Elegantly Wasted: The Strange Demise of INXS’ Michael Hutchence
Stage presence is inherent. It cannot be taught. Look at Celine Dion. Great lungs, superb octave range, zero stage chemistry. Stiff as a cedar plank. Faked stage presence, the kind where the performer jumps about trying to catch your eye at all times, is also pathetically easy to see through. The slight tremble in the voice. The millisecond eye contact. All of it adds up to discomfort. It can be detected in their body language. How they approach the center stage, whether facing the audience in an open, full-frontal manner (in essence, offering themselves), or whether they furtively skirt along the rim of the stage, presenting a quick profile before darting farther back to join their band members, determines the charisma quotient of a natural stage performer. Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Roger Daltrey all play close to the edge, inviting. They are relaxed on the platform and their genetic ease shines through to the audience. Not many performers today possess that ease. Sure they’ll scamper out, do a few high fives, but how many stay out front, really out there, presenting both their songs and themselves to their fans, as opposed to just their songs? Not many.
Michael Hutchence of the Australian band INXS had stage presence. Lots of it. When I first saw the band in a little Atlanta nightclub in 1983 — not more than 40 or 50 people in the room — Hutchence seemed to connect with each and every one of us. The band, which was touring in support of their album “Shabooh Shoobah,” was kinetic and tight. The entire evening felt as if we were in a Coliseum show with front row seats because INXS’ performance was grander than the room. They maintained that powerful, yet intimate spirit through several other shows I saw them in over the years, all the way up to their final “Elegantly Wasted” tour. When Hutchence hit the stage at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre in July 1997, it felt as if we were back in that small Atlanta club. He drew audience members in, right to his side up at the stage, even though we didn’t leave our seats. His presence was mesmerizing and friendly. He was a true showman.
It is tragic, to say the least, to have had this talent suddenly taken from the world’s stage in the midst of what was commonly perceived as a successful comeback to the band’s 20 year career. Hutchence, at the age of 37, was discovered on November 22, 1997 dead of what was officially ruled a suicide. Whether he was depressed enough to take his own life or whether it was a humiliating mishap of kinky proportions has been the subject of rock legend debate ever since. Definitively, no one is sure what Michael was thinking and what his intentions truly were in those final moments, as his Dad, Kell Hutchence surmised when he told the Daily Telegraph, “I think God is the only one who knows what happened.” One thing is for sure, one of the world’s greatest, natural entertainers was gone. The life he had led had become increasingly excessive and tumultuous prior to his demise.
By 1994, after the lukewarm reception of their 10th album, “Full Moon, Dirty Hearts,” INXS appeared to be no more. The six lads who formed the band in Sydney, Australia in 1977 – Hutchence, Kirk Pengilly, Garry Gary Beers, and the Farriss brothers, Jon, Andrew, and Tim – had weathered the pub and club circuit in their early career and the monumental stadium tours in their late 1980’s heyday. While Little River Band, Midnight Oil, AC/DC, and Men At Work contributed to Down Under notoriety, INXS had grandly booted Australian rock into global consciousness and acceptance. Their 1987 ten-million seller, “Kick,” perfectly exemplified the band’s sharp writing skills and peak performances with its four hit singles, “Need You Tonight,” “Devil Inside,” “New Sensation,” and “Never Tear Us Apart.” But with the advent of grunge, the clamor for INXS’ brand of music fell through the cracks.
Regardless of the band’s status in the early 1990s, Hutchence continued to live the rock star life. He reportedly still carried around a cookie jar filled with ecstasy pills. He supposedly dabbled in other forms of narcotics, namely cocaine. He allegedly was stopped at Australian customs and asked if he had any drugs. Declaring that he was 15 minutes from his house, he said no to the fact he wasn’t currently carrying, but that he would be sure to make a call to his connection when he got home. He then reportedly took out his drug connection’s phone number and waved it under the noses of the stewing customs officials. He was searched anyway, and later, after his attorney threatened to sue airport customs for harassment, it was said he was never hassled again whenever he arrived back on Australian turf.
Hutchence had been dating the darling of Aussie pop, Kylie Minogue, for a few years, and subsequently, in 1991, he moved on to share the paparazzi strobelights with supermodel Helena Christensen. One night, while in Copenhagen, Denmark with Christensen, Michael got into an altercation with a taxicab driver, and the man slugged Hutchence in the head. The blow, according to author Vincent Lovegrove, allegedly led to Michael’s loss of taste and smell and caused him to overindulge in antidepressants.
