George Michael (born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou; 25 June 1963 – 25 December 2016) was a British singer, songwriter and record producer. Known as a leading creative force in music production, songwriting, vocal performance and visual presentation, he is regarded as one of the greatest artists of his generation and an icon of popular culture.
Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou
25 June 1963
|Died||25 December 2016 (aged 53)|
Michael rose to fame as a member of the music duo Wham! and later embarked on a solo career. Born in East Finchley, Michael formed the duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981. The band's first two albums, Fantastic (1983) and Make It Big (1984), reached number one on the UK Albums Chart and the US Billboard 200. Their hit singles included "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Last Christmas". Certifying themselves as a global act, Wham!'s tour of China in April 1985 was the first visit to China by a Western popular music act, and generated worldwide media coverage.
Michael's first solo single, "Careless Whisper", reached number one in over 20 countries, including the UK and US. Before embarking on the production of his first solo album, Michael went on to release two more number-one singles, "A Different Corner" and "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)". Michael's debut solo album, Faith, was released in 1987, topping the UK Albums Chart and staying at number one on the Billboard 200 for 12 weeks. The album sold 25 million copies worldwide and remains one of the best selling albums of all time. Four singles from the album—"Faith", "Father Figure", "One More Try", and "Monkey"—reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Michael became the best-selling music artist of 1988 and Faith was awarded Album of the Year at the 1989 Grammy Awards. Michael released his second solo album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 in 1990. The album was a UK number-one and included the Billboard Hot 100 number-one single "Praying for Time", and the worldwide hit "Freedom! '90". A duet with singer Elton John in 1991, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", was also a transatlantic number one. Michael went on to release two multimillion-selling albums, Older (1996) and Patience (2004).
Michael came out as gay in 1998. He was an active LGBT rights campaigner and HIV/AIDS charity fundraiser. Michael's personal life and legal troubles made headlines during the late 1990s and 2000s, as he was arrested for public lewdness in 1998 and was arrested for multiple drug-related offences after that time. The 2005 documentary A Different Story covered his career and personal life. Michael's first tour since 1991, the 25 Live tour, spanned three tours over the course of three years: 2006, 2007, and 2008. Four years later, he performed his final concert at London's Earls Court in 2012. In the early hours of 25 December 2016, Michael was found dead at his home in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, aged 53. A coroner's report attributed his death to liver issues and heart disease.
Michael is one of the best-selling musicians of all time, with sales of over 115 million records worldwide. He achieved seven number-one songs on the UK Singles Chart and eight number-one songs on the US Billboard Hot 100. Michael won various music awards, including two Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards, three American Music Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, and six Ivor Novello Awards. In 2008, he was ranked 40th in Billboard's list of the "Greatest Hot 100 Artists of All Time". In 2019, Michael was named as the greatest artist of all time by Smooth Radio. The Radio Academy named him the most played artist on British radio during the period 1984–2004.
George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panagiotou (Greek: Γεώργιος Κυριάκος Παναγιώτου) on 25 June 1963 in East Finchley, London. His father, Kyriacos Panayiotou (nicknamed "Jack"), was a Greek Cypriot restaurateur who emigrated to England in the 1950s. His mother, Lesley Angold (born Harrison, died 1997), was an English dancer. In June 2008, Michael told the Los Angeles Times that his maternal grandmother was Jewish, but she married a non-Jewish man and raised her children with no knowledge of their Jewish background due to her fear during World War II. Michael spent most of his childhood in Kingsbury, London, in the home his parents bought soon after his birth; he attended Roe Green Junior School and Kingsbury High School. Michael had two sisters: Yioda (born 1958) and Melanie (1960–2019). On the BBC's Desert Island Discs he disclosed that his interest in music followed an injury to his head around the age of eight.
While he was in his early teens, the family moved to Radlett. There, Michael attended Bushey Meads School in Bushey, where he befriended his future Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley. The two had the same career ambition of being musicians. Michael busked on the London Underground, performing songs such as "'39" by Queen. His involvement in the music business began with his working as a DJ, playing at clubs and local schools around Bushey, Stanmore, and Watford. This was followed by the formation of a short-lived ska band called The Executive, with Ridgeley, Ridgeley's brother Paul, Andrew Leaver, and David Mortimer (later known as David Austin). On the cusp of fame, he decided to legally change his name to the more accessible George Michael.
Michael formed the duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981. The band's first album Fantastic reached No. 1 in the UK in 1983 and produced a series of top 10 singles including "Young Guns", "Wham Rap!" and "Club Tropicana". Their second album, Make It Big, reached No. 1 on the charts in the US. Singles from that album included "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" (No. 1 in the UK and US), "Freedom", "Everything She Wants", and "Careless Whisper" which reached No. 1 in nearly 25 countries, including the UK and US, and was Michael's first solo effort as a single. In December 1984, the single "Last Christmas" was released. In 1985 Michael received the first of his three Ivor Novello Awards for Songwriter of the Year from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.
Michael sang on the original Band Aid recording of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (which became the UK Christmas number one) and donated the profits from "Last Christmas" and "Everything She Wants" to charity. Michael sang "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" with Elton John at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in London on 13 July 1985. He also contributed background vocals to David Cassidy's 1985 hit "The Last Kiss", as well as Elton John's 1985 successes "Nikita" and "Wrap Her Up". Michael cited Cassidy as a major career influence and interviewed Cassidy for David Litchfield's Ritz Newspaper.
Wham!'s tour of China in April 1985, the first visit to China by a Western popular music act, generated worldwide media coverage, much of it centred on Michael. The headline in the Chicago Tribune read: "East meets Wham!, and another great wall comes down". Before Wham!'s appearance in China, many kinds of music in the country were forbidden. The band's manager, Simon Napier-Bell, had spent 18 months trying to convince Chinese officials to let the duo play. The audience included members of the Chinese government, and Chinese television presenter, Kan Lijun, who was the on stage host, spoke of Wham!'s historic performance:
"No-one had ever seen anything like that before. All the young people were amazed and everybody was tapping their feet. Of course the police weren't happy and they were scared there would be riots."
Wham! performed their hits with scantily clad dancers and strobing disco lights. According to Napier-Bell, Michael tried to get the crowd to clap along to "Club Tropicana", but "they hadn't a clue – they thought he wanted applause and politely gave it", before adding that some Chinese did eventually "get the hang of clapping on the beat." A UK embassy official in China stated "there was some lively dancing but this was almost entirely confined to younger western members of the audience." The tour was documented by film director Lindsay Anderson and producer Martin Lewis in their film Wham! in China: Foreign Skies. With the success of Michael's solo singles, "Careless Whisper" (1984) and "A Different Corner" (1986), rumours of an impending break up of Wham! intensified. The duo officially separated in 1986, after releasing a farewell single, "The Edge of Heaven" and a farewell compilation, The Final (their third album Music from the Edge of Heaven was released in North America and Japan), plus a sell-out concert at Wembley Stadium that included the world premiere of the China film. The Wham! partnership ended officially with the commercially successful single "The Edge of Heaven", which reached No. 1 on the UK chart in June 1986.
During early 1987, at the beginning of his solo career, Michael released "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)", a duet with Aretha Franklin. "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" was a one-off project that helped Michael achieve an ambition by singing with one of his favourite artists. It scored number one on both the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard Hot 100 upon its release. For Michael, it became his third consecutive solo number one in the UK from three releases, after 1984's "Careless Whisper" (though the single was actually from the Wham! album Make It Big) and 1986's "A Different Corner". The single was also the first Michael had recorded as a solo artist which he had not written himself. The co-writer, Simon Climie, was unknown at the time; he later had success as a performer with the band Climie Fisher in 1988. Michael and Aretha Franklin won a Grammy Award in 1988 for Best R&B Performance – Duo or Group with Vocal for the song.
In late 1987, Michael released his debut solo album, Faith. The first single released from the album was "I Want Your Sex", in mid-1987. The song was banned by many radio stations in the UK and US, due to its sexually suggestive lyrics. MTV broadcast the video, featuring celebrity make-up artist Kathy Jeung in a basque and suspenders, only during the late night hours. Michael argued that the act was beautiful if the sex was monogamous, and he recorded a brief prologue for the video in which he said: "This song is not about casual sex." One of the racier scenes involved Michael writing the words "explore monogamy" on his partner's back in lipstick. Some radio stations played a toned-down version of the song, "I Want Your Love", with the word "love" replacing "sex".
When "I Want Your Sex" reached the US charts, American Top 40 host Casey Kasem refused to say the song's title, referring to it only as "the new single by George Michael." In the US, the song was also sometimes listed as "I Want Your Sex (from Beverly Hills Cop II)", since the song was featured on the soundtrack of the movie. Despite censorship and radio play problems, "I Want Your Sex" reached No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 in the UK. The second single, "Faith", was released in October 1987, a few weeks before the album. "Faith" became one of his most popular songs. The song was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four consecutive weeks, becoming the best-selling single of 1988 in the US. It also reached No. 1 in Australia, and No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart. The video provided some definitive images of the 1980s music industry in the process—Michael in shades, leather jacket, cowboy boots, and Levi's jeans, playing a guitar near a classic-design jukebox.
On 30 October, Faith was released in the UK and in several markets worldwide. Faith topped the UK Albums Chart, and in the US, the album had 51 non-consecutive weeks in the top 10 of Billboard 200, including 12 weeks at No. 1. Faith had many successes, with four singles ("Faith", "Father Figure", "One More Try", and "Monkey") reaching No. 1 in the US. Faith was certified Diamond by the RIAA for sales of 10 million copies in the US. To date, global sales of Faith are more than 25 million units. The album was highly acclaimed by music critics, with AllMusic journalist Steve Huey describing it as a "superbly crafted mainstream pop/rock masterpiece" and "one of the finest pop albums of the '80s". In a review by Rolling Stone magazine, journalist Mark Coleman commended most of the songs on the album, which he said "displays Michael's intuitive understanding of pop music and his increasingly intelligent use of his power to communicate to an ever-growing audience."
In 1988, Michael embarked on a world tour. In Los Angeles, Michael was joined on stage by Aretha Franklin for "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)". It was the second highest grossing event of 1988, earning $17.7 million. At the 1988 Brit Awards held at the Royal Albert Hall on 8 February, Michael received the first of his two awards for Best British Male Solo Artist. Later that month, Faith won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year at the 31st Grammy Awards. At the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards on 6 September in Los Angeles, Michael received the Video Vanguard Award. According to Michael in his film, A Different Story, success did not make him happy and he started to think there was something wrong in being an idol for millions of teenage girls. The whole Faith process (promotion, videos, tour, awards) left him exhausted, lonely and frustrated, and far from his friends and family. In 1990, he told his record company Sony that, for his second album, he did not want to do promotions like the one for Faith.
Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 was released in September 1990. For this album, Michael tried to create a new reputation as a serious-minded artist; the title is an indication of his desire to be taken more seriously as a songwriter. Michael refused to do any promotion for this album, including no music videos for the singles released. The first single, "Praying for Time", with lyrics concerning social ills and injustice, was released in August 1990. James Hunter of Rolling Stone magazine described the song as "a distraught look at the world's astounding woundedness. Michael offers the healing passage of time as the only balm for physical and emotional hunger, poverty, hypocrisy, and hatred." The song was an instant success, reaching No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and No. 6 in the UK. A video was released shortly thereafter, consisting of the lyrics on a dark background. Michael did not appear in this video or any subsequent videos for the album.
The second single, "Waiting for That Day", was an acoustic-heavy single, released as an immediate follow-up to "Praying for Time". It reached No. 23 in the UK and No. 27 in the US in October 1990. The album was released in Europe on 3 September 1990, and one week later in the US. It reached No. 1 in the UK Albums Chart and peaked at No. 2 on the US Billboard 200. It spent a total of 88 weeks on the UK Albums Chart and was certified four-times Platinum by the BPI. The album produced five UK singles, which were released quickly, within an eight-month period: "Praying for Time", "Waiting for That Day", "Freedom! '90", "Heal the Pain", and "Cowboys and Angels" (the latter being his only single not to chart in the UK top 40).
"Freedom '90" was the second of only two of its singles to be supported by a music video (the other being the Michael-less "Praying for Time"). The song alludes to his struggles with his artistic identity, and prophesied his efforts shortly thereafter to end his recording contract with Sony Music. As if to prove the song's sentiment, Michael refused to appear in the video (directed by David Fincher), and instead recruited supermodels Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz, and Cindy Crawford to appear in and lip sync in his stead. It also featured lyrics critical of his sex symbol status. It reached No. 8 success on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, and No. 28 on the UK Singles Chart. "Mother's Pride" gained significant radio play in the US during the first Persian Gulf War during 1991, often with radio stations mixing in callers' tributes to soldiers with the music. It reached No. 46 on Billboard Hot 100 with only airplay. In the end, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 sold approximately 8 million copies.
At the 1991 Brit Awards, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 won the award for Best British Album. Later in 1991, Michael embarked on the Cover to Cover tour in Japan, England, the US, and Brazil, where he performed at Rock in Rio. In the audience in Rio, he saw and later met Anselmo Feleppa, who later became his partner. The tour was not a proper promotion for Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. Rather, it was more about Michael singing his favourite cover songs. Among his favourites was "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", a 1974 song by Elton John; Michael and John had performed the song together at the Live Aid concert in 1985, and again for Michael's concert at London's Wembley Arena on 25 March 1991, where the duet was recorded. The single was released at the end of 1991 and reached No. 1 in both the UK and US. In 1991, Michael released an autobiography through Penguin Books titled Bare, co-written with Tony Parsons.
An expected follow-up album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 2, was scrapped due to Michael's lawsuit with Sony. Michael complained that Sony had not completely supported the release of his second album, resulting in its poor performance in the US as compared to Faith. Sony responded that Michael's refusal to appear in promotional videos had caused the bad response. Michael ended the idea for Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 2 and donated three songs to the charity project Red Hot + Dance, for the Red Hot Organization which raised money for AIDS awareness; a fourth track, "Crazyman Dance", was the B-side of 1992's "Too Funky". Michael donated the royalties from "Too Funky" to the same cause.
"Too Funky" reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It did not appear on any George Michael studio album, but it was included on his solo collections Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael in 1998 and Twenty Five in 2006. The video featured Michael (sporadically) as a director filming supermodels Linda Evangelista, Beverly Peele, Tyra Banks, Estelle Lefébure and Nadja Auermann at a fashion show.
"George Michael was the best. There's a certain note in his voice when he did 'Somebody to Love' that was pure Freddie."
Michael performed at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert on 20 April 1992 at Wembley Stadium. The concert was a tribute to the life of the late Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury, with the proceeds going to AIDS research. In his last radio interview Mercury had praised Michael, adding that he loved his track "Faith". Michael performed "'39", "These Are the Days of Our Lives" with Lisa Stansfield and "Somebody to Love". The performance of the latter was released on the Five Live EP.
"It was probably the proudest, proudest moment for me of my career, because it was me living out a childhood fantasy, I suppose, to sing one of Freddie's songs in front of 80,000 people. It was a really strange mixture of incredible pride and real sadness for me."— Michael reflects on performing at Mercury's tribute concert.
Five Live, released in 1993 for Parlophone in the UK and Hollywood Records in the US, features five live recordings (six in several countries) performed by Michael, Queen, and Lisa Stansfield. "Somebody to Love" and "These Are the Days of Our Lives" were recorded at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. "Killer", "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone", and "Calling You" were recorded during his Cover to Cover Tour from 1991. Michael's performance of "Somebody to Love" was hailed as "one of the best performances of the tribute concert". All proceeds from the sale of the EP benefited the Mercury Phoenix Trust. Sales of the EP were strong through Europe, where it debuted at No. 1 in the UK and several European countries. Chart success in the US was less spectacular, where it reached No. 40 on the Billboard 200 ("Somebody to Love" reached No. 30 on the US Billboard Hot 100). The performance would later feature on Queen's compilation album Greatest Hits III.
During November 1994, after a long period of seclusion, Michael appeared at the first MTV Europe Music Awards show, where he gave a performance of a new song, "Jesus to a Child". The song was a melancholy tribute to his lover, Anselmo Feleppa, who had died in March 1993. The song entered the UK Singles Chart at No. 1 and No. 7 on Billboard upon release in 1996. It was Michael's longest UK Top 40 single, at almost seven minutes long. The exact identity of the song's subject—and the nature of Michael's relationship with Feleppa—was shrouded in innuendo and speculation, as Michael had not confirmed he was homosexual and did not do so until 1998. The video for "Jesus to a Child" was a picture of images recalling loss, pain and suffering. Michael consistently dedicated the song to Feleppa before performing it live.
