George Michael, the former Wham! frontman who had a successful solo career with hits like “Faith” and “Careless Whisper,” died at age 53 on December 25 from heart disease.
On March 7, Darren Salter, senior coroner for Oxfordshire, determined that Michael died of “dilated cardiomyopathy with myocarditis and fatty liver,” according to the Associated Press. This is a condition that limits the heart’s ability to pump blood and myocarditis is heart muscle inflammation. Salter also said that Michael’s death was natural, so there will be no further investigation.
His manager, Michael Lippman, first said on December 25 that Michael died of heart failure in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. Michael “passed away peacefully at home,” his publicist told the BBC.
“I’m devastated,” Lippman told The Hollywood Reporter, adding that the singer was found Christmas morning. Michael was discovered lying in bed “peacefully.” He said Michael’s death was unexpected.
Despite Lippman’s comments, police told the Associated Press that the initial autopsy tests were “inconclusive” and the results of more tests won’t be known for several weeks.
Police said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding Michael’s death. Thames Valley Police confirmed an ambulance arrived at his home in Goring, Oxfordshire at 13:42 GMT. While police only said that he died peacefully, Michael faced health scares, including a battle with pneumonia in 2011.
Fadi Fawaz, who was Michael’s last boyfriend, claims on Twitter that he found Michael dead in his bed. “ITs a xmas i will never forget finding your partner dead peacefully in bed first thing in the morning.. I will never stop missing you xx,” Fawaz wrote.
Fawaz later told The Telegraph that he went to Michael’s home, with plans to go to lunch. When he went into Michael’s bedroom, he found the singer lying in his bed.
“Everything had been very complicated recently, but George was looking forward to Christmas, and so was I,” Fawaz told the Telegraph. “Now everything is ruined. I want people to remember him the way he was – he was a beautiful person.”
Police later told The Hollywood Reporter that Michael’s death was “unexplained but not suspicious.”
“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 to the BBC read. “The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
Here’s a look at Michael’s life and recent health problems.
1. Michael Faced Health Scares in Recent Years
There has been concern over Michael’s health in recent years. Back in 2011, Michael’s publicist said that he was suffering from pneumonia and had to cancel his Symphonica European tour after feeling chest pains while in Vienna. This sparked rumors that he might have had HIV, although this was not confirmed. According to the BBC, doctors reportedly performed a tracheotomy at the time and he was unconscious for a time in the hospital.
“It almost killed me,” he said of the illness in a 2014 interview with the Daily Mail. “On a subconscious level, it was very frightening and I’ll probably never feel quite as safe in life again.”
Michael was able to perform at the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony. In 2014, close friends told The Mirror that he had “gone off the radar” and he looked unrecognizable when the paparazzi spotted him. He continued to “shut himself off from the world,” friends told the Mail.
In September 2012, Michael performed the delayed Vienna show and donated 1,000 tickets to staffers at the hospital where he was treated. He paid tribute to the staff, saying, “This is one of the greatest honours of my life, to sing to the men and women who saved my life.”
In July 2015, the U.K. Express reported that he was undergoing treatment for a cannabis addiction and was at a rehab facility in Zurich.
“To my lovelies and fans around the world, thank you for all the birthday wishes, I am truly overwhelmed. I am looking forward to spending it with friends and family. Thanks again, love The Singing Greek,” Michael wrote on social media at the time.
On December 26, TMZ published photos of Michael taken in September, showing thath e had gained weight in recent months.
A source told the Telegraph that Michael was struggling with a heroin addiction. “He’s been rushed to A&E on several occasions. He used heroin. I think it’s amazing he’s lasted as long as he has,” the anonymous source told the Telegraph.
“I know he was sick for a while. I was crying all night when I heard the news. He is a legend and he touched everyone with his music. I love him and I’ll always love him,” Georgiou, the son of Michael’s cousin Andros, told The Sun. “He was a massive inspiration – the way he moved, the way he dressed, the way he danced, wrote. Just everything about George was incredible.”
Michael’s cousin, Andros Georgiou, told the Independent in January that Michael was back to using “hard drugs.”
2. Michael Was Planning on Releasing a New Album in 2017
It had appeared that Michael was planning a comeback, since he announced in November that he was finishing Freedom, a documentary that would air in March 2017. He also planned a reissue of Listen Without Prejudice (1990) to coincide with the documentary.
On December 13, The BBC reported that Naughty Boy was producing new songs by Michael for a new album. The producer also said that Michael would appear on a new album he was working on.
“I can’t wait. I don’t know what to expect. And, to be honest, he’s more mysterious than anyone else so I’m actually excited,” Naughty Boy, whose real name is Shahid Khan, told the BBC.
During Michael’s Symphonica tour, he donated a performance to The Elton John AIDS Foundation, raising over £1 million. Michael also performed on the famous Band Aid single and performed at Live Aid and World Aids Day.
3. Michael Was One-Half of Wham! & Sold Over 115 Million Records
Michael was born in East Finchley, London to a Greek father, Kyriacos Panayiotou, and a British mother, Lesley Angold. His mother died in 1997. Michael grew up in the Kingsbury, London.
Michael, whose real name was Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, was a member of the iconic 1980s group Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley. He sold over 115 million albums during his four-decade career. Celebrity Net Worth estimates that he had an estimated net worth of $200 million.