A short time later, Hutchence appeared on England’s popular morning program called the “Big Breakfast” show. He was interviewed in a big bed by hostess Paula Yates. Yates was the wife of Bob Geldof, the former Boomtown Rat frontman, who organized the worldwide Live Aid charity concert in 1985. Geldof and Yates had been together for 18 years and had three children. Apparently, Michael made quite an impression on Paula that morning. She took to placing his photograph on the family’s refrigerator over the next year.
INXS released a “Greatest Hits” CD in 1994, a move that oftentimes signals the death knell for many bands, and the group did not hit the road or head into the studio that year. By early 1995, Hutchence, who had branched off once before on his own to record an album under the moniker Max Q, was preparing to lay down some tracks for a new venture. And as fate would have it, Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence were about to meet again.
On March 19, 1995, the two escaped to the Chilton Park hotel, a quiet establishment in the south of England near Maidstone. Someone tipped off the paparazzi of their illicit getaway. At dinner in the hotel restaurant that night, Hutchence and Yates became aware that nearly every other patron in the eatery was a tabloid journalist. Michael started throwing bottles of wine at them, sending everyone out into the hotel reception area. Dashing upstairs, the couple locked themselves in their room. Peeking out later, they saw the entire hallway filled with newsmen in sleeping bags. One reporter had booked the room directly across the hall from Hutchence and had set up a camera on a tripod facing the desperate couple’s door.
The next morning, Michael and Paula made a run for a waiting car outside the hotel. A tabloid photographer stood directly in his path, so Hutchence swung and hit him. Needless to say, the couple’s affair was plastered on every paper in England by day’s end. Geldof sent Paula packing, and she moved in with Michael. Hutchence’s announcement of his split from Helena Christensen was released four days later on March 24th. Kell Hutchence, Michael’s dad, told the Daily Telegraph, “I must say, I was a bit shocked – we’d had such a nice association with Helena and her family. Michael rang, and said, ‘Hey Dad, I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.” He was smitten with Paula.
The press hounded the controversial couple everywhere they went. Michael was seen shoving another reporter outside a restaurant. Paula was dismissed from her show, “Big Breakfast” around this time. She told Hello! Magazine, “One morning I got a call and I was told ‘don’t come in again.’ When I asked, ‘why not?,’ they said, ‘because we’re a family show and you’ll never be clean again.’ And that was the end of that. It was so hurtful because I’d been very involved with that program from the beginning.”
On September 12, 1995, Hutchence pled guilty to punching the tabloid photographer, Jim Bennett, outside the Chilton Park hotel. He was fined $620 and ordered to pay $2,950 in court expenses.
Meanwhile, other INXS group members were going through a difficult spell. The Farriss boys lost their mother to cancer. Kirk Pengilly broke up with his wife, singer Deni Hines, after only 17 months of marriage. The band lost its contract with Atlantic Records. And their manager of 15 years, Chris Murphy resigned from the band.
At the end of their marriage, it was Paula Yates who filed divorce from Bob Geldof, citing his alleged adultery with French actress Jeanne Marine, 15 years Bob’s junior. Thus began Geldof’s and Yates’ very contentious custody battle over their three daughters, Fifi Trixiebelle, Peaches, and Pixie. At this time, late 1995, Paula was pregnant with Hutchence’s child.
INXS, for all intents and purposes, seemed unofficially washed up by the start of 1996. At the 15th annual Brit Awards in London on February 19th, Michael presented the band Oasis with Best Video honors. The lowbrow sensibilities of Noel and Liam Gallagher prompted them to proclaim Hutchence a ‘has-been’ and they noisily offered to battle him in a fistfight. Michael tucked tail and continued to try to remain out of the hassling photo blasts in the media spotlight. He worked with Depeche Mode producer Tim Simenon and Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill on his upcoming solo album. He also huddled with Talking Heads members in upstate New York. Kirk Pengilly was eager to get the band back together. He told the Sun-Herald Time Out magazine, “People were putting the boot in left, right and centre. We had just become a big target. At one point I said to myself, ‘I’ve had enough.’ So he phoned Michael. “He wanted to talk, we started talking, and that was the catalyst to start writing songs.”
