There was nothing special about the first part of Friday, November 21st, 1997. Two hours in meetings at my office, a dental appointment and back to the office where my nineteen-year old daughter Erin, cut a birthday cake she had baked herself. It would be my birthday on Sunday.
My husband Ken was there, along with Erin 's boyfriend Joshua and my colleagues. They sang 'Happy Birthday' and I blew out the candles. After some joking around, I called my mother and my stepfather Ross. When Ross came on the line he reminded me that it was just four weeks and three days until we were to go and spend Christmas on Australia 's Gold Coast where they lived.
He was sobbing by now. “Oh Darling, its Michael. He's dead” . For a moment I was suspended in time. Then I found myself sinking to the cold floor. “No, no, no.” I was screaming now. “It's true, Darling”. I was adamant, “That's impossible.” But I could still hear my Mother in the background again, sobbing. “Its true Tina. Oh Tina, its true.”
“How, how? Where? ” I screamed; but nothing was coming out. Ken was just staring at me.
“We don't know yet” , cried Rhett.
“Where is he? Who told you? It can't be true, it's those stupid, irresponsible, journalists. They'll say anything. Who have you spoken with?” I was going to fix everything. My brother Michael Hutchence fronted the rock band INXS. In recent years he'd tended to be the family fixer but it was me who had taught him how to tie his shoelaces. I'd fix this. “I'll call Martha” , I said. Martha Troup is Michael's manager. I'd restore the sanity, calm everyone down, we can repair this. In the family this had always been my job. But Rhett was sobbing again. “Darling , we don't know anything yet, just that it's true and it happened at the Ritz Carlton . Mum's place is surrounded by television crews. Call Martha. Get a flight. Come home”
There was a short, incoherent attempt at speaking to Mother before I handed the phone to Ken. I hadn't been able to ask about Paula Yates and her and Michael's daughter Tiger Lily. I wandered around the house, screaming inside; it's impossible, impossible. It must be another lie. Ken turned on CNN. They were already reporting it. And then I remembered my children and went into my ‘take charge' mode. I did not want Brent, who was twenty-five at the time, or Erin to hear about their uncle on television especially as I did not even believe it. I paged Erin , and without giving her time to return the call, I dialed Joshua's house where I hoped she would be. I spoke with Joshua's dad, briefly explaining what was happening. He told me that she had left for her apartment and Joshua had followed. I was worried sick that she would hear the news on her car radio.
“Mom. Mom? You're frightening me, what's happened?” As calmly as possible, I told her what I had heard and she broke down. Through her tears she cried, “But Mom, are you sure, you know what those journalists are like.” I assured her that as far as we knew it was true, and told her to have Joshua drive them both over to the house as soon as he reached her.
Brent finally called, in shock. “How, when? Mom, it's on T.V. Can they say that?” When did we all become so skeptical of the press? Brent sobbed and said he wanted to go to Australia . I told him to sit tight and I would get some details. My call waiting interrupted us. It was a friend calling from Sydney . She said radio stations were reporting that Michael had hanged himself. Impossible. No, they are wrong. They sensationalize everything he does. I don't believe it. I wouldn't believe that for a minute. I still did not know what had happened. The phone would not stop ringing, but with every call, hope still jumped in my heart and I picked up, expected to hear that it was all a mistake.
Still screaming inside. I walked over to look at the pictures in my living room. There were images of so many happy times with Michael. So many beautiful family memories, pictures taken in France , Australia , Hong Kong and London . There was Mother and Michael with Johnny Depp in Los Angeles last July, another framed photograph of me and Lenny Kravitz in the villa in the South of France. I stopped at a photograph of Michael and me taken right on the same spot where I was standing now, on Thanksgiving, 1996, almost one year ago to the day. I glanced down to see that I was even wearing the same outfit. I felt like I was going out of my mind. Ken tried to comfort me, but I wouldn't stand still and snapped at him. He said that it was being reported over every television station, I must believe it. But I refused to watch or listen.
At last I got through to Martha. She was crying. Her phones won't stop ringing. Yes, it is true; but she does not want to believe it either. She tells me that she spoke to Michael earlier in the day New York time when he had been with friends in his hotel room. Later, he had left two messages for her, one at the office and another on her home machine. His last message was painful, he just said, "Marth... I can't take it any more" .