The second single, released in April 1996, was "Fastlove", an energetic tune about wanting gratification and fulfilment without commitment. The single version was nearly five minutes long. "Fastlove" was supported by a futuristic virtual reality-related video. It reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, spending three weeks at the top spot. In the US, "Fastlove" peaked at No. 8, his most recent single to reach the top 10 in the US. Following "Fastlove", Michael released Older, his first studio album in six years and only the third in his ten-year solo career. The album's US and Canadian release was the first album released by David Geffen's (now-defunct) DreamWorks Records.
Older was particularly notable for the release of its six singles. Each of them reached the UK top 3, a record for the most singles in the British top 3 released from a single album. At the time of release of the album's fifth single, "Star People '97", chart specialist James Masterton noted Michael's success on the singles charts, writing: "George Michael nonetheless makes an impressive Top 3 entry with this single. The Older album has now proved itself to be far and away his most commercially successful recording ever. Five singles now lifted and every single one has been a Top 3 hit. Compare this with the two Top 3 hits produced by Faith and Listen Without Prejudice's scant total of one Top Tenner and one single which missed the Top 40 altogether. This sustained single success has been achieved with a little help from marketing tricks such as remixes – or in this case a new recording of the album track which gives it a much-needed transformation into a deserved commercial smash."
In 1996, Michael was voted Best British Male, at the MTV Europe Music Awards and the Brit Awards; and at the British Academy's Ivor Novello Awards, he was awarded the title of Songwriter of the Year for the third time. Michael performed a concert at Three Mills Studios, London, for MTV Unplugged. It was his first long performance in years, and in the audience was Michael's mother, who died of cancer the following year.
Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael was Michael's first solo greatest hits collection released in 1998. The collection of 28 songs (29 songs are included on the European and Australian release) are separated into two halves, with each containing a particular theme and mood. The first CD, titled "For the Heart", predominantly contains ballads; the second CD, "For the Feet", consists mainly of dance tunes. It was released through Sony Music Entertainment as a condition of severing contractual ties with the label. Ladies & Gentlemen was a success, peaking at No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart for eight weeks. It spent over 200 weeks in the UK chart, and is the 45th best-selling album of all time in the UK. It is certified seven-times platinum in the UK and multi-platinum in the US, and is Michael's most commercially successful album in his homeland, having sold more than 2.8 million copies. To date, the album has reached worldwide sales of approximately 15 million copies. The first single of the album, "Outside" was a humorous song making a reference to his arrest for soliciting a policeman in a public toilet. "As", his duet with Mary J. Blige, was released as the second single in many territories around the world. Both singles reached the top 5 in the UK Singles Chart.
Released in 1999, Songs from the Last Century is a studio album of cover tracks. The album was Michael's penultimate album released through Virgin Records. To date, the album has achieved the lowest peak of his solo efforts. The album debuted at No. 157 on the American Billboard 200 albums chart, which was also the album's peak position. It was also his lowest-charting album in the UK, becoming his only solo effort not to reach No. 1. It peaked at No. 2 in the UK Albums Chart. Each of the 11 tracks was co-produced by Phil Ramone and Michael.
In 2000, Michael worked on the hit single "If I Told You That" with Whitney Houston, a song which was meant to feature Michael Jackson, initially. Michael co-produced on the single along with Rodney Jerkins. Michael began working on what became his fifth studio album, spending two years in the recording studio. His first single "Freeek!", taken from the new album, was successful in Europe going to No. 1 in Italy, Portugal, Spain and Denmark in 2002 and reaching the top 10 in the UK and the top 5 in Australia. It made 22 charts around the world. However, his next single "Shoot the Dog" proved to be controversial when released in July 2002. It was acutely critical of US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The single's cover featured the Daily Mirror's "Howdy Poodle" front page from earlier in the year. Responding to criticism Michael said, "I am British, I live here, I pay my taxes, and I'm very, very worried that we are now the second most dangerous country in the world thanks to our special relationship with America." It reached No. 1 in Denmark and made the top 5 in most European charts. It peaked at No. 12 on the UK Singles Chart.
In February 2003, Michael unexpectedly recorded another song in protest against the looming Iraq war, Don McLean's "The Grave". The original was written by McLean in 1971 and was a protest against the Vietnam War. Michael performed the song on numerous TV shows including Top of the Pops and So Graham Norton. His performance of the song on Top of the Pops on 7 March 2003 was his first studio appearance on the programme since 1986. He ran into conflict with the show's producers for an anti-war, anti Blair T-shirt worn by some members of his band. In response, Don McLean issued a statement, through his website, praising Michael's recording: "I am proud of George Michael for standing up for life and sanity. I am delighted that he chose a song of mine to express these feelings. We must remember that the Wizard is really a cowardly old man hiding behind a curtain with a loud microphone. It takes courage and a song to pull the curtain open and expose him. Good Luck George."
On 17 November 2003, Michael re-signed with Sony Music, the company he had left in 1995 after a legal battle. When Michael's fifth studio album, Patience, was released in 2004, it was critically acclaimed and went to No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, and became one of the fastest selling albums in the UK, selling over 200,000 copies in the first week alone. In Australia it reached No. 2 on 22 March. It reached the Top 5 on most European charts, and peaked at No. 12 in the US, selling over 500,000 copies to earn a Gold certification from the RIAA.
