THE LIFE, LOVES AND LAST DAYS OF MICHAEL HUTCHENCE
Tina Hutchence shares her memories of her ‘cheeky’ brother, their often difficult childhood—and their last, sad goodbye
His sister, Tina, speaks exclusively to WHO on the 20th anniversary of his death. Plus, a new book lays bare his life.
Tina Hutchence always knew her brother was destined for something great, but not on stage. Born in Sydney in 1960 to parents Kell, a businessman, and Patricia, a former model turned film-andTV makeup artist, Michael Hutchence was 12 years younger than Tina, and from an early age forged a strong bond with his half-sister (Patricia had Tina in her first marriage, and after Patricia re-married, Tina took on Kell’s surname). “Michael began writing poetry in his early teens,” Tina, 70, tells WHO. “He was an avid reader and of course he loved music, as teenagers do. But he was shy so the idea of him performing didn’t enter my mind.”
That introverted, well-read poet became one of the world’s most iconic rock stars as the frontman for INXS, whose shocking death at Sydney’s Ritz Carlton hotel on Nov. 22, 1997, blindsided his fans and loved ones. Before fame, Michael was a “very happy” child who was often put in the care of his elder sister as the family moved around for Kell’s work. After first relocating the family to Brisbane, Kell took a job in Hong Kong, where Michael, who also had a younger brother, Rhett, spent his formative years, before returning to Sydney when Michael was 12. After Kell and Patricia divorced in 1975, ending a long-troubled marriage, Michael and Tina relied on their bond to survive the fallout. For a time they moved with their mother to Los Angeles, where she worked on film and TV sets. “Michael had a kindness about him,” says Tina, a retired makeup artist who is mother of Brent, 45, and Erin, 39, and a grandmum to five. “He
was a very loving brother, always ready with a hug.” Marking the 20th anniversary of his death, Tina, who lives in California’s Santa Cruz mountains, shares with WHO’S Michael Crooks her memories of her beloved brother.
“Michael was a happy, easygoing child” —Tina Hutchence
Michael was born soon after I turned 12 and our parents were leading very busy lives socially and career-wise, so much of the caregiving fell to me. Arriving home from school I’d take over from the babysitter and on the days that our mother had to leave for early location work, I’d take morning duty, too.
Michael was a very happy, easygoing child with a cheeky sense of humour. He was instinctively aware of his power to charm his way into your heart and I found myself always covering for him—“no, we didn’t stop for icecream on the way home”; “No, he wasn’t kicking the ball around the living room—i broke the vase”; “Yes, he finished his homework, I checked it”…
I played the role of a parent for his first five years until we landed in Hong Kong. And later when he was a teenager we lived together in Los Angeles and I took over parental duties once more, with our mother away on location. We were more than siblings.
Arriving in LA he was a sophomore [second-year high school
student] and his grades left a lot to be desired. He excelled in English and social sciences but when it came to maths, science and biology, he was underwater. I would sign his report cards and Mother never knew, of course.
Our parents’ relationship was difficult as far back as I can remember. An on-again, off-again arrangement, and I believe that had to do with Kell’s frequent trips overseas. Consequently, Michael and I learned to cope by relying on each other. We changed cities often and look inwards to their immediate family. We were close.
Michael began writing poetry in his early teens. He didn’t actually come out and say he wanted to be an actor, but it was very obvious that he enjoyed visiting movie sets where our mother was working—both in Hong Kong as a little boy and in California when he was a teenager. He was quiet and observant. After returning to Sydney, Michael reached out to his high-school mate Andrew Farriss, a talented musician and songwriter who was looking to form a band. Andrew had two brothers: Tim, a guitarist; and Jon, a drummer.
I was quite surprised when at age 17 he told me he was joining Andrew’s band. I asked him what he was doing in the band as he didn’t play an instrument. I was quite surprised when he said he was singing—i didn’t remember him singing around the house very much. He sent me some cassettes of the band performing covers and then after watching him perform live in one of their early gigs in Sydney I understood and I could see his vision. He was a natural. The Farriss Brothers—a band made up of the three Farriss siblings, singer and lyricist
“I could see his vision. He was a natural” —Tina Hutchence
Michael, guitarist-saxophonist Kirk Pengilly and bassist Garry Gary Beers—first caught the attention of Midnight Oil manager Gary Morris, who found them a manager in Chris Murphy. They became INXS, released their first single (“Simple Simon”) in 1980, and would become one of the world’s biggest acts, peaking with the 1987 album Kick, which had four Top 10 singles in the US.
As an uncle to my children Michael took special care to spoil them with limos and special treatment at INXS concerts. One time when he called from tour, my daughter told him her friend was celebrating her 14th birthday, so he asked to put her on the phone and he sang “Happy Birthday” to her. That young lady is now a mother of two and she still reminds me of that phone call.
In 1996, Michael had a daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, with his partner, English TV presenter Paula Yates. Yates also had three daughters with her ex Bob Geldof, and just before Michael’s death in Sydney, Yates and Geldof were locked in an ongoing custody battle in the UK, preventing Yates from bringing the children, including Tiger Lily, to Australia.
Michael spent most of the summer of 1997 in Los Angeles so we saw a great deal of each other during that time. He then returned after the US east coast leg of the tour for [their 1997 album] Elegantly Wasted where he was attending meetings with film producers. Our last conversation was the night he was leaving for Sydney to rejoin the tour. He told me he did not want to go, but felt a responsibility towards the band.
Michael died on Nov. 22. The NSW Coroner Derek Hand ruled his death a suicide due to a “severe depressed state” caused by factors including the “pressure of the ongoing dispute” with Bob Geldof, who had not given Yates his permission to bring two of their children to Australia, combined with the effects of medication and alcohol. (See next pages.) I learned of Michael’s death in a phone call from our younger brother, Rhett, at the same time as it was being reported over CNN. I firmly believe Michael’s death was a splitsecond decision made out of anger and frustration. I do believe the coroner Derek Hand’s findings, though it is a lot more complex than this.
Last year, Michael and Andrew Farriss were inducted into the Australian Songwriters Association Hall of Fame.
I was thrilled and proud when asked to travel to Australia and accept the statuette.
I think Michael’s lyrics, his voice, his particular unique phrasing and showmanship will continue to inspire many generations to come. He is Australia’s rock star known internationally. What I miss most about him is his wonderful sense of humour. He had the most animated way of telling a funny story. Looking back, I realise he didn’t use profanity to emphasise a point, he used clever vocabulary. And I miss his hugs— warm and affectionate and long.
INXS as seen on the cover of their 1984 hit album The Swing.
“We were close,” says Tina Hutchence of little brother Michael. Tina (with Michael in the early 1960s) often cared for her younger brother when their parents were at work.
Hutchence (performing in the US in 1986) “was one of the most charismatic rock stars in history,” INXS manager Chris Murphy told WHO. Paula Yates, Hutchence and Tiger in Sydney in 1996. Tina recently reached out to her niece in an open letter, pleading for her to reconnect with her family. INXS in 1996. From left, Tim Farriss, Kirk Pengilly, Hutchence, Andrew Farriss, Garry Beers and Jon Farriss.
Tina is lobbying the NSW government to honour Michael (performing in 1996) with a monument in Sydney. Search “A Statue for Michael Hutchence” on change.org.