The tragic real-life story of George Michael

When the British pop duo Wham! emerged in the early '80s, their music was as undeniably catchy as it was light. Lead singer George Michael, blessed with a powerful voice, grinned and danced his way through amusing videos for his group's ultra-'80s hits like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Wham Rap!" Many certainly thought Michael had a future in music, but likely few predicted his reinvention as the most progressive pop craftsman of his era. Michael went from teeny bopper pinup to rocking his way through blues-inspired acoustic numbers like "Faith," sensual ballads like "Father Figure," and elaborately produced adult dance music like "Freedom '90."

As one of the most famous people in the world, Michael carried an air of mystery about him, which matched his soulfulness and seriousness about his art. As it turns out, that all hinted at the real George Michael, a man who dealt with profound sadness, misery, and heartbreak, and for whom international success and celebrity offered little solace. Here's the brutal biography of George Michael.

George Michael had a rough childhood

The early years of George Michael don't seem to have been particularly traumatic for the singer, but they were reportedly marked with a damaging coldness and distance from his family. Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, the future star was raised in a small London apartment by two parents, but his father, an emigrant who ran a restaurant, was rarely around. That created a disconnect between father and son. "I was never praised, never held," Michael said (via People). "So it wasn't exactly the Little House On The Prairie."

While he was interested in music from an early age — at age six, he discovered an old gramophone in his parents' garage and wrote his first song — he didn't realize he wanted to pursue music as his life's work until after he got seriously hurt. "At the age of about eight I had a head injury and I know it sounds bizarre and unlikely, but it was quite a bad bang, and I had it stitched up and stuff," Michael wrote in his memoir Bare (via The Sun) "Suddenly, all I wanted to know about was music." He didn't let his father know about his ambitions right away. "Funnily enough, my father always used to say that he didn't think I could sing," Michael told Event Magazine (via George Michael Forever).

George Michael had a serious drug problem

According to a Daily Mail interview (via the Associated Press) with George Michael's former Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell, the singer's decades-long battles with intoxicating substances began relatively late in adulthood, after he'd started his solo career. That drug use ultimately turned varied and voluminous. In September 2008, police in North London discovered Michael in a public restroom using crack cocaine and marijuana. The amounts on his person were small, and he was released without further legal action.

According to Kenny Goss, Michael's former romantic partner of 15 years, taking drugs was a matter of course. "I would find drugs and flush everything down the toilet," Goss told The Sun (via Page Six). "He was absent-minded, so would [sic] just think he'd lost them." Michael himself told The Guardian in 2009 that at the peak of his drug usage, he subsisted "on a glance of Starbucks and weed," smoking in the neighborhood of two dozen joints each day. By the time of the interview, he was down to "seven or eight a day."

George Michael's partner died of AIDS complications

In 1998, George Michael told CNN that he had his first same-sex relationship at age 27 in 1990. Not long after, he met the man who would become one of the great loves of his life — for however tragically and briefly.

At a Wham! reunion concert in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, Michael met a fan seven years his elder named Anselmo Feleppa, and it was virtually love at first sight. "The moment I looked at him, it was just like, 'wow, I've met someone I actually think I'm gonna fall in love with rather than just want their body for a while,'" Michael told Behind the Music. Within days, the two were a couple, but just two months into the relationship, Feleppa fell ill, developing a rash on his chest and a flu that he couldn't shake. Doctors confirmed Michael's fear and suspicion that Feleppa had contracted AIDS. In the documentary George Michael: Freedom (via Hello), the pop star explained that he and Feleppa awaited the results of the test over Christmas Day 1991, which Michael called the "darkest, most frightening time of my life," all the while keeping their relationship (and struggle) secret from their families and the media.

In March 1993, scarcely two years after he connected with Michael, Feleppa suffered a brain hemorrhage during a medical procedure and passed away at age 36.

The death of George Michael's mother sent him into a deep depression

The death of partner Anselmo Feleppa understandably left George Michael devastated and in deep mourning for a prolonged period of time. That only got worse when, in 1996, his mother, Lesley Angold Panayiotou, received news that she had a rapidly destructive, terminal case of cancer. She was able to spend one last Christmas with Michael and the rest of her family, eventually passing away just two months later in February 1997. "I was so spiritually crushed after my mum died," Michael said in the documentary George Michael: Freedom (via Hello). 

The singer subsequently fell into a deep, dark sadness. "I'd never felt that kind of depression. It was something different to grief," he said. "It was on top of grief, I was grieving for my mother still, but it was something else. It was the darkest time." In the documentary (via Page Six), Michael also revealed that the mental darkness left him feeling like his life had been "a waste of time" and that even two decades on, he'd never quite moved on from Feleppa's death.

George Michael was arrested and forced to come out

George Michael once kept his personal life extremely private — he had to. The world wasn't too accepting of LGBT individuals, and for Michael to have revealed to the world that he was a gay man could have destroyed his career overnight. Five years after the devastating loss of his partner, Ansemlo Feleppa, Michael revealed his sexual identity to the public, not because he was ready or on his own terms, but because he had no choice after a salacious arrest.

