs.

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Kurt Cobain’s mug shot after being arrested by Aberdeen, Washington police in May 1986. He was taken into custody for spray painting vehicles.

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Kurt Cobain formed Nirvana in 1987 with Krist Novoselic and Aaron Burckhard. The group became one of the first and leading musicians of the alternative rock and grunge movement in the ’90s.

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Group portrait of Nirvana in Seattle, circa 1990 (Kurt Cobain, Chad Channing, and Krist Novoselic, left to right). Channing was the second drummer to join the band, before the group finally settled on Dave Grohl.

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Cobain signed with music label DGC Records in 1990. His band found mainstream success with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from their second album Nevermind a year later.

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Kurt Cobain recording in Hilversum Studios in the Netherlands in 1991. His early musical influences as a child were The Beatles and 1970s hard rock and metal bands.

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Kurt Cobain in concert at the Forum in Los Angeles, California in 1991. The band name “Nirvana” was taken from a Buddhist concept which Cobain described as “freedom from pain, suffering and the external world.” He often utilized religious elements and imagery in his work.

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Kurt Cobain at a hotel in Tokyo in November 1991. Before Nirvana, Cobain formed a band right after he dropped out of high school called Fecal Matter.

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Kurt Cobain performs on stage at the Astoria Theatre in London on November 5, 1991. Before the success of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Cobain was frustrated by the band’s small crowds and difficulty sustaining themselves while touring.

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A close up shot of Kurt Cobain’s signature grunge hairstyle, which inspired many during the early ’90s, during a performance in Amsterdam in 1991.

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Nirvana is photographed before a performance in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 1991.

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Kurt Cobain sings into the mic during the band’s performance at Paradiso in Amsterdam on November 25, 1991.

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While Nirvana recorded in 1991, the band was photographed during a recording session in Hilversum Studios in the Netherlands.

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At its peak, Nirvana was considered to be the flagship band of Generation X, and Cobain found himself hailed as the generation’s spokesman.

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Kurt Cobain performs at Pukkelpop Festival in Hasselt, Belgium in 1991. He and his band were known for destroying their equipment after a show ended.

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Krist Novoselic picks up Kurt Cobain over his head during the performance. Novoselic, the bassist, has formed two other bands since the passing of Cobain and disbanding of Nirvana: Sweet 75 in 1995 and later Eyes Adrift.

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Another shot of Cobain at the Pukkelpop Festival in Hasselt, Belgium in 1991. The artist was known for his unique antics on stage, which defined grunge as a genre for years to come.

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Kurt Cobain crowd surfing at a performance in 1991.

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Kurt Cobain performing in Paris, France in 1992. After several global tour stops and a pair of EPs, Nirvana released their third studio album, In Utero, in 1993, which garnered more critical and commercial acclaim.

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Kurt Cobain and his bandmates pose backstage at a concert in Tokyo, Japan in 1992.

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Kurt Cobain again performing in Paris, France in 1992. The musical style and sound of Nirvana relied on contrasts between quiet verses and loud, heavy choruses.

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Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana emerge from an RV at the 1992 MTV VMA awards.

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Kurt Cobain at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. The show was memorable due to a backstage feud between Axl Rose and members of Nirvana, as well as Courtney Love, Cobain’s wife.

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Kurt Cobain accepting an award at the 1992 MTV VMAs. Nirvana has seven VMA awards in total.

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Kurt Cobai, holding his guitar over his head in preparation to smash it after performing with Nirvana at the MTV VMAs in 1992.

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Kurt Cobain performs in Belfast in 1992. Among his many notable style elements were printed silk pajama shirts, as seen here.

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Kurt Cobain backstage at the U.K.’s Reading Festival in 1992. He kept his blonde hair medium to long in length throughout his career.

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Kurt Cobain with Eugene Kelly performing at the U.K.’s Reading Festival in 1992. Cobain was a big fan of Kelly and his band The Vaselines.

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Nirvana was one of the main headliners of the U.K.’s Reading Festival in 1992, along with Public Enemy and The Wonderstuff.

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Kurt Cobain with fellow Nirvana bandmates Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl in 1992.

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