“Everything was going my way. I was happily marching into the history books. Then it all just fell apart.” – George Michael
George Michael’s life was like a Hollywood movie. After skyrocketing to fame as a teenager, the rest of Michael’s life was documented for the world to see. Buried underneath the tabloids was a reality even more unbelievable than gossip columnists could think up. From wild scandals to tragic losses, here’s the story that George Michael hid from the public.
George Michael Facts
1. His Real Name Is Surprising
George Michael. Just the sound of the name is so crisp, so cool. Too cool, one would say. Well, that is because it is not his real name. In fact, his real name isn’t even English. George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, the son of a Greek Cypriot. His father was a restaurateur who emigrated to London from Cyprus.
2. He Was Meant To Be A Star
George Michael wanted to be a pop star since he was a child, but it wasn’t until high school that he began his journey towards super-stardom. Though, he did have some help in achieving his dreams. While attending high school, a teenage George Michael became close friends with Andrew Ridgeley, the other half of Wham!, the band that would soon make both boys famous…
3. He Had Lowly Roots
George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley worked hard to make their musical dreams a reality, but George took things a step further. He worked as a DJ and began busking on the London Underground during his teenage years. Michael prepared himself for a life in the public eye by belting out his favorite songs to commuters. His favorite was Queen’s classic “39.”
4. His First Attempt At Fame Sucked
Before there was Wham! there was The Executive. Michael and Ridgeley’s first crack at musical fame saw the duo try to ride the trend for ska music all the way to the top of the charts. There was just one problem: The duo were not believable Rastafarians. Multiple record companies rejected their demo without a second thought.
5. He Hated His Biggest Hit
“Careless Whisper” will forever be on the lips of anyone who is talking about George Michael. However, the song has a secret. Michael himself wasn’t a huge fan. He was only 17 when he wrote the ditty, and he later dismissed it as immature and trite. According to Michael, when he wrote it, he didn’t know anything about life or love, and he couldn’t believe people still resonated with the song.
6. He Wasted No Time
Though Michael may not have known anything about relationships, he knew how to write a hit. Not a man to ever let his surroundings distract him, 17-year-old Michael wrote “Careless Whisper” while on his way to work, sitting on a public bus. Something to think about the next time you spend 25 minutes in a zombie haze while staring at your phone.
7. No One Knew The Truth
Wham! was wildly successful, but the group also received intense backlash. Many critics dismissed them as vapid teenyboppers with one hit song, even though Michael and Ridgeley insisted that they were poking fun at the idea of hyper-glamorous teen idols. With the music industry criticizing his every move, Michael became frustrated. He wanted to be taken seriously and to make that happen, he’d need to do something drastic.
8. He Broke Down Borders
By 1985, just about everyone in the world knew who Wham! and George Michael was. Everyone, that is, except China. Mao Zedong isolated his country from Western influence for years, but after he was gone and the borders opened up, somebody needed to be the first band to perform in China. Enter Wham! But first, they had to beat out an even bigger band for the opportunity.
9. He Beat An Iconic Group
Wham! beat out Queen to be the first Western band to play in China, meaning that George Michael gloated over Freddie Mercury himself. But behind the scenes, there was a lot more to this story. The manager of Wham! had been courting Chinese ministers for 18 months. He coyly used family-friendly images of Michael to contrast provocative images of Mercury to convince them to pick Michael’s band. Though he was excited to play, Michael said it was one of the hardest performances of his life.
10. He Had A Philanthropic Side
You will hear George Michael’s voice on Christmas for the rest of your life. That’s just the way it is, like it or not. Though most love his classic Christmas song “Last Christmas,” some people really detest the tune. To these haters, take solace in the fact that Wham! donated all the song’s profits to charities that helped people suffering in the Ethiopian Famine.
11. He Sabotaged His Top Spot
Though it’s one of the highest-grossing songs of all time, “Last Christmas” didn’t actually reach number one on the UK charts. That’s actually George Michael’s own fault. The song that did hold the number one spot over “Last Christmas” was “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” a song written specifically to benefit the Ethiopian Famine, featuring backing vocals from…George Michael.
