Rozz Williams, born Roger Alan Painter, was a brilliant vocalist, musician, writer and painter. most famous for his band Christian Death.
Rozz was never one to rest on his laurels, and had a prolific output with various other musical endeavors such as Shadow Project, Premature Ejaculation, Daucus Karota. and more.
On April the 1st, 1998, Rozz hanged himself in his West Hollywood apartment. He was 34 years old.
Many people initially thought his suicide was an April Fool’s Joke, and it took a while for it to sink in that Rozz was really gone.
20 years later, April 1st fell on Easter Sunday—a fitting holiday that marked the anniversary of Christian Death’s legendary front man. And if you think that is morbid, yes it is, but certainly something Rozz would laugh at.
Suicide is no joke however, nor is depression.
If you are having suicidal thoughts from depression, please understand, you are not alone.
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.
Here is an excerpt from Ryan Wildstar featured in Rozz Williams: Le théâtre des douleurs and What About the Bells concerning the final years of Rozz’s life, including his suicide:
“In order to paint a more intimate portrait of this inimitable artist and his work, I feel obliged to introduce myself and my relationship to Rozz Williams. In doing so, I feel equally obligated to emphasize my exacerbation regarding much of the unverified suppositions and rumors surrounding-the last years of Rozz’s life, which has undoubtedly served as a catalyst for what I hope to be an honest, respectful and insightful introduction to this venerable artist and beloved friend. Although this is not a biography of the life of Rozz Williams, I hope at the very least to be able to shed some light on both his personal and artistic state of mind in the final years before his passing.
That said, I first met both Rozz and Eva 0 in 1990 via an interview rather subversively arranged and conducted by my partner Erik Christides and the venerable Ms. Fly — a.k.a Jennifer Bamber. At the time, I was immensely absorbed in the theatre, producing and directing my first performance/installation piece, “Unnatural Habitat” in Los Angeles. Having quit Christian Death, the legendary L.A. band he had formed in the early 198o’s, Rozz had recently joined forces with his wife and collaborator, Eva O. (ex-Super Heroines and Speed Queens) to front the band Shadow Project. Due to my theatrical background, the duo gradually persuaded me to perform live with Shadow Project on several occasions (the most notably as a Priest dragging Rozz on stage in a leather straightjacket and posture collar for his-birthday performance at the Troubadour in Los Angeles). It was during this time that I also began to work with Paris, the keyboardist of Shadow Project, to score music for my first performance piece. At that juncture, circa 1991, we first began to explore the possibilities of a live theatrical troupe combining ,spoken word, vocals, visuals, and soundtrack. That concept subsequently became the musical experiment that is the band EXP.
It was also sometime at the beginning of 1991 that Rozz and occasionally Eva took up what was to be a temporary residence with my partner Erik Christides and myself, only he never moved out.
With luminous intensity we forged an intense bond, the immense impact of which formed a circle of friends we commonly referred to as “The Family,” a rather obvious allusion to the illustrious outlaws associated with Charles Manson.
For the next 4 years Rozz, Erik and I were virtually inseparable, rather like the three Musketeers, well, at least like three surrealist, hyper-literate, drug addicted Musketeers. Rozz and Erik took musical research and experimentation to new heights while Rozz and I collaborated on works of poetry, mixed-tapes and mask-making. We engaged in fierce discussions/dissections of the works of Blake, Genet„ Burroughs, Artaud, Lautreamont, De Sade, Dali, Van Gogh, ana Bosch (to name only a few). We blasted, in divine oblivion to the rest of the neighborhood, the music of Bowie, Sparks, T-Rex, The Germs, SPK, Roxy Music, Martin Denny, Nico, Nila Sumac and, naturally, Rozz Williams (to name only a few). In the spirit of the 1920’s, we hosted outlandish surrealist parties in our Witkin-esque apartment and set about painting the town red.
The three of us also plunged headlong into the depths of mainline drug addiction. With a historical literary precedence in our support, shooting heroin was our primary choice, but we weren’t exclusive. Feeling that the best approach to life was the cornucopia approach, we shot up just about everything we could get our hands on. it was this period that Rozz and I began the literary dance with one another that has this many years hence lead to the publication of this book. Beginning with our mutual admiration of Antonin Artaud and William S. Burroughs, Rozz and I agreed that the tendrils of artistic ‘expression were necessarily derived from taking an idea in its rawest form, cooking out its impurities and shooting it into the Cosmos. And it was poetry we shared as our principal method for imparting the knowledge we had acquired from-our respective visits into the subconscious realm. In our dream drug stupor, we positioned my typewriter on a table in the dining room and one of us started typing a few lines, leaving the typewriter out as a portal…Thus, during a two year period of extreme heroin addiction, Rozz and I managed to remain intensively creative and craft over 50 poems together.
