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Hearing the story, you are tempted to believe it had something to do with his car: a Volkswagen Phaeton. Classicists will recall that Phaeton was the son of Helios who asked his father if he might drive the sun's chariot across the heavens. Phaeton lost control of the horses and came so close to setting the world on fire that Zeus struck him down with a thunderbolt.

Within days of his death, the secret life of the high-flying Austrian politician Jörg Haider began to unravel. For Haider, who was married with two daughters, it had been a day of parties. His last official engagement was at the Cabaret nightclub in Velden on Lake Wörthersee. He was in a bad mood and later it emerged that he had had a fight with his lover and right-hand man in the BZÖ (Alliance for the Future of Austria), Stefan Petzner.

Witnesses reported that Haider left Velden sober at 10.30pm, driving the Phaeton himself. He arrived at the Stadtkrämer, a homosexual bar in Klagenfurt, the capital of the province of Carinthia where he was governor, 45 minutes later. Well-known in the bar, and a friend of its owner Hans-Peter Gasser, Haider, according to some reports, proceeded to drink a bottle of vodka, leaving wobbly at 1.05am. He declined an offer to drive him home. After exchanging phone numbers with a boy, he set off for his estate in the Bärental a few miles to the south, where he was due to celebrate his mother's ninetieth birthday later that day.

He had 1.8 milligrams per litre alcohol in his bloodstream, nearly four times the legal limit, and it is presumed that he was also receiving calls and texts on his mobile. Overtaking at 142 kph, he swerved and veered off the road. The car must have rolled several times before colliding with a concrete post. Despite the Phaeton's ultra-modern safety features, Haider sustained horrible injuries and was pronounced dead at 1.18am on 11 October.

Haider's end had a whiff of Hollywood - not the glamour, but the seediness. He, too, was an actor, sometimes the impeccably dressed, photogenic politician, sometimes a seedy pop star out on the prowl, surrounded by a pack of sun-tanned cronies half his age. It was the eclipse of a brilliant career. Austria's most famous post-war Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, who was Jewish, once spoke of him as "almost like a lost son".

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brianson
December 4th, 2008
2:12 PM
It's not like we don't have our share of unfaithful politicians with various substance abuse problems, but...wow! I'll let you in on a secret Austria, across the pond you kinda' have a reputation for loopy politicians and this guy didn't help. Xenophobe or not.

Richard Murphy
November 30th, 2008
7:11 PM
Interesting piece, but a few factual errors. The Austrian People's Party is the OeVP, not VPOe. And Susanne Riess-Passer was Vice-Chancellor, not foreign minister.

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