LONDON — Self-styled dandy and noted British eccentric Sebastian Horsley, who found fame by having himself nailed to a cross in the Philippines, died Thursday at the age of 47.
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 Horsley at London's Soho Theatre, said Horsley was "hard wired for extremes."
"Extreme ways of living bring with them great risks as well as rewards," Fountain said. "I'm devastated."
Sebastian, 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 often 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.)
Horsley is perhaps best known for a bungled attempt to have himself crucified in the Philippines in 2000 as part of an art project. The procedure almost ended in disaster when his foot support broke, threatening to rip his hands apart (he was caught and taken down from the cross just in time.) But notoriety doesn't necessarily bring wealth, and Horsley often complained of being broke, quipping that he'd invested most of his money on drugs and prostitutes – and squandered the rest.
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, telling the AP: "My one concession to American sensibilities was to remove my nail polish. I thought that would get me through."
Friends and fellow writers eagerly collected his one-liners, which he often delivered with a touch of venom. Author Toby Young, a friend of Horsley's, wrote on The Daily Telegraph's website that he "never spent an evening with him without having to write down something he'd said.
"His true genius was for conversation."
Horsley's death comes only days after the opening of Fountain's play, also called "Dandy in the Underworld." Horsley appeared to have mixed feelings about having someone else play him on stage, telling The Times of London earlier this month that "seeing one's own doppelganger is an omen of death."