The untold truth of Keith Flint

There are cool rock stars, and there are flamboyant rock stars. There are talented rock stars, and there are rock stars that aren't so talented but became rock stars anyway. And then there was British rock star Keith Flint, who was a brilliant performer for sure — but the thing he'll most likely be remembered for is this: He was really scary.

He wasn't scary to those who knew him, but his on-stage persona was closer to Marilyn Manson or Alice Cooper than to other performers of his genre. As the front man of the rave band The Prodigy, Flint was known for his brightly-colored horn-like double mohawk, the heavy black kohl around his eyes, and his punk rock mannerisms. He was wild-eyed and so full of energy that he was like that supercharged guy in a horror film who is about to explosively shapeshift into the person-eating alien thing that's been incubating down in his guts somewhere. And that was what fans loved about him.

Flint seemed nowhere near finished with his career when he died — The Prodigy, which first became a thing in the early 1990s, had just released an album and had plans to tour in the United States in May 2019. Yet tragically, Flint died before the band could embark on the next chapter in its history. So in honor of his long and twisted career, here are a few things you may not have known about The Prodigy's front man.

He had a rough childhood

Keith Flint was a freaking scary-looking dude, and we're pretty sure he wouldn't mind us saying so. But even scary-looking dudes were once children, and just like everyone else, there was a time when Flint went to school and fought with his parents. Flint's childhood was not typical, though. According to the BBC, he was "a bright boy with dyslexia," which back in the '70s was a hard thing to be because no one really knew what to do with bright kids who also had learning disabilities.

"His dad's quite successful, and because Keith was a little mod, and then he was a biker, there was such a clash there," bandmate Leeroy Thornhill told The Quietus in 2017. "I imagine that his dad expected a bit more from him than he got."

Flint's failure to conform eventually got him kicked out of school, and after that he was sent to "a special school," where he was subjected to some pretty extreme interventions, including hypnosis. "I just had so much energy," he told the Guardian in 2009. "I guess I've always thought that, in a conformist society, self-expression is important."

Flint's dad kicked him out, too, though in 1997 Flint said that his parents had come around and that they "love what I do." That apparently wasn't enough to overcome the family tension, though, because a decade later he told the Times of London that he'd stopped talking to his dad altogether.

He gave up a promising career as a roofer

After leaving home, the young Keith Flint found promising work as a roofer (just kidding, we have no idea how "promising" his work as a roofer actually was). He also took various other not-very-promising jobs doing things like "investigative drilling" (so not very Keith Flint) and butchering meat (actually kind of a lot Keith Flint). Evidently, though, he didn't feel fulfilled by blue collar work, so he left the U.K. to go trekking through Africa and the Middle East and eventually ended up in Israel where he worked for a time as a market stall trader. This was probably between mohawks, of course, because we can't imagine that a guy with neon green hair and guy-liner would be able to sell much falafel in an open air market. But that's just a guess.

Flint told journalist Matt Blake that when he returned to the U.K., someone told him about the rave scene. "I thought, 'F*cking hell, you're talking about something with as much passion as I would be talking about hitchhiking to Israel.' I wanted a piece of that." So in the spring of 1989 he checked out an outdoor rave in Essex, where he met DJ and future bandmate Liam Howlett. That was when he discovered that music gave him the freedom to be himself: "As a kid, I was always fighting to be who I was. Then suddenly, I no longer had to fight. I just was."

At first he was a dancer

Flint is remembered as The Prodigy's charismatic front man — well, maybe "charismatic" isn't the right word — really, he was more terrifying than charismatic. But he didn't start out as a front man. He started out as a dancer.

That was fairly typical for electronic bands in the rave era, which often employed dancers so the whole band wasn't just one guy with a synthesizer. In the early days, Flint was one of three dancers, but he had so much stage presence that in 1996 the band decided to make him the front man. It was a smart move — Flint knew how to engage an audience and once described his dancing style as "using my body to shout."

According to a 1997 article in Spin magazine, bandmate Liam Howlett noticed that Flint could sing, though it might be more accurate to say that he had a Johnny Rotten sort of voice that they thought would appeal to their audience. "[Howlett had] seen me singing along to whatever song in the dressing room, doing impressions," Flint told Spin. So Howlett thought it might be worth trying him out with a song or two on the new album.

Once he became the band's centerpiece, Flint changed his look from run-of-the-mill long-haired musician to the double-mohawked, black-eyed wildman that became his trademark. After that, The Prodigy stopped being just another dance club act and became something of a sensation, both in the U.K. and in America.

