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Queen still reigns 20 years on from Mercury’s death

/ 11:18 AM November 23, 2011

A file picture taken on September 18, 1984 showing Rock star Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the rock group "Queen", during a concert at the Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy (POPB). AFP FILE PHOTO

LONDON — Freddie Mercury died 20 years ago on Thursday but his star has only burned brighter in the two decades since, with Queen and their larger-than-life frontman as popular as ever.

The British rockers, marking their 40th anniversary this year, are among the world’s biggest-selling artists ever — with most of their sales coming in the 20 years since Mercury died.

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Queen’s guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor are busier than ever and Mercury’s songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Don’t Stop Me Now” still endure as classics.

The Independent on Sunday newspaper said the singer’s death “seemed a mere hiccup in his career”.

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In the years since, Mercury’s stock has risen, with a new generation of artists citing Queen among their influences, including Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, Foo Fighters and Muse.

Mercury, 45, died at his London home on November 24, 1991. He had been diagnosed HIV positive several years earlier and died of bronchial pneumonia, brought on by AIDS.

Queen’s lead singer is remembered for his captivating live performances, spellbinding vocals and enduring hits including “We Are The Champions”, “Killer Queen”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.

The jukebox musical “We Will Rock You”, launched in 2002, still plays to a packed house in London and has been staged around the world from Australia to South Africa, Japan, Europe and Las Vegas.

With interest still high, a film about Mercury, starring Borat creator Sacha Baron Cohen, is in the pipeline, focusing on the years leading up to Queen’s stellar performance at the Live Aid concert in 1985.

“Even though physically he is not here, his presence seems more potent than ever,” May wrote in a blog marking Mercury’s 65th birthday in September.

“He will always epitomise the perfect frontman — the consummate channel of communication between a band and an audience.

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“He devoured life. He celebrated every minute. And, like a great comet, he left a luminous trail which will sparkle for many a generation to come.”

In a statement on Nov. 23, 1991, Mercury confirmed from his death bed that he had AIDS.

Within 24 hours he had fallen into a coma and passed away, having handled his illness in private and never complained of his suffering.

As one of the highest-profile victims of AIDS, his death brought greater awareness of the virus and helped remove the stigma from a disease now ravaging southern Africa.

In a 1987 interview, Mercury told journalist David Wigg he had no fears of becoming a lonely, rich 70-year-old.

“I’ve lived a full life and if I’m dead tomorrow, I don’t give a damn. I really have done it all,” he said.

Born Farrokh Bulsara on September 5, 1946 to a Parsi Indian family living on the East African spice island of Zanzibar and educated at an English-style boarding school in India, the shy teenager arrived in London when his family fled the 1964 Zanzibar revolution.

The classic image of Mercury is him in his 1986 touring costume, moustachioed and with one fist raised to the sky, a pose captured in the statue of him in Montreux on the Swiss shores of Lake Geneva.

When they felt able, his three bandmates painstakingly produced full tracks from scraps of vocals an ailing Mercury had recorded there in 1991, in precious hours when he could muster the strength.

Once he could no longer record, Mercury decided to come off his medication.

The subsequent album, “Made In Heaven”, released in 1995, is one of Queen’s best sellers.

Facing up to life without Mercury was tough.

May plunged into severe depression, having also lost his father and his marriage and contemplated suicide.

Like May, Taylor produced two solo albums in the 1990s, but despite their efforts to move on from Queen, they learned to embrace their legacy.

Bassist John Deacon retired in 1997 and has vanished from the public eye, though May and Taylor have his blessing to carry on.

Launching the rock theatrical “We Will Rock You” in 2002 was a gamble that paid off, breathing new life into Queen’s music by allowing fans to enjoy their hits played live.

More than 13 million people have seen it worldwide, including 5.5 million at London’s Dominion Theater.

A sequel is planned, using songs not in the existing musical, though the original keeps packing out theaters.

Queen went back on the road again in 2005 when they joined forces with former Free singer Paul Rodgers.

Their collaboration spawned giant arena tours plus a studio album “The Cosmos Rocks” (2008) before Rodgers returned to his solo career.

One outdoor show in Kharkiv — Queen’s first in Ukraine — played to 350,000 people, highlighting the enduring support for the band.

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