LONDON: Pop superstar George Michael’s death at the age of 53 from suspected heart failure is being treated by police as “unexplained but not suspicious”. The 53-year-old has died peacefully at home, his family said on Sunday night. “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,” Michael’s family said in a statement released by Thames Valley Police. “The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.” Michael died at his home in Goring, England. His publicist, Cindi Berger, said he had not been ill. Michael’s manager, Michael Lippman, says the cause of death was heart failure. “Thames Valley Police were called to a property in Goring-on-Thames shortly before 2pm Christmas Day. Sadly, a 53-year-old man was confirmed deceased at the scene,” police said in a statement, adding that the singer’s death is being treated as “unexplained but not suspicious” and that a post mortem will be undertaken “in due course.” 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.” Michael – whose real name is Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou – sold more than 100 million albums throughout a career spanning almost four decades. A one time busker, he teamed up with up with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981 to form Wham! which went on to massive success, releasing a string of hit singles including Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do), Club Tropicana, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, and Last Christmas. With their extravagantly blow-dried hair, the band attracted millions of teenage followers around the world. “There is no such thing as a reluctant star. Stars are almost always people that want to make up for their own weaknesses by being loved by the public and I’m no exception to that,” he once said.
The band’s first album, Fantastic, reached No 1 in 1983 and the group produced a succession of hits, with “Wake me up before you go-go” on reaching number 1 in the UK and the US. Wham was the first western pop group to tour Communist China. The trip in April 1985 generated global media coverage – especially given that there was still hostility to what was considered decadent western music. Michael started his solo career shortly before Wham! split, with the release of the megahit single “Careless Whisper,” making a seamless transition. Critics generally viewed his Wham! songs as catchy but disposable pop and gave his solo efforts far higher marks. Throughout his career, his drug use and taste for risky sex brought him into frequent brushes with the law, most famously in 1998 when he was arrested for public lewdness in Los Angeles. His first solo album, 1987’s “Faith,” sold more 20 million copies, and he enjoyed several hit singles including the raunchy “I Want Your Sex,” which was helped immeasurably by a provocative video that received wide air play on MTV. The song was controversial not only because of its explicit nature, but also because it was seen as encouraging casual sex and promiscuity at a time when the AIDS epidemic was deepening. Michael and his management tried to tamp down this point of view by having the singer write “Explore Monogamy” on the leg and back of a model in the video. The 1998 arrest received international media attention, and seemed for a brief time to jeopardise Michael’s stature as a top recording artist. But instead of making excuses for his behavior, he went on to release a single and video, “Outside,” that made light of the charges against him and mocked the Los Angeles police who had arrested him. Like all of his efforts at the time, it sold in prodigious numbers, helping him put the incident behind him. The arrest also prompted him to speak openly about his sexual orientation. These years represented the height of Michael’s commercial success, which at times was marred by a protracted legal dispute with his record company Sony. In 1996 he entered in a long term relationship with Kenny Goss, a former flight attendant – the couple were later reported to have registered a civil partnership in the UK. He remained a strong musical force throughout his career, releasing dozens of records and touring to adoring crowds despite a growing number of run-ins with police, many of them stemming from a series of driving-under-the-influence-of-drugs incidents, including several crashes. Michael was an acknowledged user of marijuana and prescription sedatives and several times was found slumped over his car’s steering wheel after using both at the same time.