Simultaneously, EXP began performing regularly around Southern California, often opening for Rozz’s side-project, Premature Ejaculation. The shows proved to be provocative and gained EXP a rather loyal local following. It was my first opportunity to present my poetry to the public and I found Rozz to be extremely supportive of my lyrics and style of presentation, upon which he was then having a profound influence. Concurrently, Rozz was finishing his Christian Death albums in years, The Path of Sorrows and The Rage of Angels, his second Shadow Project Album, Dreams for the Dying, and his solo EP, Daucus Karota (the solo cover of which has a photograph of our living room). Meanwhile, I was working on my first book of poetry, A Jovian Dream, and my second full-length play, a production of Harold Pinter’s Landscape, in which I was co-staring, co-directing and co-producing.
By the fall of 1994, however, we were like a VH-1 Rockumentary: out of drugs, out of money, out of ideas and thoroughly sick of one another. Rozz went to tour Europe with Daucus Karota and kick his addiction. Down-trodden, I returned to Seattle (then swarming with more Grunge bands and pseudo-junkies) to kick my own habit, thereby inescapably separating myself from my lover and soul-mate, Erik, who remained in Los Angeles, unable to pry himself from his own habit. During our three year tenure, we had experienced something most mortals cannot, and perhaps should not, attempt to comprehend a netherworld, a nexus of the slippery curvature of understanding, a life of exhumation. And from this resurrection had come an extensive catalogue of creative work. But it was over The party had skidded wildly off the road to its demise and we were its post-crash victims.
In 1995, following his European tour, Rozz returned to Los Angeles from Paris, where he had been residing for several months and fallen in love with a young Frenchman named Didier. When I next spoke with him he had taken an apartment in the Fairfax district of L.A., and was preparing to record the texts we had written together. After barely 6 months of being off drugs, I was prematurely compelled to return to L.A. to act as creative consultant and backing vocalist on a project Rozz had entitled The Whorse’s Mouth. I moved in with Rozz, but this time without the third Musketeer. I was lost, and despondent that Erik was still riding the whorse when Rozz and I had managed to finally shut its mouth. Off drugs we became extremely creative again and went into the studio to record The Whorse’s Mouth with Paris followed by EXP’s self titled debut album with Rozz on bass.
This era marked a distinct shift in my relationship with Rozz. Having forged an incontestable brotherly bond with one another it seemed only natural that we continue to live together which we did from January, 1995 until his death in 1998. It was an extremely inspiring, though certainly tumultuous time during which we continued to work on writing as well as music. And though our social life resumed, we began to be more and more selective of the company we kept at my rather stern behest. Greedily receptive to any show of affection or adoration, Rozz was easily drawn into the company of those who would wine, dine, and cigarette him so he could this entertain them to a soundtrack of praise.
This inclination unfortunately led to some rather vulturine acquaintances who often found it both profitable and entertaining to exploit Rozz’s nature by getting him drunk and watching him play the fool of pledge his undying love in a moment of susceptibility, It also led to a series of unfulfilled affairs with men, most of them “conspicuously straight.” Whether by design or just charm, Rozz was the darling of the straight world, although he was certainly one of the most flagrantly gay men I have ever known. It was the first time I realized the extent to which Rozz gave to others in return for intoxication and adoration. Unfortunately, it was acceptance and love that were severely lacking in his life, and it was his perforated heart that led to his demise. He continually set his sights on men who were reverent of his work as an artist and seemed to pursue him. Perhaps there was a penchant for the non committal exchange involved on both Rozz and the participants’ parts, but the fact remains that Rozz often fell in love with his admirers. As Jean Genet once put it “I wanted him to love me, and of course he did, with the candor that required only perversity for him to be able to love me.” Like Genet, one of Rozz’s literary heroes, there was some part of him that longed for male affection so badly the lines between fantasy and reality were often blurred. In this manner I witnessed many so-called inclination heterosexual men, most of them fans, exploiting his affection as they might one of their feminine conquests.
In the summer of 1996, Rozz was eager to return to France to be with Didier for whom he was pining away. Unlike many of his previous affairs, this one seemed hold some promise. Although the young man was still clinging to his “heterosexuality,” he and Rozz had spent over a month living together, professing their love and engaging in mutual sexual relations. Once back in the states they spoke regularly on the phone and it seemed as if there was at first a reciprocal romance developing.
