George Michael: From closeted life to gay rights advocate
Pop superstar George Michael concealed his homosexuality, as well as the trauma of his boyfriend's death, for years but later became a gay rights advocate and a major supporter of HIV campaigns. Michael, who died Sunday at 53, only came out as a gay man in 1998 -nearly two decades into his career-after being caught in a police sting involving a "lewd act" in a public bathroom in a park in Beverly Hills, California. His sexuality was by then an open secret in show business but Michael said he did not go public so as not to worry his mother because of fears about the AIDS virus in the gay community at the time.
"Understand how much I love my family and that AIDS was a predominant feature of being gay in the 1980s and early 1990s as far as any parent was concerned," he told BBC Radio in an interview in 2007. "My mother was still alive and every single day would have been a nightmare for her thinking what I might have been subjected to," explained Michael. Initially confused about his sexuality, Michael said he realised he was gay by the end of the 1980s.
His 1987 hit "I Want Your Sex" was banned from many radio stations for its sexually charged video and lyrics, which appeared to hint at homosexuality. "There's things that you guess/ And things that you know/ There's boys that you can trust/ And girls that you don't," Michael sings. "There's little things you hide."
At a concert in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, he met Anselmo Feleppa, a Brazilian dress designer who became his first love. "It's very hard to be proud of your sexuality when it hasn't given you any joy, but once you have found somebody you really love it's not so tough," Michael told the Huffington Post in an interview. Six months into the relationship, they discovered Feleppa was HIV-positive a devastating blow for Michael. "I couldn't go through it with my family because I didn't know how to share it with them-they didn't even know I was gay. I couldn't tell my closest friends because Anselmo didn't want me to," he said.
Feleppa died of an AIDS-related brain haemorrhage in 1993. Whenever performing the single "Jesus To A Child" from the album "Older" (1996), Michael dedicated it to Feleppa and the singer later said the entire album was a tribute to his late partner. "Heaven sent/ And Heaven stole/ You smiled at me/ Like Jesus to a child," Michael sings. He said of the album: "To many fans and the people that were really listening, I felt like I was trying to come out with them".
'Abuse, homophobic language'
Michael later told the BBC his arrest in 1998 may have been "a subconsciously deliberate act" to out himself and said he wished he had gone public sooner. "I don't think I would have had the same career-my ego might not have been satisfied in some areas-but I think I would have been a happier man," he said.
Following a series of run-ins with the law, Michael told one interviewer in 2011 that he blamed himself for "letting young gay kids down" with his antics. "My behavior meant these kids suffered abuse and the homophobic language that is legal in this country," he said. The same year that he came out as gay, Michael began his public activism by helping with a documentary about six young people affected by the HIV virus to coincide with World Aids Day. As part of his philanthropy-much of it under the radar-he was also a major supporter of the Terrence Higgins Trust, a British HIV charity.
"His donations contributed to a vision of a world where people living with HIV live healthy lives free from prejudice and discrimination," the charity said in a Facebook post yesterday. The gay rights group Stonewall said on Twitter: "You inspired many and your music will live on in the hearts of the community. You will be sorely missed". — AFP
In this July 2, 2005, file photo, George Michael, left, and Paul McCartney, right, perform during the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London.