The singer Pete Burns, who founded pop group Dead Or Alive, has died of a cardiac arrest aged 57.
Burns rose to fame in the 1980s with the band’s hit song You Spin Me Round (Like a Record). He also appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006, coming fifth in the final.
A statement released by his partner, Michael Simpson, his ex-wife, Lynne Corlett, and his manager and former band member, Steve Coy, read: “All of his family and friends are devastated by the loss of our special star. He was a true visionary, a beautiful talented soul and will be missed by all those who loved and appreciated everything he was and all of the wonderful memories he has left us with.”
Born in Cheshire to a Liverpudlian father and German mother who was a survivor of the Holocaust, Burns described his upbringing as unconventional. His mother was an alcoholic, and attempted suicide several times when Burns was growing up.
“As far as parental skills go in the conventional, normal world, she certainly wasn’t a mother, but she’s the best human being that I’ve ever had the privilege of being in the company of, and I know that she had a special plan for me,” he said. “She called me ‘Star Baby’ and she knew that there was something special in me.”
Never one to conform to the rules, Burns dropped out of his Liverpool boys school at the age of 14 after he was summoned to the headmaster’s office “with no eyebrows, Harmony-red hair and one gigantic earring”. He began working in a record shop in Liverpool, where he formed his first band, the Mystery Girls, though they played only one gig. Burns formed Dead Or Alive with Mike Percy, Steve Coy and Tim Lever in 1980.
Burns became famous for his androgynous style and his progressive approach to gender. He often wore women’s clothes and, speaking to the Guardian in 2007, said: “Everyone’s in drag of some sorts, I don’t give a fuck about gender and drag. I’m not trying to be a girl by putting on a dress – gender is separated by fabric. I was brought up with an incredible amount of freedom and creativity. Society has put certain constraints on things.”
Boy George, who Burns once accused of ripping off his style, paid tribute to the singer, writing: “Tearful about the passing of Pete Burns, he was one of our great true eccentrics and such a big part of my life! Wow. Hard to believe!”
The presenter Davina McCall shared her memories of Burns. “So so sad to hear about Pete Burns. We partied hard in the 90s. RIP Pete,” she said.
Burns lived out his life in the full public glare, though his most notorious appearance was on season four of Celebrity Big Brother, in which he memorably performed a dance with the former MP George Galloway, both dressed in Lycra leotards.
Galloway paid tribute to the singer, tweeting: “Sad to hear of the demise of Pete Burns. He was a cross between Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker. You don’t get more brilliant than that. RIP.”
Marc Almond, the Soft Cell musician, tweeted: “We’ve had some mad times with Pete but he was a one off creation, a fabulous, fantastic, brilliant creature and always sweet to me.”
Joe Musker, a former drummer with Dead Or Alive, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “He was the ace face in Liverpool. He was just so flamboyant and just right out there with his dress and that. He always looked absolutely amazing and it was a pleasure to work with him.”
He married his first wife, Lynne, a hairdresser, in 1978 but the pair separated in 2006 and Burns married his partner, Michael Simpson, soon after, inviting television cameras to their wedding.
He also admitted to having an addiction to cosmetic surgery, having over 300 operations in his lifetime, mainly on his face, and in 2006 almost died on the table during nose surgery.
He once said that “changing my face is like buying a new sofa” and that there was “not a part of me, apart from the soles of my feet, which has not had work done. For me, plastic surgery is a matter of sanity, not vanity.”
However, his decades-long obsession with surgically changing his appearance eventually led to bankruptcy after he had to pay out thousands for 18 months of corrective surgery in Italy when an operation on his lips went wrong.
Despite various attempts, Burns’s solo career never reached the mainstream success of Dead Or Alive. His last single, Never Marry an Icon, was released in 2010.