Hutchence put his solo work on hold and went back to INXS. In April 1996, according to London’s Daily Star newspaper, in response to Yate’s penchant for bestowing her offspring with colorful names, Michael “banned her from picking an offbeat moniker” for their upcoming baby. He wanted the kid to have a traditional name like Bill or Jane. It would seem Paula won out. On July 22, 1996, with the assistance of two midwives at their London home, the couple became parents to a baby girl named Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. They chose Heavenly “because she will be” and Hiraani was a Polynesian word meaning princess of the Beautiful Sky. The press swooped down on the new parents a week later when Paula took Tiger Lily to a bookshop, and Michael jumped from the cab, shoving and cursing the photographers.
INXS were having great success in the recording studio again, bonding and churning out songs like the old days. On September 30, 1996, they were asked to appear at the Australian Music Industry Awards (ARIAs), and it was seen as a comeback for the group. Unfortunately, earlier in the morning, police raided Michael and Paula’s London home and allegedly confiscated some drugs from their bedroom. More than one person mentioned that the authorities could have been tipped off by Geldof. The past year and a half’s worth of scrutiny and harrassment was wearing at Hutchence. Bandmate Tim Farriss related the incident to journalist Murray Engleheart. “It was rather marred by the fact that there was a certain episode with our singer and his girlfriend that happened the very day of the ARIA Awards that was kind of heavy, and she had to leave Australia like that day with their baby and fly back to England. To be perfectly honest, he spent three hours before that performance in his dressing room crying…This is the whole thing with the media. I know we’re not supposed to be human, but you are and human love is touched by human emotions and human events. That was a pretty tough time for them.”
The album “Elegantly Wasted” was released by year’s end, and its title track received favorable radio play. The album was critically approved in most circles as being a worthy comeback for a band that seemed all but dismissed. INXS began appearing on the bill with several bands throughout 1997 and conducted mini-tours through England and America during the summer. Things were beginning to look up. To the bandmates, the audience that truly mattered was their own countrymen. INXS felt they never got the respect they deserved over the years in Australia, and as the 20th Anniversary of the band loomed in November, they wanted to try to garner favor with their fellow Aussies one last time. A “Lose Your Head” tour, set amongst small venues across the country, was slated to kick off Down Under on November 25th. The band agreed to meet beforehand for a few days in Sydney to run through some rehearsals.
Hutchence flew to Vancouver, British Columbia, paying for his own hotel and travel expenses, to act in an independent feature film called “Limp” in October 1997. His character in the movie, an unscrupulous recording A&R man, has a scene in which he recommends that a young musician kill himself so that he will gain immortality in the legions of rock history. The director later described Hutchence’s performance as being entirely believable and culled from the gut.
He then flew to Los Angeles and worked on his solo album tracks. In mid-November, just days before the tour was to begin, Hutchence recorded a song called “Breathing.” Its haunting chorus featured a prescient sounding Hutchence intoning over and over, “keep breathing.” He also met with representatives from Quentin Tarantino’s company for a possible role in the sequel to “From Dusk Til Dawn.” He concluded his LA stay by meeting with actor-producer Michael Douglas over potential film roles in the future. He related to the Sun-Herald Time Out magazine that Douglas thought “I could sell some popcorn. But it’s just talk at the moment.”
On November 19, 1997, Hutchence arrived in Sydney after the exhausting trans-Pacific flight from the United States. He spent much of the next day resting. On Friday, November 21st, the band got together for rehearsal. Michael sent Paula a dozen roses in England with a card that read, “To All My Beautiful Girls, All My Love, Michael.” That evening, Hutchence met up with his dad, Kell, and his stepmother at the Flavours of India restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Edgecliff. Kell related that meeting to the Daily Telegraph: “He was in great form: joking, mimicking friends, big smiles. He’d just been in LA, screen-testing for a new Tarantino movie. He was elated – he’d won the part.”
At one point in the meal, talk turned to Michael’s use of prescribed Prozac, and his father took hold of his hand. “Look, Mike, tell me. What’s this all about?,” he asked. Michael talked about the hard legal battles he and Paula were fighting with Bob Geldof in gaining some custody of her three daughters. On that day, Yates was back in England, where her attorneys were fighting for Paula’s desire to take two of the three kids with her to Australia for the December/Christmas holidays and join Michael and INXS on their tour. Geldof was adamantly opposed to the notion. Kell felt that Michael was clearly upset with Geldof. In Kell’s estimation, it seemed Geldof did not want to let go of Paula.
