Dandy in the Otherworld: In Memory of Sebastian Horsley

Michael Mattis, who has previously written about Sebastian Horsley for Dandyism.net, offers this remembrance.

Dealing with death is always a hard thing. Dealing with the death of someone you have written about is harder still — especially when what you have written about the deceased is not all that nice.

Frequent readers of Dandyism.net will be well within their rights to expect us to slam Sebastian Horsley even in death. But they will be disappointed. For one thing, it does not fall within the purview of a gentleman to speak ill of the dead. What follows is, rather, a grudging appreciation.

First, the facts: According to news reports, the body of Sebastian Horsley, 47 —artist, writer entrepreneur and showman — was found at about 11:00 A.M. GMT on Thursday, June 17, in his small apartment in Soho, London, by one of his lady friends. He had apparently died of an overdose of heroin.

A few evenings before, Horsley had seen the play about his recalcitrant life, based on his memoir, “Dandy in the Underworld.” The play was written by Tim Fountain. It was to be made into a film, produced by his friend, the actor, writer and director Stephen Fry of “Wilde” and “Jeeves” fame.

Upon seeing the play for the first time, Horsley is reported by the The Independent to have said, “They say seeing your doppelganger is an omen of death, so I got quite excited about that and thought, best get my coat on.”

Horsley had a long affair with, well, “horse,” as herion has been known in the drug-taking community. It is hard to believe that, given that lengthy association, he did not know exactly what he was doing when stuck the needle into his veins for the last time. If you read “Dandy in the Underworld,” you will find that Horsley often talked about his own death, and his right to take himself out of this world in the method and at the time of his own choosing.

And, he once said on video: “It’s only death; it’s not the end of the world, is it?”

Why he would do such a thing on the cusp of so much notoriety — the notoriety he so often very publicly craved — is a mystery. Perhaps it was the final act in a life punctuated by showmanship and self-created drama. He was sometimes tiresome and repetitious in his quips, but he was rarely boring.

After the publication of “Dandy in the Underworld,” he was famously banned from entering the United States on a promotional tour, on the grounds that he might somehow pass on his moral turpitude to others. (As if we Americans don’t have enough moral turpitude of our own). It’s too bad. I had planned to meet him, and had looked forward to it. I can only imagine what our conversation would have been like.

Horsley was born with the benefit of cash. His father was a millionaire several times over, and this carried him well through his thirties. When the money began to run dry — spent on his trademark lavish and outrageous bespoke suits, Mad Hatter-style toppers, wildly collared Turnbull & Asser shirts, drugs and Class A hookers — he put his remaining capital into the stock market as a day trader. And he made bank.

He made no bones about his own upper-middle-class vulgarity. When asked by The Chap “What is your idea of complete sophistication?” he said, “Complete vulgarity. The vulgar man is always the most sophisticated, for the very desire to be sophisticated is vulgar. And without an element of vulgarity no man can become a work of art.”

Horsley hated Beau Brummell, saying the dandy icon had made men’s clothing “boring,” and called Oscar Wilde a fake, and not even a real fake. There is some truth to both statements.

Was Horsley a dandy? Maybe not, at least not in the strict sense of the term. His clothes were too showy and tasteless, his attitude needlessly outré. On the other hand, if he had not been so outré we should never had known of him, or taken pleasure — and often disgust — in his antics.

But, like Quentin Crisp, I believe Horsley had a kind of native dandyism that is hard to deny. It’s the kind of dandyism — perhaps aestheticism would be more accurate — that makes one’s life into work of Wildean art. In Horsley’s case, that work of art was entirely contemporary in the sense that contemporary art is often not pretty. His death was the final stroke on his own corrupt canvas.

Goodbye, Sebastian, you magnificent bastard.

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19 Responses to “Dandy in the Otherworld: In Memory of Sebastian Horsley”

  1. Sean Says:

    What is perhaps the saddest of all regarding his demise is that fact that there will be no more of his antics, or his witticisms to chuckle over – he will be missed. Good night sweet dandy, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

  2. Senior W Says:

    It does not appear to have (directly) been a suicide, judging by this note from musician David Tibet, who attented school by Sebastian in the 1970s:

    http://www.copticcat.com/news/93/56/David-is-devastated-to-hear-of-the-death-of-his-oldest-friend-Sebastian-Horsley

    “David is devastated to hear of the death of his oldest friend, Sebastian Horsley, who introduced Current 93 at their recent concerts in London on 28 and 29 May. David and his close friend Rossella Ferrari were at the launch night for the play of Sebastian’s controversial autobiography, ‘Dandy in the Underworld’ in London on Tuesday evening. They left at 1am after discussing a new Current 93 album to which Sebastian was to contribute guitar, and which was to feature Andrew Liles, James Blackshaw, Eliot Bates, Keith Wood, Baby Dee and Alex Neilson. Sebastian’s last words to David were, “It sounds fabulous, darling; I’m definitely in. Call me tomorrow.” Sebastian died later that day.”

