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The Tragic Story of Michael Hutchence’s Death

Dave Benett, Getty Images
Dave Benett, Getty Images

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

“I’m surprised I’ve survived and so are a lot of my friends,” Hutchence said in 1995. “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.”

Hutchence might have survived numerous wild nights, but he wouldn’t outlive the passionate, but rocky, relationship he began in the mid-’90s with TV host 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 organizer Bob Geldof. She was married to Geldof, with three daughters, when she began an affair with the Australian rocker, following a particularly flirtatious television interview.

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Not long after she divorced Geldof in 1996, Yates gave birth to Hutchence’s child, a daughter that they named Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily (in keeping with her mother’s propensity for outlandish names). Although the couple were building a family of their own, all was not well. While friends said that Geldof kept Yates’s addiction problems in check, Hutchence was often ready to indulge. In the meantime, the three members of this love triangle squared off in a battle over custody of 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 Aussie rockers reconvened to make a new album in 1997, titled Elegantly Wasted. The band toured overseas, then planned a 20th anniversary trek in Australia in late November and December.

Hutchence, who had been spending the bulk of his time in England with Yates and daughter Tiger, returned to his hometown of Sydney to rehearse with his bandmates for the tour, set to begin on November 25. Yates was expecting to visit Australia with Tiger and the three daughters from her marriage when Geldof got a court 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 so she could no longer bring the kids.

The singer had been awake all night in his Ritz Carlton hotel room, reportedly drinking with friends and doing a little cocaine, in anticipation of receiving news about his lover and the children. When it turned out to be bad news, he phoned Geldof, in a manner that Bob characterized as “hectoring and abusive and threatening.” A woman staying in the next room heard yelling and swearing coming through the walls in the early morning hours.

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 that 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 that startled 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 a.m. He was found naked and in a kneeling position behind the door, after a belt around his neck (and attached to the door-closing mechanism) had broken. He had choked to death in a case of apparent suicide. Hutchence was 37 years old.

“Bob Geldof murdered Michael Hutchence,” Yates told The Daily Express upon her arrival in Sydney. “That bastard killed Michael. He is called Saint Bob. That makes me sick. He killed my baby. We have had three years of this.”

A little while later, Paula Yates began suggesting 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 any last words for his daughter. A rumor began to circulate that this was the tragic result of auto-erotic asphyxiation (or the practice of depriving the brain of oxygen to heighten orgasm). Yates backed the theory in interviews.

“Such was her determination to make her point about this to police that when she arrived in Australia following his death she shouted at the detectives in a restaurant while giving graphic details of the sex games she and Hutchence played,” former Detective Inspector Michael Gerondis told The Daily Mail. “‘He would strangle 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 behavior, there was no evidence to support such claims. The 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 was in attendance, along with Yates, former 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’s “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” as an imaginary conversation he wished he’d had with his friend and fellow rock star.

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Following Hutchence’s death, Yates went into a tailspin of distress and drug addiction. 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’s children, Peaches, to another heroin overdose in 2014.

“It’s all awful. It’s all awful,” Geldof told 60 Minutes years later. “And there’s nothing good came out of it. Nothing. Where’s the upside?”

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