By Jessica Goodman and Kevin O'Donnell
January 04, 2017 at 10:13 AM EST

This week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly looks back on the life and legacy of George Michael, whose death at age 53 was announced on Christmas Day. Over his nearly four decade career, Michael was many things to many people: a teen idol, a sex symbol, a freedom fighter who challenged societal norms and made some of the most fearless music of the ’80s and ’90s. Three friends and collaborators — supermodel Cindy Crawford, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, and duet partner Aretha Franklin — opened up to EW about their memories of  Michael. For more on his extraordinary life, pick up this week’s issue, on stands Friday.

Herb Ritts/Trunk Archive

Cindy Crawford

The supermodel remembers her role in his “Freedom! ‘90” video

I heard from director David Fincher that George wanted the group of women who had done a 1990 cover of British Vogue together exactly, no substitutions. It seemed like it was George’s idea to do this video, where it wasn’t about him even though the song was obviously about him. Everyone shot [scenes] separately so it wasn’t like a big party atmosphere. We each had our own personalities within the video. But I remember being bummed, like, “Really? I have to be in the bathtub with a towel on my head? Everyone else gets to look so cool!” Then when I saw it after I was like, ‘okay this is pretty cool.'”

For so many of us, [George’s songs were] the soundtrack of our young coming of age. But more than the music, it was the message that was just as important. MTV had really changed the face of music. It wasn’t enough to have a great voice anymore. You had to be the whole package. George Michael deciding at that pivotal moment that he didn’t want to play the game in the same way, that he wanted to make it his own game, was a great message. I think people loved him more because of that.

Melissa Etheridge

The songwriter recalls how Michael, who struggled with his sexuality, was ultimately a beacon for the LGBT world.

I think his beautiful voice and his beautiful face and his beautiful moves and his beautiful music were such a gift. It was a beautiful androgyny and a different type of masculinity that became popular in the ’80s and ’90s. It really opened up a lot of doors for LGBT people to feel confident about themselves. So when he did finally come out, it was like, “This is you!”

Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul looks back on her collaboration with Michael for the Grammy-winning 1987 single “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me).”

The first time I heard George was with Wham! and I liked it then. He had a very unique sound, very different from anything that was out there. When Clive [Davis, Franklin’s producer and label boss] suggested we get together for “I Knew You Were Waiting,” I was all ready. It reminded me of [working with producer] Jerry Wexler. We’d go in the studio and cut songs. If we were happy with what we recorded, Jerry would say, “Let’s wait until tomorrow. If we feel the same way [then] that we do now, maybe we have a hit.” “I Knew You Were Waiting” had that. Musically, it does not grow old.

[When we made the music video], we had a super time. He was calling most of the shots: how he wanted this, how he wanted that. My older sister, Erma, just fell for him right away. He was very friendly and personable, easy to talk to.