Best known as the flamboyant and controversial leader of the alternative rock group Hole, and for her marriage to the late leader of the group Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love is also a recognized film actress. Love's breakthrough role was that of Althea Flynt, the drug-addicted wife of pornography tycoon Larry Flynt in The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996) for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination and New York Film Critics Circle award.
As Love is known for toying with the facts of her early years, it is difficult to substantiate events of her past. What is known is that she was born in San Francisco and raised in Oregon, the daughter of therapist Linda Carroll and Grateful Dead biographer and publisher Hank Harrison. Love apparently was a bit of a wild child who occasionally got in trouble with the law, something that later would fuel her stage and screen persona. As a young woman, she spent time living off a trust fund from her maternal grandmother, using the money to see the world. Love eventually returned to San Francisco to launch a singing career with various local bands, including an early incarnation of Faith No More. When Love's interests turned to acting she moved to Los Angeles, where she made her screen debut playing Chloe Webb's best friend in Sid and Nancy (1986), Alex Cox's compelling portrait of the relationship between seminal punk rocker Sid Vicious and his lover Nancy Spungen. Love then appeared in another punk rock movie, Straight to Hell (1987). It was not particularly successful and Love's career stalled, leading her to Minnesota where she began to establish her music career. When her trust fund ran out, Love attempted to support herself as an exotic dancer, first in Los Angeles, where she failed because club owners considered her too pudgy, and then in Alaska, where lonely men were less discerning.
Upon her return to Los Angeles, Love founded the band Hole and in 1989 released their debut album. It was successful and attracted the interest of major record labels. Around this time, she met Kurt Cobain, and in 1992 the two married. While Love continued recording and performing with her band, Cobain's Seattle-based group Nirvana became a national sensation, thereby temporarily eclipsing Love's rising star and relegating her to the role of Cobain's wife. During this time, the couple gained quite a reputation for their alleged use of alcohol, heroin and other illegal drugs. Love found herself in the midst of a maelstrom of negative press after Vanity Fair reported that she had used heroin during her pregnancy. Both she and Cobain denied the allegations and though their daughter was born healthy, there was a struggle with the Washington State Child Protective Services over whether or not the couple should keep the child; Love and Cobain prevailed. In the spring of 1994, around a year following his daughter's birth, Cobain committed suicide. At that time the couple was allegedly preparing to divorce, and Cobain was plagued with health problems. As is typical when cult figures die, conspiracy theories circulated that he was murdered and that Love was involved, but there has been no hard evidence discovered to support such allegations.
Following Cobain's death, Love's celebrity expanded to relatively astronomic proportions. Her rise in profile was ably complemented by a swift and all-encompassing change of image: gone were the runny make-up and ratty baby doll dresses, exchanged instead for Versace gowns and a good PR agent. Following the acclaim surrounding her return to acting in The People vs. Larry Flynt, Feeling Minnesota, and Basquiat in 1996, Love became something of a Hollywood darling. However, her name continued to be synonymous with controversy: in 1998 she was embroiled in litigation over British documentary-maker Nick Broomfield's attempt to show his unauthorized portrait of the late Cobain and his relationship with Love in Kurt and Courtney. Much of the documentary's content was comprised of interviews with friends and relatives of the couple that showed Love in a distinctly unflattering light. Though Broomfield claimed it was not his intent to malign Love, she retaliated by threatening legal action over his supposedly unauthorized use of Nirvana and Hole songs, effectively forcing the documentary's removal from that year's Sundance Festival.
The following year brought with it greater authorized screen time for Love, first as one of the leads in the ensemble film 200 Cigarettes, and then in Man on the Moon, Milos Forman's biopic of the late, legendary comedian Andy Kaufman.