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Singer and former Wham! member George Michael has been found dead in his home at age 53, according to his publicist.
“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,” the statement declares. “The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
Rescue personnel arrived at Michael’s property at 1:42 p.m. local time, 8:42 a.m. ET, though it’s known known who summoned them. In a statement, Thames Valley Police described Michael’s death as “unexplained but not suspicious,” adding, “A post mortem will be undertaken in due course.” However, Michael’s manager, Michael Lippman, later told ABC News Michael died of heart failure. Michael’s publicist, Cindi Berger, told ABC News Michael had not been ill.
One of the first celebrities to react to the news of Michael’s death was fellow Brit Elton John. He posted a photo on his Instagram of he and Michael together, 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. @GeorgeMichael #RIP.”
Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog. Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved. A xx https://t.co/OlGTm4D9O6
— Andrew Ridgeley (@ajridgeley) December 26, 2016
In a statement, Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow said, in part, that Michael’s “extraordinary talent had a profound impact on countless entertainers worldwide, and his creative contributions will live on forever. We have lost a cherished artist and our sincerest condolences go out to George’s family, friends, and musical collaborators. He will be missed.”
Other celebs sharing sentiments online include producer Mark Ronson, Chaka Khan, Ricky Gervais, Leona Lewis, Ryan Reynolds — who featured Wham!’s music in his hit movie Deadpool — Elijah Wood, and Rob Lowe, who tweeted a photo of him, Demi Moore and Daphne Zuniga with Michael from back in the day, writing, “Had the pleasure of knowing George Michael in the 80s. Voice of an angel. Now he can sing for them.”
Had the pleasure of knowing George Michael in the 80s. Voice of an angel. Now he can sing for them.
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) December 26, 2016
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, George Michael shot to fame in the early 1980s as a member of the group Wham!, with fellow singer and guitarist Andrew Ridgeley, scoring a U.S. and U.K. #1 hit with “Wake Me Up before You Go-Go” in 1984.
“Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog,” Ridgeley tweeted Sunday night about Michael’s passing. “Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved. A xx.”
Michael had a solo hit with “Careless Whisper” while with Wham!, then went solo a few years later, scoring more hits including his Aretha Franklin duet “I Knew You Were Waiting,” which earned the duo a Grammy in 1988. Michael’s debut solo album, Faith, was a huge success, and included the U.S. #1 singles “Father Figure,” “Faith,” “Monkey” and “One More Try.” It also spawned the controversial #2 single “I Want Your Sex.”
Michael’s second album, 1990’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, is perhaps best-remembered for the video for the hit single “Freedom 90,” which featured the biggest supermodels of the day, including Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Tatjana Patitz lip-syncing the lyrics.
Michael released five more solo albums and a greatest hits collection over the ensuing years — his last was the 2014 live album Symphonica, his first album in ten years — but he never matched the success of his earlier efforts. His private life drew bigger headlines than his music. Initially describing himself as bisexual, Michael revealed he was gay following his 1998 arrest in Beverly Hills, CA, for what was described as “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom with another man, revealed to be an undercover police officer. Michael later described his actions as the result of a subconscious desire to be honest about his sexuality. Michael was arrested for a similar act in July, 2006, in a London park with a man he didn’t know, later admitting he often engaged in anonymous sex.
Michael also was arrested half-a-dozen times in the 2000s for drug possession, and confessed during a 2009 interview that he used to smoke up to 25 marijuana cigarettes a day. In recent years, Michael’s health became more of an issue. In November and December 2011, Michael was hospitalized off-and-on for a month for severe pneumonia, and at one point reportedly had fallen into a coma. However, he told The Guardian newspaper that he felt like “a new man” after beating the illness.
I still have plenty to live for,” he said, when asked what got him through the ordeal. “I have an amazing, amazing life, and if I wasn’t spiritual enough before the last four, five weeks then I certainly am now.”
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