Kristen Pfaff died on June 16, 1994, of an overdose of heroin. She was a bass guitarist and a founding member of the Minnesota group Janitor Joe, and more famously, Hole. She was 27 years and 21 days old at the time of her death.
Pfaff was classically trained in cello and piano when she formed her first band and learned to play bass guitar. Janitor Joe was a band in the grunge mode of Pacific Northwest bands, but was based in Minneapolis, where they rapidly became a must-see group on the local circuit. They had some success with their early recordings and were able to mount a national tour that garnered some press and critical attention.
At a show in California, Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson of Hole saw Kristen and decided they wanted her to play bass for their band. However, she was committed to her first band and refused the offer at that time. They were determined to have her in Hole based on her playing and her sultry, bad girl looks, and they kept up the courting process.
Ironically, it was Pfaff’s father who changed her mind about accepting Hole’s offer of a position. Norman Pfaff knew his daughter was talented and charismatic, and that playing bass with a nationally known band like Hole was a huge jump towards success. He told her that she would be missing a golden opportunity to record and tour at the level she deserved, and she listened to her dad. As much as she did not want to leave her home city, she eventually realized that he was probably right. She left for Seattle in 1993 and immediately started recording what would become the classic album “Live Through This” with Hole.
Life in Seattle suited a young beautiful and intelligent woman like Kristen. She and Erlandson became lovers and remained friends after splitting up a year later. She also became close friends with Kurt Cobain and other members of the exclusive grunge club in the home of the genre. Unfortunately, she adopted a habit that was fashionable in that crowd – heroin. Before coming west, she had only been a light drug user, like most people her age and in her subculture. But she took to it more heavily as an exile from her home town and a newcomer to fit in.
Recognizing she had a problem, she started a rehab program in late 1993. In the first part of the next year she went on tour with her old band Janitor Joe, and when she came back from the tour she was apparently clean and sober. Kurt Cobain’s death in April of 1994 was a shocker for Kristen, and she planned to retreat to Minneapolis and to her first band, leaving Hole and the Seattle scene behind.
But she didn’t leave soon enough, and the tentacles of the addiction reached out and smothered her with all of her good intentions. On the very day she had expected to get on a flight back to Minnesota, she was found dead in her place, surrounded by syringes and other paraphernalia needed to inject heroin. Her death was ruled accidental, due to “acute opiate intoxication.”
Strangely, while there was no evidence of foul play of of suicidal intent, Pfaff’s mother has never been able to accept the official account of her daughter’s death. She apparently alleges that there was a sinister connection between Cobain’s death and Kristen’s untimely end. Kristen Pfaff is buried in Buffalo New York, in the Forest Lawn Cemetery.
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