Pete Burns: Courting controversy (a tribute)

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Pete Burns dies, aged 57. (Image courtesy

Jenny LeComte pays tribute to the passing of Dead or Alive's frontman, Pete Burns, whose come-hither way won him legions of fans.

PETE BURNS, the gender-bending frontman of Dead or Alive, has died of a massive cardiac arrest, aged 57.

With his fluid sexuality, and penchant for extreme plastic surgery and wearing women's clothing, Burns courted controversy in a come-hither way that won him legions of fans.

He was born Peter Jozzeppi Burns in Cheshire, England, on 5 August 1959 to a Jewish mother who fled to Vienna during World War II to escape the Nazis. In his autobiography, Freak Unique, Burns revealed that his mother was an alcoholic who had attempted suicide, but still maintained that they had a warm and close relationship.

Burns was sent to a straight-laced Catholic school and dropped out at age 14 after being summoned to the headmaster's office because he could not abide by the strict rules. He went to work in a record store that soon became a meeting place for local musicians on the vanguard of the 1980s post-punk and New Romantic movements.

After dabbling in various goth-style groups, Burns formed Dead or Alive in 1980 and scored a minor hit with a remake of KC and the Sunshine Band's "That's The Way (I Like It)".

Burns was at the forefront of the gender-bending movement of the early 1980s that saw androgynous performers like Boy George and Marilyn gain prominence. In fact, he famously accused Boy George of ripping off his act.

Dead or Alive next hit the charts in 1984 with the album "Sophisticated Boom Boom", which featured sexually suggestive tracks such as "I'd Do Anything".

In 1985, Dead or Alive produced their worldwide number one hit "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)". The monster hit was a favourite at school discos, and remains a popular floor-filler at the reunions and wedding receptions of those of a certain age.

In the same year, Dead or Alive scored a hit with the follow-up single "Lover Come Back To Me".

Dead or Alive failed to achieve chart success following this effort and quietly disbanded.

In his post Dead or Alive days, Burns became well-known for his addiction to plastic surgery.

Said he:

"The number of surgeries I’ve has is probably 300. I realised I was going to be a visual entity and that I had to look good. I hope when I’m 80 and I get to heaven God doesn't recognise me."

He also achieved notoriety with his fluid sexuality. Burns said he had two great loves in his life. One was his former wife, Lynne, to whom he was married for 25 years and with whom he remained on good terms up until his death. The other was Michael Simpson, whom Burns married in a civil ceremony in 2006.

On his sexuality, Burns said:

"People always want to know am I gay, bi, trans or what? I say, forget all that. There's got to be a completely different terminology and I'm not aware if it's been invented yet."

Burns also achieved fame in later life when he appeared in episodes of Celebrity Wife Swap and Celebrity Big Brother, in which he came fifth.

Following Burns' sudden death, tributes flooded in.

Politician George Galloway, who appeared on Celebrity Big Brother with Burns, described him as

"... a combination of Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker".

Boy George tweeted that Burns was

'... one of our great true eccentrics ... '

Marc Almond of Soft Cell said Burns was

"... a one off creation — a fabulous, fantastic, brilliant creature."

Jenny LeComte is a Canberra-based freelance journalist. She has never surrendered her childhood ambition to be a rock journalist for Rolling Stone magazine or a war correspondent (whatever comes first).

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