Saturday 25 November 2017

Hedonism alone didn't kill George

The lonely death of George Michael showed that for many gay people equality came too late

Tragic: George Michael will sadly be remembered as another rock star who burned too brightly and died too young Photo: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images
Tragic: George Michael will sadly be remembered as another rock star who burned too brightly and died too young Photo: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

For someone with such an unswerving instinct for spectacle, George Michael's funeral seemed to strike all the wrong notes. The service took place last Thursday in Highgate Cemetery, London amid tight security, with black tarpaulin covering the cemetery's iron gates. It was organised in such a cloak of secrecy that rather than arriving in a hearse, the pop star's body came in a private ambulance. Even the rabidly intrusive British press could barely get any of the details. The most they could tell us was Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley and George's old flame Kenny Goss were in attendance. There was no Elton John, no Candle in the Wind, and no honour guard of distraught fans - the family are determined to make sure the grave does not become a shrine. Like the cause of death it all felt so unfitting.

This was officially named as being a type of heart disease, but most people who spoke about George in the month after his death portrayed a man who had been struggling. In the long wait for the autopsy results, a steady trickle of stories about the wildest excesses of his drugs use, blackouts and the public sex, flowed from the British tabloids. The novelist Tony Parsons, a sometime-friend of George's, wrote this week that it was a warped kind of hedonism which marred the pop star's life. This, Parsons felt, was down to a failure on George's part to recognise which act of the play he was going into. "There is a time and place for party drugs and sex in public places. It is not a man's middle years. After the booze-soaked, chemically crazed tumult of youth and young manhood, your 30s, 40s and beyond are a time for yoga, fruit smoothies and stretching exercises - not rehab and bad drugs and increasingly desperate attempts to stay clean."

What stopped George from ever moving into that squeaky-clean middle age that Parsons wished for him? Probably in common with a lot of gay men, it was a combination of a few factors. He was likely combating the legacy of a damaged childhood by numbing himself with drugs. His lack of children would allow for vast expanses of unstructured free time in which addiction flourishes. And perhaps most invidiously of all he saw a kind of timidity about calling out his destructive behaviour for what it was. George was one of the first gay pop stars. Criticism, or even concern about the way he was living, was conflated with homophobia. And his inner-addict was canny enough to understand how all this worked. Remember when he was caught having public sex in that toilet in Los Angeles? That sad, lonely and drug-fuelled incident was ingeniously repacked for the subsequent music video as an hilarious and sexy adventure. In interviews to promote it, George spoke about the court case he endured as though he had been Oscar Wilde, on trial for loving too much.

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