When I ask her if she has spoken with Paula Yates, her voice changes, lowers. "No, I... well, anyway, I didn't want to deal with it. I couldn't. I sent someone over to her house." She sobbed into the phone, flogging herself, because she was not there for Michael. I tell her she was the one person who was always there for him. For some reason, I do not even ask her about the circumstances surrounding Michael's death. Somehow I can't phrase the words, I am afraid to ask: if I do not actually hear the answer, maybe it had not happened after all. I tell Martha I am on standby for a 1:30pm flight on Saturday. She is trying to get out on an early morning flight from New York , to connect with mine. We hang up together when we find that we are both sobbing so uncontrollably and cannot speak any longer.
Various friends call, many of whom had been at my house on special occasions when Michael had been in town. The last time was just four months ago, in honour of Erin and Tiger Lily whose birthdays are only four days apart. Devastated, everybody is calling but nobody knows what to say. They mean well, I know, but who can make this nightmare go away? My friends all ask what they can do, try to convey their love and warmth, but nothing helps. This pain is here to stay.
Erin finally arrives. I had begun to pack in a helpless, floundering way, but she takes over, so that my bag at least contains routine essentials and between us we deal with the constantly ringing phone. I walk around the house in an aimless daze. A cup of tea? How can I get anything past the lump in my throat?
I awake after a fitful sleep and the horrible truth slams across my brain, crushing that tiny moment of hope, of normality. There's my suitcase: it was not a nightmare. It is 5am , Saturday, in California , 8am in New York and I call to see if Martha has made the New York to Los Angeles flight. Her husband Bill tells me she is going for the one thirty out of Los Angeles . This is real, not a movie reel although feeling seemingly surreal. As I go about my morning routine, I keep thinking of the old Skeeter Davis song, “The End Of The World”…why does the sun go on shining… I stand under my shower, and I hear a woman scream. It is me.
The kids have slept over since we were all up most of the night anyway. Erin carefully places the last of my toiletries into my bag and agonises about whether she should join me. I tell her she can take the day to make her decision or join Brent on his flight. Both Erin and Brent are just two weeks away from their first semester finals and thus already under considerable pressure. I suspect that Erin 's primary concern is whether she can bear the pain of seeing her mother and grandmother in such agony. Erin and Brent have always referred to my mother by her first name, Patricia. These days however, Zoe , Rhett's little girl, calls her Grandma and I imagine Tiger will too. Oh my gosh - Tiger!
I thought back to when Michael was trying to come up with a name for his little Tiger Lily. His favourite was Hiraani, after a family friend. That was the name he chose. When Paula appeared lukewarm over the idea, he called me and asked if I could think of a suitable Asian or Pacific Islander name that started with an “H”. I'm not sure if this was because he liked the idea of alliteration. Anyway, I faxed him with a long list of names. Of course the name ‘ Helena ' was hard to resist (such a lovely name, even if its island origins are actually Greek), but due to Paula's sensitivity toward Michael's former girlfriend, Helena Christensen, I knew that would not be well received at the London home. I had a hard time coming up with anything better than Hiraani. But what about the sweet little girl with the ‘Michael' face now, how could she grow up not knowing her father?
Looking at the first pictures of ‘Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily' which Michael had proudly showed me at Thanksgiving in 1996 was like looking at pictures of Michael when he was a baby. He was so proud when I told him this, he beamed and he beamed whenever someone commented on the startling resemblance. Before Tiger he had always been so proud when people commented on the family resemblance between himself and Erin. He would say, “How did that happen?” I would tell him, “Well, we do have the same mother, even if we don't look alike. I guess you take after her Kennedy side.” Somehow, that gorgeous full mouth passed me by, and landed directly onto my daughters' sweet face. And even now, the older she gets, the more she looks like him.
