A virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, he played saxophone, flute, keyboards, percussion, harmonica and guitar as well as vocals and is best known for playing multiple instruments as a key member in the 1980s band Men at Work. In addition to the saxophone, he played flute, organ, piano and the synthesiser. They are the only Australian artists to have a simultaneous No.1 album and No.1 single in the United States with Business as Usual and “Down Under” respectively. They achieved the same distinction of a simultaneous No.1 album and No.1 single in the UK.
They also won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best New Artist; that same year, Canada awarded them a Juno Award for “International LP of the Year”. As an actor, Greg was a regular cast member on While You’re Down There. Later in life, he taught guitar at Carlton North Primary School in Melbourne.
Even though the circumstances of Greg’s death were initially circumspect, the autopsy confirmed a massive heart attack killed him at the age of 58, some days prior to the day he was found on April 19, 2012.
By some accounts, Ham’s personal demons of drug and alcohol dependency began as far back as Men at Work’s glory year: 1983. It was in that pivotal year that the band was touring nonstop as well as worldwide. The stress by all accounts was horrific, and fights between band mates were all too commonplace.
In regard to the band’s in-fighting, Hay told me in 1997, “The band broke into two sectors: me and Greg on one end and (John) Rees and (Jerry) Speiser on the other, with Ronny (Strykert) struggling to stay in a neutral corner.” One can only imagine what the lack of sleep, breakneck tour schedule and in-fighting must have done to a delicate, sensitive man like Greg Ham.
With his posh, two-story former home studio sold to help ease his financial woes, Ham purchased a rather dismal, smallish home (complete with a multitude of telephone poles and wires encircling it) just a few miles away from his former home. There he sat, in the heart of the business section of downtown Carlton North, Victoria, Australia, alone. Greg Ham found himself-despite his fame and high esteem among Australia’s music community-on very shaky ground.
On April 19, 2012, Greg Ham’s friends became alarmed when Ham’s telephone answering machine went unheeded for days on end. A subsequent inquiry among Ham’s neighbors revealed that no one had seen him for days. Ham’s long-time friend and pharmacist David Nolte went to the house in the afternoon, where he discovered Ham’s body in the front room of Ham’s home. An autopsy revealed that Ham had been dead for days.
Mr. Nolte, who runs a Rathdowne Street pharmacy, had known Ham for 30 years. He told the Australian press that he went to check on Ham after a friend was unable to contact him for some days. By the time that Nolte arrived at Ham’s home, it was already too late; Greg Ham was dead. His lifeless body was found in a sitting position against the wall in the home’s front room. He had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Said Nolte, ”Greg’s friend told me they tried to ring him over a number of days and … it kept going to voicemail and the cats obviously hadn’t been fed.”
In the aftermath of Ham’s sudden demise, an unnamed friend of Ham’s stepped forward with the alarming claim that Ham’s abuse issues were far more serious than what had been previously reported. This “mystery man” alleged that Ham had been heavily using heroin, and that Ham’s abuse of alcohol had intensified after the Kookaburra case. Observed the friend, sadly shaking his head, ”The whole case had undone him.”
Immediately following the death of Greg Ham, furious fans began a barrage of hate mail and threatening phone calls to Larrikin Music Publishing Company and Norman Lurie retired not long after.
Greg Ham’s family and friends held a private funeral for Ham at the Fitzroy Town Hall in Melbourne, on May 2, 2012. Gregory Norman Ham was finally laid to rest at The Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Roman Catholic area of plots, Compartment O, Section 3, Row 1 Grave 55.
Said Colin Hay, fondly recalling his band mate (and beloved friend of 40 years) “He was the funniest person I knew. We shared countless, unbelievably memorable times together, from stumbling through Richmond after playing the Cricketers Arms, to helicoptering into New York City to appear on ‘Saturday Night Live’, or flying through dust storms in Arizona, above the Grand Canyon. We played in a band and conquered the world together. I love him very much. He’s here forever. He was a beautiful man!”
I heartily agree, Colin.