Photos from the end of Kurt Cobain's painful road

'When he arrived with a gun, I was a bit surprised,' photographer Youri Lenquette recalls

Dylan Stableford
Yahoo News
Kurt Cobain
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Kurt Cobain arrived four hours late to what would be his last American photo shoot, in November 1993, at a hotel in midtown Manhattan, and immediately asked for a bucket.

"I said, 'Sure. But what do you need a bucket for?'" Jesse Frohman, a photographer commissioned to shoot Nirvana for London's Sunday Observer, told Yahoo News in a recent interview.

"'Cause I think I'm gonna puke," Cobain replied.

The photo shoot lasted just a half-hour, but the images of Cobain — wearing women's sunglasses, spitting water and mimicking a ballerina — are some of the last ever taken of the Nirvana frontman, who was found dead in his Seattle-area home on April 8, 1994, of what police ruled was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Cobain's bandmates — drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic — arrived on time, at 11 a.m., for the shoot.

"They went and had breakfast, came back, still no Kurt," Frohman recalled. "He obviously had some addiction issues he was dealing with that spilled over from the night before."

But Cobain's condition actually helped the shoot, Frohman said. "I tried not to direct him so much, in part because he was so high," he said. "The drugs enabled him to be very free and comfortable with me. He was very playful."

Frohman's photos of Cobain are the focus of a new exhibit that opens April 4 at New York's Morrison Hotel Gallery at the Dream Downtown Hotel.

Cobain was in a similarly playful, if subversive, mood a few months later in Paris when he showed up for what would be his final photo shoot with a gun in his hand.

"When he arrived with a gun, I was a bit surprised," photographer Youri Lenquette said. "But I didn't think about it too much, because I was running around trying to organize things. And, you know, guns are a part of the rock and roll."

Lenquette, a longtime friend of Cobain's, said the shoot — like the gun — was the singer's idea.

"I was relaxing at home at 9:30 at night when Kurt called me and said he was coming to the studio with his band," Lenquette recalled. "I was quite surprised. Kurt was always trying to escape [photo shoots] rather than ask for them."

And just like it was in New York, the vibe in Lenquette's Paris studio was relaxed.

"Kurt was not in the best mental shape, but at the moment of that photo session, he was easy and had a real sense of humor," the photographer said. "It was more like a reunion of old friends."

The resulting photos from that night in February 1994 are the subject of "The Last Shooting," an exhibition on display at the Addict Gallerie in Paris through June 21.

Because of the singer's suicide, both Lenquette and Frohman are forever linked to Cobain.

"Bert Sterns had Marilyn," Frohman said, referring to the photographer's famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe — some of the last taken of the actress. "Kurt is my Marilyn."

Lenquette has mixed feelings about being the last photographer to shoot Cobain.

"Obviously this photo session was not meant to be that," he said. "It's great to be part of that history, but it was a coincidence. I cannot give it more importance than that."

Besides, Lenquette said, it wasn't his best work. "As a photographer, it was disorganized, and there are technical mistakes that I cannot stop seeing," he said. "It was not my favorite photo session."

The exhibitions, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of Cobain's death, come at a time of renewed interest in all things Nirvana. Next week, the band will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Last week, the Seattle Police Department released recently developed photos taken at Cobain's home — including images of a suicide note, drug paraphernalia and his wallet — part of what authorities said was a "re-examination" of the rock star's death.

The move reignited conspiracy theories — theories both photographers dismiss.

"People send them to me all the time," Frohman said. "I never read them."

Lenquette also dismisses the notion that the rock star pointed the gun at himself during the Paris shoot to send a message he was planning suicide.

"To organize something like that in your head, that would be very, very, very calculating," Lenquette said. "That was something he was not."

The pair even talked about traveling to Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples together after Nirvana's 1994 tour.

"I could tell he was tired. I told him, 'Let's go. You'll be somewhere where Kurt Cobain doesn't exist,'" Lenquette said. "The last time we talked was about getting him a visa. I wish we did."

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