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Hutchence, Michael Kelland (1960–1997)

by Glenn Mitchell

This article was published online in 2022

Michael Hutchence, 1986

Michael Hutchence, 1986

Michael Kelland John Hutchence (1960–1997), musician, songwriter, and actor, was born on 22 January 1960 in North Sydney, elder son of Sydney-born Kelland Frank Hutchence, company manager, and his Victorian-born wife Agnes Patricia Joan, formerly Burgess, née Kennedy. Michael grew up with his brother and his stepsister from his mother’s first marriage. In 1964 Kell’s work took the family to Hong Kong. Michael attended schools managed by the English Schools Foundation: Glenealy, Beacon Hill, and King George V. These formative bicultural years in Hong Kong saw him develop athletic skills and an interest in music and poetry. When he was eight a local toy company recorded his singing on a disc that was played in one of its products. He was a promising swimmer until he broke his arm.

The family returned to Sydney in 1972, where Hutchence attended Killarney Heights and Davidson High schools, becoming friends with a fellow student, Andrew Farriss. When his parents separated in 1974, Michael went with his mother to Los Angeles, United States of America. There she worked as a make-up artist while he attended North Hollywood High School. In 1976 they returned to Sydney. Living with his mother and brother, he went back to Davidson High, where he reconnected with Farriss. Playing after school in garages with Andrew’s brothers, Tim and Jon, led to his singing in Andrew’s band, Doctor Dolphin. He subsequently became the lead singer in the Farriss Brothers band, which also included Kirk Pengilly and Garry (later Garry Gary) Beers. They debuted in August 1977 at a party at Whale Beach on Sydney’s northern beaches.

In 1978, when the Farriss family returned to its former home of Perth, Western Australia, Hutchence and the other band members moved with them. This was an important time for Hutchence, as it meant he kept singing with the band and honing his vocal skills. Unlike the Farriss brothers, who had received tuition for their instruments, he had no formal vocal training. However, his baritone voice fitted perfectly with the band’s music. The following year the group returned to Sydney for what would become a constant rhythm of work—recording, playing, practising, and writing. Briefly known as The Vegetables, the band adopted the name INXS (pronounced ‘in excess’) in 1979. It played in pubs and clubs, and began recording its music.

INXS released a debut self-titled album in 1980, and began a steady rise to fame. This was not a band that recorded an album and waited for success: it took long tours around the world and performed its music live. Writing many of the lyrics to the band’s songs, Hutchence formed a strong partnership with Andrew Farriss, who composed much of the music. After the band’s fifth album, Listen Like Thieves, was released in 1985, the band’s profile rose internationally. Kick (1987), their sixth studio album, was its biggest success, selling millions of copies. Central to INXS’s increasing popularity was not only its members’ musical abilities, but also Hutchence’s lyrics and magnetic stage presence as a lithe and electrifying dancer.

Hutchence did not confine his singing to INXS. He recorded for film, including ‘Speed Kills,’ with Don Walker, for the Scott Hicks movie Freedom (1982), and several songs for Richard Lowenstein’s Dogs in Space (1986). Collaborating with the musician Ollie Olsen, with whom he had worked on the soundtrack for Dogs in Space, Hutchence formed Max Q and made its eponymously titled album (1989). He sang on the records of other artists, such as Glory Road by Richard Clapton, who had produced INXS’s second album, Underneath the Colours (1981).

Made-for-television video clips—the new way of presenting music in the 1980s—fitted Hutchence’s good looks and stage movement. These videos were shown on music programs, such as Countdown on Australian Broadcasting Corporation television, and on MTV. The latter, an American cable television channel, suited his exuberant performances and contributed to INXS’s becoming a hit act in the United States. Music videos had an unintended consequence, convincing him to try his hand at acting. In 1986 he starred in Dogs in Space; its director, Lowenstein, had directed INXS music videos. Four years later he appeared as the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in Roger Corman’s film of the Brian Aldiss novel, Frankenstein Unbound.

As the front man of a rock band with international success, millions of record sales, and sold-out concerts, Hutchence’s popularity was guaranteed. He won two major Countdown music and video awards in 1984: most popular male performer, and—with Andrew Farriss—best songwriter. In 1991 he was named the best international male solo artist at the BRIT awards. INXS claimed several honours as a band, including one for outstanding achievement at the 1989 Australian Record Industry Association awards.

Although soft-spoken and often shy, Hutchence once described himself as ‘a f…ing great rock star’ (Cavanagh 1994, 3A). He had several well-publicised romantic relationships, including with the model and later film producer Michele Bennett, the actress and singer Kylie Minogue, the model Helena Christensen, and the English television personality Paula Yates, with whom he had a daughter in 1996. During the last few years of his life he struggled with alcohol and drug use and, following a brain injury inflicted during an assault, suffered from depression and uncharacteristic aggression. Yates became involved in a bitter custody dispute with Bob Geldof, the father of Yates’s three other children. An adjourned court hearing meant that she and the girls could not join Hutchence in Sydney as planned. On 22 November 1997, while on tour with INXS after the release of the album Elegantly Wasted, he was found dead in his Sydney hotel room. Yates and his daughter survived him. After an inquest, the New South Wales coroner, Derrick Hand, ruled that Hutchence had taken his own life by hanging. He was cremated following a funeral at St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral. Several biographies recount his life and death, and a documentary about his life and career by Lowenstein, titled Mystify, was released in 2019.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Cavanagh, David. ‘Michael Hutchence: Life INXS.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 1994, Spectrum 3A
  • Creswell, Toby. Shine Like It Does: The Life of Michael Hutchence. Richmond, Vic.: Echo, 2017
  • Hutchence, Tina, with Jen Jewel Brown. Michael: My Brother, Lost Boy of INXS. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2018
  • INXS, and Anthony Bozza. INXS: Story to Story: The Official Autobiography. London: Bantam Press, 2005
  • Lovegrove, Vincent. Michael Hutchence: A Tragic Rock ‘N’ Roll Story—A Definitive Biography. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1999
  • St John, Ed. Burn: The Life and Times of Michael Hutchence and INXS. Sydney: Bantam, 1998

Additional Resources

Citation details

Glenn Mitchell, 'Hutchence, Michael Kelland (1960–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hutchence-michael-kelland-31793/text39257, published online 2022, accessed online 30 January 2023.

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