After dinner, father and son drove back to Michael’s hotel, the Ritz Carlton in the tony suburb of Double Bay and said their farewells. “It was the last time I saw him,” Kell said.
That night, Hutchence drank with an old girlfriend, Australian actress Kym Wilson and her boyfriend, attorney Andrew Rayment, at the hotel bar. Around 1:00 early Saturday morning, the three of them went up to Hutchence’s room on the fifth floor. There they drank champagne and strawberry daiquiris, and while Andrew fell asleep, Kym and Michael stayed up talking about old times. Shortly before 5:00am, Andrew and Kym say they left Hutchence and went home. And around this time, Paula called him from England.
She related that Geldof’s attorneys had been successful in blocking her wish to bring the kids to Australia on holiday. According to Paula, the last thing Michael said to her was, “I love you. I’m going to phone Bob right now and beg him, beg him to allow them to come.” He dialed the number for Geldof’s home. Geldof later told the Daily Express, “He called up in the early hours of the morning, and I couldn’t understand a word he said. I just put the phone down.” Geldof told friends that he and Hutchence didn’t argue during that phone call. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Hutchence allegedly said, amongst other things, “She’s not your wife anymore,” and “Your children hate you, little man. I’m their father now.”
Hutchence, soon thereafter, phoned his long-standing friend and former girlfriend, Michelle Bennett, and left a brief message on her machine. According to the Daily Mirror, the message he left sounded as though he were in a ‘state of distress.’ Bennett, later that morning, went to the Ritz Carlton and slipped a note under Michael’s Room 524, the contents of which were never revealed.
Around 11:30am, Saturday, November 22, 1997, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, a hotel maid, who had been sent by the band’s reps to check on Hutchence, entered the room. Michael was late for the morning’s rehearsal. She found the renowned singer hanging naked from a self-closing apparatus attached behind the main door of his hotel room. Around his neck was a leather belt. He had apparently died of asphyxiation.
Police who were first to arrive on the scene simply released the statement that an “Australian citizen who had been living in England was found dead.” It wasn’t until later that weekend that police officially disclosed Hutchence’s identity and said, “we believe it is a straight case of suicide.” Reporters, sniffing tales from sources, called into question the belief that a kinky sex act may have been involved. An officer said simply, “There was no toga party or anything.”
The coroner, Derrick Hand, issued a preliminary statement. “Post mortem examinations have determined that the cause of death of Michael Hutchence was hanging. However, a coroner’s investigation is still necessary to determine whether the death was from suicide. Routine toxicology tests will be carried out and the results will not be known for some weeks.”
INXS band members were blindsided by the tragedy, ready to hit the club circuit again, and consequently, they were forced to cancel their tour. They released a statement that weekend. “The band members of INXS are all in extreme shock at the loss of their dear friend and lead singer. Their love and sympathy go out to Michael Hutchence’s family. They ask that the media please, in this time of extreme grief, act with courtesy and grace and respect both for Michael Hutchence’s family’s privacy, as well as their own.”
News of Hutchence’s strange death plastered the headlines and airwaves across Australia that weekend. Bono of U2, a good friend of Michael’s and a neighbor of his at their homes in the south of France, announced to a San Antonio, Texas audience during their Popmart tour on Sunday night, “This is for Michael Hutchence, a great singer and a great friend. We’ll miss him.” U2 went on to play “Pride (in the Name of Love).” When Hutchence’s solo album was finally released in late 1999, Bono subsequently contributed vocals to a track, “Slide Away,” which Michael had recorded in 1996.
Back in Britain, Yates was in complete shock. She was taken by a friend to Heathrow Airport, along with her baby Tiger Lily, and immediately flew for Sydney. She sobbed on board the flight, telling anyone who would listen, reporters and passengers alike, that this was a horrible accident. When her British Airways flight touched down in Bangkok, Thailand for a brief layover, trouble broke out as Yates began to re-board. The BBC reported that Paula was under heavy sedation, and when she apparently asked a British Airways official if she could use a baby buggy for Tiger Lily to take her on the ramp to the plane, the representative not only refused her request, but allegedly told her that he did not care about her loss and kicked her. Yates threw a glass filled with champagne on him. Thai airport officials were called to the scene, and after sorting the situation, allowed Yates to re-board the plane a half hour later.
