WHEN the death notice appeared in the newspapers - 'Gordon Richard Huthart, 45, passed away peacefully' - hundreds if not thousands of people across the territory surely must have felt sudden prickles of remembrance and said to themselves, 'So that's what happened to him'. It was Huthart's first newspaper appearance in more than six years, but there was a time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was scarcely out of the headlines: the youngest son of a prominent local family; jailed for his homosexuality; creator of Lan Kwai Fong's now legendary first nightclub, Disco Disco. Between December 1978 - when, aged 28, he opened Disco Disco - until the start of the '97 group with the opening of the 1997 Cafe in 1982, Huthart reigned as the unchallenged king of Hong Kong night life. And then he dropped out of the limelight to become, in his last few years, almost a recluse until, 15 months ago, terminal cancer of the oesophagus was diagnosed. At his wake, held in stately splendour in the Mandarin Hotel last week, guests nibbled on canapes and politely sipped their mineral water. His family, the wealthy Huthart clan, whose patriarch, Robert Senior, who is credited with building up the Lane Crawford empire during his time there between the mid-60s to the mid-80s, were there and a handful of older expatriates representing old Hong Kong families. There were half a dozen handsome young Chinese men, former employees of Disco Disco, and a dozen mainly expatriate fortysomethings in suits, a university lecturer, a recruitment specialist, a entrepreneur, who had once partied at the club. More than one asked the organiser, Dick Kaufman, what they were doing celebrating the life of Gordon Huthart in such restrained fashion. Wasn't he the man who encouraged unrestrained self-expression, endless dancing and held such outrageous parties? That was then, Kaufman pointed out. By the time Huthart died, he had settled down into a domestic life once scarcely imaginable. It is also hard to image just what a breakthrough Disco Disco represented. Not just the only place to go because it was cool, it was quite literally the only place to go for nearly four years. Nightclubs in Hong Kong - all in Kowloon - had been of the padded seat, glass-topped table variety. 'The kind of place,' remembers Kaufman, who worked at Disco Disco as a creative director, 'where you didn't want to stand up because some attendant would rush over and demand what you wanted to drink.' Huthart wanted to create something much like the discos he had loved as a student in San Francisco, somewhere where everyone danced and the walls were sweaty. There were to be no padded chairs, no obsequious waiters; the 5,400-square feet space was designed for 'cruising'. 'You could look for your friends all night and still never find them,' says Kaufman. It was a bold concept, made bolder by the fact that Huthart selected for his location D'Aguilar Street, then home to a few grubby garment stores. 'It was a garbage heap,' says his brother, Bobby, who now runs his executive recruitment agency from offices overlooking the street, 'and my brother had all these expensive cars pulling up outside and society people waiting to get in. He had a line stretching down to Queens Road.' Six months on, Disco Disco was heaving seven days a week with every glamorous face in town, from Canto stars to artists, Westerners, locals, rich kids and porters. Visiting celebrities like Rod Stewart and Calvin Klein dropped by. If you had the right look, you were in, and that look included 'the full demographic span,' according to Kaufman. This was the opulent late 1970s when glitter and glamour were huge, when fashion was ostentatious and when Disco Disco was all these things and more. Hong Kong was at the beginning of its history as a boom town and the wealthy flaunted the fact. 'It was a showy time,' remembers Kaufman, 'from Dupont lighters to Ferraris. And Gordon had the lot.' Andrew Bull, who joined Disco Disco as DJ a year after it opened, thinks Huthart - himself a nightclub regular - knew people were ready for something different. 'He tapped into a lost constituency. He knew they were here but not satisfied and he made himself the mayor of this particular constituency.' His motivation was not just to satisfy a group of like-minded party animals or even to make money, although it seems clear he did that, clearing around $2 million a year in profit. Huthart was gay, proudly, defiantly and stridently gay, in a town where homosexuality was still a criminal offence that could lead to a life sentence. Bull first knew him when he was DJing at The Scene, The Peninsula's nightclub. 'He kept getting thrown out for dancing with other men. He was quite famous for that, because there was this house rule that there would be 'none of that' on the premises. And it became his passion, the fact that it was totally outrageous that men couldn't dance together in Hong Kong. And that was his inspiration for starting up Disco Disco.' Huthart didn't just want a place where he and his friends could dance together. He had a strong conviction that he was in a position to make a real difference to the gay community. 