While 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine, George Michael didn’t need Google to rise to fame. But for the late actor, who died of heart failure at 53 on Christmas Day, his journey wasn’t always smooth.
George Michael flew into the hearts and minds worldwide with his extremely catchy 1984 pop hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” As a member of the British pop duo Wham!, he was idolized for his gorgeous blond hair, hazel eyes, and overall movie-star good looks. Girls all over the globe quickly chose him as their favorite member of the duo, and to this day not many people remember what his singing partner’s name was (sorry, Andrew Ridgeley).
Breaking out of Wham! into a Freedom of his own, George dabbled in singles for a few years and then went completely solo in 1987. During this time, girls everywhere were still listening to his Careless Whispers, dreaming about Last Christmas, and having Faith that Michael wouldn’t go away anytime soon. It is safe to say that his song I Want Your Sex in 1987 caused parents everywhere to shudder.
Despite going through what looked like a fantastic journey through fame, Michael was secretly harboring some pent-up feelings about his sexuality.
While nowadays celebrities are coming clean with their sexuality seemingly every day without there even being a blip on the radar, back in Michael’s time of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, being gay was still considered shameful and dirty by many.
So in a sad tale of poignancy mixed with fame, Michael forced himself to repress his true sexuality for 15 years. To mask his true self, he sang lyrics such as “I was every little hungry schoolgirl’s pride and joy/and I guess it was enough for me.” Immediately followed with “There’s something deep inside of me, there’s someone else I’ve got to be,” fans most likely viewed these confessions as just another example of an emotional musician with plenty of feelings, nothing else.
But for Michael, it was a symbol of the crippling depression he was facing as being in the public eye as an inauthentic version of himself.
The struggle to develop into himself took decades for Michael to figure out. He supported numerous gay issues from the beginning of his career, donating to various AIDS charities and performing for World AIDS day every year since 1993. Regardless, he still harnessed his true feelings, especially when it came to family.
Back when he was 19, he labeled himself as bisexual and came out to close friends and family, but never his mother. Michael later admitted that he never wanted to come out to his mother as a way to protect her from heartache. In 2007, he explained why he chose to come out fully only once his mother had died.
“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.
Coming out still didn’t go as planned for Michael. He was forced to admit in the public eye that he was in fact gay after he was arrested in 1998 for an act of public lewdness against an undercover cop. However, right after the world found out he was gay, he added a level of righteous defiance to his career by showcasing gay men in his music videos, singing lyrics about the normalcy of sex, and being completely open with his private life.
And Wham!, seemingly overnight the singer became a full-blown gay icon who was not one bit shy about his past.
This complete change in how he viewed his sexuality served as a catalyst for his fans everywhere to come to terms with their own personal lives. Michael’s personal struggles turned out to be powerful for others, as he proved it was possible to live happily, as himself, full in a world of negative stigmas, hate crimes, and stereotypes. His confidence, his powerful swagger, and those lush, layered locks served not only as hair inspiration for some, but as a remarkable motivation for people all over the world to live as their true selves.
It is no secret that since Michael was closeted in the 1980s, our nation has made huge strides in acceptance of the LGBQT community. However, only 21 states currently have protections in place for LGBT employees to prevent discrimination. So while Michael made strides to normalize gay rights, there is still a long way to go.
So, as far as first impressions go, George Michael is the epitome of not judging a book by its cover. He continued to live his life as benefactor to multiple gay health and AIDS research charities, and will be forever seen as a musician who touched millions of hearts in more ways than one.
Even if the sun did go down on George Michael, nothing could stop him from shining.