On April, 20, 1992, George Michael was part of a star-studded lineup that included Elton John, David Bowie and Metallica at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness at London’s Wembley Stadium.
The previous November, the flamboyant Mercury had announced, after months of speculation, that he had AIDS. Bedridden and blind, the Queen singer died the following day at the age of 45. The concert was organized to pay tribute to the legendary Mercury and to raise money for AIDS awareness.
Michael’s 15-minute set ended with a powerful rendition of the Queen classic “Somebody to Love.” He later called it “probably the proudest moment of my career.”
But it was a performance that was cloaked in irony.
Michael, then 29, was closeted and his boyfriend, Brazilian dress designer and stylist Anselmo Feleppa, was dying of AIDS.
“Try to imagine that you fought with your own sexuality to the point that you’ve lost half your twenties,” the former Wham! singer, who publicly came out in 1998, later told The Independent.
And then, upon finally finding romantic love, “along came a fatal disease to destroy everything,” author James Gavin writes in his upcoming biography of the singer, “George Michael: A Life” (Abrams Press), out Tuesday. “Fate had never seemed crueler.”
In 1992, Michael had not come out to his family and hadn’t told his closest friends about his boyfriend’s diagnosis because Feleppa didn’t want anyone to know about his terminal illness.
“So I’m standing on stage, paying tribute to one of my childhood idols who died of that disease,” Michael added to The Independent. “The isolation was just crazy.”
The “Careless Whisper” singer was 27 when he met Feleppa while performing in Brazil at the Rock in Rio music festival. Feleppa was immediately captivated by Michael, telling a friend, “He’s beautiful. I’m going to get to know him. He’s mine!”
“Michael had spotted him, too. ‘I saw him with this beautiful girl,’ recalled the singer, ‘and I looked at him and I looked at her, and I thought, lucky bitch,’” Gavin writes.
Feleppa then managed to worm his way into a party where he knew Michael would be, and they finally met.
“After the party, Michael took Feleppa to his suite,” Gavin writes. “Suddenly Michael’s world had turned bright. Their Brazilian idyll was brief: Michael only stayed a couple of days, then flew to Los Angeles. He told [manager] Rob Kahane to get Feleppa there as swiftly as possible.”
“This was the first love of my entire life,” the “Father Figure” singer told the BBC years later. “I was happier than I’ve ever been. Fame, money, everything else just kind of paled by comparison to finally, at 27 years old, be waking up in bed with someone who loves you.”
The couple stayed in Kahane’s Santa Barbara house, which afforded them privacy.
“Michael showered his love with gifts,” Gavin noted. “A Cartier watch, designer clothes, a Mercedes. Together they listened to bossa nova, especially that of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Michael had heard some of those songs before, but never with a boyfriend who could sing them and translate the words.”
AIDS remained the couple’s “greatest fear.”
“Both men had resisted getting tested for HIV,” Gavin writes, “but in the late fall of 1991, Feleppa told Michael he felt sick,” before flying back to Brazil to see his family.
In a later documentary, Michael revealed that he went to see his family for Christmas “and sat at the table not knowing whether my partner, who the people around the table did not know about — this man I was in love with — was terminally ill, and not knowing whether I was terminally ill. It was possibly the loneliest time of my life.”
In Brazil, Feleppa got the news that he had AIDS.
For a time he avoided telling the singer but once they were reunited in California, “he had no choice.”
The couple wept and Feleppa begged his partner not to tell anyone. Michael arranged for his lover to see the best doctors in California but was too frightened to go along, terrified that the news would destroy his career.
The singer tried to maximize their time together, knowing it was limited.
In 1993, with Carnival in full swing, Feleppa was back in his beloved Brazil, gaunt and ill. He entered the hospital but Michael did not visit him on his deathbed, no doubt terrified, Gavin writes, that his “secret might have leaked out, especially if he were visiting Feleppa in hospital.”
A few days later Feleppa underwent a blood transfusion which triggered a brain hemorrhage, killing him at the age of 36.
“The choice [not to visit] would haunt Michael for the rest of his life,” Gavin writes. The singer also chose not to attend his lover’s funeral, but did fly down days later and met with Feleppa’s mother.
Michael was convinced that his love had fled to Brazil out of fear of publicly outing George, and his “hatred of the tabloids hit a new high. The singer felt certain that in Brazil, Feleppa had received shoddy care.”
