How to tell the story of the complex figure that was George Michael?

The singer, who became the world’s best-selling artist by 1988 with his debut solo album Faith and early huge success with Wham!, will forever be remembered for his music. He was a songwriter with a gift for earworms and a great, penetrating voice, as well as good looks and wit; the perfect package for a pop star that has earned him the approval of millions from around the world.

But it has been real for a long time George Michael was hiding behind the image of the sex god. And in the last years of his life, stories of run-ins with the law, health problems and drug use threatened to overshadow his talent. Despite his eventual openness about his sexuality and the fact that he enjoyed casual sex – after years in the closet before going public – it was still a rich source of salacious headlines.

Michael died aged 53 on Christmas Day 2016 — as thousands listened to his younger self sing about heartbreak among Slade and Mariah Carey on holiday playlists — stunned the world, and soon shrines were built outside his homes with flowers, candles and tributes to the singer.

Along with the tributes and revisions to his back catalogue, there have also been stories of George Michael, the philanthropist, the man who is said to have quietly donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to charities, secretly funded a woman’s IVF treatment after seeing her on TV, and anonymously became a volunteer at a homeless shelter.

There were many sides to the star, and now his story is being told in a new biography, as well as a re-released raw documentary that is Michael’s story in his own words.

Leaving aside any song-based puns, tales of tragedy or headline-grabbing misdeeds, music biographer James Gavin simply chose the title of his seminal book, George Michael: A Life. He says he decided to cover everything, positive and negative, after talking to nearly 250 people who knew or encountered the singer at various times in his life.

“George, despite all the sadness in his life, was not perceived as there is is not perceived as such, – he says. – People do not look at him as a tragic figure. Yes, he died at the age of 53. It shouldn’t have happened. It happened. And yet I think that George Michael, his name and his music instantly make people happy.”

Michael’s music has made millions happy and still does – whether you discovered him dancing to the carefree pop of Wham!, swooned over Faith, embraced change with Freedom! 90, or cheered him on as he talked wryly about the moment that led to his coming out — being arrested for engaging in “lewd” acts in a public restroom after an undercover police raid in Los Angeles in 1998 — with Outside, a song about outdoor sex air; In the video, Michael, dressed as a police officer, dances and swings a baton next to a row of urinals decorated with disco balls.

As Gavin says, he was a musician who had “a flair for turning a confusing, contradictory life full of struggle and high achievement into beautiful and often sad music.”

The project Michael was working on before his death

George Michael on the stage of the newly opened stadium
Photo: AP Photo / Irina Kalashnikova

Shortly before his death, Michael told broadcaster Kirsty Young that he hoped the period of absence from music would lead to something spectacular, and she later wrote of their interview that she felt he was “very hopeful that good things were to come”. . Unfortunately, this was not the case. Although he recorded several singles in his later years, he has not released an album of new material since his fifth record, Patience, in 2004.

Before his death, however, he was working on a project, the documentary Freedom, which was re-released in theaters in June and contained elements of his discussion with Young. Directed by Michael alongside his long-time friend David Austin, and featuring his music, this is a deeply personal and moving account of the star’s struggles with his sexuality, fame and industry bosses, as well as his grief following the death of his first love, Anselmo Felepp, who was sick with AIDS, and his mother with cancer. However, this does not affect the more turbulent period of his last years.

In the film, Michael talks about being a teenager and his “desperate desire to be famous, to be loved and respected,” but then goes on to discuss his struggles with attention: “I’m aware of the need for an identity, and I don’t know who I really am. ready to give.”

Gavin’s book also details this struggle, tracing the star’s transformation from the shy and awkward Georgios Kyriakos Panayiotou to the superstar he has become. It also delves into Michael’s self-destructive nature.

“George got a lot less joy out of being George Michael than we got out of George Michael.”

Pop star George Michael arrives to testify at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Thursday, October 28, 1993. Michael is petitioning the court to be released from his contract with Sony Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd.  (AP Photo/Alistair Grant)
Photo: AP Photo/Alistair Grant

He says that he wanted to honestly tell the story of Michael. “I admire both the brilliant, bright, triumphant moments of life, as well as the truly difficult moments of life. And I think that artists like George — like all of us, but especially artists of such depth — are defined by everything that happened to them.”

Michael was “tortured” for most of his life, says Gavin. “I found that George got a lot less joy out of being George Michael than we did out of George being George Michael. And that’s so many superstar lives.”

The star also felt misunderstood, he says. “Unfortunately, the circumstances of George’s life were such that he handed the press scandal on a plate and it was easy for people to perceive him, in my view, unkindly, as a pampered superstar who had gone off the rails and which had destroyed all his enormous privileges and achievements.

“And that’s not true. But what I was trying to convey… was the fact that he was a human being at the bottom of it all. He was a troubled boy who struggled with self-hatred to a high degree. The first half of George Michael’s life was the creation and creation of the character of George Michael. The other half was about destroying it.”

George Michael: The Life, by music biographer James Gavin, is now available. The George Michael documentary Freedom Uncut is also out now

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