Grieving fans have mourned the death of George Michael as British charities revealed the pop star had secretly been a major behind-the-scenes donor.
The man with the reputation for self-indulgence had actually given millions of pounds to charities involved with helping children, cancer victims and AIDS sufferers. He was also remembered for small acts of kindness: helping his village in north London get a Christmas tree, and volunteering at a homeless shelter.
The singer-songwriter, who was set to release a documentary in 2017, passed away peacefully at home on Christmas Day. His death is being treated as “unexplained but not suspicious” by police.
Michael has been praised for his work as a prominent gay rights campaigner, with some of his most famous solo work referencing his sexuality.
Childline founder Esther Rantzen said Michael gave royalties from his 1996 hit “Jesus To A Child” to the charity along with many other donations.
“Over the years he gave us millions and we were planning next year, as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations to create, we hoped, a big concert in tribute to him – to his artistry, to his wonderful musicality but also to thank him for the hundreds of thousands of children he helped,” she said.
She said Michael was determined that no one outside the charity should know “how much he gave to the nation’s most vulnerable children.”
Emilyne Mondo told how Michael had requested fellow volunteers at a homeless shelter keep it secret that he helped out there.
She tweeted: “George Michael worked anonymously at a homeless shelter I was volunteering at. I’ve never told anyone, he asked we didn’t. That’s who he was.”
Big names from the world of entertainment have paid tribute to him after hearing about his death, which comes in a year that has seen the music industry lose some of its biggest stars including Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen.
Sir Elton John posted a photograph of himself and Michael on Instagram, writing: “I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend – the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans.”
Michael’s former Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley said he was “heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog” – a nickname which refers to “Yours Only George”.
He said: “Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved. A xx”
Friend Madonna paid her own tribute, posting an undated video on Twitter in which she embraced Michael on stage. In it she tells the audience: "He’s a great songwriter and he makes very classy videos, like me."
Referencing several of his best known lyrics, she adds: “George, I want your sex, so be my father figure and I will have faith if we have to live hand-to-mouth. The diva himself.”
Music mogul and X Factor boss Simon Cowell tweeted that the singer was “always one of the greatest”.
Singer and former Pop Idol star Gareth Gates recalled meeting Michael, writing on Twitter: "Such a sad day. We lose another legend. I met George Michael a couple of times. He was such a lovely man, and what a talent. Rest in peace x."
Michael rose to fame as part of the pop duo Wham!, known for the 1980s hits “Club Tropicana“ and “Last Christmas”.
The star whose real name is Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, sold more than 100 million albums throughout a career which spanned almost four decades.
“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,” a statement from Michael's publicist said.
"The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage."
Thames Valley Police, who are investigating the death of George Michael, said officers were called to a property in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, shortly before 2pm on Christmas Day: “Sadly, a 53-year-old man was confirmed deceased at the scene. At this stage the death is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious.”
Michael nearly died from pneumonia in late 2011.
After receiving treatment in a Vienna hospital, he made a tearful appearance outside his London home and said it had been “touch and go” whether he lived.
Doctors had performed a tracheotomy to keep his airways open and he was unconscious for some of his spell in hospital.
Meanwhile, Michael’s 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 had been set to be reissued accompanied by a new film featuring Stevie Wonder, Elton John and the supermodels who starred in the video to his hit single “Freedom! '90”.
The movie, with the working title “Freedom: George Michael”, was to be narrated by Michael and set to feature Mark Ronson, Mary J Blige, Tony Bennett, Liam Gallagher, James Corden and Ricky Gervais.
The record was his second solo album, after the hugely successful Faith, and was arranged produced and almost entirely written by Michael, but did not feature him on the album cover.
It featured hits including “Cowboys And Angels”, “Mother's Pride” and “Praying For Time” and outsold Faith in the UK, where it went platinum four times but led to a court case with US record label Sony about Michael’s frustration over how the album has been marketed. Michael lost the case.
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