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'Kurt’s dealer looked like the angel of death': horror of Cobain’s near-fatal 1993 heroin overdose revealed in Dave Grohl book

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur Archive 1/WireImage)

The story of how Kurt Cobain’s nanny and Nirvana’s UK PR saved Kurt Cobain’s life is revealed in stark detail for the first time in the upcoming tenth anniversary re-issue of Dave Grohl biography This Is A Call.

As author, and Classic Rock writer Paul Brannigan reveals, Nirvana were in New York in July 1993 to play a special show at the city’s Roseland Ballroom to preview three-quarters of their then-still-to-be-released In Utero album, and the band’s UK PR agent, Anton Brookes, had brought writers from The Observer, Q, The Face and Melody Maker to interview the trio for articles to run around the album’s scheduled September 13 release date. On the evening before the July 23 show, the band, Kurt Cobain’s wife Courtney Love, Brookes and the UK media representatives were hanging out in the Omni Berkshire Place hotel when Cobain received a visitor, a local drug dealer. His presence sent the mood of the evening spiralling down.

“He might as well have had a fucking black robe on and a big scythe,” recalls Brookes. “He looked like the angel of death. Most people knew who that guy was. You knew what was happening, you knew what that guy was there for, and you knew what the outcome of that would be.”

Brookes had scheduled Nirvana’s interviews for the following morning, show day. As was his custom, ahead of the first interview on the group’s shared itinerary, the PR visited each of Nirvana in turn, “to check whether everything was okay.” Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic declared themselves ready for their English inquisitors, but as Brookes walked up to Kurt and Courtney’s hotel suite, it was very obvious that things with the couple were not okay, not okay at all.

“You could hear them arguing,” Brookes remembered. “You could hear the odd thing being smashed. It was a proper full-blown argument, not a little tiff.”

It was when the screaming finally stopped, sometime later that afternoon, that Brookes realised that something had gone terribly wrong. He summoned Kurt and Courtney’s nanny, Michael ‘Cali’ DeWitt, for assistance before entering the suite.

“We went rushing into the bathroom and, slumped behind the toilet, was Kurt with a syringe in his arm, blue.” 

DeWitt dived towards Cobain, and “mid-flight, like Superman”, Brookes recalls, punched the singer hard in the solar plexus. The jolt brought Cobain back to consciousness. Brookes and DeWitt were slapping Nirvana’s frontman in the face to revive him when two hotel security officers walked into the bathroom, summoned by complaints from other guests.

“Helpful beyond the call of duty”, Brookes remembers – one of the pair having experienced similar trauma dealing with a junkie nephew – the security team assisted in smuggling Cobain out of the hotel’s back entrance. Two hours later, the singer returned to his suite, for a massage designed to get the toxins out of his body.

“While the masseuse is working on him, she’s pointing out all this heroin around the room,” says Brookes. “It’s in sealed cellophane bags, very professional, and the name of this product is ‘Bodybag’, ironically. She kept pointing… ‘Over there! Behind you!’

“I was putting it in the pockets of my army shorts, going to the toilet in my room, emptying it and then going outside and disposing of the wrappers because I didn’t want to leave them in my room. I disposed of 12 bags, if not more. It was ridiculous. I’d go back in, and she’d point out some more… ‘There’s some there, there’s some over there, there’s some in that drawer…’ It was pretty daunting.”

“There were a lot of those… incidents that you just found out about later,” Grohl admitted to Brannigan. “In a weird way, it just became this thing that nobody knew what to do about. If you’ve ever known someone who’s battled something like that, you just know that there’s nothing you can do.”

Having sold over 150,000 copies of its original 2011 edition, the fully-revised-and-updated tenth anniversary edition of This Is A Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl, by Paul Brannigan is set for release on September 2, via Harper Collins. It can be pre-ordered now.