We are sad to report that 1980s pop music icon George Michael has died at the age of 53 in the UK. Reports are saying the singer “passed away peacefully at home”. Thames Valley Police said South Central Ambulance Service attended a property in Goring in Oxfordshire at 13:42 GMT. Police say there were no suspicious circumstances involved.
In a statement, the star’s publicist said: “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.”George Michael first rose to fame at the dawn of the MTV age, as half of the pop duo Wham, along with his childhood best friend Andrew Ridgeley. After scoring several hits in the UK, Wham’s second album Make It Big did exactly that when released in 1984. Its first single, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, became a worldwide phenomenon, and the video remains one of the most iconic of the era, with its dancers wearing “Choose Life!” t-shirts. The shirts became a fashion statement in high schools and malls across America.
Other singles from the album like “Careless Whisper” “Freedom”, and “Everything She Wants” were also smash hits for the duo. Michael’s duet with Aretha Franklin “I Knew You Were Waiting” was another huge single from this era. Wham’s single “Last Christmas” remains a holiday staple to this day, and chances are you’ve heard it more than once this season. It’s now a holiday classic and has been covered multiple times.
Wham broke up in 1986 at the peak of their fame, but George Michael’s solo album Faith hit in 1987, propelling him to even bigger heights of success that Wham ever did. The album spawned 6 Top 20 singles, including “I Want Your Sex”, “Faith”, “Father Figure”, “Monkey”, and “One More Try”, the videos for which were in constant rotation on MTV. In 2012, the album was ranked number 472 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. His follow up album, 1990’s Listen Without Prejudice, spawned the hit single “Freedom ’90”, but a dispute with his record label led to Michael not making many videos for the album, and it never became the phenomenon that Faith was.
Although Michael would release other albums over the course of his career, none would quite hit the heights of his peak years in the ’80s and early ’90s. Although he was gay, he kept his sexual orientation a secret until he was arrested in April 1998, for “engaging in a lewd act” with an undercover male police officer in a public restroom in Beverly Hills, California. In 2007, Michael said “that hiding his sexuality made him feel ‘fraudulent’, and his eventual outing, when he was arrested was “a subconsciously deliberate act.”
He released a single that poked fun at his circumstances with song and video for “Outside”, which, as the title suggest, was all about the joys of hooking up outdoors. The song ended up becoming a minor hit. But it showed that instead of running away in shame from what happened, Michael had a sense of humor about the whole thing. Once he was finally out of the closet, Michael embraced his status as a gay icon, and contributed to many LGBT causes.
In the last few years, Michael made headlines more for his various drug related arrests over any musical contributions. It’s unknown if his death has anything to do with that at this time, despite much speculation. George Michael’s music and persona figured prominently in this year’s comedy Keanu, which reminded many fans just how talented and amazing he was in his prime.
With the passing of George Michael, that marks yet another of the major 1980s pop icons who have died prematurely. Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince, David Bowie are now all gone. It now seems Madonna, Janet Jackson and Cyndi Lauper are the last ones standing of the major pop music icons of similar stature who became famous during the MTV era. If anything, news of his passing has reminded fans that despite all of his personal problems, George Michael was a huge talent who will be missed by many fans all over the world.
Image: Sony Music Group