George Michael & Wham! Biography [1963-2016] The person behind the star
George Michael always wanted to become a star. Together with his friend Andrew Ridgeley, he achieved it with Wham! Then, he wanted to be recognized as a musician, reaching the top in his solo career. What he never wanted was the spotlight, the press, keeping his homosexuality a secret for decades, but he had that too, rocking his life to the end. This is the true story of Wham! and George Michael.
Reading Time | 10 min
Listening Time | 1 h
3 Songs to know George Michael
🏆 GREATEST HITS
He wrote it when he was 17 years old, before he was known and today it continues to caress our ears.
💛 TREMBOL FAVE
As its title says, this song from his latest album is simply ‘Amazing‘.
Waze & Odyssey covered in 2020 the unforgettable duet between Mary J. Blidge and George Michael
George Michael & Wham! Trembol Card
- 🗿 Name: George Michael’s birth name is Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou. The band he formed with Andrew Ridgeley was called ‘Wham!‘.
- 🎂 Year: He was born in London on June 25, 1963 and formed Wham! in 1979 at the age of 17.
- 👫 Genres: Pop, soul and R&B.
- ✍🏽 Signature:
- 🎻 Instruments: Of course, his voice, although he also played piano and guitar, besides being a composer, producer and arranger.
- 💿 Discography: Wham! released 3 albums and a compilation disc. As a solo artist he released 6 albums.
- 🔗 Official website: georgemichael.com
- 🗣 Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
If I could have been a world star from home, without all the promotion, that would have been my perfect world.
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George Michael | Biography and Music
George Michael was born in London in 1963. Of Cypriot origin and real name Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, he would meet Andrew Ridgeley in his adolescence, sharing the desire to become stars.
They formed Wham! from 1979 to 1986, conquering the world with their youthful and cheeky pop. George wanted to be recognized as a musician and embarked on a solo career with ‘Faith‘, an album that would further elevate his fame. Success overtook him not wanting to promote his next albums and entering into a legal battle with his record label.
He would release 6 memorable albums maintaining his position as a music star for decades, although his life was peppered with sexual scandals, associated with his secret homosexuality. A story of life, sex and music, that of George Michael and Wham!
Chapter 1 | A chubby boy with a gift
Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, George Michael’s real name, was born in London on June 25, 1963.
- His father, Kyriacos Panayiotou, was Greek Cypriot, moved to England in the 1950s, changed his name to Jack Panos and became the owner of a Fish & Chips restaurant (🐟 & 🍟), the typical English food.
- His mother, Lesley Angold Harrison, was English. She was a dancer in her early years but had to find other jobs to support George and her 2 sisters, Yioda (b. 1958) and Melanie (b. 1960, d. 2019).
Among his mother’s jobs was helping George’s father at the Fish & Chips, which George also did and hated because of the smell of fish. So much work made his mother angry most of the time.
His interest in music stemmed from a head injury.
At the age of 8 George Michael was obsessed with bugs, he would get up at five in the morning and go out into the field behind his house to collect insects 🦟
One day he had a fall and hit his head. George recounts that suddenly all he wanted to know about was music.
- In North London where he lived surrounded by Cypriots in the 80’s he met David Austin, who would become his best friend and eventually his assistant lyricist throughout his career.
- At the age of 13 he would move to a new neighborhood and a new school called Bushey Meads School, where he would meet Andrew Ridgeley, who would change his life.
Andrew was handsome and stylish, everything George, who by that time was chubby, bespectacled and disheveled, lacked. Soon they would both discover that they shared the same dream of becoming music stars someday 🤩
When he turned 17 all he wanted was to be famous, he had this crazy desire to be someone known.
His mother supported him completely, but when he told his father he was going to leave school to devote completely to music, he couldn’t understand and rejected it.
He started out in the music world as a DJ, playing at local clubs and schools. Soon he would form a Ska band with Andrew and his brother. His friend David was also part of it. They were called The Executive. It had a very short life and disappeared.
Chapter 2 | The early days of Wham!
George was still rather reserved and somewhat shy, it was Andrew who was more outspoken and pushed him to go ahead and form a musical duo.
- Andrew designed an image for George as his own.
- At that time he decided to legally change his name to George Michael.
Of course, all the responsibility for composing was with Michael ✍️
Why were they called ‘Wham!’?
Andrew Ridgeley explained that they wanted something that captured the essence of their energy and friendship and they came up with “Wham! Wham!“
It was snappy, immediate, fun and boisterous too.
In 1982 they prepared a demo with 3 songs: Careless Whisper, Club Tropicana and Wham Rap!
- They used to follow an executive of a label called Innervision Records to a pub nearby every day, until they got him to listen to the demo. He told them:
I’m going to offer Wham! a deal. It’s not a big deal, I’m making a bet. I’d like them to record one or two singles and we’ll see what happens from there.
George and Andrew didn’t have any experience, so they signed a lousy contract, which would have consequences.
So they hired a couple of backing singers named Pepsi & Shirlie and Wham! was on its way 👯
Wham! Wham Rap!
Their first single was called “Wham Rap!“ and was released in 1982. At first BBC Radio 1 in the UK would not play it because of its somewhat controversial social content, so they had to change the most controversial parts and re-release it.