Neither Patricia nor I have ever sought to make a martyr of Michael. He wasn't a saint. He was powerfully attractive to women and he knew it, somehow managing to emerge emotionally unscathed from a series of complex relationships. As an artist he took creative risks sometimes and he had the sort of speedy energy that drew him towards any risky situation if the alternative was a dull and dreary one. All the people who truly knew and loved him understood this. He had a great broad heart and would never have wanted to damage the faith and trust of those of us who loved and depended on him in any way. He may have been, as has been said, ‘a wild boy' and humanly flawed for that. But essentially, he was just a man…
Ken drove to the airport where I presented myself at the Qantas desk in a daze, placed my passport, and American Express card down and told the man that I had to get on flight 8 to Sydney as there had been a death in the family. He glanced at my passport and left to see a supervisor. When he returned, he said that I was wait-listed along with Martha Troup in business class but they would make sure I was on the flight. So what does wait-listed mean? Someone else said my daughter had called and I was taken to a back office where Erin was waiting on another line. As we weaved our way through the office, I could feel every pair of eyes upon me. I was only mildly hysterical but still screaming inside. Fortunately the Valiums my mother-in-law, Alice had given me, were preventing me from screaming on the outside too.
I am directed to the business lounge, relieved that Ken cannot come with me. My husband is very uncomfortable in situations, which he cannot control. I am feeling so vulnerable yet numb. By now, he is feeling helpless in a different, nervous way and has been making inappropriate comments, which only make me harder to reach. I don't want anyone's words of comfort, however well intentioned. Nothing they say will stop this bad dream and bring Michael back. He kisses me goodbye, wishes me a safe trip; I feel his eyes watch me disappear.
Gold Coast , Australia
November 22nd had started out as a fun shopping day. My younger son Rhett, his partner Mandy and daughter Zoe Angel had arrived the evening before. Rhett was a bit out of sorts because he had been in Sydney and prior to leaving he was to have met up with Michael, who had overslept and missed him.
Rhett and Michael had not had any contact at all in eleven months, mostly due to Michael's touring schedule, so Christmas 1997 was going to be wonderful. Michael was in Australia , on his final tour with INXS after twenty years together. He wanted to concentrate now on a career in films and had just completed a cameo role in a movie in Canada . He had several offers from producers and couldn't wait to finish the tour so that he could develop all this. Tina would be arriving on the Gold Coast in four weeks and this would be the first time in four years we would all be in Australia together for Christmas.
As we walked back past the beauty counter, I noticed the sales girls were staring at us oddly. It occurred to me that this must be because Mandy, who was walking a few paces ahead of me, was breast-feeding Zoe, as young women often do these days. Then again I figured it could just be Rhett and Mandy, as they do attract attention. Both are very tall and Rhett had dreadlocks at the time.
When we returned home there were numerous calls on my answering machine, mainly journalists, one whom I knew said it was extremely urgent and would I please, please call her. Before I could answer her call, my intercom buzzer started going crazy. When I pushed the button to see the screen I could see channels Seven and Nine cameras in the background and hear voices all yelling into the intercom that they wanted to speak to me. I sensed then that something was wrong and began to feel bewildered and scared. I decided to phone the journalist I knew, as I did not want to hear any news - good or bad from a stranger. Before I could call her, she called back extremely distressed. I demanded to know what was going on. She told me the news that no mother ever wants to hear.
Disbelieving, I told Rhett to phone the Ritz Carlton in Sydney and ask for room 524, and demand to speak to Michael. He was told there was no answer in that room. Maybe he had changed his pseudonym from " Murray River " or changed rooms- he sometimes did this if unwelcome people had tracked him down. I then asked Rhett to get me the manager of the hotel who eventually told Rhett that we should ring the Rose Bay Police Station. My heart started pounding. This was a nightmare. I had to speak to Tina. Rhett was able to speak to someone at the police station and they informed him of the situation, yet nobody called me . Not Michaels' father or the detectives who were handling the case. Rhett phoned Tina in Los Angeles but only got her voice mail.
I looked down and noticed a fax Tina had sent me just a few days earlier with details of her Christmas plans. She'd added "I spoke to Michael about an hour ago. He sounded very content, said that over all the whole tour went well. I am very happy for him. He is very excited about the movie gig. He says he is booked to return to L.A. on the 5th-same day as me."
Then she called. Rhett told her the terrible news. She was devastated and uncomprehending. Rhett handed me the phone and we just cried. It was impossible to speak...there were no words to take away the stabbing pain in my heart, which was pounding as though it were going to burst through my body. The buzzer was still making such a noise, the voices still screaming into the intercom. All I could think was, please make them go away.
