Singer-songwriter George Michael, the former Wham! band member turned solo artist, has died, his representatives confirmed on Sunday. He was 53.
“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 family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage,” the representative said in a statement to EW.
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in East Finchley, London, Michael first found fame as one-half of the duo Wham! — formed in 1981 with schoolmate Andrew Ridgeley — before going solo. He sold more than 100 million albums worldwide throughout a career that spanned more than three decades.
Michael’s hits with Wham! included “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (the duo’s first song to hit No. 1 in the U.S., off their second album, Make It Big), “Freedom,” “Last Christmas,” and “Careless Whisper” (which came out as a solo single for Michael in 1984).
In 1987, Michael released a duet with Aretha Franklin, “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,” that topped charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Later that same year, he released his first solo album, Faith, which included the titular single and other memorable tracks like “I Want Your Sex” and “Father Figure.” The album spawned six singles in all and won the 1989 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
His second solo album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, came in 1990 and featured the singles “Praying for Time” and “Freedom ’90.”
Michael was arrested for “lewd behavior” in Beverly Hills in 1998. The incident led to his public coming out as gay when he revealed his relationship with Kenny Goss. They stayed together until 2011.
Throughout his career, Michael was a staunch activist for gay rights. Speaking in 2007, Michael discussed coming out, noting he felt “fraudulent” for hiding his sexuality from the public. “What people have to acknowledge… is that there’s a level of honesty that’s natural to me [and] that I’m uncomfortable with anything else,” he said to The Independent at the time. “So firstly, understand how much I love my family and that AIDS was the predominant feature of being gay in the 1980s and early 90s as far as any parent was concerned… My mother was still alive and every single day would have been a nightmare for her thinking what I might have been subjected to.”
He added, “I’d been out to a lot of people since 19. I wish to God it had happened then. I don’t think I would have the same career — my ego might not have been satisfied in some areas — but I think I would have been a happier man.”
In 2011, Michael canceled a number of tour dates as he recovered from pneumonia. He spent about three weeks in the hospital and said later that his health had been “touch and go.” The following year, he canceled additional dates to get treatment for anxiety he suffered following that health scare.
His most recent album, Symphonica, was released in 2014. Earlier this month, according to BBC News, it was reported that producer and songwriter Naughty Boy was working with Michael on a new album.