Ge­orge Michael, brought pop to China, dies at 53

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By REUTERS and CHINA DAILY Chen Jie contributed to this story.

Bri­tish singer Ge­orge Michael, whose 1980s pop group Wham! was the first ma­jor West­ern band to tour China af­ter the na­tion’s open­ing-up, died at his home in Eng­land on Sun­day. He was 53.

The group’s 10-day tour in 1985 helped open China to West­ern mu­sic and gave Wham! global stature.

Michael later forged a ca­reer as a suc­cess­ful solo artist with some­times sex­u­ally provoca­tive lyrics.

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

Bri­tish po­lice said Michael’s death was “un­ex­plained but not sus­pi­cious”.

Born Ge­or­gios Kyr­i­a­cos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963, in Lon­don to Greek Cypriot im­mi­grant par­ents, Michael formed Wham! with a school friend, An­drew Ridge­ley, in 1981. In the mid-1980s it was one of the most suc­cess­ful pop duos ever, with sin­gles like Wake Me Up Be­fore You Go-Go, Care­less Whis­per, Last Christ­mas and The Edge of Heaven.

In April 1985, just a few years af­ter China be­gan open­ing up to the world, Wham! per­formed in Bei­jing and in Guangzhou. In Bei­jing, they drew 15,000 peo­ple to Work­ers Gym­na­sium. The band also vis­ited the Great Wall and Tian’an­men Square, the ba­sis for the doc­u­men­tary For­eign Skies: Wham! in China.

Zhang Qin, then a Pek­ing Univer­sity stu­dent, said: “I stood in line out­side the box of­fice the whole night to buy a ticket. The price was 5 yuan but scalpers sold tick­ets for 25 yuan in a few days.” At that time, a worker’s monthly salary was about 40 yuan.

Chi­nese singer Cheng Fangyuan sang Wake Me Up Be­fore You Go-Go, trans­lated in Chi­nese, be­fore the tour. The Chi­nese ver­sion was aired on ra­dio and made into a cas­sette, quickly giv­ing Wham! fame in China.

“It was an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence, the daz­zling lights, the over­whelm­ing waves of noise. We never saw a per­for­mance like that, their songs brought the hall down,” said Cheng, who saw the band in Bei­jing.

“Chi­nese au­di­ences were un­fa­mil­iar with that kind of con­cert. They were im­pressed by the per­for­mance but did not know how to re­spond. Some for­eign­ers in the au­di­ence stood up, singing and danc­ing with them,” she re­called. “Af­ter the per­for­mance, Wham! met of­fi­cials from the Min­istry of Cul­ture. I still re­mem­ber Michael looked so hand­some and cool, in a col­or­ful shirt and jeans with long blond hair.”


Ge­orge Michael (left) and An­drew Ridge­ley, mem­bers of the Bri­tish band Wham!, visit the Great Wall in April 1985 dur­ing their ground­break­ing tour of China.

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