Kylie Minogue and Michael Hutchence began a whirlwind romance in 1989
Michael Hutchence was the rock star who had everything. Talent, intelligence, charm, charisma, eloquence, dashing looks and bags of sex appeal. Not to mention a string of famous girlfriends including the singers Kylie Minogue and Belinda Carlisle, Danish supermodel Helena Christensen and, most notoriously, TV presenter Paula Yates.
The frontman of the Australian band INXS, electrifying on stage, even had the things men like that don’t usually possess, such as civility, courtesy and a surprising humility.
One of his non-famous girlfriends remarked that, sexy as he was to look at, there was ‘no aphrodisiac like being listened to sincerely’. That’s what women got from Hutchence.
And not just women. Martha Troup, the band’s manager, says in a new film documentary that when he looked you in the eye, whoever you were, he made you feel you were the only person in the room who mattered to him.
Christensen, his partner for more than four years, recalls him as ‘joyful, sweet, deep, emotional, kind, profound and funny’. Wherever he was, he seemed to radiate a light to which everyone was drawn. The couple enjoyed, she says, ‘total mental and physical chemistry’. And although he loved women, ‘he was very committed when he was with somebody’.
Michael Hutchence and Danish supermodel Helena Christiansen at the 1992 Music Awards in Cannes
Her predecessor in his life, Minogue, had felt the same. They met after an INXS gig in Sydney and he asked if he could take her for dinner in Hong Kong, where she felt a strong mutual attraction, but it was in Kyoto, Japan, that their relationship was consummated.
He was, says Kylie now, the ultimate sensual being, with an ‘insatiable curiosity’ for ‘all the good things in life, and some of the bad things. Sex, love, food, drugs, music, travel, books, you name it, he wanted to experience it, so as his partner I got to experience a lot of that as well. I felt very safe with him, I felt protected.’
All the same, she adds: ‘The storybook of this was, he’s like this dark, bad boy and I was the pure, good girl. And that was pretty much the truth. He definitely awakened my desire for other things. He loved seeing me experiencing a new wine, or me learning about any pleasure.’ Gently, without condescension, he educated her. In 1989 he took her on the Orient Express to Venice, and on to see Michelangelo’s statue of David in Florence, the beauty of which made her cry. ‘I was like, “this didn’t happen on my school excursion, why is it happening with you?” ’
When they were apart, as they often were, they faxed each other love letters. Her pseudonym was Gabby Jones (the name of her family dog plus her mother’s maiden name); his was Swordfish.
Young lovers now can bridge continents by text-messaging. In those days they were compelled to use fax machines, which, as Kylie remembers in the film, often meant hotel receptionists reading the faxes before putting them in envelopes and delivering them to the room.
By today’s standards, it was a cumbersome way of staying entwined but it seemed magical at the time. Whether Hutchence ended their relationship by fax, she does not reveal. But when he did, concerned that their busy touring schedules were driving a wedge between them, ‘he broke my heart’.
Yet his own heart turned out to be more vulnerable than anyone’s.
One night in November 1997, the man bestowed with so many virtues, so much fortune, all that sensuality and curiosity, and hyperbolically depicted by some of his friends as positively Christ-like, hanged himself with a belt in his room at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Sydney.
There were rumours at the time that he was the victim of a sex game gone tragically wrong. But that wasn’t it. Ostensibly, his suicide was much more to do with a messy relationship with Yates, mother of his only child Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, who was trying to extricate herself from her marriage to another rock star, Bob Geldof.
But that wasn’t entirely it, either. If anyone other than Hutchence himself was responsible for his ghastly, lonely death, it was probably a taxi driver in Copenhagen.
In the documentary — Mystify: Michael Hutchence — Christensen explains how. One night in 1992, not long after his break-up with Kylie, ‘we were riding home on our bikes and we stopped to get pizza. He was … in the middle of a tiny, narrow road and was eating his pizza. This insane taxi driver yelled at Michael to move. He got out of his car and punched him. Michael fell backwards and hit [his head on] the kerb. He was unconscious and there was blood coming out of his mouth and ear. I thought he was dead.’
Mercifully, he wasn’t. Yet there was a kind of death that night. Hutchence came round in hospital and immediately, aggressively, insisted on leaving. The doctors thought he was drunk and let him go. In fact, he had sustained significant brain injuries.
The old Michael Hutchence had effectively been replaced by a man who looked and sometimes acted the same as before, who resumed his rock career, but became volatile, moody, violent and prone to depression. He began to crave danger, part of his rage against the world.
For the first few weeks after the incident, he lay in bed in Christensen’s apartment, vomiting, declining to eat and adamantly refusing to go back to hospital. Eventually he agreed to see a neurosurgeon in Paris. Scans did not reveal the extensive brain damage that a post-mortem later would, but they did show a fissure in his skull and severed olfactory nerves, meaning he would never regain his senses of taste and smell.
