Men at Work flautist Greg Ham found dead
Members of 'Men at Work' pose with their Grammy for best new artist at the awards show in Los Angeles in this Feb. 22, 1983 photo. From left: Greg Hamm, Ron Strykert, Colin Hay, Jerry Speiser and John Rees. (AP Photo)
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, April 19, 2012 8:28AM EDT
SYDNEY, Australia - Greg Ham, a member of the Australian band Men at Work whose saxophone and flute punctuated its smash 1980s hits, was found dead in his Melbourne home on Thursday.
Police said the death did not appear to be suspicious, though the cause was not immediately known. A friend who found Ham's body said he hadn't been the same since 2010, when a court ruled that his signature flute riff from the song "Down Under" had been stolen from a classic campfire song.
Victoria state police confirmed that the deceased was the 58-year-old resident of Ham's house but did not identify him by name, in keeping with local practice. Ham was 58 and neighbours said he was the lone occupant of the house.
Men at Work topped charts around the world in 1983 with the songs "Down Under" and "Who Can it Be Now?" and won a Grammy Award that year for Best New Artist.
Frontman Colin Hay issued a statement expressing deep love for Ham, whom he met in 1972 when they were seniors in high school. Hay recalled decades of shared experiences with Ham -- from appearing on "Saturday Night Live," to flying through dust storms over the Grand Canyon, to getting lost in the rural Australian countryside.
"We played in a band and conquered the world together," Hay said. "I love him very much. He's a beautiful man. ... He's here forever."
Two concerned friends who had not heard from Ham in some time found his body after going to check on him, police said.
Local pharmacist David Nolte, who had known Ham for 30 years, told The Associated Press on Friday that he and another friend found his body. He said the musician's cats were outside the house and appeared unfed, and all calls had gone to Ham's voicemail for days.
After banging on the door and calling for Ham in vain, they entered his house and found his body. Nolte checked for a pulse; there was none. He declined to elaborate on the condition of Ham's body, citing privacy reasons and the pending police investigation.
"Even though he was famous, he was a very decent, kind, humble person," Nolte said. "I'd like to remember him being a really first-rate man."
Police Detective John Potter said there was "nothing to suggest to us that it's a suspicious investigation. However, we will wait and make that assessment once we know a cause of death."
"We'll get an indication fairly quickly, but certain tests do take weeks," he said.
Ham was perhaps best known for playing the flute riff for "Down Under," which remains an unofficial anthem for Australia. But the beloved tune came under intense scrutiny in recent years after the band was accused of stealing the catchy riff from the children's campfire song "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree."
The publisher of "Kookaburra" sued Men at Work, and in 2010 a judge ruled the band had copied the melody. The group was ordered to hand over a portion of its royalties, and lost its last appeal in October.
Ham later said the controversy had left him devastated, and he worried it would tarnish his legacy.
"It has destroyed so much of my song," he told Melbourne's The Age newspaper after the court ruling. "It will be the way the song is remembered, and I hate that. I'm terribly disappointed that that's the way I'm going to be remembered -- for copying something."
Nolte said he did not want to speculate on Ham's mental state in his final days, but said his friend had been shattered by the court battle.
"That really did affect him ... he was sad," Nolte said. "He put on a brave face, but he wasn't the same Greg Ham."
Ham played the saxophone on "Who Can It Be Now?" -- Hay noted that his rehearsal take was the one that made it on the record. He also played keyboards. More recently he worked as a guitar teacher.
Australian rock historian Glenn Baker, who was Australian editor of Billboard magazine when Men At Work was at its peak touring the world, recalled Ham as bursting with energy during the band's glory days.
"When they came back (from tour), it was generally Greg who I would interview because he'd tell the best stories and he was effervescent, energetic, good fun, good-humoured and good-natured," Baker said. "He was having a great time."