It was less than a year after the death of Avicii in April 2018 that Swedish investigative journalist Måns Mosesson began work on an official biography of the dance music superstar. Working with the parents of the artist born Tim Bergling, Mosesson was given access to a decade’s worth of the producer’s emails, text messages, voice memos and more — a mountain of intimate correspondence Mosesson sifted through while also conducting hundreds of interviews with individuals from Bergling’s personal and professional life.
The result is Tim: The Official Biography Of Avicii, out in hardcover on Tuesday (Jan. 18). The 400-page book offers an in-depth, honest and compassionate view of the life of Bergling, as he grew from a shy child to a teenager self-conscious about his acne to the global face of a new and revolutionary musical genre.
While the story of the rise and fall of Avicii is familiar to many, Tim offers personal anecdotes and insights that have never before been widely shared. Here, in italics, are 12 of the book’s most revelatory passages, excerpted courtesy of Sphere Books.
1. Tim Bergling first saw his 2012 Super Bowl Commercial while in a New York hospital.
He’d been rushed via ambulance after experiencing stomach pains that were eventually diagnosed as severe pancreatitis. He later called this time in the hospital “the most anxiety and stress free days I can remember the past 6 years.” From Tim: The Official Biography of Avicii:
How did they end up here, anyway? How did the situation get so out of hand? As soon as Tim woke up, he grimaced in pain and was given a liquid morphine drug that dissolved the stomach cramps. He could not eat solid food; to keep his stomach going he instead got thin flakes of ice.
[Bergling’s then girlfriend] Emily Goldberg had come to New York and paced around the corridors and answered anxious emails from Tim’s mother. Several times a day, Tim’s father called, worried and restless, and wondered if it wouldn’t be better if Tim flew home to get care in Sweden…
After almost a week, Emily turned on the old TV that hung on the wall in the hospital room. On Sunday night the Super Bowl was broadcast, the final game of the American National Football League. Every year the game was one of the world’s biggest sporting events, and now over a hundred million Americans were sitting down to watch the New York Giants face the New England Patriots. The gang at the hospital was interested in something else.
During the first commercial break, Tim hushed the nurse who was in on her rounds, and everyone turned towards the small screen. First came a couple of commercials for cars and one for soft drinks. Then the ad they were waiting for. Well-dressed office workers stood in airy rooms at a quiet corporate party. The camera panned towards the skyscraper’s dark windows, and there, behind his decks, was a smiling Avicii playing ‘Levels’.
2. Bergling’s struggles with prescription painkillers were apparent to his close acquaintances as early as 2012.
Ever since Tim started playing at Jesse [Waits’] club XS in Las Vegas, the club manager and his main attraction had become close friends. Jesse had given his old sports car to Tim as a birthday present, a 1965 Ford Thunderbird, and taken Tim and Emily to the Las Vegas desert to shoot targets with his rifles and pistols. Jesse and Tim now talked to each other quite intimately via text messages, discussing gossip and secrets. But now Tim was behaving in a way that made Jesse both annoyed and puzzled. They had decided to have lunch, but Tim did not show up. Jesse went to the studio on Styrmansgatan, waiting for Tim to finish his work.
When they finally got out on the street, Jesse saw how Tim secretly put a pill in his mouth. They went to a restaurant just below Tim’s apartment on Karlavägen, and by the time they sat down to their pizzas, Tim’s pupils had shrunk to pinheads.
Jesse recognized the look from his father. One day when Jesse was a teenager, his father had torn a tendon in his shoulder on a construction site where he worked and became bedridden. For almost a year, he had struggled with surgeries and rehab while on painkillers. When his father then found out that the woman he’d been seeing was unfaithful, he closed the bedroom door and pulled down the curtains. The painkillers had soon become too expensive and Jesse’s father had switched to the drug that in its structure was most similar to the morphine pills and gave the corresponding pain relief. Heroin.
Jesse had, since then, learned to read the small signs, the changes in a face. That shiftless and absent-minded look, the satisfied and blank expression. Tim seemed to have slipped away in a similar way; if the restaurant had caught on fire it would not have bothered him.