It was a miserable prospect for such a bon viveur, but what really upset him was the realisation that if he ever became a father he would never be able to smell his baby. That made him weep uncontrollably.
Hutchence forced Christensen to keep quiet about all this.
To his millions of fans, even to many of those who knew him, he still appeared absurdly blessed. Indeed, a gilded existence had seemed to await him from the moment he was born, to affluent, attractive parents, in January 1960.
The charmed life began in Sydney, the city where 37 years later he would end it. But from the start the truth was much more complicated.
Michael Hutchence and TV presenter Paula Yates at The Big Breakfast show on Channel 4
His mother, Patricia, had been a successful model who became one of Australia’s leading make-up artists. His father, Kell, imported Moet & Chandon champagne. They hosted glamorous parties, at which one or other of them would always, sooner or later, put on Je T’Aime, the breathy, erotic duet by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. That was a sign for Michael and his younger brother Rhett to be sent to bed. ‘It impressed me that a piece of music could have such an impact on a room,’ Hutchence later recalled.
He resolved to make his own music. At school in Sydney he formed a band with a few friends, including a pair of brothers, Tim and Andrew Farriss. They called themselves the Farriss Brothers before briefly, ill-advisedly, becoming the Vegetables. Finally, in 1979, they renamed themselves INXS.
As the handsome, energetic young frontman for an up-and-coming band, Hutchence not only exuded sex appeal but knew how to deploy it, having learnt in particular from his father, who was always fussing over women, charming them, making them feel special.
Despite that, or maybe because of it, cracks in Kell and Patricia’s marriage turned into chasms. It didn’t help that the family relocated first to Hong Kong, then to Brisbane, then back to Sydney. When her sons were 14 and 12, Patricia left Kell and moved to America for a year, taking only Michael with her.
Rhett was understandably left with the terrible feeling that his mother favoured him less. But Michael suffered a different kind of psychological harm, a sense of guilt that never entirely subsided and left him with the lifelong conviction that he was undeserving of the fame, fortune and adulation that were heaped on him.
According to his friend Bono, he never appreciated his own extravagant talent as a singer. There was ‘fragility just underneath the bravado’, says the U2 frontman.
Hutchence, one of the most dazzling showmen of his generation, thought other rock stars were simply better, which was why they got credit for being great artists. As he saw it, he only got credit for ‘looking like a sex god’.
Superficially, looking like a sex god did him no harm at all. It certainly attracted the attention of Paula Yates, who kept a photograph of him on her fridge long before she and Geldof finally separated. When Geldof defaced it one day, she simply stuck another in its place.
Yates had first met Hutchence in 1985, coquettishly interviewing him for Channel 4 show The Tube. ‘He was so breathtakingly beautiful it made me feel quite feeble,’ she later confessed.
They stayed in occasional contact and when she interviewed him again, in October 1994, for another Channel 4 show, The Big Breakfast, the flirting was even more outrageous.
They lay on the show’s famously kitsch bed, and a close friend of hers recalls in the film that ‘short of them being naked’ their ‘enormous sexual chemistry’ couldn’t have been more obvious.
Soon, they were an item. Hutchence adored her ‘earth-motherly’ ways with her three daughters by Geldof, but at the same time felt deep shame that he was responsible, as a child of divorce himself, for breaking up a family.
Moreover, as their friend Kathy Lette says in the film, Geldof had been practically canonised by the media and public after Live Aid, so Yates was the one sent into ‘social Siberia’. Hutchence felt responsible for that, too.
Nor did it help his fragile artistic confidence when, at the Brit Awards in February 1996, he presented an award for the year’s best video to Oasis, only for Noel Gallagher to declare that ‘has-beens shouldn’t present ******* awards to gonna-bes’.
It was true that the success and popularity of INXS were on the wane by then, but Hutchence was crushed by such a belittling public attack. Nonetheless, his passion for Yates and for family life, which only intensified when she gave birth to his beloved daughter, Tiger Lily, in July that year, restored much of the emotional equilibrium that had gone awry after the Copenhagen episode.
He still had terrible mood swings, on occasion even threatening his bandmates with knives, but it seemed to his friends that Yates might be good for him.
In fact, the reverse was true. As her custody battle with Geldof became more and more bitter, she and Hutchence became a terrible influence on each other, encouraging a mutual reliance on Prozac, Valium, opium and heroin. When a stash of drugs was found in her London home, it seemed likely Yates would lose custody not just of her children with Geldof but perhaps of Tiger Lily, too.
That appalling thought, plus his increasing certainty that his strained relationship with Yates would not survive such a glaring media spotlight, finally pushed Hutchence over the edge.
Yates didn’t survive, either, dying of a heroin overdose less than three years after the rock star who’d had everything decided he no longer had the will to live.
- Mystify: Michael Hutchence is released on October 18.
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