Pauly Fuemana of "How Bizarre" fame dies

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand musician Pauly Fuemana, who found international fame with his country’s biggest selling record ever, “How Bizarre,” died in hospital on Sunday after a short illness, according to media reports.

The 40-year-old recorded under the name OMC, or Otara Millionaires Club, whose 1995 single “How Bizarre” reached No. 1 in eight countries, including Canada, Australia and Ireland. It peaked at No. 4 on the radio chart in the United States.

The deceptively upbeat song -- whose title was inspired by a ubiquitous catchphrase -- revolved around peculiar encounters with policemen and circus performers. But behind the catchy melody and Mariachi horns lurked a darker story, hinting at Fuemana’s upbringing in a crime-infested suburb of New Zealand’s biggest city.

“I put a lot of hidden stories in there so people could read between the lines and sense it for what it is instead of telling them, ‘Yeah, we got pulled over by the cops, and my mate got his head smashed in, and we got arrested, and they found some pot on him,’” Fuemana told Reuters in a 1997 interview.

Fuemana failed to match the success of “How Bizarre,” and was declared bankrupt in 2006, losing his house and other assets, including his songwriting royalties.

The Otara Millionaires Club was originally a rap group named for a suburb of Auckland where offshoots of Los Angeles’ Crips and Bloods gangs reigned amid fenced-off schools, run-down buildings and curfews. Brandishing machetes, the preferred means of settling gang disputes, the band would throw bottles at fans to hype them up.

When things got too hot, Fuemana quit the group in early 1995, took the name with him and recorded “How Bizarre” as a solo artist under the abbreviated moniker. It was produced and co-written by Alan Jansson .

The follow-up album of the same name, made for just US$25,000, was released worldwide by PolyGram the following year.

After Fuemana’s star faded he kept a low profile. He and Jannson reunited in 2007 to release a single “4 All of Us.”

Radio New Zealand said Fuemana had been ill for several months and was surrounded by his family and friends when he died in Auckland.

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Dean Goodman