George Michael, Wham!, solo singer, dead at 53

Singer George Michael performs in concert at the Stade de France in Paris in 2007. The popular British musician died at the age of 53 Sunday, his publicist said. The cause of death, however, was not immediately known. File Photo by David Silpa/UPI

OXFORDSHIRE, U.K., Dec. 25, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — George Michael, the British rock star first known as half of the ’80s duo Wham! and later for his more successful solo career, died on Christmas at his estate in Goring, Oxfordshire, England. He was 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,” his publicist said in a statement according to multiple media reports.

“The family would ask their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”

The cause of the singer’s death was not immediately disclosed but police reportedly said there were no suspicious circumstances. Later Sunday, Michael’s longtime manager told the Hollywood Reporter that heart failure was suspected.

The legendary singer’s death was first reported by BBC News.

Authorities said an ambulance was sent to Michael’s Oxfordshire home, about 55 miles northwest of downtown London, on Sunday afternoon. However, it was not disclosed what motivated the emergency call.

The star’s death prompted an outpouring of reactions from fans and industry colleagues on Sunday.

British singer George Michael performs at the new Wembley Stadium in London on June 9, 2007. The singer, who died Sunday at the age of 53, scored numerous No. 1 hit singles in the United States during the 1980s and was viewed as one of the biggest sex symbols of the decade. File Photo by Rune Hellestad/UPI
“I just heard about my friend George Michael’s death. He was such a brilliant talent. I’m so sad,” Ellen DeGeneres, who revealed she was gay about the same time as Michael, tweeted.

“Unbelievable. RIP George Michael,” added comedian Ricky Gervais.

“Beyond sad, you were a legend, and you were far too young. Blasting ‘Last Christmas’ now,” group One Republic posted.

Actor William Shatner noted that 2016 has been a difficult year for celebrity deaths — including artists Prince and David Bowie.

“Is this year over yet? Too many people are passing away. Rest In Peace, George Michael,” he said.

Born in London on June 25, 1963, the son of a Greek restaurateur and an English dancer, Michael had aspirations to be a professional musician while still a teenager. In secondary school, he met Andrew Ridgeley and the two eventually formed the pop duo Wham! in 1981.

The pair’s second album, “Make It Big,” spawned three No. 1 hit singles in the United States — “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,” “Careless Whisper,” and “Everything She Wants.” Another single from the album, “Freedom,” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 3. The album itself also charted at No. 1 and was the fourth best-selling album of 1985 in the United States.

The previous autumn, Michael collaborated with a number of other British music stars to record a charity single and raise money for famine in Africa. The result, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” a tune that enjoys heavy rotation during the holidays to this day, quickly climbed atop the U.K. chart.

Michael left Wham! and embarked on a solo career in 1986, instantly going to work on his debut album, “Faith” — indisputably his most successful solo project. The record produced six Top 5 singles on the U.S. chart — including four No. 1s in a row between December 1987 and August 1988 — and was the best-selling U.S. album of 1988 on the Billboard 200 chart.

The No. 1 singles from the record — “Faith,” “Father Figure,” “One More Try” and “Monkey” — continue to receive airplay today. The video for “Faith,” which famously portrays Michael with acoustic guitar, leather jacket and dangling gold earring, continues to be one of the most enduring musical images from the 1980s. More than 25 million copies of the record were sold and it won a Grammy for 1988 album of the year.

A singer, songwriter and record producer, the visionary Michael was also known for using his music, and celebrity, to raise social awareness during the decade. A flamboyant and controversial performer, he pushed the envelope with sexually liberal lyrics and refined erotic imagery in many of his videos and concerts.

His song “I Want Your Sex,” the video to which endorsed monogamy and safe sex, was partly censored for radio play in 1987 due to its sexually robust lyrics. Some disc jockeys even refused to say the song’s title. Despite its well-publicized censorship — or because of it — the track peaked on the U.S. chart at No. 2.

Michael’s second solo effort, “Listen Without Prejudice,” followed in 1990. Although it spun another No. 1 hit, “Praying For Time,” that album didn’t approach the success of “Faith,” selling just 8 million units. One song intended for a follow-up record, “Too Funky,” peaked at No. 10 in the United States in 1992. Duets with Aretha Franklin and Elton John also topped the Billboard chart in 1987 and 1991, respectively.

All told, it’s estimated that Michael sold more than 100 million solo albums.

In the late 1990s, Michael revealed he was gay — a revelation that shocked many unsuspecting fans due to his status as a sex symbol and the often bold heterosexual imagery he employed in several of his music videos.

Michael was arrested in 1998 for allegedly engaging in a lewd act at a Los Angeles area public restroom. The story generated sensational headlines and the singer ultimately pleaded no contest to the charge.

Prior to his death Sunday, Michael had been working on another studio album, his first since 2014, as well as a documentary set for release next year.

“George Michael is busy putting the finishing touches to his special documentary film ‘Freedom’,” his Facebook page stated Nov. 2. “It promises to be a real treat for fans!”

Elton John said Sunday he was in “deep shock” over Michael’s death and Ridgeley expressed sorrow on his Twitter page.

“Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend,” he tweeted. “4ever loved.”




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