Chris “CM” Murphy, the longtime manager of Australian band INXS (from 1979 until 1995 and again in the 2000s), has died in Sydney following a battle with Mantle Cell Lymphoma. He was 66.
A representative for Murphy Petrol Group shared the news in the early morning hours of Saturday (Jan. 16): “It is with great sadness that Caroline Murphy and family confirm that Christopher (CM) Mark Murphy, chairman of Murphy Petrol Group has today passed away peacefully at his beloved Ballina property ‘Sugar Beach Ranch’ surrounded by his family. CM celebrated an illustrious career over 40 years and made an incredible impact on the global music and entertainment industry. Best known for taking his ‘band of brothers’ INXS to worldwide stardom, CM Murphy influenced the lives of many around the globe with his endless passion and drive. He will be greatly missed.”
Said the members of INXS: “It is with great sadness that the remaining members of INXS mourn the passing of our brother, Chris Murphy. Without Chris’s vision, passion and hard work, the INXS story would be totally different. Chris’s star burned very bright and we celebrate a life well lived and send all our love to his family.”
INXS was among the most successful groups to emerge from Australia, selling tens of millions of albums worldwide. The band experienced severals commercial peaks in the U.S., chief among them: the 1987 album “Kick,” which has sold more than 7 million copies. Its predecessor, 1985’s “Listen Like Thieves,” and follow-up, 1990’s “X,” were also multi-platinum smashes in the U.S. INXS’ magnetic frontman Michael Hutchence died in 1997 at the age of 37.
In the documentary “Mystify: Michael Hutchence,” Murphy tells of his decision to manage the group. “I’ll only do it on the basis that we do it internationally,” he said to the band (founding members included Garry Gary Beers, Andrew Farriss, Jon Farriss, Tim Farriss, Kirk Pengilly and Hutchence). Murphy had experience in the global music market having worked at his father’s theatrical booking agency, Mark Murphy & Associates, since he was a teenager. Later pivoting to management under the tutelage of Gary Morris, whose clients included Midnight Oil and INXS, he launched MMA Management.
Murphy wisely negotiated a deal for INXS directly with an American label, Atco and later Atlantic, a move that is widely regarded as having played a major role in their breakout success. Even still, Atlantic was initially reticent to release “Kick.” As Murphy recounted in interviews, the label offered the band $1 million to re-record it. Instead, he suggested combining the album’s lead single, “Need You Tonight” (whose guitar riff can currently be heard on Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart”) with a 37-second coda called “Mediate.”
Said Murphy: “Kick sounds like four different bands playing. There were big ballads, riffy rock, funk… Kick is brilliant, but it’s all over the place and I thought, ‘How am I going to pull this together into any kind of campaign?’”
INXS went on to become a massive touring act, filling arenas worldwide. Speaking to the Music Network in 2019, Murphy was asked about the band’s heyday. “I never went to INXS parties,” Murphy said, “After they’d play a huge show at Madison Square Gardens in New York, they’d hit the clubs. I’d go back to my hotel room and work on my plan on how to get them up to the next level.”
Murphy, who had also managed the group Models during the 1980s, was described as a master marketer, but there were stumbles, like the short-lived Max Q, a 1989 collaboration between Hutchence and Aussie musician and producer Ollie Olsen. At the same time, Murphy indulged his entrepreneurial side and spent the decades investing in a variety of businesses, including an organic food provider, a magazine and a Sydney radio station. In 1988, he launched independent label rooART, which was home to such acts as Crash Politics, The Hummingbirds, Ratcat, You Am I, Wendy Matthews and The Screaming Jets.
Following a 10-year hiatus, during which Murphy sold his music assets, he returned to the industry to build new companies. Petrol Electric Records was launched in 2001 (INXS signed with the label in 2008) and Murphy Rights Management in 2014. In 2018, he took on another Aussie sibling act, country group The Buckleys.
Most recently, he had been developing a retirement community for musicians and music industry professionals in New South Wales. Speaking of the project in 2019, Murphy explained: “There’s a lot of people who are getting older. And, what are these people going to do? They’ve been working in a very creative industry all of their lives; what are you going to do now that you don’t have a job? Sit in a quiet retirement village with people you don’t know or share common interests? … People in retirement villages, as we speak, they’re the people who built this bloody country. The tradesmen, all sorts of people who lived through an era where you had to really work.”
Murphy is survived by his wife Caroline; children Stevey, Jeri, Jack, Louis and Charlie; and grandchildren Asher, Samantha, Bella, Axel, Harley and Reuben; his Mother Janice; and sisters Charne & Tanya.