One afternoon in April 1998, according to the Los Angeles Times, a plainclothes police officer, investigating a tip that the restrooms at Will Rogers Memorial Park in Los Angeles had been the site of some illegal (meaning homosexual) carnal activity, witnessed Michael "engaged in a lewd act" by himself. (Michael would later claim that the undercover officer committed entrapment, allegedly encouraging the singer to do what he did.) He was released from police custody after posting the $500 bail. Having now been arrested for what appeared to be homosexual activity, Michael decided to come clean. He went on CNN and came out as gay to reporter Jim Moret (and the world at large). "I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I'm in a relationship with a man right now," Michael said. "I have not been in a relationship with a woman for almost ten years."

George Michael survived some horrible car accidents

George Michael's issues with drugs certainly affected his life to some degree, including his physical and legal ability to operate an automobile. According to The Guardian, in October 2006, Michael was found half-asleep behind the wheel of his Mercedes in North London. Arrested and booked on impaired driving charges, he entered a guilty plea in May 2007, and the court learned that Michael was under the influence of marijuana and the club drug GHB. The singer earned a sentence of 100 community service hours along with a two-year suspension of his driving privileges.

At about 4:00 AM one Sunday morning in July 2010 (per The Guardian), police in North London responded to a call about a car that had crashed into the front of a Snappy Snaps film processing center. The driver, still behind the wheel of the Range Rover amid the wreckage: George Michael. He was arrested and booked and had marijuana on his person and, as a blood test revealed, in his bloodstream. Michael pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight weeks in Highpoint Prison, of which he ultimately served about half.

In 2013, according to The Guardian, Michael fell out of his car while driving on England's M1 freeway, reportedly while trying to correct an improperly closing door. Michael was airlifted to a hospital and treated for a head injury.

George Michael almost died of pneumonia in 2012

George Michael's Symphonica tour wound through Europe in 2011. Unfortunately, Michael had to cancel or reschedule quite a few stops due to various frightening and potentially life-threatening medical emergencies. In October 2011, according to the BBC, he canceled a scheduled performance at Royal Albert Hall in London after being diagnosed with a viral infection and a woefully high temperature. That concert was rescheduled to take place a month later, which Michael again had to back out of when he got sick — and this time, it was even more serious. Merely two hours before he was set to take the stage at the Stadthalle in Vienna, the show was canceled while Michael was rushed to a hospital, according to The Independent

Several other tour dates had to be put off while Michael lay in a bed in AKH Hospital fighting for his life, diagnosed with pneumonia. According to ABC News, Michael's case was life-threatening, and he wasn't able to leave doctors' care until well into December. Michael processed the event as a near-death experience, and for the better part of the following year, he suffered from severe anxiety as a result. It got so bad that Michael canceled a nine-day Australian tour because he was mentally unable to perform.

George Michael overdosed several times toward the end of his life

While George Michael publicly exhibited the effects of a lifelong struggle with substance abuse — including arrests for public intoxication and possession of controlled substances — his drug issues may have troubled him far more than his fans were aware, and especially in the last few years of his life. "I believe easy access to drugs was the cause of his problems," his friend Gary Farrow told The Sun (via The Daily Beast). "Once this disease gets hold of you, it's hard to fight it." 

A source close to Michael told The Telegraph that the singer's drug problem almost killed him — more than once. "He's been rushed to A&E on several occasions," the individual said, meaning that Michael sought out emergency medical care for overdoses on undisclosed substances. "He used heroin. I think it's amazing he's lasted as long as he has."

George Michael died on Christmas 2016

George Michael scored his last major UK hit in 2012, and he'd largely retreated from public life, save for the occasional performance. But at Christmas, the veteran superstar is on millions of people's minds, thanks to his contributions to the holiday music canon: He was a soloist on Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and recorded "Last Christmas" with Wham! It's especially sad, spooky, and ironic, then, that George Michael died on Christmas Day 2016, while somewhere in the world, his songs were making somebody happy. 

Michael's partner, Fadi Fawaz, went over to the singer's Oxfordshire house in the morning, as the two planned to have Christmas lunch together. That's when he discovered Michael "lying peacefully in bed," he told The Telegraph. Authorities called to the scene were initially puzzled by the death but weren't suspicious of foul play. A few months later, a coroner (via the BBC) revealed that Michael passed away at the age of 53 from natural causes, specifically issues related to the heart and liver.

George Michael attempted suicide several times

The reason for George Michael's sudden, surprising, and untimely death at age 53 in December 2016: a fatty liver, along with dilated cardiomyopathy and myocarditis (two serious heart problems). That's according to a coroner's report (via The Guardian), but the singer's romantic partner, Fadi Fawaz, believes that Michael didn't die of natural causes but at his own hand, based on his knowledge of Michael's behavior and the date on which his death occurred.

"George died on his mother's birthday, so that might answer a few questions," Fawaz, who was in a relationship with Michael from 2012 to 2016, told The Telegraph. The death of his mother sent Michael into a serious depression when she died in 1997 — and her birthday was on Christmas, which is when Michael died. Fawaz added, "Not to mention it took five attempts to manage to end his life." This would mean that even if Michael did die of heart and liver problems in 2016, he had sadly attempted to commit suicide on four previous occasions.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).