After arriving in Sydney on Monday, November 24th, she told the Daily Express, “Bob Geldof murdered Michael Hutchence. That bastard killed Michael. He is called Saint Bob. That makes me sick. He killed my baby. We have had three years of this.” Paula intimated that she and Michael had planned to get married on the Tahitian island of Bora Bora in January 1998. Yates mentioned she would dye her wedding dress black for the funeral.
She also said they had wanted to move back to Australia. Hutchence, himself, had alluded to these plans on his last interview he gave with the Sun Herald’s Time Out magazine. “Paula and I and the kids love it in Australia. Sydney’s the greatest city for the 21st century. London has become very difficult. People in Australia are so real and friendly. We love it. Paula is doing TV work there. It’s all very good.” Kell Hutchence seemed to feel otherwise about the touted nuptials. He told the Daily Telegraph that when he asked Michael whether he and Paula were going to get married, Michael responded by saying, “No plans yet, Dad, and you’ll be the first to know.”
Paula Yates ultimately wore a sleeveless, knee-length, black dress with white floral patterns, and not the dyed wedding dress, to the funeral. A public service was held on Thursday, November 27 at 2:30pm at St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in the heart of Sydney. Over 1,000 mourners were present in the chapel, and the proceedings were shown live on Australian television. The INXS song “By My Side” played as family and friends like Tom Jones, Diana Ross, and Kylie Minogue filed in. In the midst of the service, cult Australian rocker Nick Cave got up to sing his song “Into My Arms.” Suddenly, someone from the balcony screamed out “This is how he did it Paula! This is how he died!” The man tied one end of a rope to the balcony rail, then attempted to throw himself over, before security and ushers surrounded him and hustled the man away. He turned out to be a notorious troublemaker who was known for disrupting Australian events, like the Australia-Iran World Cup qualifier soccer match and the Melbourne Cup. The members of INXS took Michael’s casket to an awaiting hearse, while the band’s “Never Tear Us Apart” concluded the service. On top of the coffin, amidst blue irises was one yellow Tiger Lily flower.
Eleven weeks after the incident at the Double Bay hotel, Derrick Hand, the town’s coroner, handed down his verdict. Michael’s death was officially ruled a suicide. Toxicology reports indicated there was alcohol, Prozac, and other prescription pills in his system, along with small traces of cocaine. There was no mention of the other theory. Death by autoerotic asphyxiation.
The practice of autoerotic asphyxiation consists of a person purposely blocking oxygen to their lungs during a sexual act, usually masturbation, in order to allegedly achieve a more heightened degree of orgasm. While plastic bags are used on occasion, most practitioners tend to rely on some sort of strangulation device, either a belt or a rope. With the growth of accessibility to outlets specializing in “borderline” sexual practices, such as through adult tapes, stores, magazines, and websites, police worldwide have reported an increase in the latter part of the twentieth century of accidental deaths attributed to the practice. A few members of British parliament have passed on in this manner. The one notable rock artist before Hutchence to have reportedly died of this cause was Kevin Gilbert, a songwriter who co-wrote 7 songs and played piano on Sheryl Crow’s 1993 “Tuesday Night Music Club” album. Gilbert was found in his California home on May 18, 1996 with a black hood covering his face, his head held in place to the headboard to his king-size bed with a leather strap.
The coroner’s decision in the death of Michael Hutchence drew speculation in some camps. To Kell Hutchence, Michael’s father, the case was closed. He said, “I have looked into all aspects of the coroner’s report and am convinced that it is accurate and there is no suggestion of any autoerotic behavior.” Hutchence’s fellow band members seemed to think drugs might have played a big part in his demise. Tim Farriss told Australian Broadcasting TV’s “7:30 Report,” “There’s been a lot of recent things, things like depressants and alcohol mixed together making people suicidal.”
Martha Troup, a business associate of the band’s for 12 years, told writer Gil Kaufman that Michael “felt pressure and it was a snap…he snapped for that momentary time. It was a culmination of all the things that happened all year. Michael was upset with the way the whole relationship was and what kind of person he (Geldof) was and how Geldof treated Paula and the children.” As to the rumors of autoerotic asphyxiation, she responded, “I can say unequivocally that that’s not it. Absolutely not…I’ve spent more time with detectives than I care to in the last two weeks, and the detectives explained it a bunch of ways. I’m no expert, but there was no semen, nothing in any part of the room, on Michael, near Michael, on the bed, anywhere. That I can 100% confirm.”
