Frances Bean Cobain: A life marred by addiction, divorce and instability

The only child of grunge legend Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love was already famous before she was born. No longer in the media spotlight, she focuses on her art and protecting her father’s legacy

Kurt Cobain y Courtney Love
Frances Bean Cobain at the Moschino x H&M fashion show in New York in October 2018.Mike Coppola (Getty Images)
Belén Hernández

“In a few years she’ll look at this and say, ‘Thanks, Dad!’,” said Krist Novoselic, the Nirvana bassist in a 1992 MTV interview. Novoselic was joking about Kurt Cobain rocking his infant daughter in his arms during the interview. Now 30 years old, Frances Bean Cobain was often the center of attention during public appearances by the band that defined 1990s grunge music.

Talking with drag queen RuPaul on an 2018 episode of his What’s the Tee podcast, Frances describes an old photo of RuPaul in full regalia holding a crying Frances on the red carpet of the 1993 MTV Awards. “I am utterly convinced that that photo perfectly captures the personality that was being forged. You are the reason I am the way I am.” So what’s Frances Bean Cobain like? That’s something of an enigma because the only child of Kurt Cobain and Hole singer Courtney Love, who was born in 1992 with neonatal abstinence syndrome due to her mother’s drug consumption, lives far from the media spotlight these days. She calls herself a “visual artist” who is dedicated to protecting her father’s legacy.

Frances Bean Cobain in RuPaul's arms with Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain at the 1993 MTV Awards.
Frances Bean Cobain in RuPaul's arms with Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain at the 1993 MTV Awards.Jeff Kravitz (FilmMagic, Inc)

Frances lost her father to suicide in 1994 when she was barely 20 months old. “I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive death rocker that I’ve become… her life will be so much happier without me,” said her father’s suicide note.

In her interview with RuPaul, Frances describes her music-making attempts as sounding like a fistfight between PJ Harvey and Fiona Apple with sporadic sobs from Dolly Parton and Jeff Buckley up in heaven. But she certainly has not become that “miserable, self-destructive death rocker” that her father feared. As a teenager, Frances turned down film roles in the Twilight saga and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. At 19, she posed for fashion designer and photographer, Hedi Slimane. At 25, she accompanied family friend Marc Jacobs to the Met Gala after becoming the face of the New York designer’s 2017 spring campaign.

Kurt Cobain left his daughter a $140 million fortune, as well as music and image rights that still generate $100,000 per month. Frances also inherited her father’s passion for painting and drawing. In 2010, she exhibited her artwork for the first time in Los Angeles (California, USA) using the pseudonym, Fiddle Tim.

Frances’ preferred place for sharing her artwork and occasional personal details is her @thespacewitch Instagram account, followed by 1.5 million fans. Recent photos posted to Instagram feature her dogs, herself as a baby with her father, her grandmother, a selfie and her current partner – professional skateboarder and musician, Riley Hawk – the son of legendary skateboarder, Tony Hawk.

Frances has struggled to live a normal life. She was taken away from her parents when she was just two weeks old after her mother admitted in a Vanity Fair interview that she had used heroin during her pregnancy. In the 2015 documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Kurt says, “If anything can get me out of this rock and roll thing, it’s her [Frances]. I don’t want her to suffer the consequences of my life.” Frances was an executive producer of the documentary and made sure that it didn’t portray a romanticized version of her father. Later, she went on Twitter to warn Lana de Rey about glamorizing the suicide of one of the most illustrious members of the 27 Club (celebrities who died at age 27).

Frances Bean Cobain and her mother, Courtney Love, pose at the premiere of 'Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck' (2015) at the Sundance Film Festival.
Frances Bean Cobain and her mother, Courtney Love, pose at the premiere of 'Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck' (2015) at the Sundance Film Festival.Paul Marotta (Getty Images)

The film’s premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival was a perfect opportunity for a public reunion with her mother, Courtney Love. Growing up, Frances bounced around more than 27 different homes, but mainly lived on a farm in Olympia (Washington, USA) with her paternal grandmother, Wendy O’Connor, and with her mother in the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood. In 2003, Love again lost custody of her daughter after an arrest for attempted robbery, a drug overdose and suicide threats. Love regained custody after a rehab stint, but lost it for the third time in 2009.

Frances’ love life has also had its ups and downs. She married musician Isaiah Silva in 2014 and divorced two years later. After a bitter fight over their assets, Silva got to keep the left-handed Martin D-18E guitar that Kurt Cobain used during his iconic MTV Unplugged performance in 1993.

While promoting the documentary, Frances talked for the first time about her father’s suicide, which Courtney kept from her until she was five years old. “Kurt got to the point where he eventually had to sacrifice every bit of who he was to his art, because the world demanded it of him,” said Frances in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I think that was one of the main triggers as to why he felt he didn’t want to be here, and everyone would be happier without him.”

No one really knows if Frances Cobain has seen the video of Krist Novoselic saying that she would thank her father in the future. Perhaps Courtney Love’s long-awaited memoir due out in August will tell us more. But her Rolling Stone interview did reveal glimpses of a deep longing for something that never happened. “If he [Kurt Cobain] had lived, I would have had a dad. And that would have been an incredible experience.”

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