George Michael, who found fame in the 1980s as the lead singer of Wham! before launching a successful solo career, has passed away at the age of 53. The performer will be remembered for his work as a prominent gay rights campaigner as well as for his shining pop career.
George Michael had been a fervent supporter of LGBT issues, with some of his most famous solo work referencing his sexuality. He came out as gay following his arrest in April 1998 for engaging in “a lewd act” in front of an undercover police officer in Beverly Hills. He was fined £500 and ordered to do 80 hours’ community service for the incident, sparking headlines along the lines of “Zip Me Up Before You Go Go”. Some might have crumbled under the pressures of a tabloid press that had assumed the position of moral judge, but George Michael unapologetically flaunted his human sexuality.
He was a gay man, a gay icon, and being gay was central to his identity and his music. Like many gay men, coming to terms with his sexuality was a fraught process. He later said: “I never had a moral problem with being gay. I thought I had fallen in love with a woman a couple of times. Then I fell in love with a man, and realized that none of those things had been love.”
In a 2007 interview, Michael spoke about why he felt he had to keep his sexuality a secret: “My mother was still alive and every single day would have been a nightmare for her thinking what I might have been subjected to. I’d been out to a lot of people since 19. I wish to God it had happened then. I don’t think I would have the same career – my ego might not have been satisfied in some areas – but I think I would have been a happier man.”
Michael admitted in an interview that his late 20s had been a very depressing time for him after he lost his partner, the designer Anselmo Feleppa, to an Aids-related illness in 1993.
He said: “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 fronted a documentary about HIV to coincide with World Aids Day the year he came out. The film, Staying Alive, focused on the experiences of six young people from different countries who were either infected with or affected by the HIV virus.
He was also a passionate supporter of the HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust.