The charismatic but deeply troubled singer for the Australian rock band INXS, Michael Hutchence led the group to international stardom in the late 1980s and 1990s before his tragic death in 1997. With his smoldering good looks and penchant for heart-rending love songs like "The One Thing" and "Need You Tonight," Hutchence embodied the Byronic rock star image to such an extent that he would play another doomed romantic, Percy Shelley, in 1990's "Frankenstein Unbound." But the group's popularity faltered shortly after they reached the apex of their career with their 1987 album Kick, and Hutchence himself would become embroiled in a nasty scandal involving an affair with U.K. television personality Paula Yates, the wife of Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof, who had been virtually sainted by the media for his creation of the Live Aid concerts. Hutchence, who had suffered from a host of medical and psychological issues following a severe head injury in the early '90s, soon fell into drugs and alcohol, which reportedly contributed to his death by suicide on the eve of INXS' 20th anniversary tour in 1997. His passing, as well as a posthumous solo effort released in 1999, was unfortunately overwhelmed in the media by a bitter legal battle between his family and Geldof for custody of his daughter by Yates. The turmoil also left an unfortunate mark on Hutchence's two decades as one of Australia's most popular musical figures.
Born January 22, 1960 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Michael Kelland John Hutchence was the son of businessman Kelland Hutchence and his wife, make-up artist Patricia Kennedy. His childhood was marked by frequent relocations to other Australian cities as well as Hong Kong for his father's work, as well as a talent for competitive swimming. However, an injury forced him to relinquish that dream, spurring Hutchence to turn his attention towards poetry and singing. His professional debut in the latter field came at the age of eight when he provided vocals for a television commercial by a local toy store. The roots of INXS were formed after Hutchence's family returned to Sydney in 1972. There, he befriended schoolmate Andrew Farriss, who convinced Hutchence to join his band, Doctor Dolphin, which would later feature bassist Garry Gary Beers. The group became serious about a music career as they entered high school, but Hutchence was forced to move to California with his mother following his parents' separation.
Hutchence returned to Sydney in 1977 to rejoin Farriss in a new act, The Farriss Brothers, which featured his siblings Tim and Jon. With the addition of Beers and saxophonist Kirk Pengilly, the band honed their skills as a live act on the rowdy Sydney pub circuit, often in support of another up-and-coming Australian group, Midnight Oil. After briefly adopting The Vegetables as their band name, Hutchence and his group mates officially became INXS, a moniker reportedly inspired by the British pop group XTC, in 1979. INXS released their first single, "Simple Simon," in 1980, which was soon followed by their self-titled debut album that same year. The band rose almost immediately from club workhorses to superstars in their native land, with the rest of the world following after the release of their third record, Shabooh Shoobah (1983), which generated modest hits in the U.S. with the singles "Don't Change" and the romantic "One Thing." Hutchence's presence as both lead singer and main songwriter (with Andrew Farriss) was a key factor to their global success; a quiet, almost introverted personality in his private life, Hutchence transformed into the quintessential rock showman on stage and in the studio, exuding a confident, sexual swagger that abetted his songs about obsession, lust and undying love.
By the release of their fourth album, The Swing (1984), he and his bandmates were bonafide superstars, sweeping Australian award shows and developing a rabid following around the globe. Hutchence's profile increased tenfold as the 1980s drew to a close. He made an auspicious acting debut as a hopelessly drug-addled singer in the Australian indie drama "Dogs in Space" (1986), then scored a Top 50 pop hit in the States with a cover of The Easybeats' "Good Times" with Aussie rock warhorse Jimmy Barnes, which turned up on the soundtrack to the hit film "The Lost Boys" (1987). Its success was soon overwhelmed by INXS' sixth studio album, Kick (1987), which debuted at No. 1 in Australia and No. 3 in the States. The album generated four Top 10 U.S. singles, including the propulsive "New Sensation" and "Need You Tonight," which provided the band with their first chart-topping song in the United States.
At the peak of the band's power, Hutchence stepped away from his bandmates to collaborate with punk veteran Ollie Olsen on Max Q, a dark-toned dance project that produced a Top 10 Modern Rock hit in the U.S. with "Way of the World." The following year, Hutchence played the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in "Frankenstein Unbound" (1990), an ambitious if poorly received science fiction film by legendary producer-director Roger Corman. He reunited with INXS for 1990's X, which spawned two hit singles in "Suicide Blonde" and "Disappear." Though the album itself broke into the Top 10, X was the band's last genuine hit record with Hutchence. Its following, Welcome to Wherever You Are (1992), suffered from a cultural shift toward grunge music and a lack of promotion by both the band's label, Atlantic, and the group itself, which refused to tour behind the record. Their 1993 record, Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, fared worse, and INXS soon took a much-needed rest to recoup their energies.
The enforced hiatus was well timed, as Hutchence was awash in personal crises. While on vacation with girlfriend and model Helena Christensen, Hutchence was involved in a cycling accident with a taxi that resulted in an altercation with its driver, who fractured the singer's skull. Hutchence suffered major sensory damage, as well as periods of deep depression and aggression that on one occasion, resulted in him verbally or physically assaulting his bandmates while recording Full Moon, Dirty Hearts. Not surprisingly, his relationship with Christensen soon faltered, and Hutchence began a much-publicized affair with British television presenter Paula Yates, who was married to singer and Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof. Yates soon left Geldof to take up with Hutchence, with whom she had a daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily Hutchence, in 1996. In 1997, Hutchence returned to the INXS fold to release their 10th album, Elegantly Wasted, which continued the downward spiral of the band's once promising fortunes. Plans were then made for a tour to celebrate the band's 20th anniversary in November and December of that year.
But on November 22, Hutchence was found dead in his hotel room in Sydney. The coroner's report listed the cause of death as a suicide under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In the months that followed Hutchence's passing, a flurry of allegations flew between Yates, Geldof and members of Hutchence's family in regard to the truth behind his death. Yates suggested that the singer was distraught over his inability to see his child, which she alleged was due to Geldof. She also suggested in a subsequent media interview that Hutchence's death was the result of accidental autoerotic asphyxiation, which was swiftly denied by Hutchence's family, who stated that Yates had repeatedly threatened to harm herself or her child if he did not marry her. Despite these and other verbal slings hurled between the grieving parties, Hutchence's death was officially listed as a suicide. Hutchence's self-titled solo debut was released posthumously in 1999, as was his final film appearance, a cameo as an A&R representative in the feature "Limp," which was filmed in 1996 but released in 1999. Yates succumbed to a heroin overdose in 2000, which led to a prolonged legal battle between Geldof and Hutchence's family over Heavenly Hiraani's custody that lasted for over a decade. INXS carried on, after a fashion, with a variety of frontmen before settling on American J.D Fortune, who had won the position after competing in the reality series "Rock Star: INXS" (CBS, 2005- ).
By Paul Gaita