12. He Was Multi-Talented…Ish
Michael did more than just write “Last Christmas.” He was the song. In the studio, he produced the track, sang the lyrics, and played every single instrument. But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. You see, Michael wasn’t actually a trained musician. He had to learn to play the song on each instrument from scratch. And then things got so much worse.
13. He Got Sued
Even though George Michael wrote and performed the entire song on his own, he still received a lawsuit for plagiarism. The writers of the song “Can’t Smile Without You” filed their suit against Michael, claiming that he plagiarized their melody. The judge justly dismissed the case, however, after a musicologist testified that the chords were similar in a lot of songs.
14. He Courted Controversy
When Michael first split up with his Wham! bandmate Ridgeley, many people weren’t sure if he would be successful as a solo artist. Michael proved his nay-sayers wrong. His first solo album, Faith, was an instant smash for the 22-year-old star. He had five number-one singles on the album, but controversy surrounded Michael as soon as the album hit.
15. His Song Was Banned
When Michael first released “I Want Your Sex” as a single from Faith, he found himself shrouded in scandal. The song was far more explicit than anyone was prepared for. Most radio stations in both the UK and the US banned the song, which actually helped album sales, and MTV kept the video from the air during daytime hours, choosing to only air it late at night.
16. He Was In A Love Triangle
“I Want Your Sex” was racy for another reason, too. The video famously featured Michael’s real-life girlfriend Kathy Jeung, who was deeply in love with Michael…all while Michael was in love with another man. At this time, Michael was still hiding his homosexuality by saying he was bisexual. The whole situation was, in a word, messy—and that’s not even the extent of it all.
17. He Found His First Love
George Michael genuinely thought he was bisexual for some time. Over the years, he had fallen in love with different girls, like Kathy Jeung, and although he suspected he might have feelings for men, it wasn’t until he spotted a man named Anselmo Feleppa in the crowd at the Rock in Rio concert in Brazil that he genuinely fell in love for this first time with the same gender.
18. He Fell Hard And Fast
Once Michael saw Feleppa, he was immediately smitten and apparently, Feleppa returned these warm feelings. The men quickly struck up an intense relationship and Feleppa even became Michael’s first public male lover. However, their bond wouldn’t last—for an utterly tragic reason.
19. Tragedy Struck
Only six months into their relationship, Feleppa and Michael received the worst news possible. Feleppa had tested positive for HIV. On Michael’s side, he felt especially distraught because not only was his partner battling a serious disease, he also couldn’t turn to many people for support. You see, at this point, Michael’s family still did not know that he was gay.
20. He Stepped In
Around this time, Freddie Mercury sadly passed away from complications related to AIDS. George Michael was the only person who could come close to filling in for Mercury, so when Queen asked him to perform at Mercury’s tribute concert in 1992, it was a no-brainer. Michael delivered a heartfelt, passionate rendition of “Somebody to Love.” To this day, it’s his most famous live performance—but not everyone knows the full story about why.
21. His Greatest Hour
George Michael’s performance of “Somebody to Love” instantly went down in musical history for its raw emotion and powerful intensity. Though Michael was singing in honor of Freddie Mercury’s memory, he was also paying tribute to someone even closer: His beloved partner Anselmo Feleppa, who was at this time fighting for his life.
22. Tragedy Inspired Him
George Michael wrote one of the most emotional songs of the 1990s, proving that everyone who ever doubted his musical abilities was completely wrong. Sadly, one of Michael’s most revered tracks came from a place of agony. In 1993, Anselmo passed away, and George Michael grieved for years to follow. He wrote the acclaimed song “Jesus to a Child” about losing his lover.
23. His Song Had A Hidden Meaning
There’s a tragic bookend to the story of Michael’s love for Feleppa. When Michael first began to act on his attraction to men, he was filming the music video for “I Want Your Sex.” In the video, he writes the words “Explore Monogamy” on Kathy Jeung’s body, urging his fans to be careful about seeing multiple people during the AIDS crisis. Sadly, this epidemic was the exact thing that ended Michael’s lover’s life.
24. He Hated His Label
After being in the spotlight for almost a decade straight, George Michael was understandably tired. And to make matters worse, his relationship with his record label Sony was not going well. Michael hated that he was trapped in a contract with them and felt like they weren’t listening to any of his ideas about how to market his music. So one day, he lashed out.
