It was a dramatic death, even by rock star standards. On Nov. 22, 1997, Michael Hutchence, frontman for the Australian band INXS, was found in his suite at Sydney’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, his nude body suspended from a door hinge by a leather belt around his neck. Blood tests revealed the presence of alcohol, cocaine, and prescription drugs. There was no note.
The death, suspected by some to have been an autoerotic mishap, was ruled a suicide, but no one in Hutchence’s circle could believe it. The night before, Hutchence had enjoyed an Indian dinner with his father and stepmother—”he was just in such great form, laughing, joking,” recalled his dad, Kelland. Hutchence, 37, told friends he was excited about INXS’ upcoming Lose Your Head tour. Performing, he once said, was ”one of the best feelings on the market.”
Hutchence had enjoyed that feeling since 1977, when he and high school friend Andrew Farriss formed INXS. A Sydney native, Hutchence possessed a telegenic charisma that helped make the band an MTV fixture. INXS’ sixth album, 1987’s Kick, was a 10-million-copy smash, and vaulted them to international hot-ticket status.
By 1997, however, INXS’ newest release, Elegantly Wasted, had been a critical and popular bust. And though he gave up the playboy life—he planned to marry British TV personality Paula Yates, ex-wife of Live Aid founder Bob Geldof and mother of Hutchence’s baby daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily—his new relationship came with some heavy burdens.
Hutchence had been struggling to help his fiancée gain custody of Yates and Geldof’s three daughters: Fifi Trixibelle, now 18; Peaches, 12; and Pixie, 11. Indeed, on the day of his death, Hutchence is said to have wrangled with Geldof over whether the kids could visit. ”Michael’s last words to Paula were ‘I love you. I’m gonna ring Bob now and just beg him…to let the children come,”’ one of Yates’ friends told PEOPLE magazine. Whatever was said in that phone call apparently prompted Yates to blame Geldof: ”That bastard killed Michael,” she reportedly screamed. Yates’ agony would soon come to a sad end: Last September, she died of a heroin overdose. Tiger Lily, now 5, currently lives in London with Geldof.
Earlier this year, Hutchence’s mother, Patricia Glassop, and half-sister Tina again blamed his death on drugs and despair in their memoir, Just a Man: The Real Michael Hutchence. But no one will ever really be sure why Hutchence surrendered to the devils inside. ”He was the most unlikely guy to do anything like that,” says dad Kelland. ”You look at it every which way and you can’t get any answers.”