She was born in Berlin as Eleonore Johanna Renner, and later, she changed her first name to "Hannelore". When her husband was chancellor she set up the Hannelore Kohl Stiftung (that is the Hannelore Kohl Charity) and the Kuratorium ZNS, a foundation to help find a cure for illnesses of the central nervous system.
On 5 July 2001, Mrs Kohl was found dead in her home in Ludwigshafen. She had apparently committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. She was said to have suffered from photo allergy (sunlight burns the skin).
Kohl is known for her collection of German-style cooking recipes, Kulinarische Reise durch Deutsche Länder (Culinary Journey through German Regions), published in 1996.