In just a few days’ time comes a moment millions of George Michael fans have been waiting for: the authorised movie of his life, narrated by the late singer himself. George Michael Freedom Uncut promises fans hours of unseen home footage and interviews with friends including Elton John, Ricky Gervais and Kate Moss.
The celebratory film, described as George’s ‘dream project’ and a ‘poignant and moving tribute’, was abruptly put on hold after he died on Christmas Day 2016 at the age of 53. Now it marks what one person connected to the production calls ‘closure after years of gossip’.
Yet all but the most die-hard fans will concede this offers a rather partial view of the singer who sold 130 million records but lived a notoriously troubled life.
Just two weeks after the film’s cinema release on June 22, an exhaustive biography by respected music writer James Gavin will project a very different image of the Wham! singer and solo superstar. By this account, George was a tormented soul who spent decades plunging ever deeper into a morass of drug addiction and sordid sexual activity which left him suicidal. And all the while, he attempted to conceal his sexuality from the outside world.
Gavin has spoken to more than 200 friends and acquaintances for the authoritative tome, George Michael: A Life. Between them they portray the superstar as an emotionally fragile man crippled by insecurity who, despite the adulation, turned on everyone who loved him, including his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley.
Ultimately, he concludes, George died a ‘pathetic, lonely and broken figure’.
One of the most glamorous men in the music business ended his days as a recluse, bingeing on junk food and male prostitutes inside his North London mansion. He would watch endless episodes of his favourite soap, Coronation Street, while downing tubs of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, his creativity blunted and his rich voice ruined by drugs and cigarettes.
The Edge Of Heaven: One of the most glamorous men in the music business ended his days as a recluse, bingeing on junk food and male prostitutes inside his North London mansion
While the feelgood film focuses on the 1980s and early 1990s, when George was at the height of his powers – and in particular on the trailblazing video for Freedom! ’90 with supermodels Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford – the book shines a light into darker corners of the singer’s life.
It is scathing about George’s father Jack, a tough Greek-Cypriot immigrant to Britain, who is still alive and who, according to friends, never accepted his son’s homosexuality.
‘That conflict within George, that he knew he was gay but had to lie not only to the world but also to his dad, that was at the root of everything to come,’ one close friend said.
It also supports claims that George may not have died on December 25, 2016 of heart failure as has always been reported but may have taken his own life the day before, the anniversary of his beloved mother Lesley’s death.
The book claims many friends believe the overdose story, yet the death was blamed on his poor lifestyle and the toxicology report was never made public.
George’s family fiercely deny such claims, insisting he died from natural causes. A post-mortem examination found that he died of heart and liver problems, and the coroner said no inquest was needed. For the first time, author Gavin suggests George’s huge ego led to a bitter falling out with Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley, a friend from the age of 12, after George renegotiated the royalties for their hit Careless Whisper to take a bigger cut. Written by George when he was just 17, the song was credited to both men, reportedly to give Andew some financial security.
Simon Napier-Bell, who was manager of Wham!, tells the author that George ‘revised the royalty split on the song in his favour’ even though he didn’t need the money.
Bad Boys: Despite the adulation, turned on everyone who loved him, including his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley (right)
George and Andrew were reconciled before the singer’s death. Andrew attended the funeral and backed a campaign to try to get the Wham! classic Last Christmas to the top of the UK charts.
A friend of George said: ‘For years no one could understand the frostiness from Andrew. He would never talk about George. George would publicly attack him and was vocal about how he was the talented one, not Andrew. But to cut Andrew’s share of the profits seems extraordinarily petty.’
Perhaps most troubling are the revelations that, for the last two decades before his death, as his star waned, George descended into massive drug abuse which included smoking potent ‘skunk’ marijuana from dawn to dusk, taking ‘industrial quantities’ of GHB, also known as a ‘date-rape’ drug, and smoking crystal meth and crack cocaine.
The book says George’s drug addiction had its roots in his childhood and his inner turmoil about his sexuality.
His father was a Greek-Cypriot who arrived in Britain virtually penniless in the 1950s when he changed his name from Kyriacos to the more English-sounding Jack. He worked his way up to be a successful restaurateur and married a pretty English girl, Lesley.
They raised their son in East Finchley, London, until he was 13 when the family moved to Radlett, an affluent commuter village in Hertfordshire, where his father remains to this day.
Wham! George Michael and Linda Evangelista during the Too Funky video shoot in 1992 in Paris
While George hid his sexuality from everyone, friends who have spoken out for the first time say it was blindingly obvious from the start.
During a break in Wham!’s US tour in 1985, he met model Carolyn Montgomery at a bar in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. She said: ‘He said he was bisexual but he was gayer than a goose.’
She recalls being attracted to him, but knew the truth – and that a liaison would have been impossible.
Instead she says one of his friends ‘broke out a mound of cocaine’ and ‘George did a tremendous amount’.
Multiple sources describe how George was ‘terrified’ to come out to his father because, in traditional Greek-Cypriot culture, homosexuality was viewed as a sin.
George’s mother, Lesley, appears to have known and was always supportive because, the book reveals, she had a brother who was secretly gay and committed suicide.
George’s PR team provided a string of ‘girlfriends’ including actress Brooke Shields and model Kathy Jeung to protect his sex symbol image.
In private, however, George was engaging in ever more reckless sexual encounters, cruising for sex in whatever city he happened to find himself in.
Legend: In just a few days’ time comes a moment millions of George Michael fans have been waiting for: the authorised movie of his life, narrated by the late singer himself
One friend tells the author how George would book an entire restaurant to have dinner because he was so paranoid about his privacy.