Ross arrived home, briefly oblivious to the crisis. He immediately took control and made flight arrangements to go straight to Sydney . He is my rock and has continued to be, throughout it all. The rest of the day was a blur. I wanted to block it out of my mind...to sleep and wake up to a happy shopping spree, to listen to my messages on my answer machine and hear Michael's voice..."Hi Mum. How are you? Where are you? Has Rhett arrived? How is Ross, is he at golf?" and to hear him say "I love you Mum"...as he always did before hanging up. He had called me just two days ago, he had sounded tired but happy to be in Sydney . He was glad that it was the end of the tour and was looking forward to Christmas with the family, eager to share his little Tiger with friends and family.
I did a lot of screaming the rest of that day. I could hear myself repeating the words to Rhett. NO! NO! WHY? HOW? IT CAN'T BE TRUE. I wandered around the house picking up photographs, putting them down, I walked out on the balcony and looked over at the beach, and the sunny Queensland sky. I thought of the day Ross had taken Michael out for a spin in a Tiger Moth. They had circled over our apartment building so I could take a photograph of Michael in it.
Rhett was sobbing uncontrollably. “Why Michael, why not me, Mum?" He was referring to his self-destructive tendencies. Rhett had done some serious and heavy playing at times - yet always seemed able to pick himself up from the floor of the pit.
I would run to the bathroom, dry retching, then back to the living room to sit in stunned silence, trying to comprehend this madness, this intrusion into our lives. Rhett was speaking to Tina again. He was still crying. I suddenly felt a warm hand on my arm. It was little Zoe Angel. I looked into her beautiful blue eyes as she said, "Grandma cry, Zoe cry, Daddy cry, Zoe cry." We had all but forgotten this dear little child standing there with a slight frown on her face and struggling to understand what it was that had broken the happy spell of our morning.
I asked Ross to book us into the Ritz Carlton in Sydney . By morning I had changed my mind and we all stayed at the nearby Sir Stamford Hotel. I did not sleep well that night and kept waking with panic attacks. Robotically I got up and showered, threw a few clothes into a bag, dressed and made some tea. I waited for the rest of the family to wake, then for the car to arrive to take us to the airport to start the journey to hell.
We learned of Michael's death through the media and I am still appalled about this. It would have been so easy for the authorities to contact me. I had found that over the years when Michael was in the spotlight, journalists never had any difficulty in finding me, so why couldn't the people in charge of this miserable situation? Michaels father Kell, was also notified by the press. So often I hear in news reports that "the name is being withheld pending notification of family". It would seem that Michael's family should have been given the same respect. But this was only the beginning and a fragment of our nightmare.
We arrived in Sydney , Michael's birthplace. As we drove through those familiar streets I was reminded of my sweet son on every block. Huge posters of the upcoming INXS concerts were plastered on walls everywhere, newspaper shops with their placards outside on the footpath with Michael's photograph and bold announcements of his death. I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to fill with loving thoughts of him.
I was still in denial. It must be a mistake, someone else maybe, some other pitiable mother's son. Not my Michael. My Michael loved life, he was an adventurer, he loved his daughter, his whole family. Then I remembered that when he called me five months ago from Vienna I had sensed sadness in his voice when I asked how things were going. He said, "I can't take it anymore, I don't want to finish this tour." I told him it would not be a good idea to pull out now, to hang in there and very soon he would be free to accept film offers and finish the solo album which meant so much to him. He cheered up a little, but his mood was so low, I could still 'feel' it in his voice. So I changed the subject to that of his beautiful daughter Tiger. In normal circumstances this would lift his mood, but not today. Again he said, "I can't take it any more, I've had enough." He elaborated about the fighting between his partner Paula Yates and her ex husband Bob Geldof, how much it was costing him in the courts, and his concern about his own investments. He had a feeling that something was not right. He had tried to keep track of everything, as he had already lost a lot of money through one of his business advisers, and did not want this to happen again. I had never heard Michael as depressed as this.
At the end of that conversation he asked us to meet him in Los Angeles , his next stop. When we arrived there he was waiting for us in the lobby of the Mondrian Hotel and his mood was clearly brighter. He was happy to see us and I was relieved.
On our arrival at the Sir Stamford we were TOLD we would be using the name 'Edwards' while staying there. This was presumably to protect our privacy. We decided to worry about this later, but knew it was going to make things difficult for family and friends to contact us.