According to a 2004 GQ profile, Michael admitted to Ridgeley that he was bisexual when he was 19. Ridgeley and Michael had known each other since they were teens and attended the same school. Ridgedly wrote on Twitter that he was “heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend.”
In 1981, he and Ridgeley formed Wham!, which found almost instant success. Fantastic, their first album, was a massive hit in the U.K., while their second album, Make It Big, hit No. 1 on the U.S. charts. They became such an international success that they performed in China in 1985, making them the first Western group to play inside China, according to a 2015 BBC retrospective.
Wham! released just three albums together, ending their run with 1986’s Music from the Edge of Heaven.
In 1987, Michael decided to go solo and released the smash hit Faith, which featured the smash hit title track. Other hits from the record included “I Want Your Sex,” “Father Figure” and “One More Try.” Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 followed in 1990, with the smash hits “Praying For Time,” “Waiting for That Day” and “Heal the Pain.” Although Michael’s output slowed during the 1990s, he continued performing and recording. In 2014, he released Symphonica, his last album, which contains live material from the 2011-2012 world tour of the same name.
Michael also had hits with duets, including “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me” with Aretha Franklin and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” with Elton John.
“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, friends and all of his fans,” John wrote on Instagram, including a photo of himself with his fellow British singer.
Texan art dealer Kenny Goss, who had a 13-year relationship with Michael before they split in 2011, told the Daily Mail that he was “heartbroken” over Michael’s death. “He was a major part of my life and I loved him very, very much,” Goss said.
4. Michael Suffered Scars in a 2013 Car Accident
Michael faced several legal issues in the past 10 years. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of drugs and in 2008, he was arrested for possession of drugs.
In 2010, Michael spent eight weeks in jail after a second conviction for driving while under the influence of drugs. When he was sentenced, the judge told him that an addiction to marijuana made him a risk to the public, CBS News reported at the time. Police said that the singer appeared “spaced out” when they arrested him in the early morning hours of July 4, 2010.
In 2013, he was in a car accident, where he fell out of his Range Rover while it was traveling 70mph on a British highway. He suffered scars on the back of his head.
“That was just a very, very unlucky accident. But I’ve put it behind me, thank goodness. I’ve purposely decided not to dwell on what happened last year,” Michael said in a 2014 interview with The Daily Mail.
“As an artist, at this stage of my career, I’m just not interested in repeating past successes or worrying about chart positions,” Michael told the Daily Mail in 2014, as he was promoting Symphonica. “So it seemed like the perfect time to explore a project like this.”
Gary Farrow, who handled Michael’s publicity for over 30 years, told the Sun that he believed Michael’s access to drug was his downfall.
“I believe easy access to drugs was the cause of his problems,” Farrow said. “I thought George was too bright to get involved with illegal substances. But once this disease gets hold of you it’s hard to fight it.”
5. Michael Said Keeping his Homosexuality a Secret Made Him Feel ‘Fraudulent’
As The Los Angeles Times reported in 1998, Michael was arrested that year for allegedly engaging in a “lewd act” by himself in a public restroom. Police said that the singer was arrested by a plainclothes officer who “observed Mr. Michael engaged in a lewd act.” He pleaded no contest, was fined $810 and was sentenced to 80 hours of community service. The incident “outed” Michael, who had tried to keep his sexuality a secret from the public. Just days after the incident, he came out on CNN.
“I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I’m in a relationship with a man right now. I have not been in a relationship with a woman for almost 10 years,” he told CNN in April 1998.
In a 1998 interview with MTV after the incident, Michael said he didn’t feel like the arrest “outed” him though, because he thought he was already “out.”
“The main point is that I outed myself in my life about eight or nine years ago and I’ve been out with everyone in my life — even casual acquaintances, my family, friends — anyone who’s met me within that time has known that I’m gay, just not the press,” he told MTV at the time.
“It was what it was. Although it obviously wasn’t planned that way, I just didn’t happen to come out openly until after my mother died,” Michael said of the incident in a 2014 Daily Mail interview. “In a way, though, it was for the best because I’m pretty sure the papers would have attacked me, and I think that would have hurt her.”
In a 2007 interview with the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, Michael said that hiding his sexuality made him feel “fraudulent.” Michael said that he was worried that his mother would fear he had AIDS.
“What people have to acknowledge… is that there’s a level of honesty that’s natural to me [and] that I’m uncomfortable with anything else,” Michael told Desert Island Discs in 2007. “So firstly, understand how much I love my family and that Aids was the predominant feature of being gay in the 1980s and early 90s as far as any parent was concerned… My mother was still alive and every single day would have been a nightmare for her thinking what I might have been subjected to.”
Michael continued in that 2007 interview, “I’d been out to a lot of people since 19. I wish to God it had happened then. I don’t think I would have the same career – my ego might not have been satisfied in some areas – but I think I would have been a happier man.”
In 2007, The Daily Mail reported that Michael was going to appear in a BBC2 documentary about AIDS, in which he reportedly told Stephen Fry that he was too scared to take an AIDS test. Michael, whose former partner Anselmo Feleppa died of an AIDS-related disease in 1995, requested that he be removed from the documentary. “On reflection, he felt it was too close and too personal a journey,” Michael’s spokesman told the Mail at the time. “It was too personal for Anselmo’s family to revisit.”