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George Michael dead: A man of conviction, unafraid to lay himself bare

Singing legend was that rarest thing: an icon who refused to apologise for who he loved or how he lived 

Heather Saul
Monday 26 December 2016 11:48 GMT
George Michael performs in concert at the Forum during his "Live Global Tour" in Inglewood, California June 25, 2008
George Michael performs in concert at the Forum during his "Live Global Tour" in Inglewood, California June 25, 2008 (Reuters)

By April, 2016 had taken David Bowie and Prince suddenly and unexpectedly. Just days before drawing to a close, it has claimed another queer pop icon who dismantled the boundaries of masculinity.

Born in north London to an English dancer and Cypriot restaurant owner, George Michael was a working class hero whose life began above a laundrette where his parents struggled to make ends meet.

For many, he was also the first openly gay famous person they ever knew.

Crucially, Michael was a man of conviction, unafraid to lay himself bare. Searingly honest in interviews, his answers would include tales of drug-taking and having sex with men in public spaces. Interviews would often take confessional, searching turns as The Singing Greek openly grappled with the existential crisis facing him at the time.

Despite his candour, Michael was in many ways a reluctant celebrity, somewhat jaded by the superficiality of it all. But his unconventional approach to stardom and refusal to conform would ensure tabloid interest in him never waned, and paparazzi were at one point paid by one outlet to sit outside his house constantly.

He struggled with depression, addiction and paranoia, at one point smoking up to 25 spliffs a day. His career was marked by moments of controversy, including the infamous arrest for "lewd acts" that forced him to come out as gay and highlighted rampant homophobia. But he was an LGBT icon who refused to apologise for who he loved or how he chose to live his life, as these quotes from interviews demonstrate.

On the negative reaction to "Shoot the Dog", a single pillorying the ‘special’ relationship between George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

“Satire is used for political purposes all the time, but obviously there's a time and a place. I think in the current climate, it can be very difficult to speak your mind, but sometimes, I believe, we're all in danger and I think this discussion needs to be widened.”

On being arrested in Beverly Hills for propositioning an undercover police officer

“I don't think there's anything inherently dysfunctional about cottaging - but cottaging as George Michael? Right up until my arrest, I was still totally naive about the level of homophobia. There's no question when I look back that it really would have hurt me [if I had come out sooner]. I didn't realise how much I was protecting my career. I probably wouldn't have got to sing with Aretha Franklin, or to rise that high.”

On his daily routine in 2009

“I normally get up about 10am, my PA will bring me a Starbucks, I’ll have a look at my emails … Then, if I’m in the mood, I’ll come up to the office in Highgate, do some work, writing, backing tracks or whatever. Come home. Kenny [his then boyfriend] will be here, the dogs are here. Maybe eat locally, hang out, and then probably go off and have a shag or have someone come here and have a shag.”

Celebrity deaths in 2016: from Muhammad Ali to George Michael

On life, loss, and mortality

”My biggest problem in life is fear of more loss. I fear Kenny's death far more than my own. I don't want to outlive him. I'd rather have a short life and not have to go through being torn apart again.

On first understanding his sexuality

“I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm a massive star and I think I may be a poof. This is not going to end well.’”

On sexual fluidity

“I regard sexuality as being about who you pair off with, and I wouldn't pair off with a woman and stay with her. Emotionally, I'm definitely a gay man.“

On empathy and compassion

“Because of the media, the way the world is perceived is as a place where resources and time are running out. We're taught that you have to grab what you can before it's gone. It's almost as if there isn't time for compassion.''

On the culture of celebrity

"I've grown up in a period where the real incentive has been to have a bigger record and to be a bigger celebrity. All you have to do to have ever-increasing fame is to repeat what has been successful before."

On his north London home

“It wasn't planned like this. But it actually looks like a cottage – even the entrance looks like a public toilet!”

On the friends who wanted to save him from himself

“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 Hughesing myself with long fingernails and loads of drugs, then I can't do anything about that, can I?“

On his younger self

"I created a man—in the image of a great friend—that the world could love if they chose to, someone who could realise my dreams and make me a star. I called him George Michael, and for almost a decade, he worked his arse off for me, and did as he was told. He was very good at his job, perhaps a little too good."

On his relationship with Princess Diana

“There were certain things that happened that made it clear she was very attracted to me. There was no question. ”I knew [sleeping with her] would have been a disastrous thing to do.

“I hadn't seen her for a couple of years by the time she died. We nearly got together on that St-Tropez trip. I was supposed to go on to the boat, and I'm quite glad I didn't because it would have been so fresh when she died, it would have been. I mean, I was so upset by it anyway, but had I seen her just before...”

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