George Michael, the British singer who rocketed to fame in the 1980s duo Wham! before embarking on a solo career, died at 53, his publicist confirmed.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” the publicist said in a statement. “The family would ask their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
Michael was an international pop icon in the 1980s who then became an even more successful solo act. He first found stardom with Wham!, the group that he formed with Andrew Ridgeley and that was responsible for infectious hits such as “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper.”
The popularity of Wham! coincided with the beginnings of MTV, and Michael’s easy stage manner and sex appeal earned him legions of fans far beyond the United Kingdom. The duo broke up in 1986, five years after they burst onto the scene, and Michael’s solo work far surpassed the dominance of his pop group.
In his solo years, he became known as a more serious singer who had massive hits such as “Faith,” “Father Figure” and “I Want Your Sex.” The London-born singer sold more than 100 million albums.
In 1998, Michael publicly came out as gay in an interview with CNN, a week after he was arrested for “investigation of misdemeanor lewd conduct” in a park restroom.
“I don’t feel any shame. I feel stupid and I feel reckless and weak for having allowed my sexuality to be exposed this way. But I don’t feel any shame whatsoever,” he told CNN, adding, “I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I’m in a relationship with a man right now. I have not been in a relationship with a woman for almost 10 years.”
Michael had been out of the spotlight for the past several years, after a life-threatening bout of pneumonia in 2011. “I’m a new man,” he told the British media after he recovered, adding, “I have an amazing, amazing life, and if I wasn’t spiritual enough before the last four, five weeks then I certainly am now.”
As news of Michael’s death broke, tributes started pouring in on social media:
George Takei tweeted, “Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael. You’ve found your Freedom, your Faith. It was your Last Christmas, and we shall miss you.”
Elton John tweeted, “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 and all of his fans. @GeorgeMichael #RIP”
DuranDuran wrote, “2016 — loss of another talented soul. All our love and sympathy to @GeorgeMichael’s family.”