This shocked me. It was so final and we still knew so little about what had happened. I was unprepared and did not want to get into the car. It was such a sudden, cruel way to see off my darling son Michael. Why didn't Kell prime me for this, give me some details? Most of all, I needed a hug, a kind word from the father of my child. I needed some comfort, anything to help take away the pain and help me begin to come to terms with the fact that we had lost the son we both loved.
We were driven to the morgue in the police car and a few seconds after we pulled up Kell and Sue, and his sister arrived in a car driven by Tony Woodall, a bodyguard employed by Michael's financial advisor, Colin Diamond. Michael had voiced a fierce dislike of Tony more than once. I briefly wondered why it was necessary for Kell to use a bodyguard, but put it out of my mind. Rhett and Mandy arrived with little Zoe immediately after.
We talked on about the torture Michael must have endured during the past three years, since he had been with Paula. This period was the only time in his career that I could recall him getting a persistently negative press. It was always hurtful to read, and it worried Michael, I knew.
Tina was due. We were driven back to the Sir Stamford.
My flight was finally called. The attendant assured me that Martha was waiting at the gate and said there was no need for me to hurry as the staff had been advised to seat all passengers before we boarded. She offered to take me down some back stairs, so I didn't have to face anyone with my swollen eyes. She also told me she had arranged for my children to be escorted to the business lounge the following evening and handed me two mini-bottles of wine in a bag. I rarely drink, but I recognised this as a kind gesture. The attendant was obviously feeling helpless. I had gone through most of her Kleenex while she tried to steady me outside of the lounge.
Martha, looking so tiny and sad in the deserted waiting area. Martha may be short in stature she's as sharp and astute as New York businesswomen come. I dare say she could get away with calling anybody who is anybody in the music industry, at any time of the day or night. Michael relied on her judgement heavily. They spent many hours travelling together, going to business meetings, planning the future. She used to say that she wanted her tombstone to be engraved with “Here lies the only woman Michael Hutchence did not go to bed with.” We embraced and just shook our heads helplessly before being taken onto the plane.
Throughout the thirteen hour flight, the whole crew was very gentle with us. Many of the flight attendants came by and expressed their sympathies. We settled in and went over the turn of events in so far as we were able at this stage. I had seen and spoken with Michael frequently over 1997 as he had been on tour in the United States but Martha filled me in on some things I had missed in my brother's life in the last three months, and some of the facts about his death as she understood them. She explained that she had called the London home on Friday to find out how things had gone in court, only to catch Paula in a foul mood, furious with the judge and her ex-husband, Bob Geldof, who had been knighted by the Queen in 1987 following his inspirational work for famine relief in Africa .
Paula had insisted on making an application to the court to take the two younger Geldof girls, Peaches and Pixie, out of school early, to travel to Sydney to be on the Australian leg of INXS's "Don't Loose Your Head" tour. Michael had given me the impression in our last conversation that the children would be arriving closer to Christmas – he did not believe children should be taken on a tour and besides, this year marked Bob's turn to have his children for the holidays. Even though their father had agreed to allow them to spend Christmas with their mother, the judge had ruled that they would have to stay in school until the beginning of the Christmas vacation as they had missed far too much school in 1997 already. To make sure that Paula could not violate the court's orders again, he had insisted that the children's passports be handed over to the court. However there was nothing to prevent Paula from going to Australia with Michael's daughter, Tiger Lily. Michael could enjoy the time between tour dates with his little girl and have his family get re-acquainted with her. The Geldof girls could join them later, as in Christmases past. Just days away from the first night of his last tour with INXS the last thing he needed was the extra stress of all this.
When we last spoke he told me that he had run into his former girlfriend of four years, then supermodel Helena Christensen, and he'd been reminded of many old insecurities deriving from that relationship. I had commiserated with him about the upcoming tour, which he was dreading -the fact that would it mark the end of INXS made it especially emotional for him. I reminded him there were not many tour dates and besides it would be Christmas in five weeks when he could have a break before returning to Los Angeles to complete this watershed in his career.
I had spent some time in LA with the girl whom Michael had been seeing for the better part of the last four months. She is an intensely private person and I will simply call her Blair. He had given her airline tickets to most of the tour dates, and had appeared to be very relaxed and happy with her. It was no secret to Paula, the band, his close friends and family members that Michael saw other women. Paula might be the mother of his child, but he had denied all reports that he had any intention of marrying her. He lavished all his pure love on his little daughter: it was clear to me that his devotion to Tiger was quite a separate issue.
