Everything you need to know.
IN THE 1980s HE WAS A POP SUPERSTAR. IN THE ’90S HE CONQUERED AMERICA AND WRESTLED WITH HIS DEMONS. TODAY, GEORGE MICHAEL IS STILL AN INTRIGUING MESS OF TALENT AND QUESTIONABLE IMPULSES! MARC ANDREWS CHARTS THE HITS AND HIGHLIGHTS, THE BUSTS AND BURNOUTS AND THE CONTINUING SAGA OF THE BIGGEST GAY POP STAR ON THE PLANET.
Born 50 years ago with the less marketable name Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, George Michael has been a star since he was in his late teens. He first found fame with school chum Andrew Ridgeley as part of pop duo Wham! at the age of 19. George made Andrew promise never to reveal his “bisexual” secret. “All of my early sexual fantasies were straight and totally readable,” he said years later. “My first fantasy involved me being surrounded by a group of nuns who all had their tits out. I mean, how obvious can you get? I was lying helpless on some kind of medical table, so all that led me to believe I was on the path to heterosexuality. It wasn’t until puberty that I started fantasising about men and I do think it had something to do with my environment. But there are definitely those who have a predisposition to being gay in which the environment is irrelevant.”
Although their first single, Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do) in 1982 initially flopped, Wham! got luckier with their second single Young Guns (Go For It!). While the single was only a minor hit initally, they managed to secure a slot on iconic British pop show Top Of The Pops when another act couldn’t make it. Their single flew into the top ten the next week.
After Young Guns hit the top ten around the world, they re-released Wham Rap! which followed suit and a new pop sensation was born. Wham! rivalled Boy George’s Culture Club and suave pin-ups Duran Duran as the biggest pop band of their era.
A few more catchy singles followed, including Club Tropicana, famous for its video featuring a heavily tanned George wearing a pair of skimpy white speedos. Little wonder that the appeal of the band spread quickly from teenage girls to the gay boys.
With a #1 album in Fantastic, George threw out a challenge to the other bands that Wham! would be the biggest pop band on the planet with their next record. They accomplished that with their knowingly-titled second album, Make It Big.
That was preceded by a single still considered the pinnacle of the band’s shiny, bright bubblegum phase – Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. In the video the band wore white Katharine Hamnett T-shirts with Choose Life and Go-Go written on them, but it was George and Andrew’s teeny tiny shorts that got attention from their growing gay fan base. Also growing was George’s hair – into a magnificent 1980s bouffant.
But George had greater ambitions and his first solo single is one of the finest big hair power ballads of the era, Careless Whisper. It was moody, beautifully melancholy and it topped the charts around the world.
By the end of 1984 Wham! (now undeniably the world’s biggest pop band) even managed to write a holiday hit, Last Christmas, that became as much a staple of the season as taking an Alka-Seltzer after eating too much pudding.
George also lent his distinctive vocals to Band Aid’s global #1 hit to raise money for the Ethiopian famine relief, Do They Know It’s Christmas? At this point, people started to wonder what Andrew Ridgeley actually contributed to Wham!. As it turns out, George was the musical one; Andrew gave him the
My first fantasy involved me being surrounded by a group of nuns who all had their tits out… that led me to believe I was on the path to heterosexuality.
confidence to perform. George has admitted he’d never have jumped on stage without Andrew by his side.
Hounded by the tabloids about his love life (especially after rival pop star Boy George sniffed, “George Michael’s heterosexuality is one of the world’s best kept secrets!”), George announced he was in a relationship with Asian model and make-up artist Kathy Yeung. Andrew, meanwhile, hooked up with Bananarama’s Keren Woodward and also took up rally car driving. He’s still into both. George, unsurprisingly, did not last long with Kathy. “I used to sleep with women a lot in the Wham! days but never felt it could develop into a relationship because I knew that, emotionally, I was a gay man,” George explained years later. “I didn’t want to commit to them but I was attracted to them. Then I became ashamed that I might be using them.”
After she featured in his first post-Wham! solo single, the risqué I Want Your Sex, Kathy was never seen again. That single marked the real beginning of George’s solo career in 1986 as Wham! disbanded, Andrew Ridgeley sunk into oblivion and George underwent a bout of depression. “My depression at the end of Wham! was because I was beginning to realise I was gay, not bisexual,” George revealed decades later about the band’s demise.
