Pop singer George Michael, who had a successful solo career and numerous hits as half of the 1980s duo Wham including the song Last Christmas, has died “over the Christmas period” at the age of 53.
Michael, whose real name was Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, died at his home in Goring, England. His publicist, Cindi Berger, said he had not been ill.
A statement from his family said Michael “passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” and asked that their privacy be “respected at this difficult and emotional time.”
Thames Valley Police say the death “is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious.” An autopsy will take place in the coming days and police say they won’t give an update until those results come in.
Making it big
Michael broke out onto the music scene alongside Andrew Ridgeley as the lead singer of Wham. Their second studio album produced by Michael, Make It Big, was a critical and commercial success. It spawned a number of hits such as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Careless Whisper and Everything She Wants.
The group had several popular tracks between 1982-86 including I’m Your Man, Club Tropicana, and Last Christmas.
Following the band’s breakup, Michael embarked on a successful solo career, releasing his debut album Faith in 1987. He wrote and produced the album in addition to playing various instruments.
The lead single, I Want Your Sex, was initially banned by radio stations because of its lyrics, considered sexually explicit at the time. But the song climbed the Billboard charts, along with a number of tracks from the album, including Father Figure, One More Try, Monkey and the title track, Faith.
His following album, Listen Without Prejudice, was released in 1990. The music video for the song Freedom! ’90 famously excluded Michael himself and instead featured supermodels Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz mouthing the words to the anthem about artistic freedom and identity.
Michael postponed a series of concerts in 2011 after receiving treatment for pneumonia in hospital.
Michael was fined and forced to do community service after being arrested in 1998 for “engaging in a lewd act” at a public park in Beverly Hills, Calif. The media speculation that surrounded the incident forced Michael to become more publicly explicit about being gay.
The singer had several brushes with the law thereafter involving drugs. He pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of drugs and possessing cannabis after he crashed his car into a photo-processing shop in London, England, in July of 2010.
He remained out of the spotlight in recent years.
Michael was in the middle of finishing a documentary project about his music called Freedom that was expected to air in March of 2017.
Michael’s family said in their statement they will not provide any further comment regarding his death.
Tributes for ‘a brilliant artist’
Elton John, who performed the duet Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me with Michael in 1991, said he was “in deep shock.”
“I have lost a beloved friend — the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist,” John posted on Instagram.
Bryan Adams, Meat Loaf and Carpool Karaoke host James Corden also shared tributes to the late artist.
“He was an absolute inspiration,” Corden wrote on Twitter. “Always ahead of his time.”
I’ve loved George Michael for as long as I can remember. He was an absolute inspiration. Always ahead of his time.
God Bless George Michael , Say a prayer for him . A nice human .
RIP George Michael. I can’t believe it. Such an incredible singer and a lovely human being, far too young to leave us #georgemichael
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