"Amazing", the third single from the album, became a No. 1 hit in Europe. When Michael appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on 26 May 2004, to promote the album, he performed "Amazing", along with his classic songs "Father Figure" and "Faith". On the show Michael spoke of his arrest, revealing his homosexuality, and his resumption of public performances. He allowed Oprah's crew inside his home outside London. The fourth single taken off the album was "Flawless", which used the sample of the Ones' original dance hit "Flawless". It was a dance hit in Europe as well as North America, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play and became Michael's last No. 1 single on the US Dance chart.
In November 2004, Sony released the fifth single – "Round Here". It was the least successful single taken from Patience when it stalled the UK charts at No. 32. In 2005, "John and Elvis Are Dead" was released as the sixth and final single from the album; it was released as a download single and was therefore unable to chart in the UK. Michael told BBC Radio 1 on 10 March 2004 that future music that he puts out would be available for download, with fans encouraged to make a donation to charity.
Twenty Five is Michael's second greatest hits album, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his music career. Released in November 2006 by Sony BMG, it debuted at no.1 in the UK. The album contains songs chiefly from Michael's solo career but also from his earlier days in Wham! It comes in two formats: two CDs or a limited edition three-CD set. The 2-CD set contained 26 tracks, including four recorded with Wham! and three new songs: "An Easier Affair"; "This Is Not Real Love" (a duet with Mutya Buena, formerly of Sugababes, which peaked at No.15 in the UK Charts); and a new version of "Heal the Pain" recorded with Paul McCartney. The limited edition three-CD version contains an additional 14 lesser known tracks, including one from Wham! and one new song, "Understand".
Twenty Five was released in North America on 1 April 2008 as a 29-song, two-CD set featuring several new songs (including duets with Paul McCartney and Mary J. Blige and a song from the short-lived TV series Eli Stone) in addition to many of Michael's successful songs from both his solo and Wham! career. To commemorate the Twenty Five album, Michael toured North America for the first time in 17 years, playing large venues in major cities including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Tampa/St. Pete, Chicago and Dallas. The DVD version of Twenty Five contains 40 videos on two discs, including seven with Wham!
During the 2005 Live 8 concert at Hyde Park, London, Michael joined Paul McCartney on stage, harmonising on The Beatles classic "Drive My Car". In 2006, Michael embarked on his first tour in 15 years, 25 Live. The tour began in Barcelona, Spain, on 23 September and finished in December at Wembley Arena in England. According to his website, the 80-show tour was seen by 1.3 million fans. On 12 May 2007 in Coimbra, Portugal, he began the European "25 Live Stadium Tour 2007", including London and Athens, and ending on 4 August 2007 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There were 29 tour dates across Europe. On 9 June 2007 Michael became the first artist to perform live at the newly renovated Wembley Stadium in London, where he was later fined £130,000 for over-running the programme for 13 minutes.
On 25 March 2008, a third part of the 25 Live Tour was announced for North America. This part included 21 dates in the United States and Canada. This was Michael's first tour of North America in 17 years. Following news of Michael's North American tour, Twenty Five was released in North America on 1 April 2008 as a 29-song, 2-CD set featuring several new songs (including duets with Paul McCartney and Mary J. Blige and a song from the short-lived TV series, Eli Stone) in addition to many of Michael's successful songs from both his solo and Wham! career.
Michael made his American acting debut by playing a guardian angel to Jonny Lee Miller's character on Eli Stone, a US TV series. In addition to performing on the show as himself and as "visions", each episode of the show's first season was named after a song of his. Michael appeared on the 2008 finale show of American Idol on 21 May singing "Praying for Time". When asked what he thought Simon Cowell would say of his performance, he replied "I think he'll probably tell me I shouldn't have done a George Michael song. He's told plenty of people that in the past, so I think that'd be quite funny." On 1 December, Michael performed in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, as part of the 37th National Day celebrations.
On 25 December 2008, Michael released a new track "December Song" on his website for free. It was hoped that fans who downloaded the song would donate money to charity. Though the song is not available any more on his website, it remains available on file sharing networks and a remastered version of "December Song" went on sale on 13 December. The popularity of the single was boosted by a promotional appearance that Michael made on The X Factor.
In early 2010, Michael performed his first concerts in Australia since 1988. On 20 February 2010, Michael performed his first show in Perth at the Burswood Dome to an audience of 15,000. On 2 March 2011, Michael announced the release of his cover version of New Order's 1987 hit "True Faith" in aid of the UK charity telethon Comic Relief. Michael appeared on Comic Relief itself, featuring in the first Carpool Karaoke sketch of James Corden, with the pair singing songs while Corden drove around London. On 15 April 2011, Michael released a cover of Stevie Wonder's 1972 song, "You and I", as an MP3 gift to Prince William and Catherine Middleton on the occasion of their wedding on 29 April 2011. Although the MP3 was released for free download, Michael appealed to those who downloaded the track to make a contribution to "The Prince William & Miss Catherine Middleton Charitable Gift Fund".
The Symphonica Tour began at the Prague State Opera House on 22 August 2011. In October 2011, Michael was announced as one of the final nominees for the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. In November, he had to cancel the remainder of the tour as he became ill with pneumonia in Vienna, Austria, ultimately slipping into a coma.
In February 2012, two months after leaving hospital, Michael made a surprise appearance at the 2012 Brit Awards at the O2 Arena in London, where he received a standing ovation, and presented Adele the award for Best British Album. In March, Michael announced that he was healthy and that the Symphonica Tour would resume in autumn. The final concert of the tour—which was also the final concert of Michael's life–was performed at London's Earls Court on 17 October 2012.
