Why helping sell Kurt Cobain’s guitar is personal for the Irsay family

INDIANAPOLIS – The cobalt blue Fender guitar stands tall in the rack, its silver strings tightly wound, the white pickguard glistening in the sun.

It’s Kurt Cobain’s guitar from the music video “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The former Nirvana star loved it so much that even though he made a tradition out of smashing his guitar at the end of each concert, he made sure to never smash this one. He wanted it to last.

Cobain died by suicide three years after recording the video with that guitar. Now, 28 years after his death, the Colts are teaming up with Julien’s Auctions to sell it, with a portion of the proceeds going to a cause deeply ingrained in Cobain’s identity: mental health.

“This guitar is big, and it relates so much to stigma,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said while eyeing the guitar. “When you have a mental illness, people die. These are fatal diseases — bipolar, schizophrenia, post-partem depression, alcoholic addictions. With fatal diseases, people die and they don’t choose to die.”

“Those of us who are alive, we’re not stronger or better. We didn’t get our act together more. We didn’t have more character. That’s where it’s so false.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the Colts have become deeply involved in efforts to address the crisis. Through their initiative, “Kicking the Stigma,” they’ve donated more than $16 million to local and national organizations working in that area of science.

They’re stepping up those efforts this month, with a player-led service project and an application process for grants to local nonprofit organizations. They’re also helping with the auction of Cobain’s guitar.