George Michael Dead At 53
Pop superstar George Michael, who launched a career as the vocalist of duo Wham! and catapulted to superstardom as a solo artist, is dead at the age of 53. The BBC notes that Michael “passed away peacefully at home,” and that Thames Valley Police said South Central Ambulance Service attended a property in Goring, Oxfordshire, at 1:42 p.m. The singer’s death was reportedly due to heart failure, with police pointing out there were no suspicious circumstances.
“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,” read a statement sent to USA Today by Michael’s London-based publicist, Connie Filippello. “The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
Michael was born in London on June 25, 1963 and formed the duo Wham! at age 18 with high school friend Andrew Ridgeley. The pair scored UK hits in 1983 with “Young Guns (Go For It!)” and “Club Tropicana” off their debut album Fantastic, but it was sophomore LP Make It Big, with colorful pop singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Freedom” and “Everything She Wants,” that turned the group into radio and MTV stars around the globe.
Wham!’s holiday single “Last Christmas,” recorded in 1984, became a holiday staple that’s still played extensively to this day. The same year, Michael contributed the memorable line “but say a prayer; pray for the other ones” to the all-star Band Aid charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”
Following the third and final Wham! album Music From The Edge Of Heaven, Michael’s debut solo LP was released in 1987 and heralded the singer’s transformation into one of the decade’s biggest icons. Titled Faith, the album saw the singer top the Billboard Hot 100 no less than four times, with its title song plus the further singles “Father Figure,” “One More Try” and “Monkey.”
However, for his follow-up, 1990’s introspective Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, Michael opted to bow out of the spotlight altogether by refusing to appear on the cover art and shunning any appearances in the music videos for singles like “Praying For Time” and “Freedom 90.” (The iconic, David Fincher-directed clip for the latter famously featured supermodels Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford.)
Just two weeks ago, British producer Naughty Boy (Beyonce, Sam Smith) revealed that he was to begin recording new music with Michael. “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,” the producer said at the BBC Music Awards. “I reached out and then he got back. He’s got an album coming out next year, and he’s going to be doing something for my album as well.”
In the fall, Sony announced an anniversary reissue of Listen Without Prejudice 25. Formats were said to include a Deluxe, Limited Edition box set with three CDs (including Michael’s 1996 MTV Unplugged special) and a DVD, a two-CD edition and a vinyl edition. The release date subsequently got bumped to 2017.
Coinciding with the reissue’s originally planned release, Showtime was scheduled to air the Phillip Smith-directed film Freedom: George Michael, which tells the story of the making of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 — including the singer’s lengthy court battle with Sony that followed — and the events surrounding the loss of Michael’s partner Anselmo Feleppo after the album’s release. Contributors to the film include Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Liam Gallagher, Mark Ronson, Tony Bennett, Jean Paul Gaultier, James Corden and, of course, Michael himself.
Altogether, George Michael released eight studio albums and topped the US singles chart three times with Wham! and seven more times as a solo artist. His most recent studio LP, Symphonica, arrived in 2014.