George Michael, who died Sunday at age 53 at his home in Oxfordshire, England was without a doubt the UK’s biggest pop star of the 1980s selling more than 100 million albums worldwide with Wham! and as a solo artist. His publicist issued a statement saying that:
“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.”
After enjoying early success in the duo Wham! alongside friend Andrew Ridgeley, he built a solo career which catapulted him to further stardom and musical success. Among the countless people who posted their shock and loss on social media, Ridgeley was one of the first to express his emotion on Twitter: “Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog. Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved.” (Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou.)
Sir Elton John posted a photograph of himself with 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."
“I just heard about my friend @GeorgeMichael's death. He was such a brilliant talent. I'm so sad.”
And Boy George added:
"He was so loved and I hope he knew it because the sadness today is beyond words. What a beautiful voice he had and his music will live on as a testament to his talent. I can't believe he is gone. I hope the Buddha will hold him in his arms."
His family issued a statement asking "that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage."
In an interview, Michael said: “I had my very first relationship at 27 because I really had not actually come to terms with my sexuality until I was 24. I lost my partner to HIV then it took about three years to grieve; then after that I lost my mother. I felt almost like I was cursed.”
Channeling his passion and energy to make a difference, he fronted a documentary about HIV to coincide with World Aids Day in 1998, the year he publicly came out on CNN. The film, MTV Staying Alive, focused on the experiences of six young people from different countries who were either infected with or affected by the HIV virus. MTV Staying Alive Foundation is now one of the most important organizations working to fight this worldwide epidemic which many believe is under control. He was also a passionate supporter of the HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust.
After Wham! made their initial chart breakthrough with the single Young Guns (Go for It) in 1982, he continued writing hits like Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Careless Whisper. Michael topped the charts in early 1987 with a classic duet with Aretha Franklin, I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).
In 1991, Michael and Elton John enjoyed a mutual triumph with their duet version of John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, a song they had performed together at the 1985 Live Aid concert and which they now recorded live at a George Michael concert at Wembley Arena. This version topped both the US and British charts.
His first solo album, Faith (1987), topped the charts by selling 25 million copies. In March 2014 he released Symphonica, which became his seventh solo album to top the UK chart. This month, it was announced that he was working on a new album with producer and songwriter Naughty Boy.
He was also planning a film, tentatively titled Freedom: George Michael, due to accompany the reissue of his 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1. Pulling together friends and artists from throughout his career, the film, narrated by Michael, would feature Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Mary J Blige, as well as other musical artists, and supermodels who appeared in his Freedom! ’90 video.
George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in Finchley, North London. It was at Radlett in Hertfordshire where George attended Bushey Meads school and became close friends with Andrew Ridgeley. The pair formed a ska-influenced quintet, the Executive, in 1979, then in 1981 re-emerged as the iconic duo, Wham!. GLAAD joins the rest of the world in mourning this loss and celebrating his contributions to music and to the LGBTQ community.