Less than a week before the special release of Dead or Alive’s Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI compilation set was to be released, the news has come that 1980s pop icon Pete Burns, the band’s lead singer, is dead of a heart attack at the age of 57.
I remember the first time that I saw Pete Burns and Dead or Alive. It was late at night in the summer of 1984. I had gotten home from a date and was watching Night Flight on an out-of-state New York City channel, and yes, I was holding the rabbit ears to tune it in better. I loved then, and still love, cover songs, and there was Pete Burns cavorting in what looked a shower room filled with female body builders (oh, the golden age of music video) to the sound of a hard rock/disco/new wave version of K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way (I Like It).”
I was mesmerized, and I loved it. My first impression of Pete Burns, in this time decades before gender and pronouns became complicated, was that David Lee Roth and Boy George were put into a blender and all the best and wildest parts of each were here on my little black and white TV. The next day I went to the mall to the record store (the cool one, not the one I worked at – yes, for a time I lived Clerks, and it wasn’t funny) and bought both the 12″ of the song and the album Sophisticated Boom Boom. I loved it and grooved on it long before most folks knew who Dead or Alive were.
The next summer however, Dead or Alive released Youthquake, and everyone knew them, and the song that no one could get away from that summer – “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).”
More singles followed, all climbing the charts in America, the UK, and Canada. Another album Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know came in 1986, yielding more and dancier hits. As the years went by, Dead or Alive left the pop charts for the club charts, and by the 1990s had faded from the pop consciousness.
Pete Burns became a fixture on celebrity reality shows like Big Brother and started to get many plastic surgeries that to the outsider might seem unnecessary. In some circles, Pete Burns was completely unrecognizable to the fans who knew him in the 1980s. Dead or Alive continued to record, and Pete put out some solo efforts, with a nineteen-disc box set being released on October 28th, 2016.
Earlier today, his management released this statement: “It is with the greatest sadness that we have to break the tragic news that our beloved Pete Burns of (Dead Or Alive) died suddenly yesterday of a massive cardiac arrest. 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 the 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.”