George Michael 1963-2016
By Andy Malt | Published on Thursday 5 January 2017
George Michael died at his Oxfordshire home on Christmas Day, aged 53. The cause of his death is unclear, as a post-mortem proved inconclusive.
Born Georgios Panayiotou in London in 1963, he formed Wham with school friend Andrew Ridgeley in 1981, with Michael largely the sole songwriter and often producer of their work. Their career was accelerated later the following year when they were invited as a last minute booking to perform their second single, ‘Young Guns (Go For It!)’, on ‘Top Of The Pops’. Although their debut album, ‘Fantastic’, went to number one in the UK, it was the follow-up, ‘Make It Big’, that elevated them to international status – leading to them becoming the first Western pop act to perform in China in 1985.
By the time the duo split in 1986 Michael had already taken steps towards a solo career – starting with ‘Careless Whisper’ in 1984, a solo release despite it appearing on ‘Make It Big’. His solo career proper kicked off in 1987 with ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’, a duet with Aretha Franklin. Later that year he released one of his most recognisable songs and videos, ‘Faith’.
Michael only released four solo studio albums of original material, the last being 2004’s ‘Patience’, and the third, ‘Older’, coming after a bitter legal battle with his label Sony Music. He accused the label of failing to properly promote his second album, ‘Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1’, after the musician opted to present a more serious image. After two years going through the courts, the judge in the case ruled in Sony’s favour in 1994. Michael refused to record any new music for the company following the loss, and his contract was ultimately sold to Virgin Records and DreamWorks Records.
Although his music remained successful, with relatively little of it released, Michael’s personal life drew more public focus. He came out as gay in 1998 after being arrested “for engaging in a lewd act” in a public toilet in LA as part of a police sting operation – something he later satirised in the video for ‘Outside’. More recently, his drug use came under close media attention, after a number of arrests. After admitting to driving under the influence of drugs before crashing into a branch of Snappy Snaps in Hampstead in 2010, he was jailed for eight weeks and banned from driving for five years.
A public supporter of many charities throughout his life, it has emerged in the wake of his death that he carried out many more acts of philanthropy secretly, including donating the royalties from a number of his biggest hits to charities.
George Michael is survived by his father Kyriacos Panayiotou and his sisters Yioda and Melanie.