'He thought he was influential and powerful enough to do something without cost to himself,' says Bobby, 'he was a bit of a dreamer in that respect.' The police began to take an interest in Disco Disco and in Huthart: the club was raided and undercover policemen tried to infiltrate the scene. Huthart was not content to appease them. 'When they came in the club, he would get a tape recorder and stick it in their faces,' remembers one regular, 'and shout at them 'Rank? Number?' Sometimes he even got one of the staff to film everything. It was confrontation, not compliance.' Then, in August 1979, only eight months after the opening of Disco Disco, Huthart was arrested. He was committed for trial on charges including 15 counts of buggery involving young Chinese men between the ages of 16 and 20, possession of relaxant diazepam and the sedative methaqualone, and assault and criminal intimidation against Martin Potter, an old school friend Huthart had brought out to Hong Kong some years before, which family members now say was an argument that was misinterpreted. Police managed to make the sex charges stick. Crown prosecutors, led by Warwick Reid, opposed bail on the grounds that buggery charges carried the maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and Huthart spent the next 13 weeks in Lai Chi Kok detention centre on remand. When the case finally came to court, he pleaded guilty to the buggery charges and received 13 weeks' sentence to be served from the date of his arrest, a suspended sentence and fines. His friends and family all believe Huthart was a victim of police harassment if not entrapment. Shortly after the case, his liquor licence was revoked but police were soon forced to withdraw their objections. It was an inglorious period in police history, the notorious Special Investigation Unit - since disbanded - was in operation and Huthart's case was one of several high-profile prosecutions of gays in that period, included the lawyer Richard Duffy in 1978. Only a week after Huthart's sentence, Crown counsel Howard Lindsay was acquitted on similar charges. Bisexual Superintendent John Maclennan shot himself in early 1981 only hours before he was due to be arrested on gross indecency charges. In such times, Huthart must have know the risk he was running, but his friends feel he was still shocked when the final knock on the door came. Prison should have been a sobering experience, and in some ways it was, but Huthart also felt that he had a kind of victory. 'Anyone else would be crushed,' remembers Kaufman, 'but he didn't feel that way. He told me he organised the prisoners, he made several friends. They were a captive market for him I suppose.' He returned to run Disco Disco, which became even more successful, and gave an unrepentant interview to the local press under the headline, My Life As A Hong Kong Homosexual'. Three or four times a year, he held extravagant parties to thank his regulars. Disco Disco would be closed for a week and sumptuously decorated with no expense spared. Kaufman was hired mainly to organise these parties. 'Now you get an invite saying, 'Present this token and get two free drinks' ,' he says contemptuously. 'That wasn't Gordon's style, not at all. Everything at these parties was totally free, if you were lucky to be on the guest list, one of the top 700 people in town.' Each party had a theme. For one, Country, Huthart brought in bails of straw and live animals, including pigs and cows. 'We borrowed these horses from the Gurkhas, but we couldn't get them down the stairs,' remembers Kaufman, hired mainly to organise these parties, 'so we had to tie them up outside.' At another, Magical Mystery Tour, everything was to represent Beatles songs and Huthart flew out real strawberry bushes to make Strawberry Fields. In the few photographs remaining of that absurd, intense period, Huthart appears as a slight, good-looking, sharp-featured man with a taste for black leather jackets and sharp suits, a cigarette hanging between his fingers, his hair long in that unmistakable Seventies footballer look. He is bright-eyed and often grinning into, or just above, the camera with an intense, fierce gaze. Although at the time he looked set to soar and soar, in fact this was to be the apex of his career when every person with a taste for night life was at his feet. Because Disco Disco was unique, with only a handful of straight-laced hotel bars as competition, Huthart had an almost unprecedented power over the social scene. And he knew it and liked to exploit it. 'He became more than just a disco manager. He was a social arbiter and quite a powerful figure,' says Bull. 'And he was quite conscious of the power he had got.' To some, Disco Disco wasn't just night life, it was life. 