Symphonica was released on 17 March 2014, and became Michael's seventh solo No. 1 album in the UK, and ninth overall including his Wham! chart-toppers. The album was produced by Phil Ramone and Michael; the album was Ramone's last production credit. On 2 November 2016, Michael's management team announced that a second documentary on his life, entitled Freedom, was set to be released in March 2017. A month after, English songwriter Naughty Boy confirmed plans to collaborate with Michael, for a new song and album. Naughty Boy claimed that the song, currently untitled, is "amazing but [...] bittersweet". On 7 September 2017 (months after Michael's death), the single "Fantasy", featuring Nile Rodgers, was released.
Having charted at number two upon its release in 1984 (behind Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which Michael also performed in), "Last Christmas" finally reached number-one in the UK Singles Chart on New Year's Day 2021 (chart week ending date 7 January 2021), more than 36 years after its initial release. Andrew Ridgeley said the chart placing was "a testament to its timeless appeal and charm", adding: "It is a fitting tribute to George's song-writing genius … he would have been immensely proud and utterly thrilled."
Sexuality and relationshipsEdit
Michael stated that his early fantasies were about women, which "led me to believe I was on the path to heterosexuality", but at puberty he started to fantasise about men, which he later said "had something to do with my environment". At the age of 19, Michael told Andrew Ridgeley that he was bisexual. Michael also told one of his two sisters, but he was advised not to tell his parents about his sexuality. In a 1999 interview with The Advocate, Michael told the Editor in Chief, Judy Wieder, that it was "falling in love with a man that ended his conflict over bisexuality". "I never had a moral problem with being gay", Michael told her. "I thought I had fallen in love with a woman a couple of times. Then I fell in love with a man, and realised that none of those things had been love."
In 2004, Michael said, "I used to sleep with women quite a lot in the Wham! days but never felt it could develop into a relationship because I knew that, emotionally, I was a gay man. I didn't want to commit to them but I was attracted to them. Then I became ashamed that I might be using them. I decided I had to stop, which I did when I began to worry about AIDS, which was becoming prevalent in Britain. Although I had always had safe sex, I didn't want to sleep with a woman without telling her I was bisexual. I felt that would be irresponsible. Basically, I didn't want to have that uncomfortable conversation that might ruin the moment, so I stopped sleeping with them." In the same interview, he added: "If I wasn't with Kenny [his boyfriend at the time], I would have sex with women, no question". He said he believed that the formation of his sexuality was "a nurture thing, via the absence of my father who was always busy working. It meant I was exceptionally close to my mother", though he stated that "there are definitely those who have a predisposition to being gay in which the environment is irrelevant." In 2007, Michael said he had hidden the fact he was gay because of worries over what effect it might have on his mother. Two years later, he added: "My depression at the end of Wham! was because I was beginning to realise I was gay, not bisexual."
During the late 1980s, Michael had a relationship with make-up artist Kathy Jeung, who was regarded for a time as his artistic "muse" and who appeared in the "I Want Your Sex" video. Michael later said that she had been his "only bona fide" girlfriend, and that she knew of his bisexuality. In 2016, Jeung reacted to Michael's death by calling him a "true friend" with whom she had spent "some of the best time of [her] life".
In 1992, Michael established a relationship with Anselmo Feleppa, a Brazilian dress designer who he had met at the Rock in Rio concert in 1991. Six months into their relationship, Feleppa discovered that he was HIV-positive. Michael later said: "It was terrifying news. I thought I could have the disease too. I couldn't go through it with my family because I didn't know how to share it with them – they didn't even know I was gay." In 1993, Feleppa died of an AIDS-related brain haemorrhage. Michael's single, "Jesus to a Child", is a tribute to Feleppa (Michael consistently dedicated it to him before performing it live), as is his album Older (1996). In 2008, speaking about the loss of Feleppa, Michael said: "It was a terribly depressing time. It took about three years to grieve, then after that I lost my mother. I felt almost like I was cursed."
In 1996, Michael entered into a long-term relationship with Kenny Goss, a former flight attendant, cheerleading coach, and sportswear executive from Dallas. They had a home in Dallas, a 16th-century house in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, and an £8 million mansion in Highgate, North London. In late November 2005, it was reported that Michael and Goss planned to register their relationship as a civil partnership in the UK, but because of negative publicity and his upcoming tour, they postponed their plans. On 22 August 2011, the opening night of his Symphonica world tour, Michael announced that he and Goss had split two years earlier.
Michael's homosexuality became publicly known following his April 1998 arrest for public lewdness. In 2007, Michael said "that hiding his sexuality made him feel 'fraudulent', and his eventual outing, when he was arrested [...] in 1998, was a subconsciously deliberate act."
In 2012, Michael entered a relationship with Fadi Fawaz, an Australian celebrity hairstylist and freelance photographer based in London. It was Fawaz who found Michael's body on Christmas morning 2016.
On 7 April 1998, Michael was arrested for "engaging in a lewd act" in a public restroom of the Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, California. Michael was arrested by undercover policeman Marcelo Rodríguez in a sting operation using so-called "pretty police". In an MTV interview, Michael stated: "I got followed into the restroom and then this cop—I didn't know it was a cop, obviously—he started playing this game, which I think is called, 'I'll show you mine, you show me yours, and then when you show me yours, I'm going to nick you!'"
