When news broke that George Michael had died on Christmas Day morning, it came as much as a shock as it did when we first heard about Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Michael Jackson and David Bowie, another major iconic pop star had gone.
George, like many pop stars, had their share of ups and down as well as bad publicity, in the mid-1990s, he lost both his mother and his lover, he unsuccessfully tried to sue his record company Sony claiming that their requirements were treating him as a ‘professional slave’ because his contract stated that he should produce music and cede the copyright to the company for many years. In April 1998 he was arrested in Beverley Hills for ‘engaging in a lewd act’ in a public restroom. The Sun actually came out with an amusing headline the next day which read ‘Zip me up before you go-go’. Up until that point George had never publicly declared his sexuality, but then it’s his own business so why should he, but in a 2007 interview he said, “hiding my sexuality made me feel fraudulent, and my eventual outing, when I was arrested was a subconsciously deliberate act.” but with all that aside, the public, as well as his adoring fans, both gay and straight, quickly forgot those things and he remained a superstar. His legacy will always be his music.
George was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in north London on 25th June 1963, soon after he was born the family moved to Kingsbury, then to Radlett and then onto Bushey. He attended Bushey Meads School where he met Andrew Ridgeley and realised they both wanted to be musicians. George briefly busked on the London Underground before he and Andrew formed a short-lived ska band called The Executive which also featured Andrew’s brother Paul, David Mortimer (who later became David Austin and had one minor hit in 1984 called Turn to Gold) and Andrew Leaver. In 1981 they disbanded and George and Andrew formed Wham! and signed a contract with Innervision records.
I first met the pair in the summer of 1982 when their music publishers, Brian Morrison and Dick Leahy (as Morrison Leahy Music), held a launch party for their debut single, Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do), in a marquee at Brian’s home in Buckinghamshire and I was the DJ. From what I remember it was a fantastic event with a number of famous people in attendance, but I think I was too busy trying to fathom out why one of my turntables had broken.
Wham Rap initially failed to make an impact, but was re-issued after their next single, Young Guns (Go for It), became their first hit and reached number three. Their third single, Bad Boys, went to number two and Club Tropicana stopped at number four. In May 84 Wake Me up Before you Go Go gave them their first of four chart toppers, the other three were Freedom, I’m Your Man and The Edge of Heaven. Christmas that year saw George at number two with Last Christmas / Everything She Wants, the UK’s biggest selling single not to make number one, and at number one as part of Bob Geldof’s Band Aid project Do They Know It’s Christmas. All the money from Band Aid was going to Famine in Ethiopia and so George decided to donate all the profits from Last Christmas to a different charity.
All the tributes that have been paid all cite George as a selfless and kind man, he sang backing vocals on Elton John’s hits Nikita and Wrap Her Up, Boogie Box High’s top 10 cover on Jive Talkin’ and on Deon Estus’s minor hit Heaven Help Me, Deon had played bass on George’s first two solo hits. He also added backing to Lisa Moorish’s cover of I’m Your Man which reached number 24 in 1995.
George launched a solo career in 1984, two years before Wham! finally split, his first hit was the million-selling international number one Careless Whisper which George had written in 1979 whilst working as an usher in a cinema. As he travelled on the bus, he worked out a lyric about one of his relationships – note the reference to the silver screen in the first verse. He has said since, “I wasn’t secure enough to write something that would expose my feelings, so it’s very clichéd in a lot of its terms. He completed the song a few years later with Andrew Ridgeley. In the UK hit was credited to George but in America it was billed as Wham! featuring George Michael. George dedicated the song to his mum and dad saying it was “five minutes in return for 21 years”. His first solo album, Faith, sold over 25m copies.
In 1985 Wham! toured China and were the first Western act to do so, his manager said, “Their Government had famously issued an edict that said ‘you can look but don’t learn’, and George heard about that just before the first concert began and that made him work all the harder to encourage the audience to get up on their feet.”
George had become good friends with Freddie Mercury and the year after Freddie died, George was one of the highlights at the tribute concert in 1992. He performed 39, a track from Queen’s A Night at the Opera album and a song he regularly sang in his busking days, Somebody to Love and These are the Day of Our Lives, a duet with Lisa Stansfield, the latter two appeared on the Five Live EP which topped the UK singles chart in 1993.
After his toilet activity arrest in 1998 George came straight back with the single Outside which poked fun at the situation and came with a humorous video, but in 1999, the officer, Marcelo Rodriguez, tried to sue George for $10m claiming he has been emotionally and mentally damaged by public remarks and the video which featured men dancing in tight black leather uniforms and included scenes with two policemen kissing. The case was dismissed.
In 2010 George was driving back from a Gay Pride parade when he crashed his car into the window of a Snappy Snaps shop in Hampstead, he was arrested and charged with possession of cannabis and driving while unfit through drink or drugs, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to an eight week prison sentence and a five-year ban from driving, he served four weeks. In 2013 he was involved in another bizarre motor-related incident when he fell from a moving car on the M1 near St Albans.
George had moved to Goring-on-Thames in Oxfordshire in 2007 with his lover Fadi Fawaz and threw a party just for his neighbours so they could all be introduced he claimed. It was here that Fadi found George’s body when he went to wake him up on Christmas Day morning. His manager intimated that it was heart failure but a post mortem carried out on 29th December proved inconclusive stating that further tests had to be carried out. Eventually, 11 weeks after his death, on 7th March, the coroner’s verdict was announced as natural causes, he said “The precise causes of death were dialated cardiomyopathy which is a heart muscle disease which stretches the muscles and thins them so blood flow in the body is restricted.”
At the time of writing, two memorial services were being planned one in the UK and one in America and it’s believed that he will be buried next to his mother Lesley in Highgate Cemetery. Elton John will sing at his funeral and later in the year a tribute concert is being staged with provisional planned appearances by Elton, Bob Geldof, Mariah Carey, Andrew Ridgeley and one of George’s hero’s Aretha Franklin with whom he had an international chart topper with I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) in 1987.