George Michael, pop idol whose fame and influence put him alongside Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince in the pantheon of 1980s music superstars, died peacefully at his home on Sunday at 53, the BBC reported, citing his publicist.
The British singer came to prominence with the male pop duo Wham!, before embarking on a successful solo career which began with singles such as “Careless Whisper” and “Faith.” His striking good looks, soaring anthems wed to dance-club beats and eventual status as a gay icon placed him among the decade’s most prominent pop culture figures.
In a statement to the BBC, Michael’s publicist confirmed the news: “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.
“The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
A life in the pop music world
Michael’s musical career spanned four decades, generating numerous No. 1 hits.
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in London, Michael formed Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981. The duo took the world by storm with number-one hits, including “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Freedom.”
Michael’s first solo single “Careless Whisper” also proved to be a hit, which prompted fans to speculate the duo’s break-up. They did just that in 1986, announcing their separation. Michael was only 22 years old, while Ridgeley aged 23.
In 1987, Michael released his debut solo album Faith which sold over 25 million copies worldwide and earned him a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1988.
His second album, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, was released in 1990 but sold only 8 million copies worldwide. It did, however, manage to win Best British Album at the BRIT Awards in 1991.
Michael sued his record label Sony in 1994 in a bid to get out of his contract. He said the company did not properly marketing Listen Without Prejudice, Volume I and calling his 15-year contract with the company “professional slavery.” He ended up losing the legal battle.
The pop music star had his fair share of personal struggles, which included the devastation of losing his boyfriend Anselmo Feleppa to AIDS in 1993. Michael then lost his mother to cancer in 1997.
Michael was arrested in 1998 by Los Angeles police for a public sex act, in a well-publicized incident that was recreated his video for “Outside” in the same year.
In 2011, Michael suffered acute pneumonia and had to be hospitalised while on tour in Vienna.
In November, Michael was putting the finishing touches on a documentary called Freedom, which is due to hit screens March 2017. It was only two weeks ago that plans for a new album came to light, with Michael collaborating with Beyonce producer Naughty Boy, real name Shahid Khan.
“I can’t wait. I don’t know what to expect. And, to be honest, he’s more mysterious than anyone else so I’m actually excited,” Khan told BBC News.
Celebrities, fellow musicians and fans shared their tributes to the singer on Twitter.
RIP George Michael.
Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) December 25, 2016
Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael. You’ve found your Freedom, your Faith. It was your Last Christmas, and we shall miss you.
George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) December 25, 2016
Is this year over yet? Too many people are passing away. Rest In Peace, George Michael.
William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) December 25, 2016
And now we lose George Michael. Only 53. Love to his friends and family another very sad loss in this horrid year
Phillip Schofield (@Schofe) December 25, 2016
Someone’s just come in and told me – fuck! George Michael – dead. I genuinely can’t believe it.
Alan Carr (@AlanCarr) December 25, 2016
Little Britain actor David Walliams responded by consecutively tweeting the singer’s numerous music videos.
Michael’s Wham! bandmate, Andrew Ridgeley, also wrote of his heartbreak at the news.