After pleading "no contest" to the charge, Michael was fined US$810 and sentenced to 80 hours of community service. Soon afterwards, Michael made a video for his single "Outside", which satirised the public toilet incident and featured men dressed as policemen kissing. Rodríguez claimed that this video "mocked" him, and that Michael had slandered him in interviews. In 1999, he brought a US$10 million court case in California against the singer. The court dismissed the case, but an appellate court reinstated it on 3 December 2002. The court then ruled that Rodríguez, as a public official, could not legally recover damages for emotional distress.
On 23 July 2006, Michael was again accused of engaging in anonymous public sex, this time at London's Hampstead Heath. The anonymous partner was incorrectly stated to be a 58-year-old unemployed van driver. Michael stated that he cruised for anonymous sex and that this was not an issue in his relationship with partner Kenny Goss.
In February 2006, Michael was arrested for possession of Class C drugs, an incident that he described as "my own stupid fault, as usual". He was cautioned by the police and released. In 2007, he pleaded guilty to drug–impaired driving after obstructing the road at traffic lights in Cricklewood in northwest London, and was subsequently banned from driving for two years and sentenced to community service. On 19 September 2008, Michael was arrested in a public restroom in the Hampstead Heath area for possession of Class A and C drugs. He was taken to the police station and cautioned for controlled substance possession.
In the early hours of Sunday 4 July 2010, Michael was returning from the Gay Pride parade, when he was spotted on CCTV crashing his car into the front of a Snappy Snaps store in Hampstead, north London, and was arrested on suspicion of being unfit to drive. On 12 August, London's Metropolitan Police said he was "charged with possession of cannabis and with driving while unfit through drink or drugs". It was reported that Michael had also been taking the prescription medication amitriptyline. On 24 August 2010, the singer pleaded guilty at Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court in London after admitting driving under the influence of drugs. On 14 September 2010, at the same court, Michael was sentenced to eight weeks in prison, a fine, and a five-year ban from driving. Michael was released from Highpoint Prison in Suffolk on 11 October 2010, after serving four weeks. In the dent in the shop wall Michael had crashed into, someone graffitied the word "Wham".
Michael struggled with substance abuse. He was arrested for drug-related offences in 2006, 2008, and 2010. In September 2007, on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, Michael said that his cannabis use was a problem; he wished he could smoke less of it and was constantly trying to do so. On 5 December 2009, in an interview with The Guardian, Michael explained he had cut back on cannabis and was smoking only "seven or eight" spliffs per day instead of the 25 per day he had formerly smoked. Michael also abused sleeping pills.
On 26 October 2011, Michael cancelled a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London due to a viral infection. On 21 November, Vienna General Hospital admitted Michael after he complained of chest pains while at a hotel two hours before his performance at a venue there for his Symphonica Tour. Michael appeared to be "in good spirits" and responded well to treatment following his admittance, but on 25 November hospital officials said that his condition had "worsened overnight". This development led to cancellations and postponements of Michael's remaining 2011 performances, which had been scheduled mainly for the United Kingdom. The singer was later confirmed to have suffered from pneumonia and, until 1 December, was in an intensive care unit; at one point, he was comatose. On 21 December the hospital discharged him. Michael told the press that the staff at the hospital had saved his life and that he would perform a free concert for them. While making the speech, he became emotional and breathless. During the speech, he also mentioned that he had undergone a tracheotomy. After waking from the coma, Michael had a temporary West Country accent, and there was concern he had developed foreign accent syndrome.
"To call us Thatcherite was so simplistic, basically saying that if you've got a deep enough tan and made a bit of money then you've got to be a Thatcherite."— Michael, a Labour voter throughout the 1980s, distancing himself from Thatcher's Conservative Party.
Michael's father had a background as a communist. When Michael was 15 years old, he joined the youth organisation affiliated to the Communist Party, the Young Communist League, under his Greek name. During the time of Margaret Thatcher as the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom throughout the 1980s, Michael voted Labour. In 2000, Michael joined Melissa Etheridge, Garth Brooks, Queen Latifah, the Pet Shop Boys, and k.d. lang, to perform in Washington, D.C. as part of Equality Rocks, a concert to benefit the Human Rights Campaign, an American LGBT rights group. His 2002 single "Shoot the Dog" was critical of the friendly relationship between the UK and US governments, in particular the relationship between Tony Blair and George W. Bush, with their involvement in the Iraq War. Michael voiced his concern about the lack of public consultation in the UK regarding the War on Terror: "On an issue as enormous as the possible bombing of Iraq, how can you represent us when you haven't asked us what we think?"
In 2006, Michael performed a free concert for NHS nurses in London to thank the nurses who had cared for his late mother. He told the audience: "Thank you for everything you do — some people appreciate it. Now if we can only get the government to do the same thing." In 2007, Michael sent the £1,450,000 piano that John Lennon used to write "Imagine" around the United States on a "peace tour", displaying at places where notable acts of violence had taken place, such as Dallas' Dealey Plaza, where US President John F. Kennedy had been shot. He devoted his 2007 concert in Sofia, from his "Twenty Five Tour" to the Bulgarian nurses prosecuted in the HIV trial in Libya. On 17 June 2008, Michael said he was thrilled by California's legalisation of same-sex marriage, calling the move "way overdue".
In November 1984, Michael joined other British and Irish pop stars of the era to form Band Aid, singing on the charity song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" for famine relief in Ethiopia. This single became the UK Christmas number one in December 1984, holding Michael's own song, "Last Christmas" by Wham!, at No. 2; Michael also donated the royalties for "Last Christmas" to Ethiopia. "Do They Know It's Christmas?" sold 3.75 million copies in the UK and became the biggest selling single in UK chart history, a title it held until 1997 when it was overtaken by Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997", released in tribute to Princess Diana following her death (Michael attended Diana's funeral with Elton John). Michael donated the royalties from "Last Christmas" to Band Aid and subsequently sang with Elton John at Live Aid (the Band Aid charity concert) in 1985.