'It wasn't just a job to the people who worked there,' says Bull, 'so he didn't just have the power of hiring and firing. It was almost a spiritual thing, whether you were part of it or not. He was a bit of a Nero.' It was normal for employees to be repeatedly fired and rehired. Huthart was happy to give a good member of staff his job back - if only he grovelled enough. And he was terribly sensitive to being ripped off by friends and employees alike. 'He hated disloyalty and theft. Remember, he ran one of the biggest cash businesses in Hong Kong,' says Kaufman. 'and eventually I think he put friends and employees in the same category. People that rich don't trust anyone.' He was scarcely a popular boss. 'Grudgingly respected' is how Bull describes it, and although he had many acquaintances, there were few who considered themselves really close to him. He took on the Disco Disco mystique as a kind of persona, playing the role of the sinister impresario. If he never threatened anyone directly, he would not have denied rumours that he had to power to 'send the boys around', according to Bull. The megalomania that enabled him to see through the creation of Disco Disco in the teeth of opposition and defy the police with such indignant rage was also the quality that began to undermine him. 'You are talking about someone who wasn't an artist's impression of a nut - he was a nut! And that was apparent as soon as you met him,' says Bull, 'And it was at its most apparent during the peak of Disco Disco's success. For every amazing thing that was done, there was this undercurrent to his personality.' At the same time, things began to happen that would affect Disco Disco that were outside his control. The 1997 cafe opened on December 3, 1982, followed by Kaufman's California in 1983, and by 1984 Bull himself had set up Canton Disco. Disco Disco was now one of many and Huthart was either uninterested, or unable, to cope with the competition. By 1985, he had sold much of his share in the business and simply faded from the scene. Yet even before that time, his friends had begun to shrink from him. Some began to be afraid of Huthart. One close associate even went as far as to keep his home address from Huthart, even though they were actually living in the same road. 'That was a time and an era and it was over,' he says now, 'I didn't want him to know where I lived or my phone numbers. I bumped into him by accident occasionally and I was always polite, but I kept my distance.' No one will be specific about exactly what Huthart had done to merit this treatment, but they hint that his explosive nature had begun to overwhelm him. The colossal ego that had been essential to create Disco Disco was now unfocused and dangerous. 'No one was surprised when he was arrested for assault,' says Bull. The victim was 26-year-old Chan Kam-suen, who had been living with Huthart since 1986 as housekeeper, chauffeur and lover. Huthart attacked him with a fencing foil in July 1988. The physical wounds were not serious, but Chan reported the details to the police and when they asked Huthart what had happened, he said Chan had fallen down the stairs. Later, the police taped Huthart telling Chan to tell the police he had been unbalanced at the time, then that he would 'demolish him' if he pursued the assault charges, and finally that he would take him away to Switzerland if only he would drop the charges. What might have been written off as a minor domestic row became charges of intention to pervert the course of justice. Huthart's lawyers, Gilbert Rodway QC leading Gary Alderdice, pursued the defence that Huthart had told Chan to tell the police. Huthart was unstable, dependent on tranquillisers and even delusional, imagining he was a lawyer, pharmacist and even a doctor, he claimed. But the court were unconvinced and, even after appeal, Huthart was sent to Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre where he served a year. His family today describe this as the police's last attempt to destroy Huthart, and one that succeeded in turning him from his mission to emancipate Hong Kong's gay community from repression. 'He finally learned that you can't fight City Hall,' says Bobby. As far as his family are concerned, Chan and Huthart were both victims. They certainly remained friends and Chan not only visited Huthart many times in hospital during his final illness but went to his funeral. Others think the authorities probably did Huthart a favour in giving him a chance to clean out his system, a respite from sleeping pills and heavy drinking. 'The best version of Gordon I ever saw was when he came out the second time,' says Bull. 'He came over to lunch and he was healthy and seemed clean. I thought, 'here is a guy we could maybe do business with'. ' The good impression didn't last. 