Yet before George officially become a solo star he still needed to convince folks in America that he was heterosexual and butch enough to be allowed to swing his hips in front of their teenagers at concerts. Enter soul legend Aretha Franklin who he teamed up with for the classic I Knew You Were Waiting which hit #1 in the UK, US and Australia.
In 1987, George released his debut solo album, Faith. Dressed in a leather jacket, cowboy boots and denim jeans on the cover he looked totally butch and heterosexual – except this look was exactly what gay clones were wearing at the time as well. His straight audience didn’t seem to notice.
Faith went on to sell a whopping 25 million copies worldwide and spawned a slew of hit singles including Father Figure, Monkey, One More Try and Kissing A Fool. George undertook a mammoth world tour and became more successful and popular than both Michael Jackson and Madonna.
But Faith didn’t make George happy. In fact, it made him so unhappy that when he finally got around to releasing a new album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1, in 1990, he decided he wasn’t going to do any publicity for it and was not going to appear in any more of his own videos. “I never minded being thought of as a pop star,” he claims now. “People have always thought I wanted to be seen as a serious musician, but I didn’t. I just wanted people to know that I was absolutely serious about pop music.”
While his record company had a virtual nervous breakdown with this “issue”, George scored some of his finest solo hits especially the philosophical Praying For Time and goodbyeto-the-past Freedom! ’90 which featured the supermodels of the era (Naomi! Christy! Cindy and more!) lip syncing the lyrics of the song. >>
>> It transpired George was going through a major meltdown at this stage as some years into his solo success he knew he was gay. He met Brazilian fashion designer Anselmo Feleppa in 1991 at a concert in Brazil. Six months later when they had become a couple, Anselmo discovered he was HIV-positive. “It was terrifying news,” George said later. ‘I thought I could have the disease, too. 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.”
In 1991 George issued a live recording of Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me with his old pal Elton John that became a global #1 hit with all proceeds going to charities for children, AIDS and education. Elton once said that he feared for George’s life. “Elton lives on that,” George replied some years later. “He will not be happy until I bang on his door in the middle of the night saying, ‘Please help me, Elton. Take me to rehab.’ It’s not going to happen… Elton just needs to shut his mouth and get on with his own life. Look, if people choose to believe that I’m sitting here in my ivory tower, Howard Hughes-ing myself with long fingernails and loads of drugs, then I can’t do anything about that, can I?”
That same year, 1991, George issued a memoir, Bare, which kept details about his lovelife very vague.
After a bust-up with his record company accusing them of not promoting his album properly, George scrapped his next album and instead donated three songs to the 1992 AIDS charity album Red Hot + Dance. Included was another of his big dance floor successes, Too Funky, featuring his posse of supermodel pals again strutting around while George had a cameo as the video’s director.
While subsequent singles were met with a more muted response, especially as he moved into more mature adult contemporary territory and away from his pop masterpieces, George scored another #1 hit when he performed with the surviving members of Queen. Somebody To Love on his Five Live EP became a huge hit and proved George was still a viable pop commodity. He donated all proceeds to the Mercury Phoenix Fund (the AIDS charity set up in honour of Queen’s Freddie Mercury who died of AIDS in 1991). There was even talk of George joining Queen as its new lead singer but this never transpired.
Instead, George disappeared for the next two years. While his record company insisted he was working on his third album, what George was mostly doing was caring for Anselmo who died in 1993. George said in a recent interview, “I’m still convinced that had he been in the USA or London he would have survived because just six months later everyone was on combination therapy. I think he went to Brazil because he feared what my fame would do to him and his family if he got treatment
People want to see me as tragic with all the cottaging and drug-taking… I think it removes people’s envy to see your weaknesses. I don’t see them as weaknesses anymore. It’s just who I am.
elsewhere. I was devastated by that.”
When George finally returned to the music world in late 1994 he debuted a seven-minute ballad, Jesus To A Child. Although few people realised it at the time, the song was a moving tribute to Anselmo.