25. He Made History
In 1990, Michael refused to appear in music videos for Sony—and made music history in the process. Instead of starring Michael, the groundbreaking video for “Freedom” had 90s supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell lip-sync in Michael’s place. And as if playing hooky from his own song wasn’t enough, Michael had an even more controversial gesture up his sleeve.
26. He Didn’t Back Down
The video for “Freedom” showed the models lighting Michael’s famous leather jacket from the “Faith” music video on fire. This was a sign that Michael wouldn’t let Sony force him back into the pop star mould. After the brazen video became a hit, Sony received Michael’s message loud and clear and tried to make peace with the singer. However, these good times wouldn’t last.
27. He Endured A Horrible Loss
In 1997, Michael tragically lost his mother Lesley to cancer. Michael had always been extremely close to his mom, and it was absolutely heart-wrenching for Michael to lose her. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t have much time to grieve. Just one year later, Michael’s personal life would be splashed across newspapers all over the world.
28. He Shocked The World
1998 was a turning point in George Michael’s life. Though by then he had been out of the closet to those closest to him, he wasn’t open to the public about his sexuality. That is, until the police detained him for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom. His arrest essentially outed him to the public. How he was detained, however, was even more controversial.
29. He Made Headlines
Michael was arrested as a part of a large sting operation by local police, who were going undercover into public restrooms and luring men into engaging in sexual behavior. After they brought him in, Michael pleaded no contest, paid a small fine, and served community service. But that wasn’t enough to keep his mouth shut.
30. He Refused To Hide
Not long after this, Michael released a video for his single “Outside.” In the amazing video, Michael satirized the event by dressing as a Village People-inspired officer and featuring men dressed as police officers making out with each other. The arresting officer tried to sue Michael for $10 million, but the judge dismissed the case. That video is well worth the watch. But Michael’s bad boy days weren’t over…
31. He Spiralled
In 2007, Michael received a two-year ban for driving under the influence, and his friends and family began to worry. Michael had always been a bit of a wild child and often indulged in substances, even getting charged for possession three different times. But putting himself in this kind of danger? That was too far. Fans began to worry that Michael was spiralling out of control. Sadly, he was.
32. He Fought For His Life
Suddenly, George Michael engaged in a battle for his life. Before he was supposed to perform a huge concert, he began to suffer from chest pans and shortness of breath. After he went to the hospital, the medical staff revealed that Michael had caught a dangerous bout of pneumonia. At one point, he became so ill that he was rushed to the ICU and even fell into a coma. Thankfully, he recovered, but it was a very, very close call.
33. He Was A Bad Boy Forever
George Michael had his fair share of problems over the years, and in 2009 he admitted in an interview that he would smoke up to 25 spliffs–a marijuana cigarette split with tobacco–a day. That’s a lot of grass, even for someone like George Michael. But don’t worry, during the interview Michael said he was down to “only” seven or eight per day.
34. His Relationship Was Surprising
Relationships are all about compromise, especially when you are in a relationship with George Michael. He and his one-time partner Kenny Goss kept a somewhat open affair throughout their time together. In an interview, Michael once stated that he and Goss often saw other men, and that it was an accepted part of their relationship.
35. He Went Behind Bars
After the 2010 Gay Pride parade in London, Michael went from his highest high to his lowest low. He crashed his car into a shop while driving under the influence of substances. Later in the year, he was forced to serve time and received a five-year driving ban. At this point, fans were officially worried about Michael’s mental state. And they weren’t the only ones…
36. His Friends Tried To Help
Besides fans, superstars were also worried about Michael’s behavior. Fellow music icon Elton John had been close friends with Michael for years, even recording a beloved duet of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” with him. Over time, however, Michael’s substance use tore them apart. John tried repeatedly to intervene in Michael’s struggles, but every time, Michael resisted.
37. He Knocked On Death’s Door
In 2011, George Michael underwent a tracheotomy. During the surgical procedure, he slipped into a coma. When he came to, something was very wrong. When Michael awoke from his coma, he was speaking in a funny way. As it turns out, he woke up inflicted with “Foreign Accent Syndrome,” a speech disorder that changes the way a person speaks due to brain trauma.
