Thursday, November 22 marks 21 years since Michael Hutchence’s lonely death in a Sydney hotel room devastated his family, friends and millions of fans around the world. In her heartfelt biography Michael: My Brother, Lost Boy of INXS, the singer’s older sister, Tina Hutchence, recounts his rollercoaster life of love, loss and mega-stardom.
In the following exclusive excerpt, Tina casts back to the aftermath of the late spring day in 1997 when her beloved brother, in a moment of agony, made what Tina calls the “split-second” decision to end his life at the age of 37.
Warning: The following extract contains graphic content
‘There were no injuries to Michael’
It fell to Inspector Peter Duclos to write a report, a dozen pages for the coroner. He was the lead detective investigating Michael’s death. Twenty years later in 2017, still searching, I reached out to him, asking him to recollect in his own words the events of November 22, 1997. And the aftermath. He kindly wrote back.
“I attended Michael’s room sometime after the initial paramedics and ambulance attended,” he wrote.
“We were the first [police] responders; a car crew consisting of a sergeant, two detectives and myself from Rose Bay local area command.
“I arrived about 12.50pm Michael was lying on the floor, covered with a bed spread. We established a ‘crime scene’ immediately. This means we limit who comes into the scene to ensure integrity. There were no signs of a struggle or anything to suggest a suspicious death, i.e. a murder.
“Even so, I assumed, as I always did, that the death was suspicious until I could, on the evidence, be convinced otherwise. Regardless of who the victim is, I always kept an open mind, and this was no different.
“There were no injuries to Michael that would suggest a struggle or self-defence wounds,” continued Duclos.
“There was a small laceration above his left eye, sustained when he lost consciousness and his face hit the door, and burn marks consistent with a cigarette burn on his left hand. Contrary to what has been reported, no hand was broken and there was nothing to suggest a third party was involved at all.”
On leaving the Ritz-Carlton, Duclos set out to find a next of kin.
Just about everybody was in the local public telephone directory back then, including [Michael’s father] Kell.
“As I was met at the door,” Duclos remembered, “Kell was just hanging up the telephone from a newspaper asking about Michael.”
I had told Duclos when I contacted him about the way our family had been devastated to not only hear that Michael was suddenly, unbelievably dead, but to find out almost every part of it – true or false –through news reports.
“I’m sorry that happened that way,” he wrote kindly.
The day that Michael died, it was like a great psychic car accident that crippled and burned. Everything happened so fast. There was no time for the heart to apprehend it.
I was returning a missed call to [brother] Rhett. His usual, confident rapid-speak was so changed, so strange I couldn’t properly hear what he was saying. Have you ever been in such shock and disbelief that a firework goes off in your chest, robbing you of the ability to breathe? Something lodged in my throat – I couldn’t speak.
I looked around and the world seemed underwater. Clogged ears, slow motion. As I held the phone to my ear, the large CNN screen in my living room flashed a long shot of law enforcement walking around a balcony with the words ‘Michael Hutchence, 37, found dead’.
Michael’s toxicology report was dated November 24, 1997 and signed by Lyn Hunt from the State Coroner’s Court of New South Wales. The report found cocaine, Prozac, Keflex, traces of Valium and codeine and a blood alcohol level of over 0.1 per cent—double the legal drink-driving limit in Australia. Quinine traces in Michael’s urine indicated he drank gin and tonic that evening.
There was a small quantity of diazepam, or Valium, found circulating in his bloodstream — a widely used antidepressant, anti-anxiety sedative. Keflex, one of the strongest antibiotics available to treat bacterial infections anywhere in the body, can be bought over the counter in LA. It was probably taken to treat the deep burns between Michael’s fingers.
A ‘tiny amount’ of codeine was present, suggesting he used codeine as a painkiller some days previously. The chances of adverse drug interactions rise with each extra drug taken, the mixing of Prozac and alcohol unpredictable.
Michael was prescribed Prozac in December 1995, probably took it unprescribed earlier, and had been off and on it since then, dosing himself according to how he felt, rather than his prescription. There is an increased risk of suicide in the early use of the drug. His last script for Prozac was written exactly three weeks before his death.
There was no suicide note, but this is not uncommon in suicides.
Michael told Danny [Saber, a songwriter whom he’d recently worked with] he would return after the Australian tour, as he was not going back to London, and asked him to put a band together to try out some stuff in some local clubs when he returned in the new year. He told me he’d be back in California on January 5, 1998.
But deep depression can cause someone like Michael to feel hopeless, and helpless, stranded from the rational thought processes that should have kept him going.
Maybe, confused and deranged by fatigue, alcohol and other drugs, mood swings, the frustration over the Yates/Geldof family court battles and the anxiety he felt over even small things as a result of his traumatic brain injury [received five years back in an assault by a taxi driver that fractured his skull and led to reduced impulse control], he simply lost his mind.
We will never know exactly how many phone calls he received and what was said in them. But it is obvious that Michael was pushed beyond his limit. He was already a man on a ledge.
Many people were aware of this and the police statements confirm it. He had been mixing both prescription and illegal drugs for at least two years and, legal or not, drugs and alcohol distort the mind. His perception of his life and future that morning was contorted beyond his capacity to handle it.
Mother and I agreed it was a split-second resolve, made in anger and despair. In his own words, uttered repeatedly in the last five months of his life, he just couldn’t take it anymore.
There is a powerful moment in the film The Dark Knight when the Joker turns to Batman, who has just saved him from plunging to his death.
‘Madness is like gravity,’ he says. ‘All it takes … is a little push.’
This is an edited extract from Michael by Tina Hutchence with Jen Jewel Brown (Allen and Unwin, $32.99).
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