Pete Burns

Peter Jozzeppi Burns (5 August 1959 – 23 October 2016) was an English singer-songwriter and television personality. He founded the proto-goth band Nightmares In Wax in 1979. In 1980 changes were made to the band’s line-up and the name was changed to Dead or Alive. Burns was vocalist and songwriter. The band rose to mainstream success with their 1984 single “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”. He rose to further celebrity status in the British media following his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother 4, in which he finished in fifth place. He appeared on further television reality shows, including as a presenter. Burns had a powerful singing voice and was known for his ever-changing, often androgynous appearance, which he freely admitted was greatly modified by cosmetic surgery.

Early life

Burns was born in Port Sunlight, Cheshire on 5 August 1959. His mother, Evelina Maria Bettina Quittner von Hudec (1913–1987), was born in Heidelberg. As her father was Jewish, she moved to Vienna to escape the anti-Semitic laws of the Nazis. There, she met an English soldier, Francis Burns (from Liverpool), at a tea dance. Evelina Burns was 46 years old when she gave birth to Pete. Burns wrote of his childhood in his autobiography Freak Unique. He described his mother’s alcoholism and her suicide attempts but maintained that she was “absolutely the best mother in the world”.

Burns had an older brother Tony, born in 1948, who was 11 years his elder. Although the two scarcely saw each other, they got on well and liked to listen to records together. Like his younger brother, Tony was an aspiring popstar.

Burns spoke German until he was five, which resulted in local children spending days outside his door shouting “Heil Hitler”. According to Burns, school was “almost non-existent”, and his mother frequently kept him away so he could spend the day with her. He dropped out of school at the age of 14 after being summoned to the headmaster’s office because he had arrived at school with “no eyebrows, Harmony-red hair, and one gigantic earring”. At around this age he was raped by a man who took him for a drive. Burns later recalled that he wasn’t upset by this although he knew that people would expect him to be. He stated that he already knew the man, who drove him to Raby Mere and threatened him with an air gun.

Dead or Alive

While building his career, Burns worked at a Liverpool record shop, Probe Records, which became a meeting place for local musicians. Burns was notorious for his maltreatment of customers, sometimes throwing their purchases at them because he disapproved of their selection. Burns first performed as a member of the short-lived Mystery Girls, who gave one performance only and comprised Burns, Pete Wylie and Julian Cope. Cope stated that Burns’s performing style drew on that of the transgender punk performer Jayne County. Burns was next in Nightmares in Wax, a proto-Goth group that formed in Liverpool in 1979; they released a 12″ single, “Black Leather”, and a 7″ single, “Birth of a Nation”, each containing the same three songs, but never produced an album. In 1980, after replacing several members, Burns changed their name to Dead or Alive.

After a minor hit in 1984 with a cover version of “That’s the Way (I Like It)”, the band had a number one hit in the UK in 1985 with “You Spin Me Round”. The song went on to become a hit all over the world, including the US where it reached the Top 20.

Media career

In December 2003, the BBC apologised to its viewers after Burns swore repeatedly on its pre-9pm watershed Liquid News show when asked about his views on the Michael Jackson trial.

In January 2006, Burns appeared on Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother 4, eventually reaching fifth on the show’s final episode. It was on this show that he declared that one of his coats was made out of gorilla fur – this caused outrage amongst animal rights activists because unlicensed gorilla fur is illegal in the United Kingdom. Police subsequently confiscated the coat and tests were performed on it that revealed that it was not gorilla, but was made out of the fur of colobus monkeys. Colobus monkeys are also an endangered species whose fur requires a licence, although experts believed that the fur had been imported in the 1930s or ’40s, before it became illegal to import colobus fur in 1975.

Burns appeared in the first episode of the ninth series of the UK version of Celebrity Wife Swap. His partner Michael Simpson went to live with former page 3 model Leah Newman, while Burns lived with Newman’s partner, the footballer Neil Ruddock. Burns was featured in a documentary, with a medium, exploring his rough and harmful childhood.

Solo music career and collaborations

In the mid-1990s Burns collaborated with the Italian Eurodance duo Glam to produce the single “Sex Drive”, which was later re-recorded for Dead or Alive’s album Nukleopatra. In the early 2000s Burns recorded the single “Jack and Jill Party” with the Pet Shop Boys.

On 7 September 2010 Burns’s solo single “Never Marry an Icon”, produced and co-written by the Dirty Disco, was released to the iTunes Store. The single was released by fellow Dead or Alive member Steve Coy’s label, Bristar Records. Burns’s final musical appearance was on Big Brother’s Bit on the Side, where he sung “You Spin Me Round”. His last appearance itself was on Celebrity Botched Up Bodies in September 2016.

Personal life

Burns married Lynne Corlett in Liverpool on 8 August 1980.

Burns met Corlett in a Liverpool hair salon where both of them worked. They separated in 2006. He married his boyfriend Michael Simpson shortly afterwards in 2007. Burns stated in a Howard Stern interview that his husband has a daughter. Burns and Simpson also owned a cat which can be seen in many of Burns’ television appearances.

On the topic of his sexuality, Burns stated that ” 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.”

Burns stated that he always identified himself as male and never had intentions of being a woman.

Image and health

Burns was known for his ever-changing, often androgynous appearance, which he freely admitted was greatly modified by cosmetic surgery. Burns had extensive polyacrylamide injections into his lips, cheek implants, several rhinoplasties and many tattoos. Burns at one time accused fellow pop star Boy George of appropriating his unique image.

In early 2006 Burns revealed in an interview that he had spent most of his life savings on eighteen months of reconstructive surgery after a cosmetic procedure on his lips went wrong. In January 2007 Burns announced that he was planning to sue the cosmetic surgeon, Maurizio Viel, who performed his faulty lip surgery, for £1 million. Surgery-related health problems experienced by Burns included pulmonary embolisms and near-fatal blood clots.

In March 2009, Burns was admitted to a London hospital after collapsing from a kidney ailment. He was diagnosed with seven large kidney stones, which were removed with laser surgery.

Death

Burns died following a sudden cardiac arrest on 23 October 2016 at the age of 57. People who paid tribute to him after his death included Boy George, who described Burns as “one of our great true eccentrics”, and former MP George Galloway, who had appeared with him on Celebrity Big Brother and said Burns was “a cross between Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker… you don’t get more brilliant than that”.

On 29 October the opening celebrity dance routine for BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing was performed to Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”. After the number, hosts Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly paid tribute to Burns and sent their condolences to his family.

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