HIS FINAL HOURS
A new book lays bare the life of the singer—and his last moments with family and friends
In the months before Michael Hutchence died, INXS had released their 10th studio album, Elegantly Wasted, and embarked on a tour of the US and Europe. Towards the end of 1997 they returned to Australia and began rehearsals at ABC Studios on Sydney’s North Shore for the Australian (and final) leg of the tour. Hutchence was hoping his partner, Paula Yates, would join him on the tour with their 16-month-old daughter, Tiger, and two of Yates’s three daughters with Bob Geldof. Yates and Geldof, however, were locked in a custody battle and a hearing on the matter was due to take place in the UK on Nov. 21. In the early morning of Nov. 22, Hutchence was expecting a call from Yates with news that she would be granted permission to bring the children to Australia. In this edited extract from the new Michael Hutchence biography Shine Like It Does, music
journalist and Rolling Stone Australia founding editor Toby Creswell details the final tragic hours of a celebrated life.
Friday, Nov. 21, 1997 was much like any other day. The beginning of summer in Australia, it was bright and warm. Michael woke up alone and dressed: black jeans, a collared Fred Perry shirt in grey and black stripes. Tight. Rehearsal was good, businesslike. Everybody could feel that the end of the tour was coming, and that there would be a big break. Everyone was weary; weary of the bullshit from the media that assaulted them every morning over breakfast, weary of the tour and this struggle with starting over, confused at why their magic touch had lost its magic, worn out by the singer’s mood swings. But through it all there was the music. When Timmy tightened his shoulders and bent his head into attack position and Kirk, holding the horn, tipped his head slightly back before going up to the mike to wail. When the music started, hang on. It was like alchemy.
Late in the afternoon, [former INXS co-manager] Gary Grant stopped by. There was a good feeling in the room. He offered to give Michael a lift back to town and the singer easily agreed. He grabbed some beers on the way out.
As Gary drove across the expressway and onto the Harbour Bridge, it was like old times. They had shared so many adventures, carefree trips down the coast; just thinking of it, you could almost smell the surf and those legendary fish and chips. There’s a kind of haze that comes across Sydney in the early summer, a softened light full of warm colours, and the air is just threatening to get uncomfortable. With the beer and the atmosphere and the dappled light from the steel girders of the bridge as they flew across it, there was the usual small talk that friends have.
Michael was also thinking about the future: thinking about his father, whom he very rarely saw, thinking about Tiger and thinking about the law. Tonight he would get the news and all things considered, it could be good news. The family— all four of them, and his mum and his dad and Rhett and his kids, maybe they would have an Australian Christmas. He had been a lucky man.
Hollywood came to mind. He’d had fifty meetings with producers and directors and his manager, Martha Troup, had said that [Quentin] Tarantino had him in mind for something. These last years had been a nightmare, but it was like the song says: “It’s the swing like a pendulum”; or the other one: “Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked.” He hoped he’d be kicking the darkness in the near future . . .
“The last time I spoke to Michael was in my car driving from rehearsals at the ABC to the Indian restaurant on New South Head Road, where he was dining with his dad, Kell, and Kell’s girlfriend, Susie,” Gary wrote to me in an email. “He had a can of beer in his hand and was in great spirits, and we had a good laugh as one always did with Michael! He got out of the car and said, ‘Thank you, Gary, hey, how about we hit some clubs tomorrow night?’ I said, ‘Great idea, Mikey . . . I’ll call you, mate.’” And with that, Michael Hutchence jumped out of the car and, with a spring in his step, went into the Flavour of India for a curry.
After dinner, Kell dropped Hutchence at the RitzCarlton. At the bar, he met his former girlfriend, actress Kym Wilson, and her partner, Andrew Rayment. All three later went up to his suite and Hutchence asked the pair to stay with him for support as he waited to hear the outcome of the hearing. After they left around 5 AM, Yates called at 5.30 AM to say the custody matter had not been finalised. Hutchence then called Geldof, who described the singer as “hectoring, abusive and threatening.” At 9.38 AM he called Troup and left a message saying, “I’ve f--king had enough.” His final call was to former girlfriend Michelle Bennett. Hearing how “upset” he sounded, she went to the hotel, but when she knocked there was no answer. Around 11.50 AM, hotel staff found Hutchence dead, naked and hanging from his own belt from the door of his suite.
“He had a can of beer and was in great spirits” —Gary Grant
Outside Sydney’s Ritz-carlton hotel on Nov. 22, 1997, a coroner’s van holds the body of Michael Hutchence. The funeral for Hutchence was held at Sydney’s St Andrews Cathedral on Nov. 27, 1997. His ashes were later scattered on Sydney Harbour. From left, Andrew Farriss, Garry Beers and Hutchence’s brother, Rhett, were among the pallbearers.
Yates (holding Tiger at the funeral) told police that Hutchence “couldn’t stand a minute more without his baby.”
Tiger with her adoptive father, Bob Geldof, in London in 2008. Geldof adopted the girl in 2007.
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This is an edited extract from Shine Like It Does by Toby Creswell, published by Echo, rrp $32.99.