Twenty years ago today, a maid at the Ritz-Carlton in Sydney, Australia discovered the lifeless body of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence hanging from a door when she came in to clean the room. “He was in a kneeling position facing the door,” read the police report. “He had used his snake skin belt to tie a knot on the automatic door closure at the top of the door, and had strained his head forward into the loop so hard that the buckle had broken.”
It was a tragic and grisly end to the life of the most charismatic rock stars of his era. INXS’s mainstream success in the U.S. was largely confined to the late 1980s with massive hits like “Need You Tonight,” “Devil Inside” and “New Sensation,” but in his native Australia and throughout Europe they were a stadium act throughout much of their original run with Hutchence, rivaled only by the likes of U2 and Depeche Mode.
Their global popularity was in a period of slight decline by the release of their 1997 LP Elegantly Wasted. Despite the presence of brilliant songs like “Everything” and the title track, it stalled out at Number 41 in America and Number 16 in England. But the group still promoted it with a marathon world tour that took them all over the globe, wrapping up with a show at the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater right outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 27th, 1997. No decent footage of the show exists, but here’s audio of the entire night. It wraps up with their 1990 hit “Suicide Blonde,” which would be the last song that Hutchence would ever sing in public.
Hutchence’s personal life was in complete disarray by the time the tour wrapped. He was in a bitter custody battle over his daughter Tiger with Bob Geldof and his former partner Paula Yates and was facing the prospect of spending the holidays without her. “He was frightened and couldn’t stand a minute more without his baby,” Yates said after he died. “He was terribly upset and he said, ‘I don’t know how I’ll live without seeing Tiger.'”
His close friend Bono, who wrote the 2001 U2 song “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” about Hutchence’s suicide, later tried to make sense of the tragedy. “I think maybe with all the abuse he’d given his body and his mind it was a spur of the moment thing, to end the horrors he was going through coming down,” he said. “He’d got into a very big black hole and just couldn’t see a way out of it. That is the only thing I can think of, it was just a black dog that was savaging him.”
Like most everyone else, Bono completely rejected tabloid press speculation that his death was a result of accidental auto-erotic asphyxiation. “I’m not sure it was death by misadventure,” he said. “I’d love to think it was…I miss his company. He would have been very good at getting old…He was a charming, deeply sensitive soul, who would always check in to see if you were all right. I wish I’d checked in more with him to see if he was all right.”