Pete Burns

Pete Burns

Burns performing in 2008
Born Peter Jozzeppi Burns
(1959-08-05)5 August 1959
Port Sunlight, Cheshire, England
Died 23 October 2016(2016-10-23) (aged 57)
London, England
Cause of death Cardiac arrest
Occupation Singer-songwriter, Television personality
Years active 1977–2016
Spouse(s) Lynne Corlett
(m. 1978–2006)
Michael Simpson
(m. 2007–2008)

Musical career

Genres Pop, dance, new wave, Hi-NRG
Instruments Vocals
Labels Epic, Sony Japan, Cleopatra, Avex
Associated acts Dead or Alive, Nightmares in Wax

Peter Jozzeppi "Pete" Burns[1] (5 August 1959 – 23 October 2016) was an English singer-songwriter and television personality. He founded the pop band Dead or Alive in 1980, in which he was vocalist and songwriter, and which rose to mainstream success with their 1985 single "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)". He later 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.

Early life

Burns was born in Port Sunlight, Cheshire on 5 August 1959.[2] His mother, Evelina Maria Bettina Quittner von Hudec (1913–1987),[3] was born in Heidelberg. As her father was Jewish, she moved to Vienna to escape the anti-Semitic laws of the Nazis.[4][5] It was in Vienna that she met an English soldier, Francis Burns (from Liverpool), at a tea dance.[6][7] Evelina Burns was 47 years old when she gave birth to Pete.[8]

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".[9]

I lived, I know now, a very solitary childhood. I had nothing to compare it with, so it seemed fine to me. I rarely left the house. I didn't need to; I had a secret world I shared with my mother. In those early years, I couldn't possibly have wished for a better friend. [...] She gave me the power to dream, the power to remove myself from where I might not be having any fun, and go inside my head and be somewhere else.[10]

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.[11] 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".[7] 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, though he knew that people would expect him to be.[12] He stated that he already knew the man, who drove him to Raby Mere and threatened him with an air gun.[13]


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.[14] 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, who stated that Burns's performing style drew on that of the transgender punk performer Wayne County.[15] 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.[16]

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".[17] The song went on to become a hit all over the world, including the US where it reached the Top 20.[18]

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.[19]

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[20] 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.[21]

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.[22]

He was also featured in a documentary, with a media, exploring his rough and harmful childhood. [23]

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.[14]

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.[24] Burns's final musical appearance was on Big Brother's Bit on the Side, where he sung "You Spin Me Round".

Personal life

Burns married Lynne Corlett in Liverpool on 8 August 1980.[25] Burns met Corlett in a Liverpool hair salon where both of them worked.[26] They separated in 2006. He married Michael Simpson shortly afterwards.[27]

On the topic of his sexuality, Burns stated that "[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."[28]

Image and health

Burns was known for his ever-changing, often androgynous appearance, which he freely admitted was greatly modified by cosmetic surgery.[6] 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.[6]

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.[6] In January 2007 Burns announced that he was planning to sue the cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Maurizio Viel, who performed his faulty lip surgery, for £1 million.[29] Surgery-related health problems experienced by Burns included pulmonary embolisms and near-fatal blood clots.[2]

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.[30]

Paparazzi followed Burns around after his arrest for assault in 2006[31] (the charges for which were later dropped) and his attempts to revive his career premiered in the documentary Pete Burns Unspun on Living TV, where he lived with a fan due to court conditions. Burns was declared bankrupt in December 2014, and in April 2015 he was evicted from a rented flat for non-payment of over £34,000 in rent.[32]


Burns died following a sudden cardiac arrest on 23 October 2016 at the age of 57.[33] People who paid tribute to him after his death included Boy George, who described Burns as "one of our great true eccentrics", and 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".[27]

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". After the number, hosts Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly paid tribute to Burns and sent their condolences to his family.[34]




Year Single Peak positions Album
2004 "Jack and Jill Party" 75 Non-album song
2010 "Never Marry an Icon"
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Remix albums

Title Album details
Sex Drive 2014 Remixes
  • Release date: 2014
  • Label: Expanded Music s.r.l.
  • Formats: Digital download


  1. "The Early Years". Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  2. 1 2 Sweeting, Adam (25 October 2016). "Pete Burns obituary". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  3. The Inimitable Mr. Burns (archived at the Internet Archive)
  4. "Interview with Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive".
  5. "Ponystep - Issue 2: The Inimitable Mr. Burns". 20 July 2015.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Burns, Pete; Cranna, Ian (2007). Freak Unique (Paperback ed.). John Blake Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84454-438-9.
  7. 1 2 Patterson, Sylvia (19 April 2003). "'I don't really do reality'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  8. Freak Unique (paperback), p 14
  9. Freak Unique (paperback), pp 9-12
  10. Freak Unique (paperback), p 21
  11. Freak Unique (paperback), pp 22-24
  12. "Pete Burns, androgynous pop singer and reality television star – obituary". Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 25 October 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  13. Freak Unique (paperback), pp 34-35
  14. 1 2 Price, Simon (25 October 2016). "Pete Burns – 10 of the best". Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  15. Petridis, Alexis (24 October 2016). "Pete Burns – provocateur with a pop brain and a sensitive side". Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  16. Greene, Jo-Ann "Nightmares in Wax Biography", Allmusic, Macrovision Corporation
  17. "Official UK Singles Top 100 - 23 March 2013 | Official UK Top 40". Retrieved 2013-03-19.
  18. Archived 16 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. "BBC apology for Liquid swearing". BBC News. London: BBC. 18 December 2003. Retrieved 2 April 2007.
  20. "Police take Brother 'gorilla' fur". BBC News. London. 19 January 2006.
  21. "No action over Burns' monkey coat". BBC News. London. 1 February 2006. Retrieved 2 April 2007.
  22. "Celebrity Wife Swap. S9-E1 Pete Burns and Leah Newman". Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  23. G Cole (2008-11-15), PSYCHIC THERAPY with Pete Burns / Part 1 ., retrieved 2016-12-01
  24. "Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive Releases Solo Single". 8 September 2010. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  25. England and Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index 1916-2005. Peter J Burns Date of Registration: Jul-Aug-Sep 1980 Registration district: Liverpool Inferred County: Lancashire Spouse: Lynne Corlett Volume Number: 36 Page Number: 0796
  26. Freak Unique (paperback), p 44
  27. 1 2 Ellis-Petersen, Hannah (24 October 2016). "Pete Burns, frontman of Dead or Alive, dies aged 57". Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  28. Freak Unique (paperback), p 171
  29. "Pete Burns Sues Doctor Over Faulty Lip Surgery". Chart. 14 February 2007. Retrieved 27 April 2009.
  30. "Burns Collapses With Kidney Failure". Retrieved 15 April 2009.
  31. "Pete Burns arrested after gay bar fight". "Pink News". Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  32. Milligan, Jamie (27 April 2015). "Bankrupt pop star evicted after unpaid £34k rent bill". Today's Landlord. Medianett Ltd. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  33. "Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns dies". BBC News. 24 October 2016. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  34. Lewis, Rebecca (29 October 2016). "Strictly Come Dancing fans loved the show's 'marvellous' tribute to Pete Burns". Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  35. "Official Charts > Pete Burns". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved 25 October 2016.


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