The jetted, coiffed, electric-shock big hair, the sheer cheekbones: In the video for “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” the 1985 song that made Dead or Alive famous in the U.S., frontman Pete Burns looks the essence of the ’80s pop star.
That song was Burns’s biggest hit, and eventually his appearance after multiple cosmetic procedures was what returned him to fame—in Britain, at least.
On Monday, his loved ones announced, via Burns’s Twitter account, that the 57-year-old singer had died of a heart attack.
“It is with the greatest sadness that we have to break the tragic news that out [sic] beloved Pete Burns of (Dead or Alive), died suddenly yesterday of a massive cardiac arrest,” the statement released by his husband, 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 he will be missed by all who loved and appreciated everything he was and all of the wonderful memories that he has left us with. We have no more words, we will make a further statement when we have had a chance to come to terms with our devastating loss. He will live forever in our memories.”
Boy George, the most famous of the ’80s gender-blurring pop stars, inspired by the blazing trail of David Bowie, posted his shock, and appreciation, of Burns on Twitter:
Marc Almond also posted a tribute:
Burns had returned to fame, or—he would maybe prefer—infamy, in 2006, in Celebrity Big Brother, the celebrity version of the reality-TV show in which a group of people are locked up in a house packed with cameras, plied with alcohol, and variously squabble and lose their minds.
The show in Britain is more about the dysfunction between housemates than the game-led show the American version came to embody.
Burns entered the CBB house with blond hair piled high, dressed all in white, though one item—a coat made of monkey fur—was confiscated by police after it was initially suspected of being made of gorilla. “My coat has been arrested,” he said.
Burns was proud of his “acid tongue,” and he feuded with Traci Bingham and entertained the public with a constant stream of bitchy comments and insane outfits. He finished in fifth place.
After Burns’s death, his fellow contestant George Galloway—the controversial former MP who distinguished himself in that season of CBB pretending to be a cat with his head in actress Rula Lenska’s lap—said of Burns:
In his autobiography, Freak Unique, Burns wrote: “[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. I’m just Pete.”
Last month, Burns appeared on Celebrity Botched Up Bodies and not only spoke about the “probably 300” reconstructive surgeries over the years he had had to fix botched procedures—“I hope when I’m 80, I get to heaven and God doesn’t recognize me,” he said—but was then filmed having surgery to correct earlier surgical messes to his face and teeth.
Burns told the documentary that early in his career he had realized he was “a visual entity, and had to look good.” A broken nose acquired during a fight during the Punk years had left his nose crooked. He grew self-conscious hearing photographers whispering that he had to turn his face a certain way to avoid shooting the lump on his nose.
Burns paid £750 ($916) to have a surgeon correct it, but woke up from that procedure “covered in blood and tubes. He’d removed most of my nose,” leaving just two nostrils and two bits of bone in the middle. He wore an eyepatch to obscure the scarring on his next appearance on British music show Top of the Pops.
After leaving the public eye, Burns had four more operations on his nose, two cheekbone implants, two more operations to remove the implants, and 210 lip augmentations.
The lips became infected, and the filler started migrating all over Burns’s face. Holes appeared in his skin, leading, as he put it, to “an audible hissing.” Yellow fluid began to leak. He sued a surgeon and, with the £450,000 ($550,000) he was awarded, had the filler removed from his cheeks, Adam’s apple, the back of his eyes, liver, and kidneys.
Burns’s lips were reconstructed over two years of operations. Then he developed life-threatening blood clots. Blood thinners saved his life, but he was warned he could go on to develop osteoporosis, tooth loss, and spinal damage.
Celebrity Botched Up Bodies then showed Burns undergoing a new series of operations to remove all the filler from his face and overhaul his teeth.
Afterward, Burns said he was overjoyed with the results.
“I’ve got staples, nuts, bolts, stitches, the whole lot—I’m Frankenstein,” he said, laughing. “I’m feeling absolutely wonderful… The only thing I feel—because I’ve got pads over my ears—is deaf, which can be a blessing in disguise really.”
He accepted that his addiction to surgery was extreme, and rooted in “personal narcissism.”
Burns’s last self-written tweet, posted Oct. 13, read “Counting down the days…”
However mysterious that may sound, another tweet from the day before is much sweeter, particularly given all the surgeries Burns had had, and the impulse behind doing them.
In response to someone saying, “You are so handsome. You’re the most attractive man in the world,” Burns replies, “Ahhhhh thanks…”
On Celebrity Botched Up Bodies, Burns spoke with typical candor and bluntness when forecasting his own demise.
“People might think I’m the ugliest son of a bitch alive, but I’m very pleased with it,” he said of the surgery he had done on Celebrity Botched Up Bodies. “I want to maintain this appearance, and the reason I have my makeup tattooed is one of my main worries is that when I am buried no one will be able to do my makeup. So at least I know when I go to the grave I’ll look exactly the same.”