After both of us were on vacation for a week, pretty much avoiding all news and headlines, we were shocked and saddened to receive an invitation to a funeral this morning for an acquaintance we didn’t even realize had died: UK artist, writer, self-proclaimed dandy and all-around nut, Sebastian Horsley. For a second we thought this might just be another one of his twisted art projects (like being crucified in the Phillipines), especially since the funeral invitation came with the following footnote:
The funeral will be filmed, by attending you give permission for your image to be used for possibly future commercial purposes (i.e. documentary and/or the film planned about Sebastian’s life).
That’s so very Sebastian, the eternally shameless self-promoter. But alas, it appears there are too many news reports for it not to be true.
We struck up an email friendship with Sebastian after we interviewed him for a New York magazine piece on where the sex was better, New York or London? After that, we exchanged review copies of our respective new books (his, a memoir called “Dandy in the Underworld” and ours, a manual titled “SEX: How to Do Everything”). Of the two, his was decidedly more shocking, telling tales of gambling, addiction, prostitution (both as client and a worker), destitution, and human skull collecting. So we were thrilled, honored and frankly a little frightened when we were invited to a private dinner with him and a few other guests at Soho House in NYC in March of 2008. But it never happened, because immigration officers at Newark airport denied him entry into the U.S. on the grounds of “moral terpitude.” He told the AP, “My one concession to American sensibilities was to remove my nail polish. I thought that would get me through.”
A few months later, we went to London to shoot a British television show about sex, and finally met him face-to-face when we had him on as a guest. He showed up in his signature red-sequined suit, nail polish in tact (black, if we recall correctly), and proceeded to charm our pants off — not literally, though we’re sure he would have been game: few things seemed off limits to Sebastian. And yet, unlike, say, a douchey rock star or a pompous intellectual, he was ever the gentleman. The stories of him being a modern-day Oscar Wilde were true — it was our favorite interview of the entire show! (Sadly, the producers didn’t think it worthy of inclusion in the final cut — we imagine he used too many big words.)
After that, we had our suspicions that some of his public persona had to be an act. How could someone so nice, smart and charming behave so consistently recklessly and foolishly? But reports that he probably died of an accidental heroine overdose are pretty convincing that he did truly live in the extremes. The last YouTube video announcement we got from him was for “Horsley on Heroine” with the note, “As I don’t drink alcohol, and giving up crack and heroin would be far too serious a matter, I propose to give up Hull, it is not such a habit with me. I know a lot of people didn’t expect me to stay off drugs – but I have just celebrated my two day clean anniversary.” (It’s no longer available online.)
His death at the age of 47 on June 17th came just days after the premiere of the London play based on his memoir. When they cast the actor to play him back in April, Sebastian wrote his email list, “He is a charming fellow, very handsome and so clever. He models himself on me.” Then, earlier this month, he told The Times of London that “seeing one’s own doppelganger is an omen of death.”
We’ll miss you, Sebastian!