March 26, 2005 – Paul Hester was born on January 8th 1959 in Melbourne, Australia. His mother a jazz drummer, encouraged him at an early age to learn the drums. After playing in local bands as a teenager, he formed the band Cheks and in 1982 they moved to Sydney renaming themselves Deckchairs Overboard.
He did a brief spell with Split Enz in 1983, before he along with Neil Finn formed a new band with guitarist Nick Seymour. They were signed by the US label Capitol and moved to LA. At first, they called themselves the Mullanes (Finn’s middle name), but after record company pressure the name Crowded House. Their first album in 1986 which included the US top-10 hit Don’t Dream It Over, catapulted them into major attraction on the international touring circuit until he left mid-tour in 1994 because of the stress and anxieties related to constant touring.
He committed suicide, died by strangulation, found hanged in a park in Melbourne, Australia near his home. He was 46 at the time of his death.
Here is the story that describes in more detail the life of an outwardly funny, caring man, who was crushed by tremendous mood swings and darkness.
Farewell to the Clown Prince
When it came to Paul Hester, there was very bright light and there was very dark shade.
“We all knew him as an effervescent, vivacious fireball of talent,” recalled the soul singer Renee Geyer, who lived not far from the former Crowded House drummer in the Melbourne suburb of Elwood.
“As with anyone that effervescent, there’s always a dark side, but he lit up people’s lives when he was in the room with them.”
After a long battle with depression, Hester has taken his life by hanging himself from a tree in a park near his home. He was 46, and leaves behind his two daughters, aged 5 and 10, and his ex-partner, photographer Mardi Somerfeld.
Hester took his two dogs for a walk late on Friday night, and was found dead in the park about 1pm on Saturday. Ambulance officers tried but failed to resuscitate him.
In a statement yesterday, Hester’s father Mike, sister Caroline, and Ms Somerfeld and her daughters said: “We would like Paul to be remembered as the loving father he was and for the way in which he celebrated life.”
Though Hester could sink into emotional troughs, he could bounce back with greater zest. He played in several Melbourne bands before joining Split Enz with Neil Finn in 1983. The pair left and formed Crowded House with bassist Nick Seymour in 1985. In Crowded House, Hester was the clown prince: the drummer and singer prepared to cartwheel across the stage or strip off his clothes for a bet – whatever was necessary to entertain.
Last night, Neil Finn and his brother, Tim, decided not to cancel performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Instead, they decided to turn them into tribute concerts for Hester – and Seymour flew from Ireland, unscheduled, to join them on stage. “I am deeply saddened by the loss of a close friend,” Neil Finn said.
In a house in West Melbourne last night, friends and old band mates of Hester gathered for their own farewell concert. They performed some of his favourite songs and sought answers to the sudden tragedy.
Some said he had been feeling down all week and didn’t want to bring everyone else down, so had decided not to show up to play at a mate’s 40th birthday on Saturday night. John Clifforth, who had known Hester for 30 years and played with him in the bands Checks and Deckchairs Overboard, said: “He would make people feel like they were the only one in the room. He had a gift to make people feel better about themselves.”
Another Elwood neighbour, the singer Stephen Cummings, met Hester in the late 1970s when Cummings was leading the nationally successful band, the Sports. “He was naturally extremely funny but he was extreme and could get right down, too. He would get big enthusiasms about things.”
Those enthusiasms have included golf, his backyard recording studio, strong support for indigenous musicians, a career as a television host, and his family.
And the jesting. Hester is said to have been the first student in Victoria to have teachers sign a petition asking him to leave.
In Crowded House, his clown role made him the ideal foil for the more tightly wound Finn and helped cement the band’s reputation as not just one of the most successful but most entertaining ever from Australia and New Zealand, with international hits such as Don’t Dream It’s Over and Weather with You.
Like one of his heroes, Ringo Starr, Hester became known for his quick wit and willingness to laugh at himself in interviews. On a New Zealand children’s show, when asked to nominate a quiz question about the band, Hester suggested: “Which band member has not been circumcised?” But Crowded House also provided some of Hester’s darkest moments. By mid-1993, uncomfortable with the touring, the demands of publicity and the frustrations of a career which seemed to stop and start in Britain and the US, Hester “lost the plot”, as he later admitted, sinking into dark moods.
He developed what he called a “leaving phobia” – almost debilitating anxiety about leaving home to go on tour, and then leaving the tour to go back home.
When he returned to Australia later in 1993, he began seeing a psychiatrist, which he is believed to have continued for the rest of his life. He told Crowded House biographer Chris Bourke: “I recommend it to any 30-year-old man. Once you get to 30 you’ve got a bit of emotional baggage and I think you owe it to yourself to go and dump it. Your mates can’t help you.”
The anxieties and black moods did not go away, though. There were reports of Hester and Neil Finn coming to blows in Milan, of Hester and some of the crew in dispute, and of fractured relationships with management. Finally, during a less than successful American tour in 1994, Hester quit Crowded House.
Hester later told a journalist that there was an almost euphoric feel to their last show. And when Finn hugged Ms Somerfeld and said “I love you and I love Paul and good luck” it was “really heartfelt and I’d never felt closer to Neil”.
That kinship was seen once again late last year when the Finn Brothers appeared on Hester’s cable television show, The Max Sessions, and Hester joined them for a performance of Weather with You. It was “absolutely magic”, says Jacquie Riddell, managing director of cable network XYZ’s TV channels. She spoke to Hester, a “joyous” friend, a month ago and he was full of energy and ideas for coming shows. “He was incredibly passionate.”
Which is how his friends felt about him, too. Midnight Oil’s Rob Hirst, a fellow drummer who had encouraged Hester to audition for the job with Split Enz in 1983, was too upset to say anything beyond “Paul was a fine musician and probably a comic genius, as well. We’re missing him already.”
The former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, now chairman of beyondblue, the depression initiative, said the tragedy showed how depression was still being underestimated. “It doesn’t only seek out those who are feeling down and have financial problems. Paul, quite clearly, like so many others who suffer in silence and take this final step, was not comfortable to seek the help that he clearly required.”
There were many who would have tried to help, not least his old bandmates. Peter Green, in Neil Finn’s Melbourne office, said the Albert Hall concert overnight would be extraordinary. The four men had remained close friends. The band might have been split for nearly 10 years, but when Hester joined the Finn brothers on stage at the Palais Theatre in December, “the feeling was amazing … Neil thought maybe it was time for Crowded House to play together again”.
Sadly, they did play in London overnight, but without Hester.