The photographer recently hosted a special exhibition in California titled “Celebrating the Life of Chester Bennington: A Photo Exhibition by Jim Louvau” on what would have been the 43rd birthday for the late Linkin Park singer.
The gallery featured never-before-seen photos captured by Louvau and a portion of proceeds were donated to Bennington’s widow, Talinda Bennington’s charity for suicide prevention, 320 Changes Direction.
Louvau told Fox News he received the blessing of Talinda, as well as Bennington’s mother, to showcase the photographs from their 17-year friendship.
“This is a celebration of his life,” Louvau told Fox News of the successful show. “And there’s no better way to celebrate someone’s life than on their birthday…. I really wanted to do something special for him, as a tribute to him, for his fans and for myself. It was my way really of saying thank you.”
Bennington, whose vocals helped the rock-rap band become one of the most commercially successful acts in the 2000s, took his life in July 2017 at age 41. He is survived by his six children. Linkin Park had released their album “One More Light” in May of that year.
Bennington was close friends with fellow rocker Chris Cornell, who died by hanging earlier that year, and performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the Soundgarden singer’s memorial in late May. Bennington was also the godfather of Cornell’s son Chris.
Louvau first met Bennington in 2000, when he was in a band that Linkin Park played with. It was before the group’s debut “Hybrid Theory” was released that same year.
“At that point, he was just another guy in a band,” the artist recalled. “He took a liking to me and we just never strayed too far away from each other. We kept in touch for 17 years.”
“He was really, really funny,” continued Louvau. “He always kept that sense of humor. He never took himself too seriously. He was warm and at that point, just the life of the party. He was a character.”
When “Hybrid Theory” was released, Linkin Park sold more than 10 million copies, which featured their hit track “In the End.” In 2001, they won a Grammy for best hard rock performance for “Crawling.” They sold another 6 million with 2003’s “Meteora.” Both albums were critically acclaimed for exploring feelings of frustration and fury. In 2006, they won another Grammy for rap/sung performance in “Numb/Encore.”
Louvau insisted that throughout his life, Bennington was eager to support his friends.
“One of my favorite memories of Chester occurred around the time my wife was pregnant with our daughter,” said Louvau. “I was in California and I spent a day with Chester. I shared the news with him that we were expecting. He goes, ‘Alright dude, what I want you to do is to spend a few days at my cabin [in Arizona]. Unplug, go and enjoy yourself and just take in the few days before this crazy, life-changing experience.’ That was something I did. I took my wife’s maternity photos at the cabin across the creek. We had such a great time out there. And that was because of him.”
Louvau shared Bennington wasn’t fazed by fame. In fact, Bennington wanted his pal to chronicle some of the most important moments of his career, including helping those in need.
“There was an annual fundraiser that he did in Phoenix where they would raise funds for improving conditions at Cardon Children’s Medical Center,” explained Louvau. Every year, he would do this fundraiser and during the daytime, he would go visit the kids at the hospital. Every year it got bigger. So after the fourth or fifth year, Linkin Park performed and they raised half a million dollars.
“Whenever that guy walked into a room, it just lit up. He had a fantastic smile. And that energy radiated through the room. There would be times when the kids were so young, they didn’t know too much about his music, but the parents definitely knew. And the parents were just so grateful and excited that he would take the time to come and meet their sick children.
“He would also spend time with the families and chat about anything. And most of the time, those conversations didn’t have anything to with music. The kids would talk to him about comic books. They were just so happy that someone was paying them a visit and taking their mind off the terrible situation that they were in at the time.”
But behind closed doors, Bennington privately struggled. He faced drug and alcohol addictions at various times during his life. Bennington also said he had been sexually abused as a child and was homeless for months before Linkin Park became famous. One song in “One More Light” titled “Heavy” opened with the words: “I don’t like my mind right now.”
“I was familiar with where he was at in his head,” said Louvau, who texted with Bennington eight days before he passed away. “I don’t really want to get far into that stuff. I’ll just leave it with I knew it was going on. Even in the last few months of his life, he was very vocal talking about where he was in his head.
“I don’t want to say I was surprised at how candid he was because he was a pretty upfront guy most of the time and shared how he felt to people. He did it through his music, his whole career,” continued Louvau. “But when they were doing the whole press run during their last record, he was very open with complete strangers about where he was mentally.”
Louvau admitted it was difficult to cope with the loss of his friend who at the time, was gearing up to go on tour.
“It was one of the worst experiences that I had,” said Louvau. “… You turn on the radio and there he is. … It’s something you kind of can’t get away from when you lose someone who was so successful. That definitely was the hardest part.”
Still, Louvau was determined to honor his friend. And he hopes his photographs will share another side to Bennington, one of an artist who, despite his private agonies, pursued his passion for music and wanted to make others smile.
“I hope people see the different sides of Chester in these photographs,” said Louvau. “… When most people think of Chester, they think Linkin Park. For me, Linkin Park is the last thing I think of. I remember Chester as the young, hungry musician who was super humble and who became a man willing to help his community. Each of these photos will always hold a different, special memory for me.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.