British pop singer George Michael, who shot to fame in the 1980s with Wham! and continued as a solo artist, died on Sunday (December 25) at his home in England. He was 53.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” his publicist said in a statement.
“The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage,” the statement said.
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, he once played music on the London underground train system before forming Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981. He died peacefully at his home in Oxfordshire, England, on Christmas Day.
The two sold nearly 40 million records and embarked on three major tours.
Michael and Ridgeley had their first hit with their second release Young Guns (Go For It) (1982) before their debut release Wham Rap became a hit the following year. Singles like Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Careless Whisper, Last Christmas and The Edge of Heaven soon followed, making them the most commercially successful teen group at the time, ahead of Simon & Garfunkel.
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963, to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents in a flat above a north London laundrette, Michael became a pin-up pop idol, and was soon adored by thousands of young teenage girls.
In an attempt to break with his sex symbol image, Michael eventually left Wham! in 1986. He tried to move into a different direction as a more serious performer and songwriter. The split was amicable, however shaking off the old image proved to be the greatest challenge of this solo career.
Michael, known to his friends as “Yog”, decided to take a sabbatical and then cut the chart-topping A Different Corner. A pilot single I Want Your Sex was banned by daytime radio stations and broke his string of number ones in Britain.
But in the space of the next five years Michael had six US Number One hit singles including Faith, Father Figure, One More Try, Praying For Time and a duet with Aretha Franklin I Knew You Were Waiting For Me.
1987 marked the release of Michael’s first solo album, Faith, which he produced and almost entirely wrote himself. Controversy hit with the album’s first single release, I Want Your Sex, which due to the lyrics sexually suggestive content, was banned from many UK and US radio stations. However the lack of radio airplay didn’t affect the song’s popularity, which in the end peaked at number 2 on the US billboard charts and at number 3 in the UK. The album, which went on to produce four number one singles in the US, eventually sold 15 million copies.
Michael spent nearly all of 1988 touring, which by the end had left the singer exhausted.
Consequently, Michael wanted things to be done differently with his second solo record. He wanted out of the album-tour-video-interview-album conveyor belt.
He concluded: “What I have to do now is make sure my gift doesn’t disappear the way it has with just about every other figure in the music industry who ever did anything special. The business is not going to bleed me dry.”
His second solo album Listen Without Prejudice appeared in 1990 without Michael’s face on the cover and sold just five million. As a result relations with Michael’s label Sony started to sour.
Michael alleged Sony killed his second album to teach him a lesson for refusing to market it as aggressively as Faith, America’s biggest selling album in its year of release.
He was also unhappy with Sony’s attitude to Red, Hot and Dance, an AIDS charity record to which he contributed three songs, and and its attitude to his duet with Elton John Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, number one in 15 countries.
His spat with his bosses at Sony eventually turned into a major row and in June 1994 after a long and immensely costly legal battle a London court ruled that a binding contact with his record stood.
Michael, who had produced no new music for Sony for two years until the case, was not allowed to record on another label under his contract although recording industry sources say there have been behind-the-scenes approaches.
The case revealed little of the man behind the dark glasses with his appearances showing an assured, polite and amusing man determined to fly the gilded Sony cage in order to take his music in a different direction.
On 2 March 2011, Michael announced the release of his cover version of New Order’s 1987 hit True Faith in aid of the charity Comic Relief.
Michael released a cover of Stevie Wonder’s 1972 song, You and I on 15 April 2011, as an MP3 gift to Prince William and Catherine Middleton on the occasion of their wedding on 29 April 2011.
On 11 May 2011, the Symphonica Tour was announced. Only European dates were released. The first show on the tour was performed at the Prague State Opera House on 22 August. In November, he had to cancel the remainder of the tour though, as he became severely ill in Vienna, Austria.
In October 2011, Michael was announced as one of the final nominees for the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
Michael told fans over Twitter in January 2012 that he did not think his vocal cords would be ready for performance “till the summer”, and that the tour will probably take place in September of that year.
On 19 June 2012, George Michael announced he would be releasing a new single White Light in order the celebrate the 30 years since the release of Wham Rap. The single also contains a cover version of Song to the Siren, and two remixes.
Michael also performed the song Freedom! 90 and White Light at the 2012 Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony, on 12 August 2012. – Reuters