Upon his return to Paris, however, he was devastated to learn that the young man was no longer interested in an intimate relationship with him and had in fact taken a female companion. All of the pent-up hopes he had fastened onto the affair were unexpectedly lacerated. Over the next few weeks he suffered a severe emotional breakdown and attempted suicide several times. The only thing that saved him was the care of our dear friend, the nebulous Maria Iossifova. After a long period of inconsolabitly, during which he refused to leave her Parisian flat on the Ile St. Louis, she appropriately sent him back to Los Angeles to recover.
He returned completely heartsick and despondent and took to replacing his melancholia with copious amounts of alcohol. This behavior often incurred violent outbursts and an atrabilious abandon for his health and well-being. During this time, Rozz and I became closer than we had ever been, He was utterly dispirited over the loss of what he deemed the first real possibility for a homosexual’ relationship he had so far experienced, and I was non compos mentis over my 6 year relationship with Erik, which by then was inextricably wed to his heroin addiction. Like two sorrow-laden romantics, we began to indulge in a world of intoxicated fantasy. We drank, wrote, read, drank, and played music non-stop in an attempt to drown out the reality of our respective feelings of loss. Though Erik continued to make appearances at the apartment, it became increasingly evident that neither Rozz nor I could support the presence of drugs in the house for fear we would all end up reboarding the same boat that had theretofore sunk.
It suddenly became quite clear that we had no one but each other. Despite Rozz’s occasions confessions of love and/or lust for me, our relationship remained Platonic and indeed resemble more of an offering to Bacchus than it did to Eros. Still, we found ourselves many a late night in discussion of our respective childhoods, the psychological recesses of our emotions and mental caverns, and our untold secrets. From these nights, I was graced to see a side of Rozz that he almost never allowed the rest of the world. It was that of a fearful young boy, who was absolutely terrified of society and its protocol. It was that of a wild wolf taken in by humans but longing to be released. It was that of a playful spirit who haunts the manor in the dark searching for his lost love. It was that of a man who hid behind many masks in order not to be discover . What Rozz tried unsuccessfully to control was desperate yearning for total emancipation from the confines of civilization. He felt as restricted in his outlook of life as the Marquis de Sade might have felt and as contemptuous of society as Charles Manson. Indeed, in those society considered “menacing,” or “threatening, Rozz found inspiration from their unraveling of society’s civility. One could no longer ignore the breakdown of the familial and social infrastructure with people like Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy on the loose.
For myself, I have never known someone perspective on the with such a unique world. Rozz managed to create for himself a world in which life sprang forth from death and not vice versa. He was possessed of the primitive quality that Levy-Bruhl referred to as the participation mystique, “Where no differentiation between subject and object is established” and of which Jung later noted “the unconscious is then projected into the object and the object is interjected into the subject, becoming part of his psychology.”
Possessed with a fascination of inanimate objects, animals, humans, antiques, tinkers, indeed any object he fancied, Rozz virtually breathed life back into them through his own imagination and belief in their spirit. This was often an amazing experience to behold, as one found oneself entranced by any object Rozz coveted as not simply an extension of himself, but as a living, sentient creature emanating its own energy and spirit. In this manner, he surrounded himself with numerous objects infused-with spiritual power as Shaman or medicine man might t equip his quart rs with apotropaic talismans.
One example is my dear friend Sharon, an abandoned girl mannequin who was eaten by rats behind Macy’s department store, with the words “Let Me Live” painted on her chest. Rozz had adopted her many years before we met and introjected life into her, and she lives with me now to this day commanding reverence by all who enter my home.
Then there was Ralph, a coyote that Rozz’s father had trapped and eviscerated leaving a hole though his middle with the head, tail, and body in tact. Every night Rozz slept with Ralph over his head, and often used him in performances as a sort of arm puppet. It always seemed to me as if Ralph was Rozz’s daemon, embodying all the secrets of Rozz’s dream world, and of his subconscious thoughts and desires. I had a natural affinity for Ralph because my pet of 16 years had been a coyote named Fred.
These are but a few examples of Rozz’s understanding of a dimension he often referred as the “Other Side”. It is my feeling that Rozz always considered himself a “communicant” of death, transmitting to this world from beyond. Indeed I believe he was anxious to return to a non-corporeal state and thereby escape the horror of the world he commonly referred to as the “living dead.”
Thus it was that I was lured into the artistic realm of Rozz Williams. A true visionary, he remained relentless in his mission to express his soul without compromise through music, artwork, performance, film work, and poetry. As many of his fans, ‘friends and collaborators would undoubtedly attest, his work remains and shall long remain quintessential due to its poignant sincerity. Anyone who knew him couldn’t help observe that he not only created. art, he made art out of his life. His entire life force went into the creation of art until his final exit, of which even the surrounding details were a form of art.
