George Michael, the creamy-voiced English songwriter who sold tens of millions of albums in the duo Wham! and on his own, was found dead on Sunday at his home in Goring in Oxfordshire, England. He was 53.
A police statement said: “Thames Valley Police were called to a property in Goring-on-Thames shortly before 2 p.m. 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.”
Mr. Michael’s manager, Michael Lippman, told The Hollywood Reporter that Mr. Michael had died of heart failure “in bed, lying peacefully.”
“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,” his publicist Connie Filippello said in a statement. “The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
Information on survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. Michael was one of pop’s reigning stars in the 1980s and ’90s — first as a handsome, smiling teen-pop idol making lighthearted singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” with Wham!, then arriving as a grown-up pop sex symbol with his 1987 album “Faith.”
But Mr. Michael grew increasingly uncomfortable with the superficiality and relentless promotion of 1980s-style pop stardom. He turned away from video clips and live shows; he set out to make more mature statements in his songs, though he never completely abandoned singing about love and desire.
Mr. Michael wrote supple ballads, like “Careless Whisper” and “Father Figure,” as well as buoyant dance tracks like “Freedom ’90”
and “I Want Your Sex.” For much of his career, including his best-selling albums “Faith” and “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1,” he was also his own producer and studio backup band. Much of his music drew on R&B, old and new, but his melodic gift extended across genres.
He won a Grammy Award in 1988 for “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me),” a duet with Aretha Franklin, and “Faith” won the Grammy for album of the year. In Britain, he was showered with awards, and in 2004, Britain’s Radio Academy said he had been the most-played performer on British radio from 1984 to 2004.
In 1998, Mr. Michael came out as gay after being arrested on charges of lewd conduct in a men’s room in Beverly Hills, Calif. He had long lent his name and music to support AIDS prevention and gay rights. During interviews in later years, he described himself as bisexual, and said that hiding his sexuality had made him feel “fraudulent.” He also described long struggles with depression.
During the 2000s, Mr. Michael’s output slowed; his last studio album of new songs was “Patience” in 2004. In later years he put out individual songs as free downloads, encouraging listeners to contribute to charity. But in 2006, 25 years into his career, he could still headline stadiums worldwide.
George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in East Finchley, London, on June 25, 1963, the son of a Greek Cypriot restaurateur and an English dancer. In 1979, he and a schoolmate, Andrew Ridgeley, played together for the first time in a ska band called the Executive. That didn’t last, but they continued to make music together — nearly all of it composed and sung by Mr. Michael — and began releasing singles as Wham!, cultivating the image of carefree teenage rebels in songs like “Young Guns (Go for It!).”
Their 1983 debut album, “Fantastic,” reached No. 1 in Britain; in the United States, their 1984 single “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” became ubiquitous on MTV and reached No. 1. In 1985, the duo became the first major Western pop group to perform in China as part of its world tour, and Mr. Michael appeared at the Live Aid charity concert, telecast worldwide, joining Elton John to sing Mr. John’s song “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
The worldwide 1984 hit “Careless Whisper,” credited in Britain to George Michael solo and to Wham! featuring George Michael in the United States, signaled a turn away from perky teenage fare. Mr. Michael’s status as a top British pop star was confirmed by his appearance on Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the 1984 all-star benefit single for Ethiopian famine relief.
In 1986, Wham! dissolved, with a farewell show at Wembley Stadium. Mr. Michael had a No. 1 hit with “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)” before releasing the album “Faith” in 1987. Its first single, “I Want Your Sex,” reached No. 2 in the United States, though it was seen as too risqué by some radio stations; Mr. Michael made an introduction to its video clip stating, “This song is not about casual sex.”
“Faith,” which hinted at both gospel and rockabilly, reached No. 1, and the album included three more No. 1 hits: “Father Figure,” “Monkey” and “One More Try.” It has sold more than 10 million copies in the United States.
But for his next album, “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1,” released in 1990, Mr. Michael set out to jettison his pop persona. “I’m not stupid enough to think I can deal with another 10 or 15 years of major exposure,” he told an interviewer at the time. “I think that’s the ultimate tragedy of fame, people who are simply out of control, who are lost. I’ve seen so many of them, and I don’t want to be another cliché.”
The autobiographical “Freedom ’90” declared his independence from the pop machine; he wasn’t in its video clip, which had supermodels lip-syncing the lyrics. The album also included a No. 1 single, the ballad “Praying for Time,” and has sold two million copies in the United States, but after the blockbuster of “Faith” it was considered a commercial letdown.
Mr. Michael entered a protracted legal battle with Sony Music over his contract, and was unable to release another album until 1996. Its title, “Older,” was an unmistakable signal that he was no longer directly courting the youth market; he was 32 years old. The album was an instant hit in England and Europe — it had six hit singles in England — though it was less popular in the United States.
After his 1998 arrest, Mr. Michael released a greatest-hits album with two new songs; one, “Outside,” set its video clip in a men’s restroom. He made a 1999 album of cover songs, “Songs of the Last Century.”
In the early 2000s, Mr. Michael released songs protesting the invasion of Iraq, including the 2002 “Shoot the Dog.” His last full studio album, “Patience,” was released in 2004, full of introspective ballads.
Mr. Michael returned to performing; he joined Paul McCartney onstage during the 2005 Live 8 benefit concert. In 2006, he performed a world tour, paired with another collection of hits, “Twenty Five,” which included new duets with Mr. McCartney and Mary J. Blige. He continued to release individual songs sporadically, and in 2014, he released “Symphonica,” a collection of standards and his own songs recorded with an orchestra on a 2010-11 tour. During that tour, he collapsed with nearly fatal pneumonia and was hospitalized for five weeks; he wrote a single, “White Light,” about the experience.
