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23 Years On

Michael had an enormous capacity to enjoy life and take his family and friends along for the ride. Onstage he used all his energy to take the audience on an exceptional emotional experience.

So Michael was the last person in the world you would think of to take his own life and that’s why he would want us to use his story to help others.
Having a close and special relationship with Michael as I did, I believe with his innate reverence for life, he would want his story to mean something – he would want us to spread the word that if it could happen to him, if he could freefall to those depths of despair; it could happen to anybody.
It takes that split second when the pain and frustration is so overwhelming and unbearable
-and he would want to help prevent others from such a reckless act, after all, forget about our loss – at only 37 years old, imagine what he has missed out on. 

He wasn’t thinking straight – all he could feel was the pain the helplessness.
A knock on his door? The right phone call? …Could have pulled him out of it.

On the 23rd anniversary of this loss of a beautiful son, father, brother and friend to a traumatic brain injury and subsequent suicide …… in so many ways it is fitting to acknowledge, especially in this unique and trying time with a deadly pandemic blanketing our world; the subject of mental health issues.

Michael was not a man you would typically think of as taking his life. The man we watched onstage was also the man who was there for his family and friends.
He took on the role of patriarch in our family because he cared so deeply and he intuitively knew that with our parents’ divorce we were rudderless and drifting apart. A family of damaged relationships.

Michaels’ friends knew they could rely on him for emotional support – he was one of those rare people who instilled confidence in others; a smile, a hug, or a kind word from Michael tended to change your outlook; promote calmness ….a feeling that everything was going to work out and that somehow his special gifts could rub off onto you.

I think that not only is November 22nd the most natural time to use to promote mental health awareness – I believe that Michael would resoundingly approve of using his story as a caution not to feel as though you have to face life’s difficulties and challengers alone… and to watch out for your friends and family. 

I’m positive that he would tell you to slow down; step back; and speak up when you know something is not right with yourself or a friend or loved one.  You don’t have to be strong all of the time. People have no right to expect this of you.
Perhaps if Michael had lived he would have written a song in this vain.

Not much has changed since Michael’s passing, sadly men young and not so young in particular, are vulnerable to suicide. Society has put an impossible burden on males, and sadly it is still evident in how differently we raise our boys.

In the movie ‘A League of Their Own’ when Tom Hanks says the memorable line to one of his female baseball players; ‘Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball’ we laugh, but face it, that’s exactly the skewed attitude toward men.

You’re a man, be tough, walk it off. But whether you are dealing with a traumatic brain injury or a Pandemic, so many things - a frustration such as losing a job or the end of a relationship hurts and you need time and help to heal. If there is one thing I want you to hear today it is that nobody has to be ‘tough’.

Asking for help should not be misconstrued as ‘weakness’.
Speaking up for oneself should not be viewed as ‘selfish’.

In my view It’s quite the opposite; it’s called taking responsibility – for yourself.
It’s being kind to yourself.

Face it; you are the screenwriter of your life story. Only you can change your circumstances by taking the first step. Ask for help. Please don’t be hindered by what others may think. Friends can be wonderful moral boosters at the outset, especially when you are in that dark place in your mind, contemplating whether you can or even want to go on, but it’s crucial that you seek professional help.
This is not a sign of weakness – quite the opposite, recognizing the problem and asking for help is a sign of strength.

There’s a video of the last rehearsal INXS had on the afternoon before Michael took his life which lays Michaels’ vulnerability out there for all to see – though nobody does. During a break he is sitting facing the band, there is some banter going on and Michael, with forced enthusiasm relays something he’d encountered just a week before.
It was an impromptu appearance at the Viper Room with ZZTops’ Billy Gibbons. Michael, along with Rolling Stones backup singer Bernhard Fowler sang two songs, Suffragette City and Maggie May.

Michael laughs as he tells the story of Billy Gibbons who is just casually walking down Sunset Blvd, guitar in hand, and it’s the doorman from the club who invites him in to join the jam session. 
Michael was excited to meet him and found him to be very cool. He wanted to share this with his bandmates. As Michael speaks he realizes that the other 5 members of INXS are focused on their instruments and ignoring him, they don’t even pretend to be interested.

Michael nervously chews on a fingernail and looks dejected until the music starts up again. 

Now here are the 5 men he had worked with, made magic with, for 20 years who have their own stories, their own personal challenges. Contrary to what many people think, a successful band such as INXS that gets together to record and tour every 12 to 18 months do not live in each other’s pockets – they don’t usually socialize outside of the job and often do not know what is going on in each other’s personal lives.

The band members didn’t know that it would be the last time they would have the chance to speak with Michael. 

Their schedule showed that they would be meeting the next morning for another rehearsal before starting the Australian tour.
In their minds it was just another day.

I think this is why it’s important to sincerely ask your friends how they are doing – especially in this time of Covid. And really listen, ask questions and show real interest.
The usual answers; ‘great’, ‘I’m fine’ are not enough - especially in this time of lockdown, masks and social distancing. 
It is more important now, at this moment in time than ever to watch out for others.

Michael’s story is a cautionary tale showing that even the people we perceive as wildly successful, those whom we assume have ‘everything’ – still have everyday life to contend with and it may have been harder for someone in Michaels’ position to admit that they need help.

When he died, Michael had been living with a Traumatic Brain Injury for five years - which made him even more vulnerable to making irrational judgements. Most people didn’t know about this.

I’m reminded that musicians and stage performers and others in the entertainment industry in particular are affected by the Covid pandemic and if Michael were with us he too would be facing the challengers of lockdown and social distancing. I would like to believe he would turn to his writing as many of us have wisely taken up that which comforts us in this difficult time.

Watch out for each other, be kind. – Tina 11/22/2020

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