Russell Handley (1953-1985)
When Russell Handley, my deputy editor at Countdown Magazine, died at Easter 1985, I wrote the following obituary. Countdown Magazine‘s publisher declined to publish it, preferring a brief notice, so here it is for the first time. Although always camera-shy while working on the magazine (he claimed he didn’t want little girls to recognise him and kick him in the shins after he made a cutting aside about Prince or Duran Duran), John Webber snapped Russell (above, on the right) with the four Hoodoo Gurus in July 1984, during the shoot for the Countdown Magazine feature Hoodoo Gurus In The Land Beyond Beyond. A 30-year memorial picnic for Russell’s family and friends is currently being organised.
Russell Handley, former deputy editor of Countdown Magazine, died in St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney on Easter Saturday. He was the twenty-fifth person to die in Australia of AIDS.
Russell was an exceptional individual. Intelligent, witty, gifted, he packed a lot into his brief life and leaves behind a host of bewildered family and friends. His death is a great and sad loss to the Australian music industry.
Countdown Magazine is to a large degree Russell’s creation. His input, both in terms of ideas and writing, has been crucial in making the magazine the success that it is.
Born in Townsville, North Queensland, Russell’s first musical adventure was as a keyboard player with the eight-piece, disco-influenced Townsville band, Island. After it broke up in 1976, Russell moved to Sydney and helped form the band Popular Mechanics. He and studio owner Martin Bishop started a small independent label, Basilisk Records, which released a number of singles, including one by the Popular Mechanics. Around this time, Russell joined the Numbers for a brief period.
Russell and Martin Bishop were behind one of the Australian music industry’s most notorious and costly court cases when they took CBS Records to court over that company’s release of recordings by New Zealand band Pop Mechanix. Russell and Martin contended that the name Pop Mechanix was likely to be confused with the existing band name Popular Mechanix, and after a lengthy hearing, they won the case.
Russell also played and arranged all the music on Quietly Confident’s 1983 single Republic of Australia and made a guest appearance in the video, before commencing writing for Countdown Magazine.
The first sign that anything was wrong with Russell came in December (1984) when he started getting stomach pains after he ate. His doctors were stumped as to the cause. He stopped eating and lost weight. It all happened so quickly—like a bolt from a clear blue sky. At Christmas, he was diagnosed as having cancer of the lymph system. Three days later he was diagnosed as having acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.
Russell’s courage and bravery in facing the onset of this frightening and ultimately fatal condition was of tremendous help to his family and many friends. His appearance in the ABC’s Four Corners AIDS episode was a fittingly noble final gesture.
A group of Russell’s friends within the music industry, myself included, are currently organising a Memorial Concert for Russell. The proceeds will go to the NSW AIDS Council for use in counselling and the accommodation of AIDS suffers who, unlike Russell, are rejected by family and friends.