Martha also stated that she had spoken to the person who had packed Michael's luggage for Sydney. I did not see the significance of this as anyone close to Michael knew that he often had whoever was to hand pack his bags. He was usually running late and in all those years of travelling, he never did learn the fine art of packing lightly. On reflection I supposed that she was assuring me that he had not left the United States with any illegal substances. I had not given this any thought, as although I was dimly aware of my brother's drug indulgences, I was also under the impression that for the most part, he was in control of them. It sounded as though Michael had been considerably more depressed than he had let on to me, which was so typical him. He could be angry that people automatically expected him to be content with his life and always had reasons why it was not so hot to be Michael Hutchence, rock star. Then again, many times, if you were to display signs of concern, he would brush it off, and reel off a string of stories of recent good times and expectations of more in the future.
Martha then said something which struck me as odd. She wondered aloud about Tiger Lily's future. When I agreed that it would be so sad for her never to know her father, she said that she meant her financial future. I told her not to be silly, as we all knew that Michael had been financially secure - he had been investing for years. She said "There's not much left". I asked her what she meant, and she went on to say that he had gone through a lot of money in the last two years and there had not been much coming in. She also cited the solo recording he had undertaken: he had spent at least £150,000 of his own money on the project. I shrugged: this did not seem like a lot of money to me considering Michael had investments and owned properties all over the world. I did not feel much like talking about money at that moment. In any case, I assumed that she simply meant that he did not have much ready cash. Obviously, what Michael might consider as being low on cash meant something entirely different to what most people would term as being broke. He usually carried little or no cash, and used his American Express card for everything.
She told me that upon hearing the tragic news she had instructed the tour manager to take care of Michael's hotel bill so that he could collect the phone log and check who Michael may have spoken to that night. She added that it revealed that Michael had called Bob Geldof twice. It seemed to me that this would be a job for the investigators. What would it matter who he had he called in his final hours - they had obviously been unable to help him.
We discussed the possibility of foul play, agreeing that Michael was not into pain of any kind. In my experience, Michael had an extremely low tolerance for physical suffering. An accidental overdose would make more sense. What we had heard of his death seemed to me such a brutal way to commit suicide. However, it was later explained to me, that when a person takes his life by hanging, there is no pain, he simply loses consciousness. Somehow the certainty that Michael's death was a suicide had already begun to take hold, that is not to say that this explanation didn't hold its own awful bafflements – it just seemed to be the only explanation.
During the flight to Sydney , I noticed that the news was not on the monitor, and we did not get a newspaper. Later Martha said that a flight attendant had told her that they made the decision not to play CNN or hand out newspapers out of respect for us. I tried to sleep. I was worn out, but even the Valium did not help: I only saw my beautiful brother's face every time I closed my eyes. There were so many unanswered questions. I tried to remind myself of the good times instead of asking myself 'why?'
Just prior to landing, the purser came over and assured me that we could disembark before the other passengers. Outside the customs area, the minders were waiting with welcoming, yet grim faces. We all hugged and made our way to the car, with Martha throwing out questions immediately.
On the ride to the hotel, Martha was inquiring about the status of the five remaining INXS members. They went through a roll call. Where is Andrew Farriss, how is he doing? Kirk Pengilly, Tim Farriss, Jon Farriss, Garry Beers. It sounded as if all five of them were in total shock, and definitely in need of her. The question was, I thought, who was going to comfort Martha? We were told that Australia 's Prime Minister, John Howard, had made a very respectful statement about Michael and that on the whole, everything had been positive. They meant in the press of course, but I kept thinking of the more obvious: my brother died alone, he took his own life - what is positive about that? The autopsy would be in the morning, Monday. Martha said she wanted to see him and asked me if I did too. Of course I wanted to see him, I needed to. I looked out of the window and everything reminded me of Michael. Over the years I had driven down these same streets so many times with him, or, on my way to see him. Then something caught my eye, a newspaper stand. I can't explain what it feels like to see a large picture of your beloved brother, and across the top of the page a headline screeching, 'MICHAEL HUTCHENCE DEAD AT 37'. I was still screaming inside, ‘You're wrong, it's a mistake.'