Somehow managing to let his grief go, George released his third solo album, his first in six years, Older, in 1996. The album was preceded by the single Fastlove, which proved George still had the sex factor and he starred in his own video for the first time that decade. The song ruminated about the joys of cruising for casual sex but by the end turned into a lament for lost love. The album featured numerous clues about George’s sexuality. Yet some people still insisted he was straight.
George had gone into therapy as soon as Anselmo was diagnosed, and it was three years after his death before he felt able to consider another relationship. In 1996, he met handsome American flight attendant Kenny Goss at a spa in LA. The same day he called his mother to tell her he had met a nice man, she told him she had been diagnosed with cancer. “So I didn’t even get one day to feel happy about having met Kenny. I was back into the black hole,” he said later. The death of George’s beloved mother Lesley in 1997 set him on a path of unraveling that within a year would see everything change. “There was a point when all I had were dark days. I just used to sleep and sleep. Some days I could barely put one foot in front of the other; it was real depression.”
While personally George had faced up to his homosexuality, professionally it was about to come to a head. On April 7, 1998 George tried to pick up a hot undercover LA cop, Marcelo Rodriguez, at a public toilet in Beverly Hills. “I got followed into the restroom and then this cop, I didn’t know it was a cop, obviously, he started playing this game, which I think is called, ‘I’ll show you mine, you show me yours!’” George told MTV soon after. “And then when you show me yours, I’m going to nick you!”
Not only did George go on TV to confess that, yes, he was gay, and, yes, he was a big fan of cruising – he wrote a song about it, Outside, and made a video in which he dressed as… a hot cop! It became a hit, but not with Marcelo Rodriguez. He later sued George for “mocking him” and brought a court case against him, which was eventually dismissed.
George was now out and proud and in love with Kenny. Their relationship lasted for the next 13 years (ending in 2009). “Falling in love with a man ended my conflict over bisexuality,” George told The Advocate. “I never had a moral problem with being gay. I thought I had fallen in love with a woman a couple of times. Then I fell in love with a man, and realised that none of those things had been love.”
Musically, George allowed himself in indulge in a cool covers album, the underrated Songs From The Last Century in 1999. He even changed the words of My Baby Just Cares For Me from “Liberace” to “Ricky Martin”, a not-sosubtle dig at a pop star still in the closet at that stage. George never lost his sense of humour.
His fifth album, Patience, arrived in 2002 and came with controversy – George dared to make fun of the relationship between US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the single Shoot The Dog. American audiences were incensed and so was Rupert Murdoch, with most of his papers turning against the singer.
While Shoot The Dog didn’t win him any friends on the Right, George soldiered on and when he released his best single in a decade, Amazing, it became a big hit, especially >>
Elton will not be happy until I bang on his door in the middle of the night saying, ‘Please help me, Elton. Take me to rehab.’ It’s not going to happen…
>> since Oprah Winfrey loved it and had him perform it on her show – giving his career a boost it needed. Another single, Flawless, used big chunks of a dance hit of the same name. Some fans complained George was getting lazy, but most couldn’t care less as it became a big dance hit, especially popular in gay clubs around the world.
In 2005, a documentary about George’s life, A Different Story, was released which finally gave fans some insight into the real George and the skeletons (not to mention ex-boyfriends) in his closet. Around this time George told the press about his love of cruising. “The handful of times a year it’s bloody warm enough, I’ll do it. It’s a much nicer place to get some quick and honest sex than standing in a bar, E’d off your tits shouting at somebody and hoping they want the same thing as you do in bed. Know what I mean?”
A decade after his first arrest for “lewd behaviour” George was caught again for the same thing, this time on Hampstead Heath, down the road from his North London home and this time by Murdoch’s dreaded tabloid News Of The World (later to be closed down due to their hacking of celebrity phones). George said his partner Kenny had no issue with him looking for sex outside their relationship, which presumably made them “monogamish”. “Some gay men manage monogamy forever, and I envy them because it’s a great thing,” George said sagely, “but when you first meet someone, that chemical flows through your body and says ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck!’ It’s wondrous. If you can keep hold of that, great, but for me to experience that again in a relationship I’d have to split with Kenny. When I walk into a restaurant I check out the women before the men, because they’re more glamorous. If I wasn’t with Kenny, I would have sex with women, no question, but I would never be able to have a relationship with a woman because I’d feel like a fake. I wouldn’t pair with a woman and stay with her. Emotionally, I’m definitely a gay man.”
