25 years on: The tragic story of Michael Hutchence’s death

INXS Lead singer Michael Hutchence lived a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. He dated famous models and pop stars, and accounts of his drug and alcohol use are rife. According to friends and bandmates, the singer found the dark allure of a rock star too irresistible.

“I’m surprised I survived, and so are a lot of my friends,” Hutchence said in 1995. “I’m sure some of them are mad because one thing about me is that I always manage to have my cake and eat it too, whereas people love to watch f–k-ups. That’s the business. Welcome to the party. Jimi Hendrix is upstairs. But to get through it is amazing.”

Hutchence might have survived several wild nights, but he wouldn’t survive the passionate but rocky relationship he embarked on in the mid-90s with TV presenter Paula Yates. As a music star, Hutchence had known the British presenter since the 80s. Yates also had a foot in the rock world as the wife of Boomtown Rats singer and Live Aid promoter Bob Geldof. She was married to Geldof with three daughters when she began an affair with the Australian rocker after a particularly flirtatious TV interview.

Not long after she split from Geldof in 1996, Yates gave birth to Hutchence’s child, a daughter they named Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily (in keeping with her mother’s penchant for weird names). Although the couple was building their own family, all was not well. While friends said Geldof kept Yates’ addiction problems at bay, Hutchence was often ready to indulge. Meanwhile, the three members of this love triangle ended up in a custody battle over Yates and Geldof’s daughters.

During this tumultuous period, Hutchence reportedly began treatment for depression. Perhaps it didn’t help that INXS were no longer the global superstars they had been in the late ’80s. After a hiatus, the Australian rockers reunited to make a new album in 1997 titled Elegantly wasted. The band toured abroad and then planned a 20Th anniversary walk in Australia in late November and December.

Hutchence, who had spent most of his time in England with Yates and daughter Tiger, returned to his hometown of Sydney to rehearse with his bandmates for the tour, which was set to begin on November 25. Yates expected to visit Australia with Tiger and the three daughters from her marriage when Geldof was granted an injunction to prevent his daughters from traveling. In the early morning hours of November 22, 1997, Yates called her boyfriend to tell him that the custody hearing had been pushed back to December 17, and therefore she could no longer bring the children.

The singer had been up all night in his Ritz Carlton hotel room, reportedly drinking with friends and doing some cocaine, expecting to receive news about his lover and the children. When it turned out to be bad news, he called Geldof in a Bob-like way characterized as “hateful and abusive and threatening.” A woman staying in the next room heard shouting and cursing coming through the walls in the early hours of the morning.

A few hours later, Hutchence made a few more phone calls, to a former girlfriend Michelle Bennett and to business manager Martha Troup. The two said the musician sounded like he was in a dark place. He left a voicemail for Troup, saying, “I’ve f–king had enough” and had a conversation with Bennett, surprising her into coming to check on him at the hotel. She knocked on his door, but there was no answer.

Hutchence’s body would be discovered by a maid at 11:50. He was found naked and in a kneeling position behind the door after a belt around his neck (and attached to the door closer) had broken. He had been strangled to death in a case of apparent suicide. Hutchence lived to be 37 years old.

“Bob Geldof murdered Michael Hutchence,” Yates said Daily Express on her arrival in Sydney. “That bastard killed Michael. He’s called Saint Bob. It makes me sick. He killed my baby. We’ve had this for three years.”

A little later, Paula Yates began to suggest that Hutchence’s death might not have been a suicide. Yates and others thought it must have been an accident because he left no note or last words for his daughter. A rumor began to circulate that this was the tragic result of auto-erotic suffocation (or the practice of depriving the brain of oxygen to enhance orgasm). Yates supported the theory in interviews.

“Such was her determination to make this known to the police that when she arrived in Australia after his death, she shouted at detectives in a restaurant while giving graphic details of the sex games she and Hutchence played,” previously Detective Inspector Michael Gerondis told Daily Mail. “He would suffocate me during sex,” she told them.

Although Michael’s brother, his friends and former lovers had given credence to the possibility that Hutchence died from risky sexual behaviour, there was no evidence to support such claims. Australian authorities continue to reject the theory.

Hutchence received a funeral in the days following his death, with his INXS bandmates and brother Rhett as pallbearers. Michael’s family were in attendance, along with Yates, ex-girlfriend Kylie Minogue and other famous friends from Diana Ross to Tom Jones. Nick Cave sang “Into My Arms” as a tribute to Hutchence. A few years later, Bono wrote U2‘Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ as an imaginary conversation he wishes he had had with his friend and fellow rock star.

After Hutchence’s death, Yates went into a tailspin of poverty and substance abuse. She lost custody of her children to Geldof and succumbed to an accidental heroin overdose in 2000. She was 41. Her ex-husband then took custody of Tiger Lily and began raising the four-year-old as his own daughter. He has since lost one of his and Yates’ children, Peaches, to another heroin overdose in 2014.

“It’s all terrible. It’s all terrible,” Geldof said 60 minutes years later. “And nothing good came of it. Nothing. Where’s the benefit?”

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