POP Idol legend Darius Campbell Danesh was found dead at 41 in his US flat — weeks before he was to star in a reunion show in Britain.
Last night mystery surrounded the cause of his sudden death in Rochester, Minnesota.
Grief-stricken Gareth last night led tributes to his Pop Idol pal.
The 38-year-old singer said: “I can’t quite believe the news of my dear friend Darius passing. I’m heartbroken.
“Darius took me under his wing during our time in Pop Idol, like a big brother; always looking out for me and for that I thank you my friend.
“I will miss our chats. He was one of the most beautiful, intelligent and gentle souls I was lucky enough to know, a soul that lit up every room.
“Goodbye my friend. Forever in my heart.”
Darius was found “unresponsive” at his US flat on August 11, his family announced yesterday.
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Cops in Rochester confirmed there were no suspicious circumstances but were understood to be awaiting the results of medical and toxicology tests.
Last night, X Factor supremo Simon Cowell said: “I first saw Darius on television over 20 years ago and I got to know him really well. He was charismatic, funny and just a great person to be with.
“His passing, for someone so young, is an absolute tragedy and my heart goes out to his family and friends”.
The tragedy came as Glasgow-born Darius — who forged a West End stage career after chart-topping pop success — was set for an emotional reunion with showbiz pals in the UK.
A source told The Sun that Darius was set for a potential return to the UK in just weeks for a Pop Idol reunion special being made by Thames TV.
Stars of the show from across the globe have been invited back — plus Queen singer Adam Lambert, who won American Idol.
Plans were being made for filming at the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End, where auditions were held, for the first time in 20 years.
The pal said: “He was really excited about the reunion and was in talks with producers to appear on it. They were looking at getting filming started around the end of September.
“It was going to be an hour-and a-half-long special hosted by Ant and Dec and full of nostalgia for the millions of Pop Idol fans.
“I spoke to Darius recently and he was in good spirits — he was his usual happy self.”
I first saw Darius on television over 20 years ago and I got to know him really well. He was charismatic, funny and just a great person to be with.
Never-before-seen footage was said to be part of the special, while Will and Gareth were being lined up for a duet.
But his family said yesterday: “Darius was found unresponsive in bed in his apartment room and was pronounced dead in the afternoon by the local medical examiners’ office. The local police department have confirmed that there were no signs of intent or suspicious circumstances.
“The cause of his sudden death is unknown at this stage while medical examinations continue.
“We ask that you kindly respect our wishes for privacy at this time whilst we come to terms with the tragic loss of our son and brother.”
Neil Fox, 61, who was a judge on Pop Idol, said he was “saddened and shocked” to hear the news about Darius. He recalled: “He had been such a big character on that first Pop Idol series.
“We lived near each other and often met up as his career moved forward with some big chart hits and West End shows.
“He was a charming guy — super-polite, very witty and a real hard-working pro who had set his sights on getting to the top. He talked with huge affection about his mum and dad and always wanted to make them proud.”
Darius’s Pop Idol appearances launched a career which saw him top the charts soon after with the single Colourblind, while his album Dive In reached the top ten.
He was really excited about the reunion and was in talks with producers to appear on it. They were looking at getting filming started around the end of September.
He went on to star in West End musicals including Chicago and Guys and Dolls.
He first appeared on TV in 2001 sporting a ponytail and beard on an early Popstars show with a hilarious cover of Britney Spears‘ Baby One More Time — which Britney herself later saluted.
But his career took off after he surfaced on Pop Idol with a new clean-cut image, which wowed Simon Cowell. He later lived in the US and found love with Canadian actress Natasha Henstridge, star of the Species sci-fi movie. They married in 2011 in Santa Barbara, California, but divorced years later.
The handsome star was linked to model Daisy Lowe in 2016.
He was previously reported to be in a relationship with Guy Ritchie’s wife Jacqui Ainsworth for two years in the early 2000s.
Darius sustained a broken neck in a 70mph crash when his Porsche skidded on oil in 2010.
But the crooner bounced back to win the first series of ITV’s Popstar To Operastar contest — beating Bernie Nolan of the Nolan Sisters in the final. That success landed him his first major opera role in a production of Carmen at London’s O2 as toreador Escamillo.
And he joked that he channelled straight-talking old mentor Simon’s character when he played lawyer Flynn in musical Chicago in 2011.
Last night, a Rochester Police Department spokesman said: “The investigation into the cause of his death is still pending. There is no known threat to the public.”
‘JOKE ACT’ WHO HIT THE BIG TIME
By Katy Docherty and Hayley Minn
HE was the original joke act in the new breed of reality singing contests — but plucky Darius Campbell Danesh ended up being the real Pop Idol.
With a No1 single and respected West End musical theatre career, he became one of the most successful contestants.
He first appeared, aged 20, in 2001 on ITV’s Popstars with slicked back hair in a ponytail and a greasy goatee.
His overly-confident acoustic version of Britney Spears’s Hit Me Baby One More Time failed to impress the judges.
They said he was too “cheesy” and sent him packing — but his audition went down in reality TV history.
Kym Marsh, one of the Popstars winners who formed Hear’Say on the show, was asked if he was edited to make him look foolish. She replied: “No, he was really like that.”
After his Popstars appearance, he became a national laughing stock. During a gig at London’s G-A-Y club night, he was spat at and had coins and bottles thrown at him.
In his 2003 biography Sink or Swim, he said he became a recluse, only leaving his Edinburgh flat to drink in bars.
But after friends confronted him, he turned his life around.
Darius had his redemption when he was invited to appear on Pop Idol and debuted a new, trendier look.
With short hair and a shaved face, he managed to impress the judges, even Simon Cowell.
He made it to the final three alongside Gareth Gates and eventual winner Will Young.
And in a surprise twist, he chose to turn down Simon’s offer of a record contract — but they remained firm friends.
Darius survived a 70mph car crash in 2010 and meningitis in 2015 when he accidentally drank water from the Thames during a water filter photo stunt.
Divorced from Canadian actress Natasha Henstridge, he enjoyed a brief fling with Daisy Lowe shortly before she appeared in Strictly in 2016.