December 25, 2016 – George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in Finchley, North London, England on June 25, 1963. His father, was a Greek Cypriot restaurateur, who moved to England in the 1950s and his mother, was a dancer. Michael spent the majority of his childhood in Kingsbury, London, in the home his parents bought soon after his birth.
While he was in his early teens, the family moved to Radlett, Hertfordshire where he attended Bushey Meads School in the neighbouring town of Bushey, and where he also befriended his future Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley. The two had the same career ambition of being musicians. Michael would busk on the London Underground, performing songs such as “’39” by Queen. His involvement in the music business began with his working as a DJ, playing at clubs and local schools around Bushey, Stanmore, and Watford. This was followed by the formation of a short-lived ska band called the Executive, with Ridgeley, Ridgeley’s brother Paul, Andrew Leaver, and David Mortimer (later known as David Austin). “I wanted to be loved,” said Michael of his start in the music field. “It was an ego satisfaction thing.”
Just 18, Michael formed the teenybopper duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981. Helped by their startling good looks and MTV, which was an emerging music industry force at the time, the cheerful duo easily crossed the Atlantic to become popular in the United States with Michael, as lead singer, usually the focal point. The band’s first album Fantastic reached No. 1 in the UK in 1983 and produced a series of top 10 singles including “Young Guns”, “Wham Rap!” and “Club Tropicana“. Their second album, Make It Big, reached No. 1 on the charts in the US. Singles from that album included “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (No. 1 in the UK and US), “Freedom“, “Everything She Wants“, and “Careless Whisper” which reached No. 1 in nearly 25 countries, including the UK and US, and was Michael’s first solo effort as a single. (he wrote the song at the age of 17).
Wham!’s tour of China in April 1985, the first visit to China by a Western popular music act, generated worldwide media coverage, much of it centred on Michael. Before Wham!’s appearance in China, many kinds of music in the country were forbidden. The audience included members of the Chinese government, and Chinese television presenter, Kan Lijun, who was the on stage host, spoke of Wham!’s historic performance; “No-one had ever seen anything like that before. All the young people were amazed and everybody was tapping their feet. Of course the police weren’t happy and they were scared there would be riots.” The tour was documented by film director Lindsay Anderson and producer Martin Lewis in their film Foreign Skies: Wham! In China.
In the mid 1980s he was a British pop icon who dominated the charts – and the headlines, all founded on an early passion for music and a prodigious song-writing talent.
Waving goodbye to Wham! in 1986, Michael went on to enjoy worldwide solo success with albums such as Faith, Listen without Prejudice Vol 1 and Older. 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 legends like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Luciano Pavarotti and Elton John.
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.
Along with professional success however were crashing lows: in the early ‘90s Michael lost a highly publicized battle with his record company Sony (he accused them of ‘professional slavery’) and suffered debilitating bereavements.
For many years Michael’s drug use and taste for risky sex brought him into frequent brushes with the law, while his sexuality was in question before he was spectacularly ‘outed’, in 1998, by an undercover policeman in an LA public toilet and arrested for lewd conduct. 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 behavior, he went on to release a single and video, “Outside,” that made lite of the charges against him and mocked the Los Angeles police who had arrested him. (its video featured disco-dancing, kissing cops.)
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 and the acknowledgment of his homosexuality made him even more popular with his fans.
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 admitted 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. In later years, Michael suffered from creative block and he said at a press conference in 2011 that he felt he had let young people down with his misbehavior 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 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.
At the time of his death on Christmas Day 2016 a new album was reportedly underway, along with a documentary due in 2017. He died on 25 December, at the age of 53.
From the many tributes that flooded social media on Christmas Day, it’s clear that it’s Michael’s often underestimated song-writing genius for which he’ll be remembered.
The man behind such ’80s classics as “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” when he was the lead singer of Wham!, and “Faith,” his first solo hit, amassed an enviable fortune from a career that spanned more than three decades. Those years of success resulted in a net worth of $200 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
With such a wealthy estate left behind by a celebrity known worldwide, an ensuing legal battle is all but a foregone conclusion. But Michael was not married when he died. In fact, he was never married in his life, according to Bustle. He never had any children, either.
However, he does have family involved in his affairs, according to the BBC, which published a brief statement by Michael’s publicist acknowledging the singer’s death on Sunday:
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George 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.”
One family member with whom Michael has had a contentious relationship is his sister, according to reports. She has alleged in the past that he would not financially support her to her likings, which she said led to her eviction from an apartment in London in 2004, Contact Music reported at the time.
While the nature of their relationship was not immediately clear shortly after Michael’s death was announced, if she had any lingering animosity toward her brother, those feelings could manifest themselves in a lawsuit for claims to the estate.