rune hellestad/Corbis via Getty ImagesAs we wait to find out exactly why George Michael died Christmas Day at the age of 53, his former manager is opening up to Billboard about plans the British star had for new music.

Rob Kahane, who managed George during his initial solo stardom, tells Billboard that in early December, a friend told him to reach out to George, adding that the singer had recently completed 18 months in a “Swiss rehab facility.” It’s not clear what he was being treated for, however.

Kahane explains, “I called him, and he said, ‘I’m good.’ He sounded fine.” He says he and George made plans to meet for lunch in January, and George also played him some of his new songs.

According to Kahane, the material is “totally pop, like something that would’ve been on Faith.” He adds, “The songs weren’t depressing. That’s why I thought everything was OK with him.”

The interview is part of Billboard’s George Michael tribute issue, which is out now. In the same issue, Rob Thomas, a huge fan and, later, personal friend of George’s, reveals that when he first wrote his Grammy-winning mega-hit “Smooth,” he wanted George to sing it.

“I’d had George in my head when I recorded the vocals in the first place,” says Rob. “If you listen to the melody and the cadence, it’s an attempt to emulate his style.”

Not long ago, Rob admitted to ABC Radio that he’d “lifted” a number of things from George over the years, including the cover of his most recent solo album The Great Unknown, which was inspired by the Wham! video “Bad Boys.”

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