3. Mick Jagger, Van Morrison, Slash and other legends turned down working with Avicii.
So far, the European house scene had grown properly within the box: Swedish House Mafia had worked with Pharrell Williams, Calvin Harris with Rihanna, David Guetta with the Black Eyed Peas. Sure, those were collaborations across unspoken borders – from the club towards the slick pop world, from Europe to the USA – but they were still ties between colleagues who were contemporaries. Tim had wanted musicians like Paul Simon, a legend who made smart ballads in the 60s. Did Simon even know what house music was?
The other requests Tim had made were not easy either. Mick Jagger said no; Van Morrison’s representatives were vague in their answer, giving a kind of half maybe. Neil [Jacobson, of Interscope Records] didn’t even manage to get in touch with Slash, the guitarist in the hard rock band Guns N’ Roses. Nor with Stevie Wonder or Sting.
It was not particularly difficult to understand. Avicii certainly was on a fantastic run right now – ‘I Could Be The One’, a song he had done with Dutch producer Nicky Romero, had just gone straight to number one on the UK singles chart. But why would a rock veteran like John Fogerty care about that? For these contented men, whose career peaks were at least twenty years behind them, Avicii was at best an obscure Swede with a summer hit.
4. In 2014, Bergling quit taking the painkillers he’d become reliant on after his bout with pancreatitis.
Now he would soon go on tour in Europe and play the songs from True. Before that, Tim had decided he would stop taking each and every pill. To help, he had been prescribed a type of antidote by his American doctor. Suboxone was developed to manage and get out of an opioid addiction and did not give the same euphoric feeling as the painkillers he had previously taken. But buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone, was itself an opioid, only milder than oxycodone. The doctor had explained that it was therefore important to slowly taper off this medicine as well. Tim’s body needed to gradually get used to not having the drug in the system, otherwise he risked suffering from vomiting, fever and severe restlessness.
But Tim had a hard time sticking to the recommendations. He was impatient and wanted to get rid of every pill, including the antidote, and phased them out as quickly as he could possibly manage. After five days in bed things were at their worst, the headache cracking in his skull.
“Have this gnarly feeling and wanna punch myself almost,” Tim wrote to guitarist Mike Einziger. Still, it felt worth it. “I’m very agitated and stuff but I’m sure it’ll all just get better and better from here.”
And finally one day, when Tim had finished sweating and being tormented, he came downstairs with color in his cheeks and a spring in his step. He had made it, he felt invincible.
5. But Bergling’s addiction issues resurfaced after Ultra Miami 2014, where he had to cancel his headlining performance after being hospitalized due to a burst appendix and inflamed gallbladder.
It was clear that the hospital stay in Miami had meant a major setback. Tim had been prescribed Suboxone again, the antidote with buprenorphine, which the doctors had explained would not have the same euphoric effect as the previous medication. It was possible that the medical staff were right, Racquel thought – maybe her boyfriend needed help to slowly taper off again. But after only a few weeks, it had been noticeable how his body had become addicted to this narcotic as well. He had started to lose his appetite and weight, made sure to always have access to tablets even when the prescription was out.
Tim’s mood swung suddenly and erratically, and for the first time in their relationship [Bergling’s then-girlfriend] Racquel saw him as combative. A spark seemed to have gone out, now that he was on a medication that did not even give him the euphoric and warm effect of the previous opioids. His hygiene had begun to suffer. For long periods, Tim didn’t brush his teeth, and when the couple had a rare dinner together, he fell asleep at the table.
6. By 2014, Bergling was over EDM.
The monotony had made the genre easy to make fun of, like when the comedy show Saturday Night Live in the spring had made a sketch about Davvincii, a brainless DJ who had so little to do in the booth that he fried eggs and played with his model train set while a hypnotized audience waited for the epic drop. For the hassle, Davvincii was rewarded with the audience’s jewelry, credit cards and showered with money bags from smiling financiers in suits.
Tim had responded to the parody with a self-ironic picture on Avicii’s Instagram account, but really, he just wanted to leave EDM completely behind, not be associated with the scene at all. He was seriously tired of the image of a DJ who just went up on stage and pressed a button and did not work for the love of the audience. If they only knew how much he worked. If they only knew how much he cared about songwriting and the colors of a composition.
7. Bergling’s family and friends — including his father, his manager Ash Pournouri and his tour manager, bodyguard and older brother — staged an intervention for him in Ibiza in 2015, which led to him checking into a rehab clinic on the island shortly thereafter.