But not everyone was convinced of suicide. Author Vincent Lovegrove, who wrote the book “Michael Hutchence: A Tragic Rock and Roll Story,” talked with Rhett Hutchence, Michael’s brother, who felt that Michael was not alone in the room when he died. Rhett related that Michael had been into bondage and was tired of having sex “the normal way.” Michael’s mother, Patricia Glassop, told Q Magazine that Michael had been associated with people interested in sadomasochism during the months before his death.
Journalist Ian Vickers wrote in Cleo Magazine that he had been one of the first reporters to race to the Ritz Carlton on the day of Hutchence’s death. Gaining entry into the room directly next to Hutchence’s, he listened through the wall as the detectives investigated the death scene. When he heard them mention Hutchence had hung himself on the spring at the back of the main door, Vickers looked to his own room’s door, a carbon copy of the one Hutchence had used, and noted where the spring was and how Hutchence could have done it. “But,” he wrote, “I could also see at least half a dozen more obvious places to spring a noose if death was on your mind. Also, Hutchence had been a tall man – and there was no way the spring was anywhere near six feet up from the ground. It didn’t make sense.”
Vickers also reported that once the hotel maid had found Hutchence’s body in the room, a security guard supposedly came in and snapped pictures, which he later tried to sell to British newspapers. The photos allegedly showed Hutchence with pills and risque photos of Paula nearby his body on the floor. “The guard even described Hutchence’s hands and neck as being red raw from trying to free himself from the death grip he inflicted on himself,” Vickers reported. He concluded by saying, “Psychologists will tell you two basic facts that make suicide seem unlikely (in this case): 1) Dads of babies – especially one as doting as Hutchence – rarely commit suicide, and 2) Suicide victims – especially one as vain as Hutchence – rarely kill themselves in the nude. They know they’ll be found that way.”
There was no suicide note in the room. No final words of love to his baby daughter.
The immediate aftermath of Hutchence’s death drew his family into protracted disputes over his estate and sent Paula into a state of weird depression. In March 1998, she tried to overturn the coroner’s ruling of suicide, citing that Hutchence would have thought it a cowardly act, and he would not have chosen to purposely leave his little daughter. Strangely enough, on June 30, 1998, Yates, herself, was found barely conscious, slumped next to her bedroom door in her Chelsea home, with a noose around her neck. She was taken to a clinic for psychiatric observation and rehabilitation. While at the clinic, she started an affair with a heroin addict, Kingsley O’Keke, which resulted in the pair being ejected from the medical center.
Hutchence’s body had been cremated, and a clash over what to do with his remains resulted in his ashes being split up. Kell told the Daily Telegraph, “Poor old Mike’s been divided into 3 urns.” Hutchence’s dad and mom, Kell and Patricia, each got an urn, as did Paula. She carried Michael around with her wherever she traveled. In an interview with New Idea magazine, she was asked of her share of Michael’s ashes’ whereabouts. “They are actually in my bed and they’re wearing a pair of Gucci pajamas…I’ve taken them out of the urn because the urn’s a bit tricky to sleep with.” Kingsley O’Keke told London’s The Sun newspaper that when he and Paula began their brief five-week affair, he was at her house, when…“I rolled into the bed and felt this hard lump in my back. I moved over and found a small sequined pillow with what felt like a lump inside.” Yes, Paula kept Michael close by her side because she had sewn his ashes into the pillowcase.
As for the other two urns, Patricia kept her share of the ashes in her home. Kell took his share to the harbor in Sydney and spread them out over the blue waters. Shortly thereafter, Paula was on a boat in that harbor when a hatch came loose, hitting her on the head and sending her over the side. To her, it felt like Michael wanted an aquatic permanent reunion. She told New Idea magazine, “As I fell into the water, I thought, ‘This is it – he’s coming for me.’ But then as usual, some idiot got me out…You know how strong that yachting fiberglass is? The lid of the entire yacht flew off, hit me in the head – and knocked me into the water. I mean, that is a freak accident. I just thought, ‘I’m going.”
While Paula’s affair with the ex-heroin addict was still underway, Kell felt he needed to retain temporary custody of Tiger Lily. As a result of his filed legal action, he and Paula never had much contact with each other from that point on. He subsequently dropped his bid for custody. However, on October 28, 1998, the High Court in London announced that Paula had lost custody of her other three children to Bob Geldof.