‘He was so fearful of anybody finding out about anything. I think his whole life was based on that fear and I think he never reconciled it,’ said the friend. He was ‘a gay man packaged as a modern-day Elvis’ but felt a fraud.
Even when Wham! split and he achieved global success as a solo singer, he was tormented by living a lie.
George would fall in love for the first time, aged 27, with Brazilian stylist Anselmo Feleppa who ‘stalked’ the singer in Rio and managed to get himself invited to a party held in George’s honour.
George later recalled: ‘He followed me for miles – that would have sent me running for the hills normally. Instead I was captivated.’
Like George, Anselmo had a macho father. The young stylist moved to Los Angeles to live with George but their relationship remained in the shadows.
By now, questions about George’s sexuality were being asked openly by the press, but he continued to deny being gay – a denial which would cause tension between himself and openly gay performers like Elton John and Culture Club’s Boy George.
Freedom: George Michael Freedom Uncut promises fans hours of unseen home footage and interviews with friends including Elton John, Ricky Gervais and Kate Moss
George was said to be devastated when, in 1993, two years into his first love affair, Anselmo was diagnosed with AIDS and returned to Rio.
Yet, seemingly afraid of the publicity it might generate, George did not travel to be with his dying lover, something that haunted him ‘to his dying day’.
It was Anselmo’s death, says the book, that persuaded George to come out to his parents, writing an emotional, four-page letter to his mother, Lesley.
She then called her son with love in her voice. ‘She told him it was the most beautiful letter she had ever read. But she was afraid: “What if he had AIDS too?” Michael assured her he did not.’
But for his father, it was a blow, with one friend saying: ‘It hit him like a ton of bricks.’
After Anselmo’s death, George’s drug use spiralled out of control.
In 1996, he met Texan designer Kenny Goss at a spa. The pair would remain together for 13 years but had an open relationship.
Then, in 1997, George’s beloved mother died, at the age of 59, shortly after being diagnosed with skin cancer. Friends suggest that he never recovered .
In 1998, George’s sexuality finally became known to the world when he was arrested after seeking gay sex in a Beverly Hills public toilet less than two miles from his £12 million LA home.
Love Machine: The celebratory film, described as George’s ‘dream project’ and a ‘poignant and moving tribute’, was abruptly put on hold after he died on Christmas Day 2016 at the age of 53
He was charged with lewd conduct and ordered to perform community service in what he would describe as ‘one of the most humiliating moments of my life’.
The arrest served only to highlight how far his career had slumped since his Wham! heyday when he was the world’s biggest pin-up.
From then on, the book states, it was a slow but steady race to the bottom for the star. George began relying on ever greater quantities of drugs to numb his feelings, consuming them from the minute he woke up to the moment he passed out. His homes in London and Los Angeles became scenes of debauchery.
‘His parties were free sex and free drugs, lots of both,’ one friend recalled.
He was arrested multiple times for driving under the influence of drugs, once crashing his Range Rover through the window of a shop near his London home.
Another time he nodded off at the wheel of his Mercedes and was found ‘slumped and drooling’ by police. He suffered ‘deep-seated paranoia’ from his heavy drug use. He became bloated.
When he did leave the house, he would cruise for sex on Hampstead Heath, telling one friend: ‘Most of the men… are not going to tell your secret because they’ve got one themselves.’
I’m Your Man: Now it marks what one person connected to the production calls ‘closure after years of gossip’
Even close friends like ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell were unable to help him.
The book claims Halliwell once turned up at his doorstep, only for George to shout: ‘F***! Geri’s at the door again. Tell her I’m not here!’
Attempts by Elton John – himself a former drug and alcohol addict – for George to get himself into rehab fell on deaf ears.
Many incidents were covered up by his highly paid entourage – even though, for much of the time, they weren’t actually working because George was too drug-addled and depressed to record or perform.
Towards the end of his life, the man who once captivated tens of thousands of fans at sold-out concerts was ‘living in a haze.’
In May 2013, he threw himself out of a moving Range Rover as he was being driven along the M1.
His boyfriend at the time, Fadi Fawaz, said: ‘He wanted to die so badly. I think life stopped for him a long time ago. Everyone wanted him because of what and who he is. “Everyone wants me alive,” is what he would say.’
One morning he was discovered suffering from hypothermia after spending the night in his swimming pool. Another time he overdosed on GHB and was found unconscious in his bathtub.
A trip to a Swiss rehab clinic failed. Fadi later said George had tried to stab himself 25 times in rehab.
Everything She Wants: Yet all but the most die-hard fans will concede this offers a rather partial view of the singer who sold 130 million records but lived a notoriously troubled life
The end came at Christmas 2016 – Fadi said they rowed on December 24 and he ended up sleeping in his car.
On Christmas Day, Fadi let himself into the house and went to George’s bedroom.
‘I touched him but he was cold,’ he later said.
George was dead at the age of just 53.
Since then, family and close friends have sought to reclaim George’s position as a pivotal force on the British music scene, a reputation that his talent and enduring hits would certainly deserve.
As both singer and songwriter, George left a fortune of nearly £100 million. But he also left a treasure trove of home-movie footage which he had planned to turn into a film.
The film that will be released in ten days’ time, including that archive, will delight his legions of fans with the happy times. Perhaps there will be a new generation of fans for the ‘sunny’ George Michael – the star with the feelgood tunes, the pearly-white teeth, tanned skin and bouffant hair.
But the darker side of his story, the loneliness and enduring sadness, will never be too far away.
George Michael Freedom Uncut is in cinemas from Wednesday, June 22. George Michael: A Life, by James Gavin, will be published by Abrams Press, priced £25, on July 7.