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Michael Hutchence. The INXS singer spent time in Hong Kong in the late 1960s as a child, before heading back to Australia, where he found fame with the rock band he founded. Photo: AFP

INXS’ Michael Hutchence remembered 25 years after his death - ‘All the girls were sweet on him,’ friend from his Hong Kong days says

  • The Australian rock star spent part of his childhood in Hong Kong before he and his family headed back home, where he found fame as the singer for INXS
  • An old childhood friend, Phil Brown, recalls playing with Hutchence and his brother in his book The Kowloon Kid

Michael Hutchence was known globally as a rock star, the frontman of Australian band INXS. Phil Brown knew him as the kid next door.

“Michael lived across the road from us in Kowloon Tong in the late ’60s,” says Brown, speaking from Brisbane, Australia, where he now lives.

“We would spend time kicking around the Kowloon neighbourhood. Sometimes we would get in trouble,” he laughs.

Hutchence was four when he and his younger brother and older stepsister left Australia for Hong Kong, where his father imported fine wines and champagne. His mother worked as a make-up artist with Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers Studio.

Phil Brown (right) and Michael Hutchence (centre) in Hong Kong in the late 1960s. Photo courtesy of Phil Brown
Hutchence (left) spent part of his childhood in Hong Kong before he became a rock star. Photo courtesy of Phil Brown

In 1972 the family returned to Australia, where Michael would go on to form INXS. One of Australia’s most successful rock groups, they sold more than 75 million records worldwide through hits such as “Suicide Blonde”, “What You Need” and “Original Sin”.

November 22 is an emotional one for fans of the rock star. It was on that day, 25 years ago, that Hutchence was found dead in a hotel room in Sydney, Australia, having committed suicide. He was just 37 years old.
Phil Brown, author of The Kowloon Kid. Photo: courtesy of Phil Brown
Brown is author of The Kowloon Kid, which looks back on his own life in Hong Kong between 1963 and 1970. It includes anecdotes of time spent with the Hutchence brothers: boat trips to Hebe Haven in Sai Kung and birthday parties in the backyard.

“Even as a kid it was evident he had a certain charisma and likeability,” recalls Brown. “He had a certain mystique that continued throughout his life … All the girls were sweet on him – including my sister Jane!”

Hong Kong-based Liz Muscroft also got to witness his charm.

In 1997, she was working at her desk on what was just another day as the then-deputy principal of King George V School. That changed with a knock at the door.

Hutchence (front) with INXS (from left): Tim Farriss, Kirk Pengilly, Jon Farriss, Garry Gary Beers and Andrew Farriss. Photo: James Minchin/AP

It was a film crew from MTV, making a documentary on Hutchence, who completed first and second form at the school.

“I clearly recall that day,” says Muscroft. “Michael was relaxed and amiable, walking around campus in the company of some senior students. He clearly enjoyed reconnecting with the familiar, virtually unchanged site layout,” she says.

“He was genuinely interested in the school life of everyone he met, talking and listening, open and engaging and with a ready sense of humour. A nice guy and cool was the clear consensus,” she says.

Hutchence with INXS at a press conference in Hong Kong in 1994.

“Although the filming was being directed with a very light touch and small crew, I found myself unexpectedly being told Michael would be filmed in my office where I was to ‘give Michael his school report’.”

In the fully improvised scene, Muscroft reads to the rock star one of his report cards from his time at KGV.

“Your interests were acting, athletics, stamp collecting,” she is heard saying in a YouTube video. “Rather immature but very pleasant,” she goes on to tell him.

The scene is part of MTV: Michael Hutchence’s Rough Guide to Hong Kong, 1997 that focused on the singer’s rise to the top of the entertainment industry.

In the YouTube video, the singer is seen on a beach in Repulse Bay, riding the Peak Tram and in the party district of Lan Kwai Fong chatting with Alice Patten, the daughter of Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong.

He also rides the Central escalator to visit a flat in Mid-Levels, where Hutchence, on a return visit to the city in the early ’80s, wrote Kick, INXS’ most successful studio album, which spawned four US top 10 singles – “New Sensation”, “Never Tear Us Apart”, “Devil Inside” and “Need You Tonight”.

Some of the best footage shows Hutchence walking along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade in conversation with action star Jackie Chan. “Life after the handover is going to be good,” Chan tells the singer. “They [Chinese government] want to do better than the British.”

In another YouTube video, titled Kylie Minogue & Michael Hutchence’s home movies. 1989 – 1991, Hutchence is seen aboard a junk in Repulse Bay with ex-girlfriend and fellow Australian musician Kylie Minogue.

Muscroft says it was immensely sad for all who had met him to learn of his death soon after his KGV visit.

Hutchence in Hong Kong in 1987.

“Reconnecting with Hong Kong meant a lot to him, providing time away from the many pressures and challenges of his career and life,” she says. “It was perhaps as if part of him had never left.”