Entertainment Music George Michael: from tortured star to pop icon

George Michael: from tortured star to pop icon

Singer George Michael died of a heart attack on Monday, aged 53. Photo: Getty
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Like many public figures who have fallen from grace, George Michael turned to the empathetic ear of Oprah Winfrey to reboot his career in his darkest hour.

In 2004, six years after his arrest for engaging in a lewd act in front of an undercover policeman inside a Los Angeles toilet block, the legendary pop star finally spoke freely about what had been the most tumultuous period of his life.

Opening up to Oprah in his first US interview in a decade, the Wham!-star-turned solo artist spoke candidly about his sexuality.

Appearing in front of a swooning audience, Oprah asked if he was concerned about the reception from more conservative US fans after coming out.

“I’m not worried about it,” said Michael, whose death, aged 53, shocked the music world on Monday.

“I have to be honest here, I’m not really interested in selling records to people who are homophobic.”

“I don’t need the approval of people who don’t approve of me.”

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George Michael found fame for his soulful voice and infectious pop songs such as ‘Faith’ and ‘Freedom’. Photo: Getty

Renown for his provocative music videos during MTV’s heyday, the Brit was popular with the LGBT community before he came out.

By the time of his death, he was one of its icons – a hugely successful, openly gay artist.

His partner in the early 90s, Brazilian Anselmo Feleppa died from AIDS in 1993.

“I was persuaded, in no uncertain terms, that it really wasn’t the best idea [to come out],” Michael told the BBC’s Desert Island Discs in 2007.

“I don’t think [my friends] were trying to protect my career or their careers, I really just think they were thinking about my dad.”

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George Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley perform at a Wham! show in Australia. Photo: Getty

“AIDS was just something I wasn’t prepared to bring into my parents’ life.”

After his arrest in 1998, Michael granted an interview to CNN to tell the world he was gay. “This is as good of a time as any,” he said.

He had told his parents about his sexuality a few years earlier.

Later, he would say in multiple interviews that the bathroom incident was his sub-conscious way of coming out.

“I was absolutely tempting fate. I think I was sick of the secret,” he said on Desert Island Discs.

Asked if a burden had been lifted during the same interview, he responded: “Oh god, yes.”

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George Michael performs on stage during a charity gala in 2012. Photo: Getty

Michael formed Wham! with school friend Andrew Ridgeley in 1981 with the group enjoying huge success worldwide.

Despite his confident on-stage persona, Michael later revealed he felt very self-conscious during his time in Wham!.

“The whole thing really turned me into someone who thought the camera was my enemy.”

Wham! broke up in 1986 and Michael pursued a solo career that spawned his mega-selling debut single Faith.

Later releases never reached the same commercial heights as Faith, but a greatest hits compilation released after his Los Angeles arrest sold 9 million copies worldwide.

It included the single Outside, a self-deprecating reflection on the Los Angeles incident.

It showed Michael was happy to joke about that period in his life, as did an interview he did shortly afterwards on Parkinson.

“I’ve always wanted to get on your show,” he said.

“To think that I had to show my d— to an LA cop to do it!”

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