Although incapable at the time of recounting the circumstances surrounding Rozz’s death, I shall finally attempt here to expound his final days and the details as I perceived them regarding his suicide. After the accidental overdose of my companion Erik Christides in November of 1997, Rozz became a constant source of comfort to me, in many instances forcing me to eat and physically holding me through the seeming incessant maelstrom of my tears. And while Rozz himself never showed me any of his own grief concerning the loss of Erik, he plunged deeper and deeper into severe alcoholism and often aberrant behavior, further exacerbated by the death of one of his ex-lovers from AIDS.
He spoke often of his approaching death and of his fear that he might be HIV positive, although he refused to be tested. Had I not been in such a state of depression over the loss of Erik, I might have seen the warning signs more clearly. He spoke frequently of his desire for murder and his hatred for society and he read nothing but books about serial killers, not altogether bizarre behavior for Rozz but excessive nonetheless. He became increasingly aggressive, completely agoraphobic, and began to exhibit severely antisocial behavior, the height of which was growing a Hitler mustache and tattooing an X on his forehead, which he indicated made it clear he was no longer part of society.
At the beginning of 1998 I decided I was going to try to return to University to get out of the house and perhaps take my mind off of Erik. I had also decided that perhaps Rozz and I should no longer live together. It was at this time we spoke most seriously about what I feel led to his decision to take his own life. At the same time that he was finalizing his divorce with Eva O, a process he found profoundly painful even though they had been separated romantically for many years, he also confessed his deep love for me and his desire that we attempt a romantic relationship. After all, he pleaded, Erik was dead and we had been living together for nearly 9 years. Although – I loved Rozz immeasurably, there was simply no reality to his request, largely to my overwhelming grief over Erik and my purely fraternal feelings for him.
It was ‘ then, one night in the month’ before his death that he broke down in tears and told me that he felt that no one would ever truly love him, that he would always be alone. He confessed that he knew that his extremity of character married with his alcoholism was simply too much for someone else to put up with and that unfortunately he had no intention of making the compromises necessary to maintain a relationship. Still, without someone to share his, life, he felt that there was no reason to continue living.
On March 31st, 1998, we sat in our respective arm chairs together in the living room of our West Hollywood apartment, nightly cocktails in hand, and prepared to watch the film Isadora about the life of the dancer Isadora Duncan. At one point during the film, while she was doing a tarot reading, Rozz brought his Tarot deck out and paid out a spread on the coffee table, Before the end of the film, insisted I had to retire to bed as the following day was to be my first day of classes at University after a 7 year absence. Rozz insisted vehemently that I stay and watch the end of the film, but I kept refusing, at which point he exclaimed, “but you don’t know how it ends!” To which I replied, “Of course I do, she hangs to death,” and went to bed. Throughout the night, Rozz made his last phone calls to many friends, including his friend Sindie, to whom he confessed his intention to kill himself.
After talking for many hours, he convinced her that had calmed down and promised to see her the next afternoon i for a trip to the doctor regarding his ill health.
The next morning, I left the apartment, noticing only that Rozz had left a new tarot reading and a red rose on the coffee table. I returned to the seemingly empty apartment around 4pm to find a series of very concerned messages on our answering machine from Rozz’s closest friends, including one from Sindie insisting she was coming over to break down the door if she didn’t hear back from him immediately.
It was then that I realized that I wasn’t at home alone. I knocked frantically ton Rozz’s bedroom door, but there was no answer, at which point I tried to open it but it was locked from the inside. It was in that panic-stricken moment that I knew…
I broke down the door and found his naked and lifeless body hanging by a belt from his closet door, a small antique foot stool tipped over in front of him.
Thus it was on April 1st, 1998, All Fool’s Day, that Rozz Williams left his body forever. And although the coroner statement said that he died instantaneously of a broken neck, I feel I can attest in no uncertain terms that Rozz Williams died not of a broken neck, but of a broken heart.”
For the 20th Anniversary of Rozz Williams’ death Cult Epics are releasing the long-awaited DREAM HOME HEARTACHE Tour recordings, featuring songs of Christian Death (On the Altar) and songs of the last recorded album of Rozz & Gitane; Dream Home Heartache (In the Heart). Both come on two limited clear Vinyls (a pressing of only 300 copies) and a 2-disc CD set (with exclusive booklet including liner notes by Gitane Demone & Nico B and rare tour photos), all with specially designed artwork by Herbert Starek. To round it off they have also included a limited edition Enamel Pin set when you purchase all three releases—exclusively available online here.