If you’re a child of the 90’s you likely remember the tragic death of Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS. His suicide was a shock to fans across the world, and left his family devastated.
His older sister, Tina, had been his best friend throughout his lifetime and career, talking frequently on the phone even though they may have been living on separate continents most of the time.
I recently interviewed Tina on my podcast about her newly released book co-authored by Jen Jewel Brown: Michael: My Brother, Lost Boy of INXS in which she shares intimate details of his life — and death.
She first reached out to me this past summer asking for permission to share an excerpt from one of my original Huffington Post pieces in which I wrote:
“It is one year later and I am still struggling with the effects of my TBI, as well as all of my physical injuries. I have felt an entire spectrum of emotions: anger, rage, fear, sadness, depression, hope, joy, frustration, contentment. I struggle with crowded restaurants or shopping malls. I can’t handle over-stimulation from multiple sources (light, sound, vibration). I get confused easily. I forget things in seconds, but can remember them days later. I suffer from constant vertigo and dizziness. I am up and down emotionally like a roller coaster. I am exhausted beyond comprehension. I grab for words that seem to have disappeared into thin air. My personality has changed, and I am aware of my mood swings. I have anxiety and panic attacks —which scared the crap out of me when they first happened. I have some really good days. And I have some really bad days. When I wake up in the morning, I say a little prayer that it’s going to be a good day, because sometimes the bad days are just more than I can handle.”
On my podcast she shared with me that reading those words was the very first time she connected the dots that Michael’s 1992 traumatic brain injury (TBI) was likely what caused his radical personality change, and ultimately may have led to his suicide. Imagine going on stage every single night with a TBI and dealing with flashing lights, the loud roar of the crowd, the music from the band, and having to hide your anxiety of it all!
While Michael was in Copenhagen with his girlfriend in August of ’92 they were out for a bike ride in the narrow streets. They had stopped to discuss where to get takeaway food when a cab came around the corner and was blowing his horn for them to get out of the way. Apparently they didn’t move fast enough for the cab driver so he jumped out of his cab and came straight at Michael, and pushed him with such force that he fell backwards, hitting his head on the pavement.
Soon after, he had started forgetting the lyrics to his own music, he was acting like a jerk to his bandmates and friends, and he was struggling with daily headaches and the loss of smell and taste. Doctors told him that this happens a lot, and that he had an injury to the olfactory bulb that translates chemicals entering the nose. His smell may or may not ever come back. People close to him started thinking he was doing drugs or letting fame go to his head, but in reality he was silently struggling with the devastating effects of his brain injury while — one that he himself didn’t understand was the underlying cause of his unusual symptoms.
Tina describes Michael as a sensual man and that he loved to cook, and he enjoyed the way perfume smelled on a woman. Losing his sense of smell and taste had a profound affect on him.
“The sad reality here is the way the doctors kind of dismissed it, saying he might have some headaches, and that was kind of the end of it. And the reality is that that is how so many people are treated. And, you know, I think it’s partly that the doctors just truly don’t understand the severity of a concussion, right? Unfortunately, so many people go home, and then they’re left to struggle Why am I having such bad headaches? Why am I tired all the time, like, they just don’t understand it’s all related. And nobody’s told them how to cope with it — it’s a huge, huge struggle. Especially back in 1992, it was even more misunderstood than it is now, but unfortunately, it’s still happening now as well,” Tina shared.
Tina shared, “At the time of his death he was on Prozac, and the doctor who was treating him was in London and was calling in the prescription and upping the doses without even seeing him. Doctors had kept telling him ‘oh it’s just a concussion, you’ll have some headaches but you’ll be fine.’ At a celebrity level you think that in theory he should have had access to some of the best doctors, yet he was still misdiagnosed.”
Tina can’t help but wonder if they had addressed his brain injury and gotten him the help he needed, if he would still be with us today. She said that a doctor stated in his autopsy that his TBI would have made him impulsive and bipolar, and would have taken away his ability to deal with complicated situations.
Studies show that people who suffer a brain injury are ten times more likely to have suicidal ideations, and three times more likely to act on those thoughts. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to the Brain Injury Association of America.
Photo submitted by Tina Hutchence
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