Sebastian Horsley; cultivated eccentric image
LONDON — Self-styled dandy and British eccentric Sebastian Horsley, who found fame by having himself nailed to a cross in the Philippines, died yesterday at the age of 47.
Mr. Horsley’s dysfunctional childhood and catastrophic personal life provided the fodder for his memoir, “Dandy in the Underworld,’’ which describes his adventures in drugs, gambling, alcoholism, prostitution, and high fashion. London’s Metropolitan police did not give a cause of death, but British media reported that he had died of a suspected overdose.
Tim Fountain, who is directing a play about him at London’s Soho Theatre, said Mr. Horsley was “hard-wired for extremes.’’
“Extreme ways of living bring with them great risks as well as rewards,’’ Fountain said.
The elder son of millionaire Nicholas Horsley described a childhood full of “atheism, alcoholism, and insanity.’’ Modeling himself on Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde, he was memorably pictured wearing a top hat, velvet coat, and bright red nail polish against the backdrop of an apartment packed with human skulls (“I wanted to collect something, just not stamps,’’ he told one recent interviewer).
Mr. Horsley is perhaps best known for a bungled attempt to have himself crucified in the Philippines in 2000 as part of an art project, one that almost ended in disaster when his foot support broke, nearly ripping his hands apart. But notoriety does not necessarily bring wealth, and Mr. Horsley often complained of being broke, quipping that he had invested most of his money in drugs and prostitutes — and squandered the rest.
Mr. Horsley’s open drug use was one of the reasons he was barred from entering the United States on grounds of “moral turpitude’’ in 2008. But he took the ban in good humor, saying in an interview: “My one concession to American sensibilities was to remove my nail polish. I thought that would get me through.’’