Otara Millionaire's curse

Last updated 10:48 24/08/2014
Pauly Fuemana's shot to international stardom after the release of How Bizarre in 1995.

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To the world, it was just another catchy tune. But for Pauly Fuemana's family, How Bizarre was a curse.

The quick rise to fame, the Hummer, the dollar bills, the bankruptcy and eventual death from the side-effects of a rare neurological illness - the sad decline of Pauly Fuemana, lead singer of OMC, has been well-documented.

But for his family, the hit single was no blessing.

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"It overshadowed everything at times. I think it was more of a curse in a way," says wife Kirstine Fuemana in the documentary How Bizarre: The Story of an Otara Millionaire, set to screen on Maori Television this week.

In person, she is just as emphatic that Pauly could have done without the quick rise to fame. "It took off so fast, I mean it was so fast and crazy. He just went with it and it was sort of a ride you couldn't get off, he was kind of stuck on it," she says.

"That song was almost a treadmill in a way, it just didn't give the other songs a chance. I couldn't stand How Bizarre, there were better songs than that - I just thought it was terrible."

Pauly shot to international stardom after the release of How Bizarre in 1995 by Otara Millionaires' Club, consisting of him and co-writer and producer Alan Jansson.

At the time he and Kirstine were living in a council flat in Auckland's Beach Haven - when he needed spending money to go to Britain for Top of the Pops, Kirstine gave him her earnings and they missed that week's rent.

When record sales peaked, the Fuemanas began to spend that money. What they didn't know was bills from overseas tours would be slapped on to their account, Kirstine says - and when the brakes were put on a second album, Pauly struggled to pay up.

He was also involved in a feud over his percentage of the royalties, and was declared bankrupt in 2006. He died four years later in 2010, suffering from a rare neurological disorder, before succumbing to respiratory failure brought on by pneumonia.

OMC sold between three and four million copies of their album, also titled How Bizarre, making it New Zealand's biggest-selling record.

The single and album made around $11 million in royalties, of which, Pauly said in 2007, he received $5m.

Kirstine says Pauly's family had known since around 2002 there was something wrong. But he refused to seek treatment, finally seeing a doctor only when Kirstine became pregnant with their sixth child.

"The deal was, I said to him 'If you want this baby, you need to get some help. I can't look after you, five kids and a baby'."

But by the time it was revealed the musician was suffering from progressive demyelinating polyneuropathy, an auto-immune disorder similar to multiple sclerosis, it was too late. Kirstine was his full-time care-giver for the last years of his life.

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Directerd by Stuart Page and co-produced by Fred Renata and William Grieve, How Bizarre: The Story of an Otara Millionaire follows Fuemana's rise from a young rapper on the streets of Otara to playing sold out stadiums with the likes of U2.

It features a long list of interviewees including Jansson, artist and close friend John Pule, Rolling Stone journalist Clinton Walker, actress Lucy Lawless - who featured on single 4 All of Us in 2007 - and Kirstine and Pauly's estranged mother, Olivia Hohaia Parr.

The family-approved documentary only lightly tackles many of the issues that grabbed headlines throughout Fuemana's career, including rumours of drugs and alcohol issues and bust-ups with industry players.

Kirstine says it was important to her to show Pauly as they knew him. It is one of several legacy projects she wants to complete for her husband - the others include a tele-movie and a re-release of the How Bizarre album later this year.

"I don't feel like I'm trying to paint this perfect picture of him because he was human, as all of us are. Fame was a double-edged sword, and I'm not saying it was dreadful because it wasn't - it was great fun and he got opportunities that other people didn't. But eventually it does stop."

It has often been painful for Kirstine and the kids - Angelo, 16, Caesar, 15, Eva, 14, Salvador, 11, Imogen, 10, and Santos, 4 - reading negative press about their dad. Kirstine refutes claims Pauly was a drug addict, saying he only ever smoked marijuana - and then only occasionally.

"I think it was a lot of 'oh, that brown boy from Otara'," she says. "People think he was that bad boy from the street but he wasn't, it was all old-school Maori values and he was raised by his nana."

And reading that OMC was a "one hit wonder" hurts a lot, she said.

"The album was amazing, it was a beautiful album. Q magazine [UK music publication] gave it four stars. But I think people forget that. The other tracks actually did very well overseas . . . it used to frustrate him so much, because he used to say 'How many times can I do that song'.

"I just want them to remember that he was talented, he was a great writer and he could play every instrument. And he's not here to defend himself, so I will."

- Sunday Star Times

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