Yesterday, showbiz lost one of its favourite characters as the "sexiest man on earth", Michael Hutchence, was found dead in a Sydney hotel room.
The flamboyant INXS singer, 37, was reported to have been found hanging by a leather belt from a door in a fifth-floor suite of the Ritz Carlton hotel at 12.30pm Australian time. Rumours that the death was the result of sexual experimentation, rather than a suicide, were given some credence by the tabloid press because all had appeared to be going so well for the rock star.
The singer with the powerful stage presence and a truculent style that earned him a "bad boy" reputation had gone to Sydney to rehearse for a sell-out tour, Lose Your Head, celebrating the 20th anniversary of INXS's formation. Last month he declared himself the "luckiest man alive" after it was rumoured he planned to marry Paula Yates, the mother of his 15-month-old daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, on the Tahitian island of Bora Bora in January.
Michael Hutchence spent Friday night dining with his parents in Sydney, where he appeared happy and relaxed. Ms Yates, who was seen leaving the High Court in London yesterday, is believed to have intended to join him there with her children Fifi Trixibelle, 14, Peaches, seven, Pixie, five and Heavenly Hiraani next week. She flew out last night to be with his relatives.
Ms Yates, who before dating Hutchence called him "the sexiest man alive" on television, was yesterday being comforted by her friend Belinda Brewen. Her solicitor, Anthony Burton, said: "Paula heard this devastating news through a friend and myself a short while ago. I would ask that she be left alone ... to enable her to absorb and cope with what has happened."
In Sydney, Inspector Christopher Hogg refused to confirm the cause of death. He said: "It would appear that there are no suspicious circumstances. A post-mortem examination will be carried out on Monday." Another police spokesman said, contrary to initial reports of a drug overdose, that "only prescription medication" was found in the hotel room, and that police had taken possession of a leather belt from Hutchence's belongings for scientific examination.
A band spokesman said: "The band members of INXS are all in extreme shock at the loss of their dear friend." Hutchence's father Kel, a Sydney businessman, said: "What can I say? I've lost my loving son."
The news stunned Australia. Prime Minister John Howard said: "He was, from the Australian and world rock scene, one of our most talented performers. It really is a most tragic event."
Friends remarked on how Hutchence had never seemed more contented. Richard Wilkins, an Australian television presenter who was with him the night before he died, said: "Everyone who saw Michael recently said how relaxed and well he was looking. It's just such a loss and such a surprise."
Hutchence's former girlfriend Kylie Minogue was also deeply shocked. "I can't believe it," she told Australian TV in distress. Her sister Dannii was reportedly staying in the same hotel as Hutchence when he died.
At the band's peak in 1987, the Kick LP sold nine million copies- buoyed by hits such as "Need You Tonight" and "Devil Inside" - making INXS one of Australia's most successful bands. The band has racked up sales of 20 million albums.
Hutchence's life was perhaps, like the title of his current album, elegantly wasted. He once said: "We all have our wilderness years, whether it's drugs, alcohol, a fall from fame or whatever." His life, marked by highly publicised affairs with celebrities, including model Helena Christensen, has been particularly in the media glare since he began an affair with Ms Yates, then the wife of Bob Geldof, three years ago.
The stories ran and ran. Soon after starting her affair with Hutchence, Ms Yates had breast implants and filled the pages of tabloids with tales of their sex life. Her autobiography chronicled her sexual exploits and experiments with drugs. Last year the couple's London home was raided for drugs, but no charges were brought against them.
She once said of Hutchence: "I've always thought it would be wonderful to be with someone who was your best friend at the same time as being God's gift to women."