by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Maurice White, Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell and Pete Burns. This is a list you didn't want to be on. All of these legendary artists, and about a dozen more, died in 2016, making this a most somber year for music fans around the world.
This week, on the most festive day of the year, December 25, another music icon was added to the list, George Michael. The Grammy-winning pop star passed away peacefully at his home in England, coincidentally on the same day millions of people had listened to one of his bigger hits, 'Last Christmas,' as an annual tradition.
I was in middle school when Wham! burst onto the scene with 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,' the leadoff single from their second studio album Make It Big. The duo had success with their debut record Fantastic in their native UK, though it barely made waves in the US. The sight of two attractive guys dancing flamboyantly on stage wearing pastel-colored sweatshirts and short-shorts with beautiful, toned and tanned legs was a lot to take in for a kid awakening to the idea of liking other boys.
'Careless Whisper' and 'Everything She Wants,' a couple of additional singles from Make It Big, helped catapult the British pair to international fame in the mid-'80s. Around this time, Wham! ushered out 'Last Christmas,' which initially appeared as a B-side to 'Everything She Wants,' but quickly became a solid hit on its own and a beloved holiday tune.
In 1987, after Wham! disbanded, Michael launched his solo career and almost instantly became a superstar with his first solo album called Faith that would go on to produce five Top 40 singles - 'Father Figure,' 'I Want Your Sex (Parts I and II),' 'One More Try,' 'Kissing a Fool' and the title cut - and sell 25 million copies worldwide, besides winning the coveted Grammy Award for Album of the Year. 1990s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 and 1996's Older added more great songs, such as 'Freedom! 90' and 'Praying for Time,' to Michael's growing catalog. His final studio album was 2004's Patience, although he continued to tour up through 2012. His last appearance in Seattle was on July 2, 2008, as part of his '25 Live' tour, which Seattle Gay News attended and reviewed. (http://www.sgn.org/sgnnews36_28/page23.cfm)
Although he was secretly Bisexual during his early years with Wham! and had relationships with at least two men, Anselmo Feleppa and Kenny Goss, it wasn't until a CNN interview in 1998 that Michael confirmed longtime rumors that he was Gay.
'I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I'm in a relationship with a man right now. I have not been in a relationship with a woman in almost 10 years,' he stated in a one-on-one interview with the news channel. 'I don't feel any shame whatsoever and neither do I think I should.'
Since coming out publicly, Michael became actively involved with the LGBT community, including a performance he gave at the Equality Rocks concert in 2000 at Washington DC's RFK Stadium, and he appeared in an MTV documentary about HIV titled Staying Alive that coincided with World AIDS Day in 1998, the year he came out. And though Michael himself was HIV-negative, his former boyfriend, the aforementioned Anselmo Feleppa, died of the disease, inspiring the powerful ballad 'Jesus to a Child.' He also donated generously to LGBT-based charities throughout his career.
Michael was one of the first superstar performers to come out publicly and in doing so inspired many people, especially fellow Gay men, who looked up to him almost as a big brother, to do the same. It wasn't so much that he was Gay, it was that he was proud to Gay. He talked about it candidly in interviews with magazines and a televised 2004 appearance on Oprah, where he also opened up about being arrested for lewd acts in a public restroom.
'I have to be totally straightforward here,' he said sitting next to Oprah. 'I'm not really interested in selling records to people who are homophobic, really. I don't need the approval of people who don't approve of me.'
His personal struggles and private life at times overshadowed his professional career, as did a few health scares in recent years. In 2012, he met Fadi Fawaz, whom he would spend the remaining years with as his partner.
Besides writing some incredible songs, both for himself and Wham!, Michael was probably more adored as a performer, someone with a smooth, soulful voice that could dig deep into a ballad or wail on a rock number. He collaborated with numerous fellow artists, including Elton John, Queen, Aretha Franklin and Beyonce, who he joined in 2009 on 'If I Were a Boy' during a live performance in London.
'Miss you already! Thank you for your radical activism in the LGBTQ community! Love you always! @happyhippiefdn' posted Miley Cyrus on her Twitter page.
'My god. Rest in paradise @GeorgeMichael--an icon, an ally, a legend.' were the words of Margaret Cho on her Twitter feed.
And the LGBT organization Stonewall posted this heartfelt message on its social media pages: 'R.I.P. George Michael. You inspired many and your music will live on in the hearts of the community. You will be sorely missed.'
Madonna, Mariah Carey, Boy George, Chaka Khan, Mark Ronson, Duran Duran and Disclosure are just a sampling of other artists who expressed their condolences about the late singer.
Elton John is expected to perform at Michael's funeral and an all-star tribute to him is in the works.
For his musical contributions, but also for his courage to come out at a time when it was still a muted conversation in mainstream media, for his LGBT activism and pride, and for the positive light he shed upon the LGBT community that has inspired so many of us, we say Rest In Peace, George Michael.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!