George Michael dead at age 53

Michael's publicist said that the star died on Sunday

LONDON — George Michael, the British pop superstar who reached early fame with WHAM! and went on to a solo career lined with controversies and chart-topping hits that blended soul and dance music with social commentary, has died, his publicist said Sunday. He was 53.

Michael died at his home in Goring, England. His publicist, Cindi Berger, said he had not been ill. His family issued a statement through Thames Valley Police saying that he “passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period.

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

Police issued a statement calling the death “unexplained but not suspicious” and that “a post mortem will be undertaken in due course.”

Michael enjoyed immense popularity early in his career as a teenybopper idol, delivering a series of hits such as “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” ”Young Guns (Go For It)” and “Freedom.” As a solo artist, he developed into a more serious singer and songwriter, lauded by critics for his tremendous vocal range. He sold well over 100 million albums globally, earned numerous Grammy and American Music Awards, and recorded duets with Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Luciano Pavarotti and Elton John among others.

Throughout his career, his drug use and taste for risky sex brought him into frequent brushes with the law, most famously in 1998 when he was arrested for public lewdness in Los Angeles. Yet, he managed to turn the incident into fodder for a popular song that poked fun at his behaviour, and his acknowledgment of his homosexuality at that time made him even more popular with his fans.

Michael, with startling good looks and an easy stage manner, formed the duo WHAM! with his school friend Andrew Ridgeley in the early 1980s. Helped by MTV, which was an emerging music industry force at the time, they easily crossed the Atlantic to become popular in the United States with Michael, as lead singer, usually the focal point.

He started his solo career shortly before WHAM! split, with the release of the megahit single “Careless Whisper,” making a seamless transition. Critics generally viewed his WHAM! songs as catchy but disposable pop and gave his solo efforts far higher marks.

His first solo album, 1987’s “Faith,” sold more 20 million copies, and he enjoyed several hit singles including the raunchy “I Want Your Sex,” which was helped immeasurably by a provocative video that received wide air play on MTV.

The song was controversial not only because of its explicit nature, but also because it was seen as encouraging casual sex and promiscuity at a time when the AIDS epidemic was deepening. Michael and his management tried to tamp down this point of view by having the singer write “Explore Monogamy” on the leg and back of a model in the video.

At the time, Michael had not disclosed his homosexuality, and much of his chart success was based on his sex appeal to young women. His look was raw and provocative, with tight jeans, tight T-shirts, black leather jackets and designer stubble, and his videos pushed the accepted limits with many lingerie-clad models vying for Michael’s attentions on screen.

But Michael’s situation changed abruptly in 1998 when he was arrested for lewd conduct in a public toilet in Los Angeles after being spotted by a male undercover police officer.

The arrest received international media attention, and seemed for a brief time to jeopardize Michael’s stature as a top recording artist.

But instead of making excuses for his behaviour, he went on to release a single and video, “Outside,” that made light of the charges against him and mocked the Los Angeles police who had arrested him.

Like all of his efforts at the time, it sold in prodigious numbers, helping him put the incident behind him. The arrest also prompted him to speak openly about his sexual orientation.

These years represented the height of Michael’s commercial success, which at times was marred by a protracted legal dispute with his record company Sony.

He remained a strong musical force throughout his career, releasing dozens of records and touring to adoring crowds despite a growing number of run-ins with police, many of them stemming from a series of driving-under-the-influence-of-drugs incidents, including several crashes.

Michael was an acknowledged user of marijuana and prescription sedatives and several times was found slumped over his car’s steering wheel after using both at the same time.

His driver’s license was finally revoked for five years in 2010 after Michael drove his Land Rover into the side of a Snappy Snap photo shop with so much force that his vehicle dented the wall.

A passer-by remembering Michael’s early career wrote the word WHAM on the spot his SUV had hit.

He was also arrested a second time in public toilets — this time in North London in 2008 for drug use, an incident that prompted him to apologize to his fans and promise to get his life in order.

He also offered an apology to “everybody else, just for boring them.”

A year earlier, he had told a television interviewer that his problems stemmed from a self-destructive streak and his attention-seeking nature.

He said at a press conference in 2011 that he felt he had let young people down with his misbehaviour and had made it easier for others to denigrate homosexuals.

Despite these personal setbacks, Michael’s musical performances remained strong even as his material moved farther from the teen tunes that first brought him to stardom.

The Telegraph newspaper in 2011 described a London concert appearance as an impressive event, calling his voice, “A rich, soulful instrument, it’s capable of serious emotional heft, expertly matching the confessional tone of his own material.”

Michael, with strong Greek-Cypriot roots, was born Georgios Panayiotou in England. He and schoolmate Ridgeley formed a ska band called the Executive when they were just 16 before moving on to form WHAM!

“I wanted to be loved,” said Michael of his start in the music field. “It was an ego satisfaction thing.”

Michael was active in a number of charities and helped raise money to combat AIDS, help needy children and support gay rights. He had a long-term relationship with Kenny Goss, but announced onstage in August 2011 that the two had broken up

Nekesa Mumbi Moody And Gregory Katz, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Hometown actress Georgia Bennett makes it big in Little Women

Homegrown actress drawing rave reviews for her portrayal of Beth March

VIDEO: Newcomers join favourites in rounding out Sunfest’s amazing lineup for 2019

The Washboard Union, Cody Johnson, Mitchell Tenpenny, Aaron Goodvin: it just gets better and better

Descoteau’s mother, girlfriend reflect on tribulations of murder trial

Friends a strong support system in getting through testimony details

Another mill artifact finds a place in Chemainus museum

Famous door salvaged from storage holds a special significance for former manager Dobson

Strong winds to hit B.C.’s south coast

Western regions may see winds of up to 80 km/hr

Story of the Year: Deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash

The Canadian Press annual survey of newsrooms across the country saw 53 out of 129 editors cast their votes for the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

Retailers feel the squeeze of their generous return policies

Technology data tracking can clamp down on fraudulent abuse

Canadians to get low-cost data-only mobile phone plans within 90 days: CRTC

Bell, Rogers and Telus will provide plans as cheap as 250MB for $15

Four per cent of Canadian women report being sexually harassed in the workplace

One per cent of men report being sexually harassed in the workplace

Stricter drunk driving laws to take effect across Canada today

It gives police officers the right to ask for a breath sample from any driver they lawfully stop

The prize was wrong: Man turns down trip to Manitoba

A New Hampshire man won the prize on “The Price is Right”, but turned it down because the taxes were too high

Man rescued from sinking boat off the coast of Vancouver Island

Mayday call came into Coast Guard saying vessel had taken on water, BC Ferries dispatched to scene

Driver unharmed in high-speed rollover crash on Trans-Canada Highway

Jeep and minivan involved in collision near Nanaimo River Road

Publication ban on name of girl killed in Abbotsford school lifted

Reimer’s family had supported an application by Black Press to lift ban

Most Read