Years later, Michael looked back at their relationship and called his late boyfriend, “the most beautiful, kindhearted, angelic person I’ve ever met, which is sometimes hard for my partners since his death because you can’t rival a ghost.”
One silver lining was that Michael decided to come out to his parents.
He penned an emotional four-page letter which did not surprise his mother, who showered him with unconditional love and affection, but his father did not take it so well.
A friend of Michael’s told Gavin that “It hit him like a ton of bricks. It was a hard day for him.”
The “Everything She Wants” singer had long struggled with his sexuality.
Michael grew up in London, with two sisters, the son of a Greek Cypriot immigrant who ran a restaurant and an English-born mother. He was a lonely child, with thick eyebrows and Coke-bottle glasses.
As a shy, new student at Bushey Meads School, a teacher asked for a volunteer to show their newest classmate around. The class standout — Andrew Ridgeley — raised his hand. The two became fast friends, bonding over their shared love of music, and in 1981 they formed a band named Wham!
Around this time, Michael also met James Sullivan, an exchange student from Brooklyn College who was openly gay.
“I think George’s father was a homophobic bastard who caused George a lot of pain,” Sullivan told Gavin. “He found happiness in music and in Ridgeley’s acceptance of him. But I think George was miserable his whole life. He was confused and scared — scared of rumors, scared of a lot of things.”
One of his first solo hit songs, 1987’s “I Want Your Sex,” was written about Tony Garcia, “a swarthy, curly-haired, handsome French playboy and occasional record producer with whom Michael had spent glamorous times in Saint-Tropez and elsewhere.”
“Although it was a largely unrequited crush, Michael took it seriously,” Gavin writes. “He had fallen in love ‘for the very first time,’ he acknowledged later, and it banished any lingering doubt about his sexuality: ‘I knew I was gay, gay, gay.’”
Michael’s final boyfriend was Fadi Fawaz, a Lebanese hairdresser who had been raised in Australia. The two had hooked up in 2008 but started dating in 2012.
“Fawaz, thirteen years [Michael’s] junior, was physically his ideal,” Gavin writes. “To add to the allure, Fawaz had done gay porn under a pseudonym.”
“Fawaz struck most of Michael’s intimates as gauche and obviously rude,” the author notes. The couple eventually ended up “sleeping in separate bedrooms and fighting a lot.”
One friend claims that Michael “had tried to finish the relationship many times but he found it impossible to confront people.”
Meanwhile, according to the book, Michael “now relied on GHB to buffer almost every responsibility, from mixing sessions to meetings with his lawyers … He was also smoking crystal meth.”
The singer was suffering from panic attacks and substance-abuse issues, and bloated from overeating. On May 30, 2014, an unidentified person found Michael unconscious in his bathtub in Highgate. It was a GHB overdose — and not his first.
Friends begged the performer to enter rehab; “ultimately a psychiatrist talked him into it,” according to the book. The place selected was the Kusnacht Practice, in Zurich, Gavin writes, “which was the addict’s equivalent of a five-star continental resort … costing $130,000 upward per week.”
Michael ended up staying in Switzerland for the better part of a year, a detour that cost him an “estimated 1.5 million pounds.”
He returned home in mid-2016 and “old habits returned.”
Fawaz discovered Michael’s cold body on Christmas Day 2016. He was dead, at 53, from liver disease and heart failure. The hairdresser gave conflicting reports to the police about when he had last seen Michael and where he slept on Christmas Eve. Fawaz also claimed that, upon discovering the singer’s body, he didn’t immediately call authorities but spent about an hour trying to revive him and then calling friends. Furthermore, he upset Michael’s family by confessing to having taken photos of the body.
Michael was buried next to his beloved mother, Lesley. In 2019, his sister Melanie passed away at age 59, on Christmas Day, exactly three years to the day after the Grammy winner died. She’s also buried next to him.
In the past few years, Fawaz has been arrested for attacking parked cars with a hammer and aggravated criminal damage after allegedly trashing and attempting to break into the Regent’s Park mansion he lived in with Michael.
Throughout his life, Michael “longed for one special person to make him feel complete,” Gavin writes. “But the battle for self-love had been his toughest, and in the end he lost.”