The Prodigy frontman Keith Flint was a tired, broken man who was struggling to keep up with his 'spitting, swearing' on-stage persona, says a good friend who saw their last show in Auckland.
Flint was found dead in his home on the outskirts of London early today [NZ time], news of which has sent shockwaves around the world.
Sean Cooper, 51, was a sound engineer for the band for nearly three years and during the production of their first album Experience in 1992.
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Despite the short time with the crew they'd formed a tight bond and he kept in touch, and always catching up with them when they visited New Zealand.
Cooper was woken to news of his death by his wife during the early hours of this morning, but said he wasn't overly surprised.
"It was a shock but to be honest with you, based on the conversation with him last month, I'm not surprised.
"He was looking like a little old man, truth be known. He was hobbling around. He gave his all during the show, but he said to me afterwards he's just broken and tired and he felt like they were getting him out of a box, putting him up on stage, he spits and he swears and he sweats, and gives the punters what they want and then the road crew sweep up the bits of him that are left on the stage, and put him in a box until next time.
"That's what he felt like. He was so tired, he was really looking forward to getting home and getting back into a training regime with his personal trainer."
The Prodigy's gig at Auckland's The Trusts Arena on February 5 was Flint's last performance.
After the concert Cooper went home and said to his wife he wondered if he'd just seen their last show.
"I spoke to my wife and said 'I think I've just seen their last show'. It really felt like that, based on that conversation with Keith and also Liam.
"Liam [Howlett, band member] was saying how it was 30 years next year and that it might be time to retire. They just felt and looked really tired and Keith was like a shell of himself, not the Keith I knew from way back."
Cooper said Flint had overcome a tough upbringing before becoming famous for his music.
"Obviously he had his demons and stuff from his past, he came from a broken home and had a pretty shitty childhood."
Cooper said Flint, who grew up in Essex, wasn't the guy he portrayed on stage, rather "he was a hippie".
"He loved Pink Floyd and reggae. Keith used to have long hair and wear big woolly jumpers like you'd see at Splore or something, he's a hippie at heart.
"So that persona of the spitting, swearing guy full of attitude really, is not Keith. That's not the Keith that I know.
"Like he once said to me 'I just give them what they expect of me, spitting and swearing and sweating'."
Cooper described catching up with the band in Auckland last month as "bittersweet" as they had also discussed the death of their former manager Mike Champion.
"I was just left with kind of a feeling like, 'is this it?'. They always give 200 per cent, right ... it was an absolutely amazing show and this was as good as I have ever seen ... but there it just didn't feel right. The whole backstage vibe. It felt like it was ending.
"[Keith and I] had a hug, and we had a kiss, and I said 'I'll see you next time I'm in England, and told him to come down for a holiday anytime'."
Cooper worked with the band after meeting The Prodigy member Liam Howlett through their manager at the time Mike Champion - who died on New Year's Eve last year.
An opportunity came up to help the fledgling Howlett kit out his first studio. He stayed on for three years doing everything from driving the van, taking the money, to lighting and sound.
"We were just like a bunch of mates that just went out and did shows and toured the world. We were a real tight little unit."
Cooper left just prior to the band's release of their second album, Music for the Jilted Generation, and then moved to New Zealand.
"They went through some pretty rough times back then. When we did the first American tour they were on the verge of splitting up, just because of the pressure more than anything ... but they stuck it out and as we know they went stratospheric."
He arrived in New Zealand and continued to work in the music industry before getting back into the technology game about 10 years ago. He now works as a software developer.
Although he only worked with the band for a few years, they always caught up whenever they toured New Zealand; doing dinners and hanging out backstage, "just like the old days".
"It was wonderful to see him, but he just looked like a little old man that was busted and broken and tired. So tired."
As for Flint's death, Cooper said he had messaged Howlett this morning to make sure he was okay and was now thinking of heading over for the funeral.
"I can't even begin to imagine what they're going through to be honest with you."
He said Howlett and Flint were thick as thieves, "like brothers".
"It must be an awful time for him."
However, he will always remember Flint as a funny guy, and one who never missed an opportunity to "take the piss".
"He was funny. And that's what my enduring memory will be of him, he was incredibly funny, and often at people's expense.
"He was a big piss taker ... but he was never vindictive. He could tear people to shreds with his piss taking and I was certainly the subject of that many a time.
"He used to call me 'Seanise'. It was the 90s so I had highlights and lowlights and all that kind of stuff, back in the day when I had hair."
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