The band first became popular performing at illegal raves

The rave scene back in the late 1980s and early 1990s wasn't exactly clean-cut. Raves were giant dance parties that were usually very loud and very drug-fueled, and sometimes they were held at secret locations that weren't exactly licensed to throw giant, very loud, drug-fueled dance parties. That's the sort of place that gave The Prodigy its start, but their version of rave music was harder than what some other groups were producing at the time. In fact The Prodigy eventually became known for merging dance and punk, which at the time seemed next to impossible.

In 2018, Flint told the Yorkshire Evening Post that he was nostalgic about the band's days on the illegal rave scene. "It was an amazing time, there was a lot about it that was special. It had a lawless aspect, nobody really knew what it was or where it came from. … It was like a proper youth culture."

At some point The Prodigy just became too big for the underground, though. Since their early days in those dark, noisy places, the band has sold 30 million records and has had no fewer than seven #1 hits. They've still managed to escape the "mainstream" label, though — for fans, The Prodigy is still as dissident as it ever was, with music that is unabashedly influenced by punk, industrial, grunge, and electronic dance music, yet still remains utterly unique.

He terrified small children. And the BBC.

Flint told Spin that he had no trouble choosing his first song as The Prodigy's front man. "When I heard the tracks for 'Firestarter,' I was like, 'This is the f*cking one.'" And his instincts were correct, as it turned out — according to the Guardian, the single not only went to #1 in the U.K., it also hit gold in the U.S., which was unheard of for a British acid band.

Part of the single's success can be attributed to the music video — a creepy black and white production that featured the band in an abandoned London Underground tunnel. According to the BBC, the video came together the way it did almost by accident. The band had already spent £100,000 on a video that everyone ended up hating, so they couldn't afford to do the re-shoot in color. And the idea of shooting in an abandoned tunnel wasn't especially palatable to anyone. "We all moaned, everyone was whingeing we're gonna get asbestos poisoning from the tunnel," Liam Howlett told the BBC. "But the result is great. It's one of the greatest videos ever."

In the video, Flint adopts his terrifying, devilish persona — so devilish, in fact, that after the video aired during the BBC's Top of The Pops, parents complained that Flint's performance had frightened their children. The BBC responded by banning the video.

No animals were harmed in this definitely-not-a-fox-hunt

So what sort of hobby would you imagine for a guy like Keith Flint? Barroom brawling, perhaps? Or maybe target shooting? Bungee jumping? Probably not fox hunting.

But hey, Flint was evidently game to try just about anything — much to the dismay of people who are against fox hunting. In 2016, Billboard reported that Flint was targeted by the hacker collective Anonymous for allegedly participating in a fox hunt. The group posted a video to YouTube in which they called Flint a "traitorous f*ckwit" and accused him of not being anti-establishment enough anymore, though evidently, Anonymous was still totally cool with his hair. "You still have a chance to change your ways, Keith," the masked man in the video warned. "One year should do it." Which, okay, we get that fox hunting is barbaric but so are vague threats on social media by masked men, but whatever. Flint defended himself on The Prodigy's Facebook page: "Yes I live in Essex and have a couple of horses. I went riding with the local trail hunt, it was a ride out and NO ANIMALS WERE HUNTED OR KILLED, so my conscience is clear, it wasn't my thing and I won't be going again."

We're assuming that satisfied Anonymous, although masked men in YouTube videos aren't exactly known for being rational or for having their facts straight.

He owned a pub in Essex

Flint liked to drink. In fact he liked to drink so much that in 2014 he bought a British pub called The Leather Bottle.

Now, in the old days when you owned a pub and people weren't into the food, they would just grumble about it to each other. If they really weren't into the food, they might call the owner for a face-to-face. We're not sure, but patrons of The Leather Bottle might not have been so quick to complain to a dude like Flint, who was scary as heck and had a reputation for being sort of crazy. Fortunately for modern pub-goers, the Internet has provided a comfy place where they can complain without actually having to show their faces to the crazy guy who runs the place.

In 2015, NME decided to have a bit of fun with Flint by reading some of his pub's TripAdvisor reviews. The meanest one said, "Don't let the fancy menu fool you into thinking the chef can cook," which Flint actually took pretty much in stride. "This is the very reason I don't read reviews normally," he said. "I suppose that I'm in there enough to see happy faces and happy people, so the physical feedback is the only feedback I can take on board." Most of the reviews were pretty favorable, though it didn't seem to be enough — in 2017 Flint put up a sign announcing that the pub was closed until further notice.

