George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in North London on June 25, 1963. His father was a Greek Cypriot restaurateur who had come to the UK in the 1950s – his mother was an English dancer.
Together with school friend Andrew Ridgely and several friends he formed the group Wham! In 1981, after their first album together failed to spark much interest, they were asked to perform last minute on Top of the Pops in the UK – picking songs from their second album, Young Guns, and standing back as the album soared to No. 3 in the UK charts after their appearance.
Wham! churned out pop hits for five years before the band split up in 1986. The next year Michael did what every one in the music industry suspect he would do all along, striking out on his own – releasing I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) a duet with Aretha Franklin.
In 1987, Michael released his first solo album, Faith, which streaked to the top of both the UK and US charts going on to sell more than 25 million copies and winning a Grammy in 1989.
The first single from the album, I Want Your Sex, caused some ripples with many US radio stations refusing to give it air time. Eventually the single reached the top three on both sides of the Atlantic.
A world-wide tour in 1988 cemented Michael’s status as a pop superstar although the experience left him drained and depressed, the singer openly expressing a desire to leave his pop star status behind in favor of a more adult approach to his music.
Navigating the music world without any public mention of his homosexuality and privately weary of a “pretty boy” image that clung to him since his days with Wham! he became withdrawn, declining to promote his second album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1.
In November 1994, Michael released the single, Jesus to a Child, a tribute to a dead lover he had met while on tour in South America. The song went straight to No. 1 in the UK.
Ongoing legal battles with his record company, the death of his mother and his widening depression led to scandal. In April, 1998 he was arrested in a Beverley Hills public toilet by an undercover police officer and charged with engaging in a lewd act. He was fined and sentenced to 80 hours of community service.
His arrest prompted him to speak openly for the first time about his sexuality and an ongoing relationship with a Dallas based businessman. He released an album in 1999 entitled Songs from the Last Century, and worked for two years writing and recording the album, Patience, which was released in 2004.
Although Patience did well in the UK and even achieved some critical success in the US, Michael stated a short time later that he would no longer make records, preferring instead to produce free downloads of his music and asking fans to give money to their favorite charities.
In 2006 he became the first artist to appear at Wembley Stadium, setting off on his first live tour in 15 years.
Stories detailing an arrest for drug possession and a late-night lifestyle continued to plague him. In August 2010 he was sentenced to eight weeks’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to driving while under the influence of drugs. He was released after serving half his sentence.
In 2011 he announced before a concert in Prague that he had split from his Dallas businessman partner Kenny Goss two years previously, blaming Goss’s addiction to alcohol and his own ongoing struggle with drugs. His Symphonica Tour was cut short when he fell ill with severe pneumonia in November, after the tour had reached Frankfurt, and he was admitted to a hospital in Vienna.
Days after his release he made a public speech outside his home in Highgate, north London, saying that the staff at the Vienna general hospital had saved his life. He suffered a further medical emergency in May 2013, when he had to be airlifted to hospital after falling out of a car while on the motorway.
In June 2012 Michael released the single White Light to mark the 30th anniversary of Wham Rap!. In March 2014 he released Symphonica, which became his seventh solo album to top the UK chart. This month, December 2016, it was announced that he was working on a new album along with a film scheduled for release with the reissue of his 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1.
With Michael narrating, the film would feature stars including Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Liam Gallagher and Mary J Blige as well as the supermodels who had appeared in his Freedom! ’90 video.
His mother, Lesley, died in 1997. He is survived by his father and his two sisters, Melanie and Yioda.