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Chris Cornell's widow sues Soundgarden over royalties, unreleased recordings

Vicky Cornell blasted the bandmembers in a dramatically worded Instagram post that did not specifically mention the lawsuit.
Image: Chris Cornell
Chris Cornell apart of Soundgarden performs in concert at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on Nov 9, 2012.Tom Watkins / REX via AP file

A long-simmering battle between Chris Cornell's widow and the other members of Soundgarden broke into the open Monday morning when Vicky Cornell announced that she is suing the group over hundreds of thousands of dollars in allegedly unpaid royalties and the rights to seven unreleased recordings made before the singer's death in May 2017.

Cornell is represented by high-profile Hollywood lawyers Marty Singer — who has been described by the Los Angeles Times as a "pit bull" for people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Sharon Stone and Jeff Bezos — and James Sammataro, and announced the lawsuit via a TMZ article forwarded to Variety by reps for the estate. The bandmembers, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepard and Matt Cameron (the latter of whom is also a member of Pearl Jam) recently parted ways with longtime Soundgarden attorney Peter Paterno and manager Ron Lafitte, who had worked with the band since they reformed in 2010.

Vicky Cornell, right, and family Toni, Christopher and Lilli Jean Cornell holds vigil on the anniversary of Chris Cornell's death at the Hollywood Forever Cemetary on May 18, 2018 in Hollywood, Calif.Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images file

Cameron, Shepard and Thayil's attorney did not immediately respond to Variety's request for comment.

Thayil was singled out in the documents for comments he has recently made about his frustration over not being able to finish and release recordings made by Cornell and the band members before the singer's death, which was ruled a suicide. She called it an "unlawful attempt to strong-arm Chris' Estate into turning over certain audio recordings created by Chris before he passed away." She says the songs in question were "solely authored by Chris; contain Chris' own vocal tracks; and were bequeathed to Chris' Estate" for the benefit of her and their kids."

The bandmembers have claimed they cowrote some of the songs and in a letter to Vicky Cornell said "The entire band was feeling very positive about their rekindled artistic energy and creativity" before Cornell's death. Vicky claims she has offered to share the recordings with the group and help facilitate their release "in a way that respects Chris' wishes," but says the band refused. She also claims Thayil has endangered her family by claiming she is blocking the release of an album from the recordings.

View this post on Instagram

I have been taking time these past few weeks to be grateful for all the good people around me and for those who have lifted me up at the very worst times in my life. The silver lining, during the storm, is finding and appreciating the subtle glow of those who sincerely support you in your life unconditionally. However, sometimes while you grieve the one you physically lost, you realize that you must now grieve the loss of some of those you considered friends and family as well. I am shocked at how often this occurs. It’s not just me, or the rock-star widow, or the political widow; it is the case for the vast majority of women after their partners have passed. It transcends socio-economic class, race, and religion. It is an unpleasant and unfortunately all too common theme. Hard-hearted family members, friends, and business associates; who will exploit a widow’s vulnerability when she’s broken and alone. These other people who have decided that her time is up as well. Through support groups and other widowed friends, and during both difficult and supportive conversations, I have learned that I am not a unique case. This seems to be the inevitable plight of the widow in this world and I cannot help feeling angry, sad and betrayed. I will not be bullied or shamed into silence. I will not accept something so wrong, so lacking in compassion or decency, even with the clear but unspoken threat of social rejection hanging over me. This was not the way I would have chosen to move forward. But I will not be pushed aside for someone else’s convenience or gain. I will not sacrifice our children’s futures for someone else’s greed. And I will not let someone else make me feel shame because the man I loved was taken from all of us too soon. I will do justice by my husband’s work and memory; for our children and for everything we stood for. I want to thank everyone who has stood by Chris and has supported us through this devastating time. Your love and your kindness will never be forgotten. #chriscornell forever 🖤

A post shared by Vicky Cornell (@vickycornell) on

Vicky Cornell blasted the bandmembers in a dramatically worded Instagram post that did not specifically mention the lawsuit but references in part, "Hard-hearted family members, friends, and business associates; who will exploit a widow's vulnerability when she's broken and alone. These other people who have decided that her time is up as well."

A leading light of the Seattle "grunge" scene, Soundgarden formed in 1984 and enjoyed global success via songs like "Black Hole Sun" and "Outshined" before splitting in 1997. Cornell embarked on a sporadically successful solo career before reuniting with the other members in 2010; the band was on tour and had played a concert in Detroit when the singer died in his hotel room on May 18, 2017.

While he had suffered from depression and substance abuse at various times in his life, Vicky Cornell has blamed his suicide on prescription medications he was taking at the time of his death and last year sued his doctor for malpractice.