Michael Hutchence As You've Never Seen Him Before

24/10/2015 8:17 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
Richard Simpkin

It's the Australian version of "Almost Famous" -- except it's all true.

Photographer Richard Simpkin met Michael Hutchence when he was only 15 and Hutchence was a full-blown superstar. What was originally an autograph request -- though Simpkin was actually more of a U2 fan at the time -- turned into a friendship that spanned eight years. In fact, Simpkin was due to pick Hutchence up the day the INXS frontman was found dead in his hotel room.

Now, Simpkin has released a book of never-seen-before photographs documenting his time with Hutchence, aptly titled Michael In Pictures.

"A couple of weeks after he passed away, I was going through my photos, none of which had ever been seen before," Simpkin told The Huffington Post Australia.

"I was going through the images and I thought, 'I'd like to make some sort of coffee table tribute book.'

"So -- it must have been early '98 -- I contacted Michael's father [Kelland Hutchence] whom I knew quite well, and told him of my intentions.

"I went over to his place and we got talking -- we really wanted to do this book together. We spent a year or two working on it -- this beautiful tribute book of photos and nice stories -- and then Kel passed away in December, 2002.

"The last phone call I had with him, he said 'take your time with it, but whatever you do, finish this book off.' So there was no rush for me -- I wanted to do it right -- and I certainly did take my time."

Of all the celebrities Simpkin has photographed, no one has made an impression on him quite like Hutchence.

"I was 15 at the time [I met Hutchence] and I didn’t know what charisma was," Simpkin said. "But even as a kid, I knew there was something special about this guy."

Simpkin met Hutchence in Sydney at the Sebel Townhouse Hotel -- which Simpkin says was the "it" place for celebrities to stay in Sydney from the '70's to the '90's.

"I found out Michael was staying there and I wanted to get an autograph, so I went," Simpkin said.

He bumped into Hutchence, who was about to take off on his motorcycle, and was able to procure "a really scribbly autograph."

"It wasn't great," Simpkin remembers of the autograph, which apparently was signed while Hutchence was pretty much driving off. "So I thought I would wait around for him to come back and ask for another one."

He was rewarded when Hutchence came back hours later and took the time to give Simpkin a proper autograph, which Simpkin still has to this day.

Bitten by the INXS bug, Simpkin began rocking up to recording studios or places he knew the band would be, and so began a relationship that would last almost a decade -- and kickstart Simpkin's photography career.

"The band took me in as their kid younger brother," Simpkin said. "I spent five weeks of my school holidays in studio with INXS, and when school went back, I said to my mum, 'I’m having so much fun and I want to become photographer -- can I leave school?'

"She agreed and I spent five months with them in the studio, and that's when I really started practicing my photography.

"Because Michael was photographed so much -- and by the world’s greatest photographers -- he knew a thing or two about lining up a shot, and he would let me do photo shoots with him and he would give me advice."

Simpkin is unapologetic about the fact this book is a tribute -- those wanting the nitty-gritty of Hutchence's life need not apply.

"I one hundred percent credit Michael in helping me with my career -- Michael inspired my life," Simpkin said.

"This book, I believe, is the first book that anyone has done that is really positive. There is nothing negative about Michael in this book. It's a personal journey of mine, and of others, and shows another side of Michael people may not have seen before.

"Not everyone got to know him for who he was and who he is -- there are some beautiful stories and beautiful photos. It's a tribute not only to Michael but to INXS.

"It’s my way of saying thank you to him."

michael in pictures

Michael In Pictures is available through New Holland Publishers for $125. Check out some of Simpkin's pictures below.

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