The Man Who Won’t Let Kurt Cobain Die
For over two decades, Richard Lee has terrorized friends, family, and city officials over the death of former Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Last week, he finally got his day in court.
Death was his obsession. And for the past 21 years, Richard Lee, a self-proclaimed “investigative journalist,” has scampered about Seattle filming episodes for his public access television show, Now See It Person to Person: Kurt Cobain Was Murdered. The plot of the rambling, hour-long show is exactly what it claims to be: Every week, Lee presents more elaborate theories for why he believes former Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, whose death was ruled a suicide by medical examiners, did not commit suicide, but was murdered via a covert plot involving the U.S. Department of Justice.
With his long, greasy, graying hair wrangled in a ponytail and clip-on glasses, Lee isn’t exactly a looker, and on his DIY show he often films himself from below, giving us a clear (and unwanted) peek inside his nostrils. His videos are strange, to be sure, but most of all they are excruciatingly boring. Lee confronts bouncers (he calls them “goons”) and various other people around Seattle, but mainly, all he does is drone on and on about whatever pops into his brain in a whiny, grating voice that is as smug as it is deranged.
Lee is, of course, totally bonkers. And the conspiracy theorist made national headlines this past week when a Seattle court heard his lawsuit against the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department. Under the State of Washington’s Public Record Act, Lee’s suit alleged that the authorities have wrongfully withheld records and photos from the scene of Cobain’s death on April 8, 1994, which was ruled a suicide caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head (he also had a lethal amount of heroin in his system). Lee believes that the records and photos—including photos of Cobain’s fatal shotgun wound—will support his theory that Cobain was murdered.
On Friday, a judge heard Lee’s plea (he acted as his own lawyer) to release the evidence. King’s County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle decided to throw out the suit and ruled in favor of the city, claiming that Lee had “improperly served his lawsuit to the city by not delivering it to the mayor, city manager or city clerk, who are the appropriate recipients” and “failed to give the city an adequate amount of time to respond to the public-records request before suing,” according to The Seattle Times.
Lee’s theory as to who exactly killed Cobain is nebulous, as he has at various times implicated Cobain’s widow, rocker Courtney Love, the members of Nirvana, and government officials. His lawsuit came on the heels of last year’s reveal by Michael Ciesynski, a cold-case detective with the Seattle Police Department, who took it upon himself to study four previously undeveloped canisters of 35mm film from the Cobain death scene. Detective Ciesynski revisited the case in honor of the 20th anniversary of Cobain’s death, and, while several of the photos were released to the public—including a shot of Cobain’s cigar box filled with heroin paraphernalia—the findings were deemed “underwhelming” by Seattle PD, and the case remained closed.
In light of Lee’s lawsuit, Love and her daughter with Cobain, Frances Bean Cobain, had urged the judge not to release the gruesome photos, citing the emotional distress it would cause them. In a statement, Frances, who was just 2 years old at the time of her father’s death, wrote that the release of the photographs would “exacerbate the post traumatic stress that I have suffered since childhood.” She also noted that the photos could “physically endanger me and my mother” due to “very disturbed individuals who are obsessed with my father” and frequently stalk and threaten them. One stalker went so far as to sneak into her house and wait three days for her because, she says, he was convinced “my father’s soul had entered my body.”
Love echoed Frances’s sentiments in her own statement, in which she called Cobain’s suicide the “most traumatic experience of my life” and wrote that she “cannot believe that there exists any genuine public interest which might be served by the public release of these images.”
Lee, of course, disagrees. The ex-journalist, who used to write for the Chicago Reader and the Seattle Weekly, is so obsessed with his theory that he has harassed pretty much everyone involved (even distantly) with the case, and has accumulated a whole lot of warnings, restraining orders, and citations along the way.
He stalked Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic from 1994 to 2000 and, though Novoselic eventually did receive a five-year restraining order against him in 2000, Lee still managed to tie the case up through appeals for over 18 months, taking the ruling all the way to the state’s supreme court.
Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels filed another restraining order against Lee in 2005 after Lee allegedly kicked one of the mayor’s security guards following his ejection from an event. Incidentally, Lee ran for Seattle City Council in 1999 but was ruled ineligible for faking petition signatures to get on the ballot, and also ran for mayor of Seattle twice, in 2001 and 2005. During a 2001 mayoral debate, he showed up in a purple dress and filmed himself talking the entire time.
In 2005, Lee was arrested for harassing Love outside of a Los Angeles courtroom where she was facing drug-related charges, accusing Cobain’s widow of murdering her husband. He’d reportedly used a fake media ID to gain access to the courtroom, and at the time of his arrest, had been trailing Love from courtroom to courtroom for at least two years harassing her about her husband’s death. “The weirdo just scares me, man,” Love said of Lee.
According to the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, in 2007 Lee was thrown out of a post-screening Q&A for Michael Azerad’s Cobain documentary Kurt Cobain: About A Son after hijacking the discussion and yelling about how “Kurt was murdered.” Also, in October 2011, he was tossed from Seattle University for harassing former Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan during a talk promoting the rocker’s book, asking, “Was Kurt Cobain depressed on the airline flight?” McKagan, of course, was one of the last people to speak to Cobain, since the two had sat next to each other in first class on a Seattle-bound flight just days before he committed suicide.
According to a 2002 article about Lee in The Stranger, even other Kurt Cobain conspiracy theorists think Lee is nuts. “[Lee] has never been considered a serious member of [our] community. He’s more of an embarrassment,” said a woman named Melissa who ran the now-offline truther site www.kcobainwasmurdered.cjb.net.
Perhaps the strangest thing about Lee (and there are many, many of them) is that he doesn’t even really seem to be that much of a fan of Cobain or Nirvana in the first place. He hardly talks about the singer unless he’s accusing someone of covering up something about him, and even pronounces Nirvana “Nerverner.”
In his most recent video from May, he derided the film Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck—the first fully authorized documentary about Cobain that came out in January (and is set to be re-released in August with a new, never-before-seen track), calling it “just bad cinema all around. Almost not cinema at all, you know?”
The director of the film, Brett Morgen, told The Daily Beast that he made the documentary for Cobain’s daughter—and the film’s executive producer—Frances, in order to “allow her to have a couple hours with her father that she never had.”
As for Lee, he remains determined to prove his bizarre theory—whatever that may be—correct. “Of course I will refile,” Lee said following the ruling tossing out his lawsuit. “I’ve never heard of a case where an issue of such public importance was dismissed because of such trivial circumstances.”