Controvery surrounding INXS singer's death -- Kinky sex tales and feuding kin keep Michael Hutchence in the spotlight

In America, you’d never know it, but six months after being found dead in a Sydney hotel room at age 38, Michael Hutchence is at the center of a down under brawl that would make Jerry Springer salivate. When the rock singer was discovered Nov. 22, nude and hanging from a door with his own belt around his neck, the story never got beyond a sound bite in the U.S. (unsurprising, since INXS’ last CD, Elegantly Wasted, sold a measly 165,000 here). In his native Australia, however, Hutchence’s death sparked Diana-like funeral broadcasts and TV retrospectives. Lately, though, that grief has morphed into a feeding frenzy featuring four upcoming bios and headlines like ”Sex God of the Pop World,” ”Ultimate Sex Kick,” and ”How Much Can Paula Take?”

The Paula at the heart of this unfolding drama is Hutchence’s lover, Paula Yates, 38, the former wife of Sir Bob Geldof and mother of Hutchence’s only child, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, 22 months. In a bombshell interview on the Aussie version of 60 Minutes in late March, Yates rejected the coroner’s official report that ruled Hutchence’s death a suicide, and obliquely confirmed reports that he had died during an autoerotic act. ”Michael was the kind of man who would try everything,” she said, while cradling her daughter. ”There was nothing he hadn’t tried…. He didn’t mean to die.”

As fans speculated on the racier ramifications of Yates’ statements, old friends of the singer rallied around another theory: He was frayed by the couple’s impending nuptials and Yates’ ongoing feud with Geldof over custody of their kids (Fifi Trixibelle, 15; Peaches, 9; Pixie, 7). ”Paula’s insane,” asserts a Hutchence friend, who spoke with him weeks before his death. ”Geldof was tormenting him. He was under tremendous pressure. He had a psychotic moment. He just snapped.”

But the sordid conjectures are giving way to a growing war of words between Yates and Hutchence’s mother, Patricia Glassop, and half sister, Tina. The trio are now fighting over the singer’s estate (estimated by some to be $20 million). Glassop has also alleged that her granddaughter is being mistreated, but the police in Sydney, where Yates had taken her daughter to be christened, found no evidence of neglect. Still, the charges were another blow for Yates, who recently checked into a London clinic, reportedly suffering from a nervous breakdown.

Not everyone has compassion for the ex-TV hostess. Her insistence on being paid for interviews (a practice Hutchence’s father, Kell, also follows) has created its share of ill will. ”Supermodels won’t get out of bed for less than $10,000,” says Juliet Ashworth, editor in chief of New Weekly. ”Well, Paula’s blown that figure out of the water.”

This all means a tangled legacy for Hutchence, who’d spent his last year trying to be more than tabloid fodder. He was recording a solo album, the release of which may be stymied by the estate battle. Martha Troup, his manager, says he was also ”reading scripts and meeting directors.” (Hutchence even read for Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn.) Now, says INXS producer Richard Clapton with a sigh, ”there are many conflicting reports. It’s like a Jack the Ripper saga. It’ll never end.”

Additional reporting by Katherine Tulich