Pauly Fuemana: The real story

Hit record How Bizarre took Pauly Fuemana out of Otara.

But fame and fortune could never take Otara out of Pauly, his family told Sunday News in an exclusive interview as New Zealand farewelled its most successful musician.

Staying staunch cost his brother the chance to move from a one-hit international wonder to a superstar, Tony Fuemana said.

"There are a lot of stories about him confronting a lot of record label executives over there [US]. And I know that most of those stories are true," he said. "There were a lot of the physical ones."

One of those confrontations ended in an US record company rep going through the window of a tour bus.

Pauly was just 26 when his ironically-named act Otara Millionaires Club [OMC] released How Bizarre, propelling him from south Auckland to the US and Europe.

Touring alongside U2, Cheap Trick, The Cardigans, Cher, Smashing Pumpkins and the Wu-Tang clan, OMC even performed on an aircraft carrier as Bon Jovi's support act.

But Pauly rebelled against pressure from his record company, said Tony, who toured with him as his bassist. One of the more memorable incidents was on OMC's tour bus in San Francisco.

"We had taken a 20-hour bus trip and we got there at six in the morning. They wanted a TV interview at 6.30am. Pauly asked them if he could just have a shower and something to eat before he left," Tony said.

"They threatened to pull the concert that night, if he didn't [do the interview]. The rep said, 'You have to be there at 6.30 or we will pull the plug on your show and the rest of your shows'. Pauly said he wanted to go back and talk to me, but they got him and pulled him from his shoulder off the bus.

"Paul turned around and pushed him back, he [Pauly] didn't want to be manhandled, and he [the rep] fell through the window. The guy said, 'I am going to sue you'.

"Not being pushed around and standing his own ground counted against him," he said.

"But you can't take the kid out of Otara – we have always learnt to be who we are and you can't change that."

Pauly and his overseas backers went their separate ways after he insisted on returning to New Zealand for his grandmother's funeral in 1999. He didn't tour internationally again.

Tony, who runs Urban Pacifika Records, said his younger brother showed the same sort of fighting spirit in his battle for life.

Pauly died of pneumonia last Sunday, aged 40, at Auckland's North Shore Hospital. Tony had the heart-breaking task of turning off the life support equipment three days earlier.

"[Pauly] had been ill for a very short time - the demise was really quick," he said. "When we arrived at hospital on Thursday, the doctor said he might not make it that night.

"He kept on breathing until Sunday. Everyone had their time to make peace with him. There were like 15 people in the room, watching every breath and every rise and fall of his chest. We were all just watching and waiting, not wanting him to die but just hoping he wasn't in pain. Then he slowly slipped away.

"But it was really nice that we could say goodbye and he knew we were there."

Also at Pauly's bedside was his wife Kirstene. Just days before Pauly was rushed to hospital, the couple had taken their five children shopping for school uniforms.

Kirstene said even as his life ebbed away, her husband was still unchanged from the man she met 18 years earlier.

"Up to the last second he was just Pauly," she told Sunday News. "He could hardly speak but he was cracking jokes and trying to breakdance in bed. He was still chatting up my girlfriends, like he always was, and the nurses. And he was trying to pick up male nurses for his sister [Christina].

"We were really blessed to have those days with him. The kids were with him the whole time. I would never, ever, want to lose those days. "He was in intensive care [and] we had about 20 to 30 people continually at his bedside. The hospital were incredible to allow us that.

"But there came a time when we were at his bedside, the whole lot of us, when he spoke to every one of us individually. It was heartbreaking to watch, [but] he went peacefully, he was happy."

Pauly started dating Kirstene three years before How Bizarre.

Royalties of $50,000 a year from the song will provide a financial blanket for Kirstene and Angelo 12, Caesar 11, Eva, nine, Salvador, seven, and Imogen, five.

But the figure is a pittance to the fortune Pauly earned and lost. How Bizarre the single and album sold more than four million copies and netted $11 million in royalties. Pauly said in 2007 he received $5 million of that.

He splashed out on rock star trappings like a Hummer, and gave vehicles and cash to friends and family. But Pauly was hit with huge bills from overseas tours and was involved in a feud over his percentage of the royalties.

In 2006, he was declared bankrupt. Liquidators said Pauly and Kirstene's "lavish lifestyle had not contracted when the royalties began to diminish".

But Kirstene said her husband, who was earning $15,000-a-year before his hit, measured wealth in family and friends, not in money.

"He was like, 'That is life'. He always said thank God he had his family and that was far more important to him. He had come from having very little so he lived how he wanted to live. He was going to enjoy every second of it and he did. He had a very good time of it all and he still had his family.

"He was just such an incredibly generous spirit, an incredibly loving husband and the most amazing father. He was a best friend and soul-mate. We were so lucky to have known him, even for a short time.

"He lived every day and had a full life, which someone said [people like that] they go so fast and they die out.

"They maybe aren't meant to be with us for such a long time."

Tony admits his brother dabbled in drugs to cope with moments of despair when his music career stagnated.

"It wasn't as if he was in a room with a drip [a needle] hanging out, sort of thing. He wasn't reliant on them," Tony said. "[But] it got to him. He thought he was a failure and that sort of stuff."

But Kirstene said she was glad Pauly stuck to his values rather than bend to the will of music bosses.

"He has an incredibly strong sense of morals. If he felt something wasn't right, he would speak up," she said.

"I would rather have seen that, rather than bow down to everyone and do what he was asked to do."

Pauly was farewelled on Thursday at the Otara Music and Arts Centre. Among the mourners were Dai Hamo, Brother D, Ermehn and a host of Dawn Raid artists.

Sunday News