Wednesday 21 August 2019

George Michael Obituary: From teen idol to multi-million selling artist

The pop superstar would sell more than 100 million records, but his turbulent personal life, brushes with the law and tales of drugs use threatened to eclipse his musical talent

English pop stars Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael of Wham at the film premiere of 'Dune'. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
English pop stars Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael of Wham at the film premiere of 'Dune'. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
File photo dated 05/01/85 of George Michael (right) and Andrew Ridgeley of Wham at Heathrow Airport before leaving for a tour of Japan: PA/PA Wire

Henry Austin

Blessed with teen idol good looks and a fine singing voice, George Michael would mature from boy band member to one of the world’s biggest selling artists, becoming a giant of popular culture.

As a singer in Wham! and solo performer he would sell more than 100 million records, but his turbulent personal life, brushes with the law and tales of drugs use threatened to eclipse his musical talent.

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in Finchley, North London on 25 June 1963, Michael’s father Jack Panos was a Greek Cypriot restaurateur who had come to the UK in the 1950s. His mother Lesley Angold was an English dancer.

The family would eventually move to Radlett in Hertfordshire and it was there that Michael, then in his teens, met Andrew Ridgeley at school. 

File photo dated 13/07/85 of George Michael of Wham performing at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 13/07/85 of George Michael of Wham performing at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London: PA/PA Wire
This file photo taken on September 9, 2012 shows British singer George Michael performing on stage during a charity gala for the benefit of Sidaction, at the Opera Garnier in Paris/ AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINAMIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images
Singer George Michael poses at the "George Michael: A Different Story" Photocall during the 55th annual Berlinale International Film Festival on February 16, 2005 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
George Michael

Their shared musical interests led them to form a ska band, which had a short-lived existence. But the pair caught the musical bug and in 1981 they formed Wham!.  

Their first release, Wham! Rap, was unsuccessful but a stroke of luck with their second, Young Guns (Go For It) would lead to their big break.

The band was asked to perform on Top of he Pops at the last minute and the exposure helped the record rise to No 3 in the charts. 

They would go on to have hit after hit, with songs including Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Club Tropicana and Last Christmas.

George Michael
George Michael

With Michael at the forefront, a solo career beckoned and following a series of triumphant Wembley shows and a final chart-topping single, The Edge of Heaven, Wham! bowed out at the peak of their career in 1986.   

A duet with Aretha Franklin, I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) would be a hit the following year, but while all was going well in his professional life, he was struggling in his personal life with doubts about his sexuality. 

In an interview with The Independent he blamed his depression after the Wham! breakup on the dawning realisation that he was not bisexual but gay.

But the hits kept coming and his album, Faith, was a massive success in 1988. Topping the UK and US charts, it would go on to sell more than 25 million copies before winning a Grammy in 1989.

Exhaustion from touring, combined with depression would see him refuse to promote his second solo album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1.

Plans for a follow up were held up by a lengthy legal dispute with the Sony record label, which effectively prevented him from releasing new recordings.

After the lengthy and costly legal battle was settled, Michael released Older to critical acclaim.  He was voted Best British Male at the Brit Awards and won the title Songwriter of the Year for the third time at the Ivor Novello awards.

It contained his 1994 single Jesus to a Child, a tribute to  Anselmo Feleppa, a Brazilian man who he’d met in Rio three years earlier, who would become his partner. However, their relationship was short lived as Feleppa died of a brain haemorrhage in 1993.

At that point Michael had still not publicly stated he was gay. That would change after he was arrested in public toilets in Beverly Hills, California, in 1998 for engaging in a lewd act.

Following the incident he went public with his sexuality and his relationship with the Dallas based businessman, Kenny Goss.

He later admitted: "I had my very first relationship at 27 because I really had not actually come to terms with my sexuality until I was 24. I lost my partner to HIV then it took about three years to grieve; then after that I lost my mother. I felt almost like I was cursed."

He parodied his arrest incident in the video of 1998 single Outside, which reached number two, but he struggled to reach such heights again.

He did not help his cause when his satirical take on the relationship between Tony Blair and George Bush, Shoot The Dog, was released in 2002 leading to criticism in the US. 

In 2006 he set off on his first live tour for 15 years and became the first artist to perform at the newly reopened Wembley Stadium, but it was his private life that would dominate the headlines that year.

In February 2006 he was arrested and charged with possession of class C drugs and in July of that year the News of the World printed allegations that he had been engaging in sexual activity on London's Hampstead Heath.

Michael threatened to sue photographers for harassment but admitted that he often went out at night seeking what he called "anonymous and no-strings sex."

A further run-in with the law came that October when he was found slumped over the wheel of his car. The following May he pleaded guilty to driving while unfit through drugs and was banned from driving for two years.

In August 2010 he was sentenced to eight weeks' imprisonment after pleading guilty to driving while under the influence of drugs. He was released after serving half his sentence.

Just before the start of a concert in Prague in 2011 he announced that he had split from his partner Kenny Goss two years previously. He blamed Goss’s addiction to alcohol and his own battles with drugs.

Later that year the star nearly died from pneumonia. After receiving treatment in a Vienna hospital, Michael made a tearful appearance outside his London home just before Christmas and said it had been "touch and go" whether he lived.

Michael said he had been lucky to have become ill close to a hospital with suitable specialists, adding: "I have to believe that somebody thinks I've still got some work to do here."

But he was to return to hospital just 18 months later with a head head injury following a bizarre incident on the M1 motorway when he fell from his vehicle on to the tarmac.

Michael had been looking to the future shortly before his death, with a documentary film entitled Freedom due for release next March.

He died peacefully at his home over the festive period, the star's publicist announced on Christmas Day.

Independent News Service

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