Throughout the afternoon, they had sat in a conference room in the hotel part of Ushuaïa with John McKeown and gone through the form the therapist had asked them to fill out. Several of the guys had cried as they spoke, but the rehearsal had also prepared them.
At six o’clock in the evening, Tim came down the stairs as the girl he had slept with crept away behind him. A rush of discomfort ran through Klas when he met his son’s somewhat uncertain gaze. Tim must have noticed that something was going on because he greeted [intervention expert] John McKeown so apprehensively – he had never met the man before and did not understand who he was.
They went and sat on the chairs that stood in a semicircle in front of the speakers, the synthesizers and other instruments. Tim took a seat in front of the stairs leading out to the pool, the therapist made sure that he ended up directly to the left of Tim.
It was Arash who spoke first. “So, we’re here because we have some concerns about you. And we’ve asked John here to come and facilitate.”
Tim’s facial expression changed. “Wait a minute,’ he said. ‘Is this an intervention?” John McKeown tried to sound as calm and secure as possible. ‘Yes, Tim. This is an intervention. We do this out of love and care; hopefully you’ll be able to tell.’ Tim nodded warily. At least he did not rush out of the room; that was a good sign.
8. While in rehab, Bergling discovered the work of writer and philosopher Eckhart Tolle.
The reading led him to study the work of other spiritually and philosophically-minded authors and thinkers during the period, when he’d announced his retirement from touring.
Tim was attracted by the tangibility of the philosophy, that Buddhism was not only a religion but also a practical doctrine that required physical practice and application. There were no gods, no predetermined destiny. All people could change for the better, that was the conviction – that anyone could be enlightened.
9. Bergling traveled to the Amazon jungle in Peru in summer 2017 to drink the psychedelic tea ayahuasca.
The next day, the first ceremony would take place. Tim and the others had to go out into the jungle in search of the roots, vines and bark varieties that the brew consisted of. In a cauldron over a fire, the plants were boiled together and the friends took the worn mattresses from their shacks and placed them on the floor in a communal hut. Then the shaman blew tobacco smoke in their faces and began waving a leaf rattle as he whistled and sang hymns to nature and the holy spirits.
Tim and the others were served the green, viscous brew in small cups. Only with great effort could they keep the musty mud down, it tasted disgusting. But Tim enjoyed every second. To lie down on a mattress in the middle of the rainforest and wait for a great cleansing, that was to experience life for real.
10. In the period before his death, Bergling seemed physically and spiritually healthy.
He was working with a trainer, eating healthy foods, studying philosophy and getting serious about his meditation practice.
An instructor from a meditation centre in Los Angeles had come up to Tim’s house and taught the basics of this tech- nique. Most modern instructors stressed that transcendental meditation was not something fuzzy; on the contrary, it was a simple technique to get rid of stress, but faithful to his habit Tim wanted to get to the original sources and therefore read Science of Being and Art of Living, Maharishi’s book that the guru had dictated on tape at the beginning of the 60s. It had been a long time since Tim had been so blown away by a text.
11. After being alerted that Bergling had harmed himself while in Oman, his parents booked flights to the Middle Eastern country, but before they could get on the flight, it was soon too late.
Once again, Klas had spoken with the man in Oman, who the day before had sounded the alarm that Tim had injured himself. [This man] Amer had now cancelled his planned commitments so that he could watch over his Swedish guest and Tim’s parents told themselves that they should try to stay calm despite everything. After all, Tim was in an upmarket suburb of Muscat, an area where the country’s upper class lived. A large property with manicured lawns, high walls and security staff. Their son would be safe until they got there.
The thought that Tim would hurt himself had never occurred to either of them. For a while they had feared an overdose. Or some kind of medical complication, given all the hassle with his stomach. But this? It chilled them, in spite of the morning sun warming up the rooms.
12. Bergling’s parents didn’t look for anyone to blame following their son’s death, instead turning their attention to the creation of the Tim Bergling Foundation, which focuses on mental health and suicide prevention among young people.
News articles and social media posts looked for simple answers to the question of why the star had died. The grief and frustration turned into blood lust, people online hunted for people to accuse, someone to answer for what had happened.
Anki and Klas thought that kind of speculation was useless. In their eyes looking for scapegoats was not only destructive – it was also impossible. It simply couldn’t be done; their son’s journey had been too complex for that.