Pop icon George Michael caps year of music deaths
NEW YORK—It was a year of deaths in the music industry, starting with rock icon David Bowie and ending with pop superstar George Michael.
Little did Michael’s fans know that it was going to be his last Christmas, with his death on Sunday capping one of the most tragic years in memory for the music world which mourned a steady stream of top names.
The year has just begun when fans were stunned by Bowie’s death on Jan. 10, just two days after releasing an acclaimed album, “Blackstar,” on his 69th birthday.
The other prominent musicians who died over the momentous year: Glenn Frey, 67; Paul Kantner, 74; Maurice White, 74; Keith Emerson, 71; Greg Lake, 69; Phife Dawg, 45; Merle Haggard, 79; Prince, 57; Leonard Cohen, 82; Sharon Jones, 60; and Rick Parfitt, 68.
Michael, one of the brightest lights of giddy 1980s pop with the duo Wham! before a more introspective and troubled solo career, died at his home in Goring, England, at age 53, on Dec. 25.
Unexplained, not suspicious
Michael’s publicist, Cindi Berger, said he had not been ill. His manager, Michael Lippman, said the cause of death was heart failure. His family issued a statement through Thames Valley Police saying that he “passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period.”
Before Lippman’s announcement, police issued a statement calling the death “unexplained but not suspicious” and that “a postmortem will be undertaken in due course.”
Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou to a Greek Cypriot father and English mother in north London in 1963.
He met Wham! costar Andrew Ridgeley at high school and the pair went on to form Wham! in 1981.
With their good looks, perma-tans, highlighted hair and hedonistic image, the duo captured the go-getting spirit of the age and fast became one of Britain’s biggest pop acts.
As a solo artist, he developed into a more serious singer and songwriter, lauded by critics for his powerful vocal and expressive range. He recorded duets with Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Luciano Pavarotti and Elton John, among others.
Michael was best known for his 1980s hits “Last Christmas,” “Freedom,” “Careless Whisper” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” but his career spanned more than three decades.
He sold over 100 million albums in his career, winning two Grammies and three Brit awards.
Following years of speculation over his sexuality, Michael came out as gay in 1998 after being arrested for committing a lewd act in the public toilet of a Los Angeles park.
“I wanted to be loved,” said Michael of his start in the music field. “It was an ego satisfaction thing.”
Michael was active in a number of charities and helped raise money to combat AIDS, help needy children and support gay rights. He had a long-term relationship with Kenny Goss, but announced onstage in August 2011 that the two had broken up.
Madonna and Elton John led tributes from around the world for the British pop star.
“Farewell my Friend! Another Great Artist leaves us. Can 2016 F—k Off NOW?” Madonna wrote in a post on Instagram accompanied by a video of her presenting Michael with an award.
Elton John also published a picture of himself with Michael, saying: “I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend—the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist.”
Referring to him by his nickname “Yog” (Yours Only George), Wham! costar Andrew Ridgeley said he was “heartbroken” by Michael’s death.
“2016 – loss of another talented soul. All our love and sympathy to George Michael’s family,” the band Duran Duran, who were 1980s contemporaries of Wham!, said on their official Twitter account.
‘Ahead of his time’
“My heart, like yours, is broken. George Michael was a musical genius and I am so grateful to have known him. In a world that needs music more than ever, today it is less so,” said Liza Minnelli on Facebook.
“I’ve loved George Michael for as long as I can remember. He was an absolute inspiration. Always ahead of his time,” said James Corden, actor, comedian and host of Carpool Karaoke, on Twitter.
Canadian musician Bryan Adams tweeted: “I can’t believe it. Such an incredible singer and a lovely human being, far too young to leave us.” —WITH REPORTS FROM AP AND AFP
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.