Keith Flint, the frontman of The Prodigy, has died at age 49. Flint was one of the founding members of the group, which played a major part in the U.K.’s rave scene before going on to become a major dance music act and achieving widespread mainstream success. Local police confirmed Flint’s death in a statement.
“We were called to concerns for the welfare of a man at an address in Brook Hill, North End, just after 8.10am on Monday, March 4,” the police said. “We attended and, sadly, a 49-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene. His next of kin have been informed.”
The group’s cofounder main songwriter Liam Howlett said in an Instagram post that Flint’s death was a suicide. “The news is true, I can’t believe I’m saying this but our brother Keith took his own life over the weekend,” he wrote. “I’m shell shocked, f—in angry , confused and heart broken ….. r.i.p brother Liam #theprodigy.”
The band confirmed Flint’s death in an earlier statement on social media, calling him a “true pioneer, innovator and legend.” Police added that there were no suspicious circumstances. “The death is not being treated as suspicious and a file will be prepared for the coroner,” the statement said.
The group released an album, “No Tourists,” in November and had been touring, with North American dates scheduled for May, although it was unclear at press time whether the tour will continue.
Hailing from Essex, near London, Prodigy was formed in 1990 by Howlett and Flint with singers Maxim and Sharky. The group signed with XL Records and released its debut EP, “What Evil Lurks,” early that year, followed by its chart success, the first single, “Charly,” which sampled a safety video for kids and reached No. 3 on the U.K. singles charts. While initially dismissed by purists as a light version of the then-thriving “rave” scene, the group’s sound became more rock and aggressive, particularly with their second album, 1994 “Music for the Jilted Generation,” which debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. charts.
While Flint was essentially a visual foil and occasional singer/ rapper for the group, his outlandish appearance — pierced, tattooed, heavy makeup and his hair fashioned into a mohawk — became as much a part of Prodigy’s identity as its aggressive and pulsating sound. The 1996 single “Firestarter,” with a video heavily focused on Flint, vaulted the group into another league of popularity, which was cemented by the release the following year of the “Fat of the Land” album. The album, which debuted at No. 1 in the U.S. as well as the U.K., saw the group signing with Madonna’s Maverick Records and being seen as leaders of the “electronica” scene, a loosely defined fusion of dance and rock music. The group spawned enormous controversy with the single “Smack My B—h up,” which was entirely instrumental except for the title line and the words “Change my pitch up.” While those lyrics were actually sampled from a track by the Ultramagnetic MCs, the song was excoriated by multiple women’s groups, including the National Organization for Women, which said it advocated violence against women; the Jonas Akerlund-directed video was filmed from the perspective of a person engaging in highly hedonistic behavior, but featured a twist at the end when the character is revealed to be female. However, that, combined with Howlett’s statement that the song was actually about “doing anything intensely,” did little to diminish the outcry. Its air and video plays were frequently limited to late hours, and the group got into an onstage dispute with the Beastie Boys at the 1998 Reading Festival in England: The Beasties asked the group not to perform the song due to the effect it might have on survivors of abuse, but the Prodigy played it anyway.
However, the controversy took its toll and the group went on haitus, re-emerging in 2002 and releasing four albums in the years since, retaining a solid fan base but not at the chart or commercial level it had previously enjoyed. Flint formed a pair of solo outfits, Clever Brains Fryin’ and Flint, releasing one single and recording an unreleased album with the latter outfit. He was also an avid motorcycle racer.
Fans and fellow musicians paid tribute to Flint.