In 1986, Michael took part in the Prince's Trust charity concert held at Wembley Arena, performing "Everytime You Go Away" alongside Paul Young. In 1988, Michael participated in the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute at Wembley Stadium in London together with many other singers (such as Annie Lennox and Sting), performing "Sexual Healing".
A LGBT rights campaigner and HIV/AIDS charity fundraiser, the proceeds from the 1991 single "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" were divided among 10 different charities for children, AIDS and education. He was also a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Michael wore a red ribbon at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium in 1992.
In 2003, he paired up with Ronan Keating on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and won £32,000, after having their original £64,000 winnings halved by missing the £125,000 question. The same year, Michael joined other celebrities to support a campaign to help raise £20 million for terminally ill children run by the Rainbow Trust Children's Charity of which he was a patron. He said: "Loss is such an incredibly difficult thing. I bow down to people who actually have to deal with the loss of a child."
Following his death, many charities revealed that Michael had privately been a supporter of them for many years. Dame Esther Rantzen, the founder and president of Childline, said he had given them "millions" over the years and said that he had given the royalties from his 1996 number one single "Jesus to a Child" to the charity. In another interview Rantzen added, "For years now he has been the most extraordinarily generous philanthropist, giving money to Childline, but he was determined not to make his generosity public so no one outside the charity knew how much he gave to the nation's most vulnerable children." He had supported the Terrence Higgins Trust "for many years" as well as Macmillan Cancer Support. Michael also donated to individuals: he reportedly called the production team of the quiz show Deal or No Deal after a contestant had revealed that she needed £15,000 to fund IVF treatment, and anonymously paid for the treatment personally; and once tipped a student nurse working as a barmaid £5,000 ($6,121) because she was in debt. On 3 January 2017, another woman came forward and (with the permission of Michael's family) revealed he had anonymously paid for her IVF treatment after seeing her talk about her problems conceiving on an episode of This Morning in 2010. The woman gave birth to a girl in 2012. After his death, it was also revealed that Michael had been anonymously paying for an annual Christmas tree erected where he lived in Highgate, as well as funding the Christmas lights, for the previous decade. He was also the largest funder of Highgate's annual Fair in the Square for those ten years, donating anonymously as "a local resident".
Between 2006 and 2008, according to reports, Michael earned £48.5 million ($97 million) from the 25 Live tour alone. In July 2014, he was reported to have been a celebrity investor in a tax avoidance scheme called Liberty. According to the Sunday Times Rich List 2015 of the wealthiest British musicians, Michael was worth £105 million.
A collector of works by the Young British Artists, including those of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, in March 2019 Michael's art collection was auctioned in England for £11.3 million. The proceeds were donated to various philanthropical organisations Michael gave to while he was alive.
In the early hours of 25 December 2016, Michael died in bed at his home in Goring-on-Thames, at the age of 53. He was found by his partner, Fadi Fawaz. In March 2017, a senior coroner in Oxfordshire attributed Michael's death to dilated cardiomyopathy with myocarditis and a fatty liver.
Owing to the delay in determining the cause of death, Michael's funeral was held on 29 March 2017. In a private ceremony, he was buried at Highgate Cemetery in north London, near his mother's grave. That summer, a temporary informal memorial garden was created outside his former home in The Grove, Highgate. The site, in a private square that Michael had owned, was tended by fans for approximately eighteen months until it was cleared.
Elton John was among those who paid tribute to Michael, emotionally addressing the audience in Las Vegas on 28 December, "What a singer, what a songwriter. But more than anything as a human being he was one of the kindest, sweetest, most generous people I've ever met."
At the 59th Annual Grammy Awards on 12 February 2017, Adele performed a slowed-down version of "Fastlove" in tribute to Michael. On 22 February, Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin performed "A Different Corner" at the 2017 Brit Awards. In June, Michael's close friend, former Spice Girls member Geri Halliwell, released a charity single, "Angels in Chains", a tribute to him, to raise money for Childline.
In August 2020 it was announced that Michael, who grew up in Kingsbury, London, and attended Kingsbury High School, was to be commemorated with a mural in his native borough of Brent. The artwork, which formed part of the Brent Biennial, was commissioned to pay tribute to Michael's outstanding contribution to the fields of music and entertainment. The work—envisioned by artist Dawn Mellor, who said it celebrates the singer as a pioneering cultural and LGBTQ+ figure—was unveiled on 17 September 2020.
Awards and achievementsEdit
Michael won numerous music awards throughout his 30-year career, including three Brit Awards—winning Best British Male Artist twice, four MTV Video Music Awards, four Ivor Novello Awards, three American Music Awards (including two in the traditionally-black Soul/R&B category), and two Grammy Awards from eight nominations.
Discography and record salesEdit
At the time of his death, Michael had sold over 115 million records worldwide. As a solo artist, he sold over 80 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists. He sold a further 30 million records with Wham!. His debut solo album Faith sold more than 25 million copies.
- Solo discography
- Faith (1987)
- Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 (1990)
- Older (1996)
- Songs from the Last Century (1999)
- Patience (2004)
- Wham! discography
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As a solo artist George Michael has been hailed as a leading creative force in popular songwriting. With fame approaching, Michael decided to change his name from the intimidating Georgios Panayiotou to the more accessible George Michael
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