Former Wham! singer and massively successful soul and pop solo vocalist dies “peacefully at home”
George Michael, the soulful British heartthrob who became a star in the Eighties as half of Wham! before earning critical acclaim as a solo artist, died Sunday at his home in Goring in Oxfordshire, England. The cause of death was heart failure, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Michael was 53.
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“Thames Valley Police were called to a property in Goring-on-Thames shortly before 2 p.m. Christmas Day,” police said in a statement. “Sadly, a 53-year-old man was confirmed deceased at the scene. At this stage the death is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious.”
“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,” his rep said in a statement. “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 sold more than 100 million albums throughout his career. Wham! introduced the young American fans who’d loved Duran Duran to a pop sound more indebted to traditional R&B. Michael’s subsequent solo career won over many of the same critics and listeners who’d previously dismissed him as a mere teenybop idol. But the singer’s career would eventually be derailed for half a decade by legal battles with his label, as he also became known for incidents of actual and alleged public sexuality, and, for the past decade, a series of drug busts.
“I am in deep shock,” Elton John wrote on Instagram. “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.”
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“I just saw the sad news about George Michael as I was heading for bed,” Queen guitarist Brian May, who worked with the singer on 1992’s Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, wrote on his site. “I don’t have the words. This year has cruelly taken so many fine people way too young. And George? That gentle boy? All that beautiful talent? Can’t begin to compute this. RIP George. Sing with Freddie. And the Angels.”
Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in London on June 25th, 1963, the son of a Greek Cypriot restauranteur and an English dancer. He formed Wham! in 1981 with his school friend, Andrew Ridgeley, and the following year the duo’s first single, “Young Guns (Go for It!),” released when Michael was just 19, was a smash U.K. hit, reaching Number Three there. Their debut album, Fantastic, served up three more Top Ten hits at home: “Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)” “Bad Boys” and “Club Tropicana.”
“Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog,” Ridgeley wrote on Twitter. “Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved.”