  3. Mi Says:

    Mr. Mattis has written something lovely, for the dearly lamented Mr. Sebastian Horsley. Did Mr. Horsley recycle quotes? Yes he did. They were great quotes, and no one has come up with anything else in the mean time, and at least he was kind enough to keep them in circulation for those of us that may have missed them the first time around. Was Mr. Horsley a poseur? Yes he was, and there are worse things. Nevertheless, did he make the effort to be crucified? Darlings, if we’re going to beatify (yes) western art, then we must give Sebastian his due. I am currently touring the American west, and I must say, it shows a measure of restraint that he didn’t come here and have any of the historically violated local peoples shoot him through with arrows. I’m sure he considered it, and thought it too cliche. I know I am not the first person to see in my mind’s eye his white flesh pierced with hypodermic needles. I am terribly angry at the vision. Like all good showmen he has left us wanting more, his death a mistake, short one note, a travesty, a spewing, arcing firehose of sparkling invective.

  4. Dandyisme » ✞ Sebastian Horsley Says:

    [...] Daarvoor kleedde hij zich veel te smakeloos. Hij was in ieder geval een dandyesk figuur. Andere dandy’s schreven zijn stijl lachend de grond in, en ook daarom zal hij worden gemist. Subscribe to [...]

  5. Logos kai Apokalupsis » In Memory of Sebastian Horsley Says:

    [...] noted at Dandyism, Sebastian Horsely has passed away.  Though many question whether Horsely was truly a dandy, he [...]

  6. Barima Says:

    We had a mutual friend, Ian Bruce, who painted his portrait. It’s a good one; I included it when I covered one of Ian’s shows on my column last year

    Seb had a sense of theatrics, a capacity for making himself disagreeable to almost anyone and was artificial to the core. Not my ideal person, but being so liked by some and yet so repellent to others is a skill I find worthy of mastering. It’s a great way to edit out those who would never embrace you

    For “corrupt canvas” alone, this is the best remembrance of him I’ve yet read. Nicely played, Double M

    B

  7. M2 Says:

    Dear Barima,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. Wish I could have met him myself. I’ll certainly check out your column.

    Warm Regards,

    M2

  8. Bassuan Says:

    A redneck sentimental review Mattis, as usual. We can see how a tacky “dandy” like you. wrote absurd and stupid condolences about a low media clown. Always making my day Mattis, you my potbellied bastard!

  9. Christian Says:

    That sounds personal. Mattis must’ve seduced your wife.

  10. Laguna Beach Trad Says:

    Glad you grasping proles finally got around to noticing. Sebastian died at precisely the right time. Clever bastard.

  11. The Duke of Windsor Says:

    An odd chap that Horsley, but often an entertaining one. Pity he decided to play his final card so early in life.

  12. Bassuan Says:

    Christian my dear Gus the goose, if Mattis is still sleeping with your mom it doesn’t means he is a gigolo.

  13. Miguel Antonio Says:

    “Pity he decided to play his final card so early in life.”

    This made my day. 47 is young. Society has gone soft.

    My point of view:

    He died at an appropiate age, 47 is more than enough. Unless you are competing with Methuselah.

    Do you need to be 100 years old to be old enough to die?.

  14. Blepharospasm Says:

    While I take no joy in his death, I am happy that this decadent, destructive narcissist can inflict no more damage through his direct actions. Unfortunately, his odious quotes and offensive life can still harm the impressionable.

  15. Stephen Says:

    I have just, albeit belatedly, read your post on my good friend,Sebastian. Apart from the glaring spelling mistakes, which are totally unnecessary in the age of the spell-checker (unless you are a complete imbecile), and the sanctimonious preaching against his lifestyle, you have the nerve to pass comment on his fine and daring wardrobe. You sir, are a cunt.

  16. Perfect Gentleman Says:

    This may be of interest to you. In September 2010, I read of Sebastian’s death, some three months late. My usual source for such news, the NY Times, had written several articles about him, including a review of his book and news about his being denied entry to the U.S., but it completely missed his death. I e-mailed Bruce Weber, one of the obit writers, who said he was not involved in the decision-making on whom the paper writes about, but that “one slightly repellent book [I had described it in approximately those terms] and a brief foray in the news don’t exactly make the guy’s life scream out for a Times obit.” I complained further to the paper’s public editor, who did not reply. The Times, which may not have cornered the market on superciliousness but certainly is a majority shareholder, acted rather churlishly, I thought. Anyway, Sebastian inspired and entertained me. He said, “As a dandy I have always elegantly acknowledged the fact that to live is to be defeated while steadfastly declining to surrender to that knowledge.” That statement helped sustain me and my dignity through some very bad times. My hat, considerably smaller than yours, if off to you, Sebastian.

  17. JMG Says:

    I recently embarked on an amateurish artistic misadventure which may nonetheless amuse aficionados: http://www.sebartianhorsley.blogspot.com/

  18. POUYA Says:

    Certainly A Very Interesting Character…….

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