And then there was that time he went jogging naked

And because it seems like no rock star's tale of woe is complete without an embarrassing drug binge, the Independent says in 2008 Flint was famously discovered going for a jog in his home town while completely naked. Sadly, the incident was evidently the apex of a rather serious drug binge.

On the bright side, Flint was also smart enough to know that a guy who gets caught running around town in his birthday suit is probably a guy who needs to maybe give up the drugs that got him there, so when the Independent interviewed Flint the following year he was officially sober. "I'm clean at the moment," he said. "I'm having a bit of a break to make sure I'm firing for the [Invaders Must Die] tour. That's more important than the thousands of nights I've wasted."

Under all the persona, he was a pretty decent guy

Flint seemed to miss his side job as a pub owner because in 2018 he showed up at the Black Tom's Tavern in Ireland, not just to have a couple of pints but to hang out with his fans and pour them all a glass of Guinness. "Keith was actually a gentleman," said the pub's co-owner. "He had a great chat with the customers, took pictures, and didn't even mind coming behind the bar to pull a pint."

In fact the friendly version of Flint (as opposed to the terrifying wildman version most fans were used to seeing) was probably the more accurate one. In 2008, former girlfriend Gail Porter told the Guardian, "He was lovely and gentle and oh I still am so fond of him." NME described him as "a sweetheart" and noted that he was kind of a clown. In fact, he'd been known to occasionally photocopy his butt and play "Naked Twister," which he said was much more fun than "Clothed Twister."

Flint was also famous for his love of excitement — he was an avid motorcyclist and had not only been involved in 13 different crashes but actually didn't hate every part of being in motorcycle crashes. "The buzz of crashing is unreal," he once said. "Everything goes in slow motion. One of my best buzzes ever was going under a car." That is … a few steps past adrenaline junkie.

He owned a motorcycle racing team

Flint channeled his love of motorcycles into more than just an occasional crash — NME says he also participated in motorcycle racing. He finished third in the 1998 Clubman's Race, and he once rode a motorcycle from England to Spain to attend the 2007 Spanish Grand Prix.

According to Motorcycle News, Flint's love of motorbikes came from his two older brothers, who used to take him to the bike meets in exchange for "a couple of quid." His early days learning to race were interrupted by a crash, which happened around the same time as The Prodigy was working on "Firestarter," so he quit racing for a while. He didn't really go back to it until 2010, when he founded the racing team Team Traction Control (TTC). TTC wasn't just an amateur team, either — their star rider Ian Hutchinson won two Isle of Man Supersport doubles in 2015 and 2016, as well as an Ulster GP race. In 2017, the team moved up from Supersport to the British Superbike Championship.

"For me, everything — the driving, setting up in the paddock, the camaraderie with the people there — I love it," Flint said. He didn't race with TTC himself, but served as the team's figurehead. Still, he had plenty of opportunities to get his motorbike fix at home, where he had a motocross course on his own property.

He married a Japanese DJ but they were separated at the time of his death

In 2006, Keith Flint married Japanese Dj Mayumi Kai. It seemed a bit … hasty when you consider that Flint couldn't speak Japanese and Mayumi couldn't speak English, but love is an amazing thing. And it didn't stop the couple from having a lavish wedding that included such notable guests as Liza Minnelli's estranged husband, Liam Gallagher from Oasis, and David Gest.

According to Heavy, Flint once said that Mayumi helped him get sober. She was often seen with him at motorbike events, and Flint said she was a co-owner of The Leather Bottle. The couple had nine dogs and were restoring a mansion in the English countryside.

They were separated, though, at the time of Flint's death. She was back in Japan and had nothing public to say about her husband's passing beyond retweeting a news story. In fact she barely acknowledged him at all, and Heavy says her Twitter feed contained no other references to him.

His death was thought to be a suicide

On March 4, 2019, just after 8 a.m., police said they were asked to do a welfare check on a man in Essex. According to CNN, responders found Flint dead in his home.

Police were mum about the cause of death, but The Prodigy member Liam Howlett said the death was a suicide. "The news is true," he wrote on the band's Instagram account. "I can't believe I'm saying this but our brother Keith took his own life over the weekend. I'm shell shocked, f*ckin angry, confused, and heart broken."

Flint had talked about suicide in some previous interviews. For example, in 2011 he told FHM: "I've always had this thing inside me that, when I'm done, I'll kill myself. I swear to God that's not suicidal. … I just want to look back and know that I've lived what I consider a fulfilled life." Wish you could have lived it with us longer, Keith.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).