INXS: Still haunted by Michael Hutchence’s death

Australia is being gripped by a wave of INXS nostalgia, more than three decades after the band exploded on to the music scene.

Michelle Duff speaks to Kirk Pengilly and Tim Farriss about the miniseries that has propelled them back into the charts.

Yes, Michael Hutchence’s death still haunts them.

On November 22, 1997, the four other members of the rock band were in a Sydney studio, on the cusp of a highly anticipated Australian tour.

Reeling with disbelief at the news, the next hours and days passed in a blur.

“It was shocking, and we were actually rehearsing in the ABC studios and all of a sudden journalists were appearing at the door to the rehearsal room because it broke on the news, that’s how we found out, the ABC news,” guitarist Pengilly says.

“So we had to go into an escape plan and get out of town.”

Hutchence’s death was ruled a suicide; the coroner said he was severely depressed, and under the influence of a cocktail of drugs. But there has always been speculation his death was as a result of auto-erotic asphyxiation.

Tonight, a two-part miniseries INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, kicks off on TV3.

It doesn’t try to solve the mystery of Hutchence’s death, because as guitarist and founding band member Farriss says “we still don’t really know”.

“We left it up to the production company and the writers as to how we told the story … Michael’s death is somewhat ambiguous and to this day we still don’t really know what happened, so how could we make it any other way

“The most important thing to us was there’s a little girl out there who’s now a young woman, Tiger Lily, and our main concern was that she got something out of it as opposed to putting what we think may have happened. He was going through a hard time and that’s really that.”

He pauses.

“It’s a shame because I always think where would he be now if he was still here, and what he’d be doing. It’s just so sad to think she missed out on having a father and he missed out on a daughter.”

The series was shown in Australia in January. By midyear, INXS had topped the ARIA top 100 charts with their greatest hits album, and at least six of their albums were charting elsewhere.

While the band had been repeatedly approached to make a film, they hadn’t been ready until now.

“We could have done it a while ago but the time didn’t feel right, it does now. I think we needed the space for it to be history,” Farriss says.

As executive producer, Farriss was a conduit between scriptwriters and the band and helped to advise actors.

Their manager, Chris Murphy, was also a producer. The band-vetted story traverses the heady rise of the young musicians to playing at sold-out stadiums worldwide surrounded by groupies to Hutchence’s death.
Pengilly watched the film with friends in his Sydney home, and was taken aback when they all started “interviewing,” him in the ad breaks.

“It was kind of weird. It was very emotional watching it in a way – it sort of conjured up all sorts of emotions.”
Farriss watched it at home, alone.

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His wife, Bethany Anne (Buffy) Reefman, who had been with the band from the beginning, refused to see it – then sneakily watched the first part in the bedroom, sticking her head around the door to yell at Farriss “I never had my hair like that, ever”, he said.

They are now considering making a follow-up rock musical, and wouldn’t rule out touring again.

While the series is billed as as “the ultimate story of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”, Farriss takes exception to the suggestion their story is a cliche.

“At the end of the day we’re still here, we’re not doing drugs any more, and I don’t think there are many people like us. We’re still here.”

– Stuff