George Michael: Daring to be different

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RIP George Michael (1963:2016)

Soulful singer-songwriter George Michael has died, aged 53.

He was born as Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on 25 June 1963 in East Finchley, London, to a Greek Cypriot restaurateur and a Jewish housewife. While attending Bushey Meads School, he befriended Andrew Ridgely and the pair formed a duo called Wham!.

They produced a series of top ten hits, including the pro-dole anthem 'Wham Rap', which included the classic lyrics:

"Do you enjoy what you do? If not, just stop, don't stay there and rot."

It was one of the first songs where Michael dared to be different.

Wham! also dominated the charts with 'Club Tropicana' and 'Young Guns', another cracker of an anthem about being yourself and not bowing to authority.

However, it was 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go' in 1983 that propelled Michael into the stratosphere. This was where he really went to town. The ubiquitous "Choose Life" T-shirts! The neon! The gaudiness! The madness!!!

Michael also sang on the Band Aid classic 'Do They Know It's Christmas' and donated all profits to charity.

In 1985, Wham! became the first western pop music act to tour China. The tour generated worldwide media attention, much of it centred on Michael. This prompted him to go solo, which he did with the enormously popular single 'Careless Whisper'.

Michael followed this up with a duet with his favourite soul singer, Aretha Franklin, called 'I Knew You Were Waiting For Me'. It was his third consecutive number one single in the US and the UK.

Michael released his debut solo album, 'Faith', in 1987. The first single, 'I Want Your Sex', was banned by many stations in the US and UK for sexually suggestive lyrics. Michael argued that the sex act was beautiful, and one of the scenes in the official video had him writing "explore monogamy" on the back of a beautiful woman in lipstick.

The second single, 'Faith', gathered a much wider following.

However, the autobiographical "Freedom 90" alerted Michael fans to the fact that all was not what it seemed. He was in fact carrying a deep secret - his sexuality. While he did not come out as such, those in the know saw "Freedom 90" as a sign of Michael's maturity as a songwriter.

Another standout song of his solo career was "Too Funky" in 1992, which included a cameo appearance by his Mum.

Throughout his 30-year career, Michael garnered a string of awards and sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. He ranks as one of the top selling British acts of all time, with Billboard magazine ranking him as the 40th most successful artists ever to perform live. He toured well into the 2010s.

Michael was bisexual, and questions about his sexual orientation persisted until April 1998 when he was arrested for engaging in a lewd act in a Beverly Hills public toilet. Michael said hiding his sexuality made him feel "fraudulent". When he was arrested, although he was allegedly set up by an undercover cop, it was a "subconsciously deliberate act". Following the incident, Michael released "Outside".

The singer started having health problems in 2011 and was admitted to hospital with a viral infection. It was later reported that he was suffering pneumonia. On 25 December 2016, Michael died peacefully at his home in Oxfordshire. His manager said the cause was heart failure.

Michael's death prompted a flood of tributes from around the world.

Former Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley said he was "heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend".

On Instagram, Sir Elton John posted a photograph of himself with Michael, with the following caption:

'I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend - the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family, friends and all of his fans. @GeorgeMichael #RIP'

ABC frontman Martin Fry said on Twitter:

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