George devoted the next few years of his life to touring, releasing Twenty Five in 2008 to celebrate his 25 years in the music business. In 2010 he toured Australia, the first time since 1988 and also found a few minutes to appear at the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras. He also worked on new tracks with Australian producers Seymour Butz and Paul Mac, which remain unreleased to this day. George also debuted the new man in his life, hunky hairdresser Fadi Fawaz. “What I want now is a little more integration in terms of who I actually am,” he explained. “I think there are things about my journey that might be useful to other people, and coming up with a hit record on its own doesn’t seem to be enough any more.”
George so enjoyed his time in Sydney that he stayed on, renting a large yacht on the harbour to which a multitude of handsome friends made regular visits. His Grindr profile was even published in the gossip pages of The Sydney Morning Herald.
In 2011 he decided to tour again – this time with a symphony orchestra, but sadly most of
his Symphonica Tour had to be cancelled after he became sick in Austria with pneumonia and almost died. He later thanked the hospital in Vienna for saving his life, promising he would perform a free concert. He later wrote a dance track about his near-death experience, White Lights, to thank those who prayed for him (and spite those who prayed for his death).
George has often had run-ins with the law due to his sexual proclivities, but also because of his taste in recreational party treats. In 2006, he was arrested for the possession of drugs but only received a caution. A year later he was arrested again after he was found slumped over the wheel of his car at a set of traffic lights in London. George, who acknowledged he likes to smoke joints, pleaded guilty to having been under the influence of drugs, was banned from driving for two years and was required to perform community service. A year later he was arrested again, this time in a toilet in Hampstead Heath for having all manner of drugs, not just joints. He received yet another caution. In 2010 he was spotted coming home after a Gay Pride Parade driving suspiciously and was charged with possessing illegal substances. He served four weeks in prison in late 2010 for being such a drug devotee.
Last year, George had to be airlifted to hospital with a head injury after being involved in a bizarre accident in which it appears he fell from a car travelling at high speed on a motorway. It’s not known how many spliffs he smoked on that particular day.
All of the sex, drugs and dance mixes might have killed off someone else’s career but this has not been the case for George Michael. While other 1980s icons, notably Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, succumbed to their addictions, George appears to flourish, personally and professionally. 2014 sees the release of his sixth solo album, Symphonica, recorded during his ill-fated tour. A free download of a live, strings-laded version of Praying For Time was released via his website to announce the album. His record company reports George has sold over 120 million records during his career and that Symphonica will be released on a hardback deluxe 17-track CD edition; a standard 14-track CD; a standard 14-track digital version and on Pure Audio BluRay. A documentary filmed during George’s Symphonica performance in Paris, where he made history as the first contemporary artist to perform at the legendary Palais Garnier Opera House, is to be released on DVD, too.
Among his fans, George can count big names such as Beyoncé, Adele and Justin Timberlake as admirers.
He is thought to be worth well over $150 million and is currently working on his proper memoirs which were first announced back in 2008. This time he is supposed to write them himself, which is probably why it’s taken some time (the last one having been ghostwritten). “People want to see me as tragic with all the cottaging and drug-taking,” he ponders. “Those things are not what most people aspire to, and I think it removes people’s envy to see your weaknesses. I don’t even see them as weaknesses any more. It’s just who I am.”
Despite the personal lows, the drugs and the DIYs, George’s integrity as a musician has never waned. Did he change the script for the gay pop stars like Adam Lambert, Ricky Martin and Mika, who followed him? Not single-handedly: times changed. Can his name be uttered in the same breath as Noel Coward, Freddie Mercury, Elton John and KD Lang? Certainly. At 50, George has the opportunity to grow into an elder statesman of the entertainment world and continue to grow old disgracefully. He’s earned the right to play on his own rules.
from a life: Scenes partner with formerGoss; the LA Kenny where toilet blockwas busted; GeorgeSir Elton with mate innabbed John; and driving yet another
George live with Adele.