Tim Bergling was never comfortable being famous.
Described by close friends and confidantes as a little shy and nervous, the Swedish DJ wasn't the outgoing, gregarious artist many presumed he was. Had they ever watched a set of his in the febrile party capitals of Ibiza and Las Vegas, they would have seen a guy who had it all. But in reality, Tim Bergling's Avicii was falling into an abyss of hopelessness.
He was, by his admissions, on the verge of death, something his management company, as well as the wider entertainment industry, should have noticed sooner.
To put it bluntly, the news of Avicii's death in Oman on Friday wasn't that shocking. For those who had followed his career from the get-go, they would have noticed a bright-eyed, radiant face turn pale, and gaunt the further his career progressed. With a striking jawline, platinum blonde hair, and marble blue eyes, Avicii had the look of a pop star rather than a DJ, and Ralph Lauren even made the Swede the face of their brand.
But like Oscar Wilde's famous literary character, Dorian Gray, the looks of success and aesthetic brilliance soon faded, and though Avicii was a human being rather than a metaphorical painting, you sense that the Levels hitmaker made a pact with the industry to trade his health for years of gruelling, merciless touring and the hedonistic vices that came with it.
In the now-poignant, spine-chilling documentary Avicii: True Stories, a timid Bergling described how nervous he was in the early days of his shows, so much so that he would avoid drinking for fear of messing up. But as most drinkers will attest, once you become acquainted with alcohol, you realise that all the inhibitions and nerves that hold you back go away, and Avicii wasn't afraid to admit this. Sadly for him, he never stopped.
In 2014, his drinking got so bad he was forced to put his world tour on hold to undergo an operation to remove his gallbladder and appendix after suffering from acute pancreatitis. Years of heavy drinking allowed the star an escape from an overwhelming level of attention he didn't particularly like- or want.
Avicii labelled himself an introvert, something that would seem at odds with his profession given the endless interviews and fan interaction that came with such a lifestyle. It was little surprise then that he suffered from anxiety, a condition made all the more noticeable in the various interviews he did that you can find on YouTube.
From 2014 onwards, each interview paints a portrait of an artist who is burned out. Scroll to the comment sections of these videos, and the top ones often say the same thing: He looks tired. Worn-out. Depressed.
So why did the industry allow this to go on?
For answers, you have to go back to when Tim Bergling caught his first break. A workaholic from an early age, the ambitious 17-year-old was living with friends in Stockholm. He would stay up all night creating music using a free production programme called FL Studio 12 before doing it all again the next morning. This meticulous attention to detail caught the attention of a 26-year-old Swedish-Iranian promoter called Ash Pournouri who spotted his tracks on various music blogs.
After one meeting, he told him he would make him a worldwide star. Before long, Pournouri was teaching Avici how to master being an actual, live performing DJ. Three years later, Pournouri had made Avicii a global superstar, just as he had predicted.
He was the first E.D.M. star to crack the lucrative American market with his breakout track, Levels, and the first of his kind to embark on a worldwide tour. But with the increasing success of the genre stateside, Pournouri turned from a caring, career guiding manager to an arriviste, no-nonsense money man that led Avicii feeling exhausted and, in his very own words, on the verge of death.
"I have told them this: I won't be able to play anymore," he is filmed saying in the moving documentary Avicii: True Stories, which has since been taken down by Netflix. "I have said, like, I'm going to die. I have said it so many times. And so I don't want to hear that I should entertain the thought of doing another gig."
'Them' was no doubt a jab at many of the promoters pressuring Avicii to perform at their clubs, but it was Pournouri who the DJ saw as lacking in sympathy and understanding. By 2016, they had parted ways altogether, which also coincided in the same year Avicii quit touring.
Pournouri was a ruthless businessman intent on making big bucks from an artist he had been with from the start. This is nothing new and will always be the case. However, it seems only natural to question the role the music industry plays when it comes to helping young artists stay on the straight and narrow.
Unlike sports and other facets of the entertainment industry where young people make sizeable incomes, music is an industry where drink and drugs go hand-in-hand. For teens, and twenty-something artists with all the money and fame in the world, this can be hard to cope with and without guidance and counsel, it's easy to see why Avicii, who played 813 shows in 8 years, succumbed to alcohol addiction.
Perhaps if touring was better regulated for younger artists, we wouldn't hear of stories like Avicii's. While doing 813 shows by the age of 26 is impressive, it's also alarming and dangerous, and you could see it in Avicii's muted interviews, and lifeless eyes that he was no longer enjoying a life he once embraced.
Friend and fellow DJ Laidback Luke went as far as to describe Avicii as a zombie during the height of his fame. "2015 was the last time I saw him face to face, and I remember there wasn’t much Tim left," he said. "Tim looked to me kind of like a zombie. He had aged significantly. When I saw him perform, it was as if he wasn’t in touch with life anymore.”
It has since been confirmed that Avicii's cause of death was suicide. His family confirmed he left a suicide note, and in a second statement, described Tim as a "Fragile artistic soul" who "Struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness" and was ultimately "Not made for the business machine he found himself in."
It makes you wonder, as Avicii wrestled with his demons if his record label could have done more. In many ways, it's baffling that psychiatrists, counsellors and other professionals versed in mental health issues aren't employed in some capacity.
For Tim Bergling, the sad truth was that he was a sensitive kid who entered an industry that swallowed him whole. For aspiring musicians and artists, Avicii's death serves as a firm reminder that fame and wealth is not an antidote to success. As Avicii found out, it is an ephemeral high, and little else.