"Michael obviously flipped."

The words of Michael Hutchence's lover on a weekend flight from London to Australia, where the distraught woman was rushing to the scene of the INXS frontman's death.

Hutchence, the flamboyant rocker, whose penchant for leather pants and preening stage antics evoked images of The Doors' Jim Morrison, was found dead Saturday in a Sydney hotel room. He was 37.

And as Morrison's sudden death (in 1971 at age 27) led to wild speculation as to the "real" cause or culprit, so is Hutchence's untimely demise being blamed, directly or not, on everything and everyone from a masturbation game gone awry to Live Aid founder "Saint" Bob Geldof.

Officially, things are a bit more cut-and-dry. "We believe it is a straight case of suicide," an Australian police official told the Associated Press.

A hotel maid reportedly found a naked Hutchence hanging by a leather belt in his fifth-floor room early Saturday. Prescription drugs (including Prozac), but no illegal drugs, were found in the posh digs.

Police are trying to quash reports from London and New York that the singer unintentionally choked himself to death while participating in a self-gratification ritual known as "auto-erotic asphyxiation"--the curtailing of one's air supply, sometimes through hanging, to enhance the act of masturbation.

Hutchence's friends told investigators the rock star "had been involved in kinky sex over the years," leading authorities to explore the death-by-masturbation angle, a police source told the New York Post.

Paula Yates, meanwhile, Hutchence's lover and would-be bride (they were set to walk down the aisle in January), is placing blame with her ex-husband, British rock star Bob Geldof.

"Bob Geldof murdered Michael Hutchence. That bastard killed Michael," Yates sobbed to passengers and reporters on that weekend flight.

Yates and Geldof, who had three children together, have been embroiled in a nasty custody battle since splitting in 1995 (about the same time she began a public affair with Hutchence). Hours before he died, Yates says she telephoned Hutchence and told him she couldn't join him in Australia as planned because of the continuing court proceedings.

The London Express contends that a furious Hutchence then placed a call of his own to the former Boomtown Rats leader. One theory has it that a distraught Hutchence soon after took his own life.

"He was worn down by three years of torture," Yates says.

Hutchence and Yates had one child together themselves--16-month-old daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. Yates says the singer, famed for hits such as "Devil Inside," was a "wonderful father...a sweet, innocent boy." She has announced plans to dye her wedding dress black and wear it to Hutchence's funeral.

The singer's bandmates, in a statement, described themselves as in "extreme shock." The group's 20th anniversary tour, that was to have launched tomorrow, has been canceled.

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