Entertainment

George Michael, former Wham singer, dead at 53

Pop singer George Michael, who had a successful solo career and numerous hits as half of the 1980s duo Wham including the song Last Christmas, has died "over the Christmas period" at the age of 53.

British pop singer 'passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,' says family

British pop star 'passed away peacefully' at home' on Christmas 2:00

Pop singer George Michael, who had a successful solo career and numerous hits as half of the 1980s duo Wham including the song Last Christmas, has died "over the Christmas period" at the age of 53. 

Michael, whose real name was Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, died at his home in Goring, England. His publicist, Cindi Berger, said he had not been ill.

His manager, Michael Lippman, said the singer died of heart failure, The Telegraph reported.

In a Twitter post Monday, Fadi Fawaz, who described himself as Michael's partner, told of the heartbreaking discovery of the singer's body.

Fawaz tweeted he'd never forget the Christmas he found his "partner dead peacefully in bed first thing in the morning."

A celebrity hair stylist, Fawaz has been linked romantically to Michael since at least 2012, but their relationship was kept private.

A statement from his family said Michael "passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period," and asked that their privacy be "respected at this difficult and emotional time."

Thames Valley Police say the death "is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious." An autopsy will take place in the coming days and police say they won't give an update until those results come in.

Making it big

Michael broke out onto the music scene alongside Andrew Ridgeley as the lead singer of Wham. Their second studio album produced by Michael, Make It Big, was a critical and commercial success. It spawned a number of hits such as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Careless Whisper and Everything She Wants.

The group had several popular tracks between 1982-86 including I'm Your ManClub Tropicana, and Last Christmas.

George Michael, left, was the lead singer of the pop group Wham. Andrew Ridgeley played guitar. (Getty Images)

Ridgeley, who last performed with Michael in 1991, said he was "heartbroken" and "cleft with grief" over Michael's death.

Flying solo

Following the band's breakup, Michael embarked on a successful solo career, releasing his debut album Faith in 1987. He wrote and produced the album in addition to playing various instruments.

The lead single, I Want Your Sex, was initially banned by radio stations because of its lyrics, considered sexually explicit at the time. But the song climbed the Billboard charts, along with a number of tracks from the album, including Father Figure, One More Try, Monkey and the title track, Faith.

Michael, who began a solo career in 1987, performs during a concert in Amsterdam in June of 2007. (Evert Elzinga/AFP/Getty Images)

His following album, Listen Without Prejudice, was released in 1990. The music video for the song Freedom! '90 famously excluded Michael himself and instead featured supermodels Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz mouthing the words to the anthem about artistic freedom and identity.

Michael postponed a series of concerts in 2011 after receiving treatment for pneumonia in hospital.

Controversy

Michael was fined and forced to do community service after being arrested in 1998 for "engaging in a lewd act" at a public park in Beverly Hills, Calif. The media speculation that surrounded the incident forced Michael to become more publicly explicit about being gay.

Michael pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of drugs and possessing cannabis after he crashed his car into a photo processing shop in London on July 4, 2010. ( Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Rights activist Peter Tatchell, who knew Michael before he achieved fame, said Michael had hidden his homosexuality in the early part of his career because gay public figures were subjected to vicious treatment by the British tabloid press.

Tatchell said Michael's open acknowledgement of his sexuality after his arrest amounted to "a defiant defence of the right to be gay" that had an impact throughout the gay community.

The singer had several brushes with the law thereafter involving drugs. He pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of drugs and possessing cannabis after he crashed his car into a photo-processing shop in London, England, in July of 2010.

He remained out of the spotlight in recent years.

Michael was in the middle of finishing a documentary project about his music called Freedom that was expected to air in March of 2017.

Michael's family said in their statement they will not provide any further comment regarding his death.

Tributes for 'a brilliant artist'

Elton John, who performed the duet Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me with Michael in 1991, said he was "in deep shock."

"I have lost a beloved friend — the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist," John posted on Instagram.

Bryan Adams, Meat Loaf and Carpool Karaoke host James Corden also shared tributes to the late artist. 

"He was an absolute inspiration," Corden wrote on Twitter. "Always ahead of his time."

With files from The Associated Press