Thursday 14 December 2017

Obituary: Pete Burns

Pop singer and reality TV star was flamboyant and outspoken

UNIQUE: Pete Burns in 2012
UNIQUE: Pete Burns in 2012

Pete Burns, who died of a heart attack last Sunday aged 57, was the androgynous lead singer of Dead or Alive, the 1980s pop band best known for their international hit You Spin Me Round (Like a Record). He later found fame as a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother and, latterly, for his increasingly bizarre appearance, the result of his obsession with plastic surgery.

From his teenage years as a caustic, cackling punk on the Liverpool music scene in the 1980s to his final television appearance on Channel 5's Celebrity Botched Up Bodies several weeks before his death, Burns defied categorisation and challenged those who pitied or sneered.

Peter Jozzeppi Burns was born on August 5, 1959, at Bebington, Cheshire, although the family later moved to Liverpool. His mother, Evelina Maria Bettina Quittner Von Hudec, was the daughter of a German Jew and had escaped Nazi Germany before the war. She met Burns's father, Francis Burns, then a soldier, in Vienna, from where they returned together to Liverpool.

Burns's relationship with his mother was close, despite her spells of depression and alcoholism. But it was a solitary childhood, not helped by the fact that Pete only spoke German until he was five.

He left school in Liverpool at 14, having been reprimanded for dying his hair and wearing an earring, later recalling that at around this time he was also raped by a man who had picked him up in his car. "I thought I should have been upset about that," wrote Burns. "But I wasn't."

Encouraged in his love of dressing-up by his mother, Burns began designing clothes and worked in a shop. He soon gravitated towards Liverpool's burgeoning punk scene, which centred around Eric's, a venue on Mathew Street run by the DJ and promoter Roger Eagle and frequented by many local aspiring young musicians, many of whom would go on to become a crucial part of the eighties music scene in bands such as The Mighty Wah!, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Burns's early appearances on Top of the Pops showed him with a mane of thick black dreadlocks, and a black eye patch - but he did not embark on his obsessive relationship with surgery until after he became a pop star.

He never repeated the success of You Spin Me Round, and although he spent many years touring, particularly in Japan, his next major brush with fame came with his appearance, in 2006, on Celebrity Big Brother. By then he was completely unrecognisable with blond hair extensions and enhanced lips and cheeks.

He delighted and outraged viewers in equal measures, performing a dance with the former MP George Galloway (both men wore leotards) and incurring the wrath of animal activists by wearing a monkey skin coat, which was removed from the studio by the police.

In 2010 he released a solo single, Never Marry an Icon, but in December 2014 he was declared bankrupt and subsequently evicted from his flat.

Despite his appearance, Burns had a surprisingly unfeminine and deep voice, and his delight in shocking extended beyond his looks. "Everyone's in drag of some sorts," he once said. "I don't give a f*** about gender and drag."

He married Lynne Corlett in 1980. They separated in 2006, after which he entered a civil partnership with Michael Simpson.

Sunday Independent

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