Eric Esrailian – Chris Cornell

It is humbling to share this with all of you and pay respect to such a great man – writing this is not something I ever imagined having to do for such a dear friend, and at such a young age. It has been incredibly difficult for me and I know that is just a fraction of the pain shared by many of you … particularly Vicky, Toni, Christopher, and Lily. Chris lived for his family, and they were his whole world. Those of us who were blessed to know him well felt this love for his family like a wave of warm energy any time Chris spoke, sang, wrote, or even just cast a glance towards Vicky and his children. He was filled with love for them…

Only my wife knows some of the kind and encouraging words Chris used to share with me over the years, and they gave me such support. I wish to share some of these private messages with you today. I first met Chris about 10 years ago through our Greek friends in the Los Angeles community. That is about a quarter of my life, but I think that quarter for me – and a little less for him — had been so formative because we grew up as parents and as 2 people trying to contribute to the world and make it better…I’m grateful to God that over the years he became like a big brother that I could lean on and trust, and I’m honored that he literally pulled me so close to him in the way that only Chris could — through his words, his actions, and with his heart. It feels so real to me, but I’m still not sure that it happened…

Although I knew about his music of course, my life had taken all sorts of twists and turns that by the time we met, music wasn’t really a part of it in those days. Greeks and Armenians have a lot of shared history, tradition, religion, tragedy, and joy — he was fascinated by all of this and connected so much with Vicky’s family heritage. Ironically, what I had heard about Chris was very much consistent with Greek mythology. I had anticipated him being like a character out of The Iliad or the Odyssey. He was tall, powerful, and he had voice like a benevolent version of a mythological siren — a voice that could hypnotize and captivate anyone who heard it. While he very much was that person to people who didn’t know him, and there is nothing wrong with that legendary image, from the moment I met him, he was not that person to me. Chris was such a pleasant surprise. Above all, he was just sweet, generous, and a child at heart. It seems strange to think of a grown man as being “sweet,” but that’s what I felt from day one.

For the first several years of our relationship, we just talked about families, life, culture, and had a lot of laughs. He loved his wife and children so much, and he set the bar so high for the world’s greatest son-in-law award. We joked about the surreal world of picking schools for our children, birthday parties, talked about how we were grown men who liked to play video games, had epic sushi dinners, and had literally traveled around the world together. After his 50th birthday party, he wrote me this note: “Thank you my brother. I consider you one of my best friends and I mean that sincerely. I was failing in my describing to you and Kim that my closest friends are the ones I think of all the time and see very little because, like me, they are always doing.”

Chris then made sure that we were “always doing” together…When I was charged with overseeing our film The Promise, Chris was one of the first people I entrusted with the idea and he became one of my closest confidants over the past 7 years. No one could take an idea and make it a reality like Chris Cornell. He saw more in me than I even saw in myself and gave me so much confidence… “You’re one of these guys who can do everything Eric” … for some reason when Chris used to say these types of things to me, I believed it. He was always trying to pump me up and boost my spirits – I soon realized that he had that effect on millions of people.

Chris had studied so much about Greek history and culture, and he felt so personally connected to it all. Chris and Vicky started their foundation to protect the most vulnerable children and he saw so many parallels between the Armenian Genocide, the human rights issues of today, and the countless children who are now in harms way. That was Chris — not the towering rock star – that was the husband and father who’s heart ached for people he never met — whether it was a 102 years ago or now. Even though he was an essential part of the soul of my life, and certainly the film, over all these years, he wanted me to officially ask him to write the title song. I always thought that after all the laughs and tears over the years, that he would be doing it. However, in his own unassuming way, Chris wasn’t sure I wanted him to sing, and he wanted me to formally ask him. Our wives were sitting there, and it was almost like an awkward prom proposal between two grown men. I didn’t know how much it meant to him until he wrote me the following note the next day: “I want to tell you that I am honored and that I am devoted to this film and I will give it my absolute best and feel like my thirty years of discovery and development as a songwriter have led me to this!”

Chris poured his heart and soul into The Promise, and he wanted it to not to just be an anthem for the oppressed, but he wanted it to be a source of inspiration for people around the world with its themes of hope and perseverance…literally filling the world with life as he says in the lyrics. We were invited to the Vatican with our families just a few weeks ago, and he was so proud and happy. He was so proud that his song was going to be played on those holy grounds…while on a private tour of the Vatican Library and archives, I remember him hugging me and getting emotional with joy because of the beauty of it all…true to Chris’ philanthropic spirit, he went from our screening in London to a refugee camp in Athens and had already decided to donate all of the proceeds from The Promise to help refugees and children…that was Chris Cornell. The husband, the father, and the protector of children around the world.

I feel so blessed that we traveled on this journey together…but I would give it all back to have him here with all of you — especially his children…so I could just be a spectator on the sidelines before we met…and not have him so interwoven into the fibers of my heart. Chris always gave the biggest hugs, said the funniest jokes, wrote the most beautiful words, and sang like an angel. When we were lamenting the fact that our busy lives and geography would periodically limit our time together, one personal note Chris wrote to me, in particular, gives me solace… because it makes me feel like he will always be with us. I hope it gives you all some solace too: ….”We are neighbors in the modern world where proximity is relative and the threshold to our hearts moves outside time and space.”

Eric Esrailian

Chris Cornell