While Cobain is often seen as a product of Seattle, he actually grew up about two hours away, in the decaying industrial town of Aberdeen, Wash. He sung about his early life of poverty in the song Something in the Way.
His parents divorced when he was young. As a teenager, he often withdrew. On many days, he found sanctuary under a bridge that crosses a muddy river in Aberdeen. He'd sit under it, play his guitar and write songs.
That bridge has become a site of pilgrimage for thousands, who come to feel a sense of connection with Cobain.
In Aberdeen, by the bridge, CBC News recently found Jeremie Fisher, writing in his diary. Fisher, from Strasbourg, France, explained why he felt the need to visit the site.
"He came from a broken home. He felt rejected. Yeah, I associate, because, I kind of lived the same things," Fisher said. "For me, Nirvana is just the best band ever, which changed my life, or saved my life, even."
Author Charles R. Cross ran a music magazine in Seattle in the early 1990s and put Cobain on the cover long before he was famous. Cross, who has written four books on Cobain, says Cobain had a very difficult childhood, but he railed against it.
"He did something that I think is quite admirable. He got off his ass and off that sofa in some little shack that he lived in [in] Aberdeen and he risked creating art. That, to me, is ultimately the reason why we are most to admire him," Cross said.
"One of my favourite stories about the recording of the album "Nevermind," an album that would sell 30 million copies worldwide over the next decade, was that when Kurt returned home from the studio after recording that, all his material possessions were in boxes on the curb. He had been evicted from his apartment in Olympia for not paying his rent."
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"We root for an underdog, and if there ever was an underdog it was Kurt Cobain growing up in a shack in Aberdeen and going on to be the greatest star of his generation."
Cobain's heroin use only accentuated the instability and depression he lived with most of his life. Cobain wrote in his suicide note that the world, including his young daughter, would be better off without him.
In the end, Cross believes Cobain's shocking act was a powerful incentive for troubled youth to take a different path.
"In some ways, the violent nature of Kurt's death and the way the media reported it took away some of the romanticism of his suicide and put a stark face on it. This was something that caused a lot of pain to his family, his friends," Cross said. "I think he was a face of suicide and some people got help."
Nowhere has Cobain's legacy been more controversial than in the town where he grew up.
For 17 years after his death, Aberdeen City Council refused to acknowledge Cobain in any official way.
Resident ToriKovach eventually took on the project himself.
"A lot of people in this town didn't feel he was an appropriate example for the youth of the community," Kovach said.
Along with his friend, Denny Jackson, Kovach cleaned up the area near the bridge and turned it into a memorial park.
"I think people have come around to realize who the man was. I think, putting aside and stopping being hung up on the fact that he killed himself in such a violent manner and that he did succumb to drugs — we claim him now as our native son and recognize him for the talent he is."
Underneath the bridge visitors find graffiti and notes written to the singer with the same theme.
The rock star who killed himself is now viewed by many once-troubled, angst-ridden youth as the person who saved their lives.