It was a parent’s worst nightmare, magnified for the world to see when Tim Bergling — the son of Klas Bergling and Anki Lidén known to millions of worldwide fans as the superstar producer Avicii — took his life on April 20, 2018. He was 28 years old.
Bergling’s death was a shock to both his fans and closest collaborators, who had witnessed Bergling emerge from a highly-publicized period of illness, addiction and physical, mental and emotional burnout after he retired from touring in 2016. Those close to him say that in the final phase of his life, Bergling seemed healthy, happy and focused on the new music he was making. Some of that music appears on the posthumous Avicii album, Tim, out today.
All proceeds from the album benefit the Tim Bergling Foundation, created by Bergling’s family to honor Tim, champion the causes he cared about and provide real help to people struggling with mental illness. Here, Avicii’s father Klas Bergling discusses the Tim Bergling Foundation, and healing in the aftermath of his son’s death.
Billboard Dance: What are the primary goals for the Tim Bergling Foundation?
Bergling: There are four areas of focus—preventing mental illness and suicide, [protecting] threatened animals and nature, eliminating hunger and providing social services. Tim’s tragic death has raised many questions about mental health and suicide among young people. Avicii is a strong brand and Tim was a popular person. His music still affects people around the world; we therefore believe we can reach out with our messages and, hopefully, shift opinions, open discussion and to provide real help to fix problems. To express myself simply, we want to see results. We don’t want to sit and talk and spend money.
How far along are you in achieving these goals?
We are in the starting phase of the Foundation and will begin by identifying suitable organizations [to work with] in each area of focus. I see this as a starting year. We’ve opened up conversations with organizations in Sweden and completed the first phase of financing ourselves. To start, Tim’s music and other activities related to his companies will finance the Foundation. All net proceeds from the [new] album will go to the foundation. We’re not actively going out looking for money. Of course, if people or organizations want to contribute, we are absolutely open for that.
Mental health is one of your primary focuses. What effect do you hope to have in this realm?
Strengthening and supporting the discussions emerging in several countries about the importance of daring to talk about mental illness, and also suicide. Also, trying to influence responsible politicians and decision-makers and influencing people to understand the importance of accessible psychiatric care and faster efforts to help adolescents and young adults.
We’re starting here in Sweden, most likely with some of the organizations we’ve already had discussions with. One is Suicide Zero, which works in suicide prevention. I think it’s an interesting organization, because they are very active, and we want to do a long-term partnership. We don’t want to contribute with money and that’s it.
We could, for example, work within a community in Sweden with the goal of decreasing the number of suicides and suicide attempts, or making sure telephone helplines are working in that area 24 hours a day, which is not the case at all in most places. We want to find myriad ways to contribute to [adolescents] and young adults getting faster, easier help with mental issues and hopefully also reduce the number of suicides in these age categories.
What do you want people struggling with mental illness to know?
One should not be afraid or ashamed to talk about mental health problems or troublesome thoughts; one should not carry them alone and keep them locked inside. Many times a talk with a good friend, parent, sibling, psychologist, priest, or other understanding person can help solve many problems before they get worse.
Climate change, nature conservation and eradicating hunger have also been mentioned as areas of focus. Are these causes Tim himself cared about?
Tim was an animal and nature lover, and would donate a lot [of money] to save an elephant or save threatened areas in nature. He was often upset about poachers and companies who devastated forests and nature. He donated to Hunger Aid, an African project, Feeding America for homeless people, along with other causes. He got more and more interested in these [causes] during his travels after he stopped touring, and his plans were to support several other charity causes.
What does success for the Tim Bergling Foundation look like for you?
If we achieve good results that can be measured — for example, reducing the number of suicides among young and adult young people.
What can Avicii fans do to support what you’re doing?
Once we start working with organizations and supporting them economically, the fans can donate to the Foundation, if they believe in that particular activity or in our cause in general. We will report and follow up on such activities on the Foundation’s coming website.
How can fans best honor Tim and his legacy?
The way they’ve done it thus far, with love, respect and fantastically supportive comments on the Avicii fan website, along with personal letters, small wonderful gifts, flowers and letters on his grave — so much love that has overwhelmed us.
What does it mean to you to be able to extend the good work that he himself started?
It means a lot. Of course, it’s something that feels good for me personally, after what has happened. If we can do something good from this situation, I think it’s wonderful.
You mentioned the letters and well wishes you and your family received after Tim died. Are you still getting those?
We get them frequently. For example, his grave here in Stockholm at the church, which is near to us, is visited on a regular basis. People write little letters and lovely things there, which is not okay in the accordance of the church, but they still do it. [laughs] Last year we opened a website for fans, to give them a place to write and communicate. It’s fantastic to read those messages, because they are so mature and so many people have so much to say about Tim and the music.
The church I mentioned also, on some weekends, has musical performances. Last year they had an Avicii weekend, and the church was absolutely full, twice. People couldn’t get in. It was interesting too, because it was all ages. Not just 18, 25, 30-year olds. It was 60-year olds and small children. It’s really….what should I say? You feel a lift. When you get all this love from people and they talk about Tim, it’s really something that’s healing.