38. He Was Stalked
Many celebrities are too familiar with stalkers, George Michael included. According to Michael, the authorities don’t even do anything about them most of the time, and Michael once had a woman serial stalk him and break into his house seven times. SEVEN. Then, one day, Michael is taking a stroll on his street and poof! There she is, hanging out on his street wearing his clothes.
39. The Paparazzi Hounded Him
Because George Michael was…well, George Michael, the tabloids kept a close watch on him. And by close, we mean as close as they possibly could. One tabloid hired two paparazzi to station themselves outside of Michael’s house. This way, if anything ever happened, they were there to document the “crazy life of George Michael.” Well, unfortunately for those reporters, they’d be out of a job very soon.
40. He Hid His Best Traits
George Michael once called the producers of the famous quiz show Deal or No Deal with a heartbreaking request. Michael had seen a contestant appear on the show as an attempt to raise money for her IVF treatment. Instead of sitting by, Michael intervened. He personally donated money to her so that she could get the IVF treatment. She had a daughter in 2012. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
41. He Made A Difference
For quite some time, George Michael volunteered at a local homeless shelter. For most stars, this would be a photo op, but not Michael. He specifically he asked the shelter and other volunteers to please keep his presence under wraps. He didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to himself or his philanthropy. Instead, Michael just wanted to help out.
42. He Was A Big Tipper
Many people are working as barmaids to pay their bills. And a lot of these people are working to pay for school or some other debt. Michael was aware of this and was especially familiar with working nurse students. Ever since they had cared for his ailing mother, he’d held nurses in special esteem. That’s part of why Michael once tipped a barmaid £5,000 to help her pay for nursing school.
43. He Was A Secret Caller
The famous UK morning show This Morning turned out to be one of George Michael’s favorite programs. He would watch it daily, and sometimes he would secretly lend a helping hand to those who appeared on the show. On more than one occasion, he phoned into the show to donate money to a guest who had discussed their health problems.
44. He Passed On
When he was just 53 years old, George Michael passed, dying at home in his bed with his beloved partner Fadi Fawaz by his side. In the days after Michael’s sudden demise, the world wondered if he had relapsed and drugs had caused his death. However, the truth was much different. The singer had succumbed to heart and liver issues. Yet just when people thought George Michael didn’t have any more surprises in store, he proved them wrong. Soon enough, shocking revelations came out.
45. His Last Day Was Poetic
George Michael was always beloved for his holiday songs like “Last Christmas” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Because of this, his last day on earth had a special significance. The singer perished on Christmas Day of 2016. However, as loving tributes poured in to honor the late singer, Michael’s family got ready for a dramatic funeral.
46. His Funeral Was Dramatic
George Michael adored his hairdresser-photographer boyfriend Fadi Fawaz, but the rest of the Michael clan? Not so much. They detested Fawaz and in the three months between Michael’s demise and his funeral, rumors swirled that they would bar Fawaz from attending the funeral. To quote one of Michael’s relatives, “Heaven help him if he turns up.” Yowza.
47. His Family Hated His Boyfriend
In the end, Fawaz did attend Michael’s funeral, but was not invited to come to the wake. Michael’s ex-partner of 13 years, Kenny Goss? The family gave him a pass, inviting him to both events. That doesn’t sound dramatic at all…
48. He Had A Secret Side
Without anyone knowing, George Michael had donated “millions” of his fortune to charity. One cause that was near and dear to his heart was “Childline,” a UK service that counsels young people dealing with traumatic issues. In an especially touching gesture, George Michael donated the royalties earned by his heartbreaking “Jesus to a Child” single to this specific charity.
49. He Survived A Crash
In 2013, George Michael endured his most hair-raising moment yet. He apparently fell out of his car while on the highway during rush hour. Lucky for him, a woman driving behind Michael stopped, got out of her car, and protected him from oncoming traffic. A helicopter then came and airlifted him to the hospital, and he survived with minor injuries. At the time, Michael claimed the whole thing was a freak accident, but nobody knows the truth.
50. His Will Is Controversial
It took three long years of endless legal battles before George Michael’s will was finally revealed. And when it finally came out, all the squabbling suddenly made sense. The will distributed money to Michael’s immediate family and many of Michael’s friends from the 1980s, but had some huge omissions. For example, Michael’s old Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley was snubbed. Why? To this day, we’re still not sure.