Brian Welch Addressed His Own Ignorant Comments After Chester Bennington's Suicide
Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s Associate Mental Health Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.
After news broke in July that Chester Bennington died by suicide, Korn’s Brian “Head” Welch infamously took to Facebook to express his feelings on Bennington’s death.
In a problematic post that has since been deleted from his profile, he wrote, “Giving up on your kids, fans and life is the cowardly way out!” You can read his full post here.
Welch received backlash for posting this, so he wrote a follow up post that said:
I didn’t mean to sound insensitive about Chester. Just dealing with a range of emotions today. Love you Chester. I’m pissed that you did this, but I know this could have been me back in the day after getting wasted one night.
For many, this second response didn’t fix the damage that had been done. As Mighty contributor and suicide loss survivor Dorothy Paugh wrote about Welch’s response, “When someone is in that much pain, they need help. They need to feel our compassion for them, not our judgment of them.”
And although these words probably didn’t reach Welch, he did seem to have a change of heart.
On September 22, the musician addressed his controversial comments in an Instagram post, thanking Linkin Park members for forgiving him and announcing he would be performing at a tribute concert this month.
In the caption of the Instagram post featuring the tribute concert poster, the musician wrote:
When I heard the news about our friend Chester Bennington I was so sad, hurt and angry. In my shock and confusion I didn’t know how to process my feelings correctly. I spoke out from a broken heart and I want to thank the LP camp, and all of my friends and fans for the forgiveness, understanding and grace that was extended to me. I am honored to celebrate Chester’s life with our boys in LP, their fans, and many of my friends and colleagues in the music industry.
When I heard the news about our friend Chester Bennington I was so sad, hurt and angry. In my shock and confusion I didn’t know how to process my feelings correctly. I spoke out from a broken heart and I want to thank the LP camp, and all of my friends and fans for the forgiveness, understanding and grace that was extended to me. I am honored to celebrate Chester's life with our boys in LP, their fans, and many of my friends and colleagues in the music industry. @linkinpark @chesterbe #celebratelife
I’ll admit, as someone who works in the mental health advocacy space, I initially approached this news with skepticism. Not only because it came months after his damaging comments, but also because it was to announce the role he would be playing in the tribute concert.
But when I took a step back, I realized this isn’t really about whether or not we forgive Welch for his comments. Yes, Welch’s reaction was hurtful and ignorant, but unfortunately it’s also not an uncommon response.
When someone dies by suicide, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions, and not always know what to do with your feelings. People may look for someone to blame and latch onto stigmatizing phrases like, “suicide is selfish” or “suicide is the easy way out,” because they’ve heard those phrases said before.
And while comments like these are never OK, it’s important to keep in mind they often come from a lack of mental health education. We need to remember we all start somewhere in our knowledge of mental health sensitivities, and compassion is a necessary component of education.
When Welch posted what he was feeling after the death of his friend, he likely didn’t know how damaging his comments would be. But through this experience, it does seem he learned an important lesson about mental health and suicide. He also acknowledged his words were hurtful and thanked Linkin Park, his friends and family for their forgiveness.
This is not to say we should simply “write off” or excuse Welch’s initial comments, but we should be aware of the impact this kind of public apology can have. Celebrity responses like these not only remind us that suicide is a topic that needs to be taken seriously, but can encourage us to reflect on our own words and acknowledge the impact they have on others.
While my critical mind may have jumped to believe Welch’s apology is “too little, too late,” the fact is he took the time to apologize — and that matters because some people never do.
Welch took ownership of his wrongdoing, asked for forgiveness and learned from his actions. And that’s really all we can ask for.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
Lead photo via Brian Welch Instagram and Linkin Park Facebook page