George Michael is sadly gone, but his legacy won’t soon be forgotten. The “Careless Whisper” singer and Wham! star died of heart failure on Christmas Day at age 53 in his home in England. On Tuesday, December 27, ABC aired a 20/20 special on the late pop star entitled George Michael: Faith, Freedom and His Final Hours, looking back on his storied career and personal ups and downs.
Here are seven things we learned from anchor Elizabeth Vargas about the performer’s life and final days.
Michael Was Destined for Superstardom at a Young Age
Michael wrote his hit “Careless Whisper” when he was only 17 years old, and spurred a sort of “Beatlemania” surrounding his music. The duo Wham! made huge innovations in American music, such as being the first Western act to perform in China when they played there in 1985.
“It almost didn’t seem like a duo,” former MTV VJ Alan Hunter said of the group. “We couldn’t quite understand what [fellow member Andrew Ridgeley’s] contribution was.”
He Wanted to Be Seen as a Serious Artist Despite His Sexy Image
Michael admitted in a previous interview that he was constantly battling being a “massive star” along with being a closeted gay man.
“It was like, Oh, my God, I’m a massive star, and I might be a poof,” Michael said in the footage. “I had to negotiate some new relationship with celebrity that wasn’t going to destroy me.”
For his second solo album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, he refused to put his face on the cover, tour for the album or appear in any music videos, in order to be taken more seriously. He loved making music but hated dealing with the media and no longer wanted to be seen as a sex symbol.
He and Brooke Shields Had a Brief and Platonic Relationship
Actress Brooke Shields discussed her brief, decades-ago “romance” with Michael in an interview from 2011. “He was a singer, he was gorgeous, he was handsome. I was such a virgin,” Shields said, laughing because she didn’t know he was gay. “He didn’t even kiss me good night.”
Michael Felt His Arrest for Public Indecency Was “Entrapment”
The “I Want Your Sex” singer was arrested in April 1998 in Beverly Hills for performing a “lewd act” with another man. However, Michael revealed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he felt his arrest was “entrapment.”
The incident was a “huge relief” to Michael because he was able to be upfront about what happened and come out as gay in a CNN interview that took place shortly after the arrest. He also used police figures and bathroom props in the music video for his song “Outside,” serving as an outlet for him to take control of his arrest rather than be humiliated by it.
He Lost His First Serious Partner to HIV
Anselmo Feleppa started a relationship with Michael in 1993; six months later, Feleppa learned he was HIV-positive, and he died later that year of complications from the illness. The singer’s tune “Jesus to a Child” was about his late partner, and he dedicated the song to Feleppa in concerts.
He Soon Dealt With More Grief
After the death of his mother in 1998, Michael slipped into a deep depression, and he was ultimately saved by his relationship and his music. “I didn’t really [survive] — the only thing that got me through it was my music,” he said about the loss of his mother. “It was like depression and shock that went on forever.”
However, Michael pointed out that his relationship with former partner Kenny Goss also helped him grapple his depression. The two were together for eight years before splitting in 2009.
“Kenny saved my life,” Michael said. “Someone to hold you when you absolutely see no point to anything.”
Michael Had Big Plans for 2017
Michael had recently been writing songs and was planning for a documentary about his life to come out in 2017. He spent the last few years of his life in private, but he remained a generous philanthropist, even though his gifts didn’t always make headlines.
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