Mr. Michael had been planning an expanded reissue, due in 2017, of “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1,” paired with a documentary, “Freedom,” exploring his musical, personal and legal struggles.
“I never minded being thought of as a pop star,” Mr. Michael told GQ in 2004. “People have always thought I wanted to be seen as a serious musician, but I didn’t, I just wanted people to know that I was absolutely serious about pop music.”
The reaction in social media from other celebs:
On Dec. 25, 2016, “Careless Whisper” singer George Michael passed away at the age of 53, at his home in Oxfordshire. “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,” his publicist confirmed to BBC. His cause of death is still unknown, but according to police, “there were no suspicious circumstances.” Stars quickly took to social media to remember the iconic artist, like 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 and all of his fans.@GeorgeMichael #RIP,” he wrote next to a photo on Instagram. Read on for more reactions.
“I just heard about my friend @GeorgeMichael’s death. He was such a brilliant talent. I’m so sad.” –Ellen DeGeneres, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“As you can tell from my face, this was one of the best days of my life, meeting #GeorgeMichael the day we filmed video footage for “Feeling Good”. I know every single word of every Wham! and George Michael song, I’m a total superfan. He sent me a handwritten letter once that’s been in a glass case ever since! I had several “pinch myself” moments with him over the years, one, thanks to Sharon Stone who called to invite me over for an intimate party for his birthday one year, a night I never forgot…and then the time I sat with his dad to watch his concert in Vienna, and the time I brought my family and friends to see his show, and we were all so emotional! And then my heart goes out to his longtime friend my dear @kathyjeung, who always tolerates that I can’t help but tell everyone that’s she is the goddess in the “I Want Your Sex” video. George was always lovely with me, and I think his voice (especially live in concert) was absolutely incredible and always moved me to tears. I’m so grateful that he gave me some of his time, and mostly grateful for all the ways his music helped me through my life. My heart is broken that he’s gone today.” –Dita Von Teese, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“George Michael was a kind and gentle soul. #Wham” –Ryan Reynolds, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“Miss you already! Thank you for your radical activism in the LGBTQ community! Love you always! @happyhippiefdn” –Miley Cyrus, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“My love. My spirit and my heart is with you and your loved ones. In your beautiful words- ‘I think you’re amazing’ You’re my friend for saying you would sing at my wedding…. we will speak through our prayers always – i have you as an angel above. I love you darling. Thank you for inspiring so many true people. Angel 💙💚💛❤️💜💗💖” –Lindsay Lohan, who posted this message via Instagram on Dec. 25
“Floored by the news of George Michael’s passing. A fantastic & talented singer. Soulful… #80sKid #Wham #CarelessWhisper #Faith #Freedom#FatherFigure #IWantYourSex #LastChristmas” –Mario Lopez, who posted this message via Instagram on Dec. 25
“I Won’t Let You Down I Will Not Give You Up Gotta Have Some Faith In The Sound It’s The One Good Thing That I’ve Got I Won’t Let You Down So Please Don’t Give Me Up ‘Cause I Would Really, Really Love, To Stick Around, Oh Yeah… #RestInParadise George Michael #Freedom #YouveGottaGiveForWhatYouTake” — Rosario Dawson, who posted this message via Instagram on Dec. 25
“So so sad , R.I.P George, a dear friend, the kindest, most generous & talented person. My thoughts are with his family.#GeorgeMichael” –Geri Halliwell, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“Had the pleasure of knowing George Michael in the 80s. Voice of an angel. Now he can sing for them.” –Rob Lowe, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“So sad to hear @GeorgeMichael passed away today. Loved his music and his heart. #LastChristmas #RIP” –Katie Couric, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“I can’t believe George Michael has died ￼￼. One of my favorite singers… gone too young ￼ #RIP” –Victoria Justice, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“I will miss your voice, rest in peace Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou.” –Nia Vardalos, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“So saddened to hear about the passing of George Michael today. He was a truly gifted singer and a musical inspiration. #RIPGeorgeMichael” –Nick Lachey, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“Sad news on Christmas…2016 takes George Michaels. I did a photo shoot with him once. If you can find the shots please post them? #peace” –Melissa Etheridge, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“R.I.P George Michael. Beyond sad, you were a legend, and you were far too young. Blasting “Last Christmas” now 🙏” –One Direction, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“Omg #GeorgeMichael noooo! No No No No No! We have lost too many beautiful souls this year. #rip you will be greatly missed.” –LeAnn Rimes, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“cannot believe the sad news about George Michael passing away.. You and your music will forever live in my HEART…❤️” –Adriana Lima, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“Another beautiful voice gone too soon. #ripgeorgemichael” –Josh Groban, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“RIP George Micheal at only 53 has passed away. So many amazing songs and videos growing up. #faith #freedom #carelesswhisper” –Dane Cook, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“￼￼￼￼￼￼#2016 is savage. #RIPGeorgeMichael” –Holly Robinson Peete, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“2016. Really? REALLY?! George Michael?! Unbelievably sad.” –Kevin McHale, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
“RIP #georgemichael as a young girl, I would dance around my room, with a grin on my face,listening to George Michael. May you find peace and #freedom” –Shannen Doherty, who posted this message via Twitter on Dec. 25
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