Dead Stylish


Written by Flora King
28 Monday 28th June 2010
Famed for waltzing down Wardour Street in top hat and tails, undergoing a voluntary crucifixion in the Philippines, diving in to shark infested waters in Australia and having a column in the Observer cancelled for writing on the subject of sodomy on Easter Sunday, Sebastian Horsley was an artist who liked to shock. The kind of man who would rather stir up controversy than have to endure an amiable atmosphere, he slept with a Colt 38 by his bed, painted his nails blood red and dwelled in a boudoir decorated with dozens of human skulls. Self-publicising his partiality for prostitutes, his love affair with heroin and his perilous pursuit of extremes, Horsley was known not so much for his writing and painting as for the cult of personality he created around himself. Whether he was getting high, getting laid or courting death; it was all just part of a repertoire.
That was until last Thursday 17 June at least, when Horsley was found dead in his Soho flat from a suspected drug overdose, aged 47. For a man who described injecting heroin as ‘breath-taking, heart-stopping, brain-burning pleasure’, the manner of his death hardly comes as a surprise. Horsley prided himself on his hedonistic lifestyle. Old age and infirmity just wasn’t his style. Even more fitting somehow is that the stage adaptation of his seedy memoirs – Dandy in the Underworld – had started running at the Soho Theatre just days before his body was discovered. "They say seeing one's own doppelganger is an omen of death”, Horsley had remarked, on first seeing the show. With the nightly performance now an echo of those exhibitionisms through which he found fame, and a burial planned in the beautifully macabre Highgate Cemetery, this ‘last gasp of Soho’ remains as flamboyant in death as he ever was in life.
Horsley’s death however is just the most recent in a long line of similarly highly charged departures. Also buried in Highgate Cemetery was Malcolm McLaren - impresario, godfather of Punk, manager of the Sex Pistols and another master of self-promotion, who died from a rare form of cancer last April (perhaps as a result of asbestos poisoning after smashing up Sex, his punk fashion shop). At Malcolm’s funeral two hundred mourners – including Dame Vivienne Westwood, Tracy Emin, Bob Geldof, Adam Ant and Bobbie Gillespie – gathered in the smart deconsecrated One Marylebone church to pay their respects. There were wild outfits that Malcolm would have enjoyed, dancing in the aisles and a ‘minute’s mayhem’ instead of a traditional silence. After the ceremony the coffin, spray-painted with the words ‘too fast to live, too young to die’, was carried by horse-drawn carriage through Camden to Highgate, attracting cheers from local punks and followed by a double-decker bus with mourners hanging out of the windows and singing along to Sid Vicious's My Way. One photographer spoke of how Malcolm would have loved the pomp, ceremony and media presence, "There's as many cameras here as punks," he said. "That's a real tribute to Malcolm. He's pulled it off again without even being here.”
Isabella Blow, the magazine editor, fashion director and embodiment of English eccentricity, who committed suicide by swallowing weed killer, was another style icon who loomed as large in death as she did in life. Famed for her outlandish outfits, headwear and slash of red lipstick, Blow was buried in an Alexander McQueen red and gold brocade dress, with one of her signature Philip Treacy hats surmounting a rose-strewn, willow-wood coffin. One mourner remarked, “Even at her own funeral, she still managed to be the most stylish person in the room.” Similarly, Marilyn Monroe was laid to rest in an antique silver-finished coffin with silk champagne lining, described at the time as the ‘Cadillac of caskets.’ Hers was an open coffin, and it was said that Marilyn – dressed in a green Pucci dress and chiffon scarf, with a posy of pink roses in her hands – looked beautiful.
Like Monroe, the death of The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison – considered to be one of the most charismatic frontmen in music history, yet discovered lifeless in a bath tub, aged 27 – gave rise to all kinds of conspiracy theories. When a Paris physician stated the cause of death of heart failure, thus avoiding an autopsy, many of his fans believed it a hoax. His was a simple service, with a quick burial alongside Oscar Wilde in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Eastern Paris, first in an unmarked grave and later with a stone placed by his father and inscribed with the words ‘true to his own spirit’ in Greek. Despite this lack of funeral fanfare, Morrison’s grave has since become one of the most visited tourist spots in France, attracting not just a legion of Doors fans but mystics, drug-addicts, drunkards, devil-worshippers and even the odd orgy party or two.
Other flamboyant exits include Michael Jackson – of course – whose estate makes more money now than it did when he was alive, and the glamorous Princess Diana, buried on an island in a lake at Althorp Park. But whether it was talent, style, eccentricity or beauty for which these stars were known, for their hedonism, pleasure-seeking or knack for self-promotion, they all succeeded in making as much as a statement of death as they did of their life, and – having pulled off such stunts – their legacies live on.  

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  • Guest: sargie37
    Tue 29 - Jun - 2010, 09:04
    really enjoyed this article