'I realised things were going awry when we met for coffee a few month later and I asked him a few things about the International Federation Of Phonographic Industry. He knew a lot and I was having some problems with them. I was running a disco myself at the time - and the next week I got a bill for $1,600 for the 'consultation'!' Huthart's family were almost the only people to see Huthart in the last five years. It was not easy to be related to him at times. Not only did he demand they accept his sexuality long before it was common practice to do so, but all the media attention he drew upon himself also reflected on them. To their credit, most of them stood by him and accepted his sexuality very early on. 'I remember my sister Alice writing to my father when Gordon was about 18 and living with her,' says Bobby. 'She said, 'Gordon rides around in a silver stretch cadillac and he comes home at 5 am and he's been wearing these silver shoes. I think he might be gay.' These days, Bobby talks gruffly but frankly about the problems his brother brought to his executive recruitment business and admits that they were 'in contention' on the subject of bad press for some years. The Hutharts were intensely proud of Gordon for his success with Disco Disco - his father and mother were often photographed there - but the rest of the attention they could have done without. 'In our family, he who makes the biggest amount, wields the greatest influence,' says Bobby. 'When Gordon stopped working, I tried to exert a great deal of influence over him. And I remember Gordon's famous phrase, 'publicity, good or bad. People forget why they know your name in a few years. They just know that they know it' .' Huthart's older half-sister Alice from his mother's first marriage now lives in San Francisco but was with Gordon when he died. She says she never thinks of him as anything other than her little sweet brother. His younger half-sister, Michele Li - his father's child from a second marriage and now married to Didier Li, son of Alan and Crystal Li - apparently is less warm about Gordon. 'Michele had no respect or desire to associate with Gordon,' says Bobby tightly. 'She was a society girl and association with Gordon could have been misinterpreted. She's got her own life and she took a very strong position.' She did go to his funeral, though, sitting with her husband in the pew behind her father. The only other person Huthart saw regularly after his incarceration was Ken, his partner, who nursed him in hospital. Ken, like Huthart's sister Michele, declined to be interviewed for this article. He will not comment on what exactly he and Huthart did together for the last five years, except to say that Huthart 'read a lot and was interested in many things, including art'. Ken inherits Huthart's estate, which is enough, Bobby Huthart says, for him never to worry about money again. He will remain in Huthart's Mid-Levels home, where the answer machine still clicks on with a voice from the grave saying 'This is Gordon . . .' Ken is probably the only person who really knows what Huthart did with his time before his final illness. He certainly wasn't active in the social scene. No one had seen him out for years. He seems to have spent most of his time at home in front of the television, or at his father's Stanley home, living a life of comfortable domesticity with Ken. It may seem a oddly mundane life for the mastermind behind Hong Kong's night life revolution but, according to his brother, he was content enough. 'I think one of the things he found after coming out of jail was the delight in just being free. He chose a quiet life after that, just wanted peace, and some kind of deal must have been struck - because the police left him alone after that.' It was this new Huthart who turned to the religion of his childhood, Catholicism, in the very last months when it was clear even to him that there was no chance of recovery. A priest who was also a distant cousin, Father Marciano Baptista, became a close friend in the last few years of Huthart's life and it was he who helped him find some kind of peace at the end. Everyone agrees that Huthart did not give up on life easily and that he suffered terribly, but he did at least find spiritual comfort. It was this new Huthart who called Kaufman in May and asked him to organise the funeral, which was to be their last party together. The day after what had been a traumatic meeting for both of them, he faxed Kaufman a note, 'I, Gordon Richard Huthart, would like to have Richard Kaufman of Conduit Road deliver my eulogy,' it said. 'to be remembered that Dick has always, to this day, been my best friend.' The wake was like a polite drinks party for old friends, the funeral was a simple Catholic service, with readings from Psalm 23, The Lord Is My Shepherd and Kaufman's eulogy, which started 'December 22, 1978. That day will be etched into my life forever . . .' Few of those attending were familiar with the responses and, at first, the whole affair seemed oddly stilted as a service for a man who, if he did nothing else, stirred strong emotions in those around him. Then the priest asked everyone to come to the coffin to pay their last respects and at the back someone turned on a tape of Bob Dylan singing Knockin' On Heaven's Door. At last people were weeping and remembering what Gordon Huthart had been.