By mid-1999, Patricia and her daughter were suing the band’s accountants over missing royalty payments due the family as executed by Michael’s will. The family also sued the executors of the estate over the mishandling of monies tied up in Michael’s properties in London, France, and Australia, as well as in offshore companies. Hutchence, according to Foxtel Entertainment News, was said to have been worth approximately $36 million, not counting the many investments he had on the side at the time of his death. By May 2000, a settlement was reached in the execution of the will’s assets.
The group members of INXS slowly came out from seclusion. They first reunited on November 14, 1998, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Australia’s Mushroom Records. Aussie singer Jimmy Barnes sang lead. Terence Trent D’Arby sang with them at the official opening of the Sydney Olympic Stadium in June 1999. However, the return to their old glory days may be out of their reach. Slated to tour New Zealand in late August 2000 with Australian band Noisework’s lead singer, Jon Stevens, as their vocalist, INXS was forced to cancel their gigs due to poor ticket sales. The legacy of a great rock ‘n’ roll band seems to finally have been put to rest.
Tragedy befell this sad story of the INXS frontman one last time when, on Sunday, September 17, 2000, Paula Yates was found dead of an apparent overdose. While it is generally acknowledged that Bob Geldof helped to keep her off drugs during their marriage (she allegedly dabbled with heroin as early as age 12), Paula had struggled with various addictions once her affair with Hutchence began. By the millenium, she had fallen very far out of the entertainment limelight but was making an earnest effort to clean up her act. She was truly excited in learning that an agent she met with a few days before her death was willing to represent her. Paula had been clean for over a year. When her friend Belinda Brewin popped in to see her the Saturday night before her passing, she sensed Paula had taken a momentary step back onto heroin. “I know Paula very well,” Brewin later told Vanity Fair magazine. “I know if she’d had a vodka…I’d know if she’d had a Valium. I know if she’d had a line of coke…I know if she’d had an ecstasy…I knew she’d taken smack. She knew I knew.” Brewin later learned that a former junkie friend of Paula’s was hiding in the house during her brief visit with Yates that night.
Another best friend, Jo Fairley, was the one who discovered Paula the next morning, lying on her bed, gone from this world. She called the ambulance and kept Tiger Lily away from the room. On a final note to highlight her fun-loving, quirky personality, friends decided to pay tribute to Ms. Yates in a unique manner, as they sent her on her way. A recording of Paula singing Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking” was played during her funeral. The pallbearers held Yate’s casket waiting for the memorable cue in the song — “Are you ready boots? Start walking.” – before walking in step with the box out of the church. In the end, after so much bitter struggle with her ex-husband, Bob Geldof wound up retaining custody of not only his and Paula’s own three children, but also of Tiger Lily.
The mystery surrounding Michael Hutchence’s death will never truly be solved. For those who knew him best, his bandmates, he will always be remembered as a consummate entertainer as well as a loving friend. Kirk Pengilly told journalist George Negus in December 1998, “Michael was actually very shy and too many times that was taken as him being sort of aloof or arrogant in a way. As a person he was very genuine, very warm, extremely giving, you know. I think in a public sort of persona he was a shy guy even though there’s many nights I can think of that he certainly didn’t appear shy. He’d play up to it but deep down he was.”
But there was a side to Hutchence that suggested he liked to push the envelope. He might’ve tasted the dark side one too many times. Andrew Farriss told the “7:30 Report” that Michael “would flirt with everything and everybody…danger was just one of them. There’s a lot of people in the music business who paint a portrait of themselves as being dangerous – ‘living-on-the-edge’-type personalities that dress in a dangerous fashion and all that sort of stuff. But they’re all actors and actresses. Michael was real.” Hutchence confirmed his proclivities to VOX magazine in 1995. “I think I am definitely the type of person who’s willing to dive in at the deep end in all kinds of areas, and I really don’t give a f**k what other people think.” He went on to muse about the “live fast, die young” ethos in the rock trade. “I just don’t wanna be a f**king cliché. I don’t need to be dropping off in a hotel bath. I’ve come close, though. I’m surprised I’ve survived and so are a lot of my friends. I’m sure some of them are pissed off, because one thing about me is that I always manage to have my cake and eat it, too, whereas people love to see f**k-ups. That’s the industry. Welcome to the party. Jimi Hendrix is upstairs. But coming through it is fantastic.”
© 2000 Ned Truslow