Grammy Award-winning pop singer George Michael was one of the leading performers in the 1980s. His 1987 album ‘Faith’ won a Grammy for best album of the year.
George Michael was born in London, England, on June 25, 1963. The high school out formed the band Wham! Their first U.S. hit was “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” In 1986, he went solo. Over time he recorded edgier work, such as the hit “I Want Your Sex.” The album sold 7 million copies. In 1998, Michael announced that he was gay after being arrested for lewd conduct in a public restroom. Michael continued to perform and his career had a reboot in America in the mid-2000s with the release of his greatest hits album Twenty Five. He continued to tour and perform at events like the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. He died of heart failure on December 25, 2016 in his home in England at the age of 53.
George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963, in East Finchley, London, England. One of the leading artists in popular music in the 1980s, Michael recently returned to the spotlight. He grew up in and near London, where he developed his passion for music at an early age. While in school, Michael befriended Andrew Ridgeley, with whom he shared a love of pop music and began playing music. By some reports, Michael and Ridgeley were an unlikely duo. Michael was pudgy and shy, while Ridgeley was attractive and outgoing.
Dropping out of high school, Michael and Ridgeley started a short-lived band called the Executive. That band only played a few gigs before it fell apart, but the pair soon found success. In 1982, they landed a recording contract with Innervision records and became known as Wham! Their first album, Fantastic!, was released in Britain in 1982, and climbed as high as the No. 4 spot on the charts there (it was released in the United States the following year). With their youthful good looks, Wham! soon developed quite a following among teenage girls.
With their catchy, Motown-influenced sound, Wham! lived up to the title of their second album, Make It Big (1984). They scored their first number one hit in the United States with “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” The up-tempo hit “Everything She Wants” and the ballad “Careless Whisper” also reached the top of the U.S. charts.
As the lead vocalist and main songwriter, Michael emerged as the star of the group. It was not long before he broke out on his own. He left after the group’s 1986 recording, Music from the Edge of Heaven. While it was not as big of a hit as their earlier efforts, the album still had several popular singles, including “Where Did Your Heart Go?” and “I’m Your Man.”
Recreating His Image
As a solo artist, Michael earned his first Grammy Award for a duet with soul icon Aretha Franklin. Their single, “I Knew You Were Waiting,” won Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1987. That same year, he made an impressive debut with Faith (1987). Trying to shed his teen heartthrob image, he went for an edgier look, often sporting a leather jacket and a few days’ worth of stubble. Musically, he took a funkier direction as well with the album. Driven in part by the number one title track, the recording reached the top of the album charts. Other hits included “Father Figure,” “Monkey,” and “One More Try.”
Michael also stirred up a lot of controversy through another track on the album—”I Want Your Sex.” Some radio stations in the United States refused to play it because its explicit content while others would only play late at night for the same reason. Despite these protests, the recording ended up selling more than 7 million copies and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1988.
Finally free from his contract with Sony, Michael released the album Older in 1996. Two tracks, “Jesus to a Child” and “Fastlove,” broke into the top ten in the United States as did the album. Still, the sales for the recording paled in comparison to his earlier efforts with some attributing this decline to Michael’s time away from the pop music scene. Michael did win several accolades for his work, however: He took home the award for Best British Male at the BRIT Awards and the MTV Europe Awards that year.
Personal Life and Controversy
In 1998, George Michael made headlines, though this time not for his music. He was arrested for lewd conduct in a men’s room at a public park in Los Angeles, California. After the incident, Michael made a television appearance in which he acknowledged that he was homosexual.
There had been some speculation about his sexual orientation over the years, but this was his first public statement on the matter.
His next musical effort was a collection of covers, Songs from the Last Century (1999). While it received some positive reviews, the album failed to make much of an impression on the music-buying public. Michael recorded several singles over the next few years, including a 2000 duet with Whitney Houston on the song “If I Told You That.”
Michael released his fourth solo album, Patience, in 2004. Instead of the pop charts, he found success on the dance charts. “Flawless” and “Amazing”
both scored well with dance music fans. After this record, Michael made comments about giving up the music business. But this retirement would prove to be short lived.
Having another encounter with the law, Michael was arrested on suspicion of illegal drugs in London in February 2006. According to a report in Rolling Stone magazine, the singer said in a statement that “it’s my own stupid fault, as usual.” A few months later, Michael announced that he was going on tour for the first time in 15 years. He also released a collection of his songs, entitled Twenty Five, in the United Kingdom. The work, which included some new material, was a celebration of Michael’s 25 years in music.
Resurrecting his career in the United States in 2008, Michael made several appearances, released Twenty Five stateside and guest-starred on the television series Eli Stone as a musical guardian angel of sorts. The show also featured some of his classic hits. He went on to perform on the series finale of the popular musical competition show American Idol before embarking on a national tour in the summer of 2008.
In April 2011, Michael released a cover of Stevie Wonder’s 1972 song, “You and I,” as a gift to Prince William and Kate Middleton prior to the couple’s wedding. In August of that year, the singer-songwriter began performing as part of his Symphonica Tour, which ended early, after Michael fell ill a few months into the series. The following year, Michael performed “Freedom! 90” and “White Light” at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, held in London.
In May 2013, a 49-year-old Michael was airlifted to a medical facility in London, England, after being involved in an accident on the M1 motorway near St. Albans. Michael had reportedly been found at the scene of the accident by paramedics, and had not been seriously injured.
Outside of performing, Michael was active in supporting the arts. He was in a 13-year relationship with Kenny Goss that ended in 2011.
George Michael died of heart failure on December 25, 2016 at the age of 53. “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 by his publicist. Celebrities around the world reacted to the news of Michael’s death with disbelief and sadness.