- The song was relatively inconsequential, but their next single “Young Guns (Go For It!)” was a different thing.
- Wham! acquired an image as a protest dance group, which they fostered with their attitude, sometimes comical, sometimes more socially responsible.
They were lucky enough to be invited to Britain’s biggest TV show, Top of the Pops, because another group had dropped out. When they finished singing, George Michael turned to his friend David and said:
Clearly, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.
That performance would catapult the group 🔝 making their first album, ‘Fantastic’, released in 1983, an instant hit in the UK, staying at No. 1 for 2 weeks.
- Their 3rd single ‘Bad Boys‘ would also be a big hit.
Wham! Young Guns (Go for It!) [Top of the Pops 1982]
At the age of 19, starting to be known, George Michael was on the verge of declaring himself bisexual, but he was not sure. In fact, it wasn’t until he was 24 years old (around 1987), that he was sure of his sexual orientation 👬
- However, Michael kept his homosexuality a secret because of the effect the news might have on his parents. He would keep the secret for the next 16 years of his life, with the burden it placed on him.
- During Wham!’s career there was much speculation about the possible love affair between George and Andrew, but Andrew was straight, and George stated on more than one occasion that he was not his type.
Wham! Club Tropicana
The battle with their label begins.
The contract they had signed gave all the power and money to their label (Innervision), besides preventing their international expansion.
- Moreover, they released without Wham!’s permission a mix of their first album called “Club Fantastic Megamix“. George and Andrew warned their fans not to buy it.
They launched a legal battle against them and won, leading to bankruptcy and the dissolution of the label.
- Meanwhile, in 1984 they presented the video of their hit “Club Tropicana“, increasing their fame as sex symbols ⚧
Once the problem with the record company was solved, Wham! went on tour in North America for 6 months.
- In addition to a great musical success, George Michael meets the actress Brooke Shields, with whom he would maintain a relationship for a while. Over the years, he would regret that deception.
George Michael’s reconciliation with his father
Since George left his studies in adolescence to pursue his dream in music, his relationship with his father was very bad. Everything would change the first time he attended a Wham! concert.
- It was in Glasgow that his father would see him perform for the first time, declaring:
When I saw the thousands of girls screaming madly for my son tears came to my eyes. I was wrong, how had I not seen this huge potential in my boy.
From that moment on his father was very proud of him, not because of his fame, but because of the good person he had become, the credit for which he gives to his mother.
In 1984, Wham! released their second album, Make It Big, which reached No. 1 in the United States and catapulted them to superstardom, especially for the legendary song ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go‘.
- George Michael was inspired by a message that his partner Andrew Ridgeley left him one day in a hotel. The note read: “don’t forget to wake me up before you go, George“.
- It was so popular that it gave rise to the fashion of T-shirts with slogans or short phrases, like the ones worn in the video.
Wham! Wake me up before you go-go
The album was not a very cohesive work, except for the visuals, but Wham! maintained that sexy, youthful and fun halo.
Surprisingly the 2nd single “Careless Whisper“, is considered a George Michael solo track, even though it was co-written by Ridgeley.
- The song was the biggest hit of the band being in the Top 1 worldwide for several weeks.
- In any case, it was not a problem between Andrew and George.
Michael wanted on the one hand to write more personal songs and on the other hand to write songs for Wham! He would do so for a while.
George Michael and the Band Aid
In 1984, Michael threw himself completely into the Band Aid project, promoted by Bob Geldof to raise funds to fight hunger in Africa.
The result was the song ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Do They Know It’s Christmas?)‘, which raised more than $150 million 💰
George Michael (Band Aid) Do they know it’s christmas
Following the success, they began their first world tour, including a 10-day stop in China in 1985, which marked the first visit to the country by a Western pop group.
- The trip was massively publicized and culminated in a concert at the Workers’ Gymnasium in Beijing in front of 10,000 Chinese fans.
- Wham! told that in China everything was perfect, unless you broke their rules 🥢
- It was all recorded in a documentary called ‘Foreign Skies: Wham! In China‘.
It was Christmas 1984 when Wham! published ‘Last Christmas‘.
- It became an instant hit, although it did not reach number 1, which was being occupied by George Michael himself with the ‘Band Aid’ charity song.
- Discover the meaning of ‘Last Christmas’ in our best Christmas songs article ☃️
At that time the sentimental relationship between Michael and the Chinese model and actress Kathy Yeung became known, while Andrew Ridgeley began a relationship with Karen Woodward of Bananarama, with whom he would eventually marry.
Wham! I’m Your Man
In his 20s George Michael was already doing it all, composing, producing, and singing hit after hit. George Michael was the soul and the brain of the duo, and Ridgeley was the image, which foreshadowed a bad end.
- Thus in 1986 Wham! would release what would later be confirmed as their last album, ‘Music from the Edge of Heaven’, with ‘I’m Your Man’ as a Top 1 single.
George wanted to create more sophisticated music, he wanted recognition and he couldn’t get that with a duo focused on teenagers.
- The breakup was so imminent, that even on the Latin American album cover George Michael was almost turning his back to Ridgeley and “visibly” serious.
It would be in the spring of 1986 that the amicable separation of Wham! was announced by releasing a farewell compilation called, The Final,
- To end on a high note they held a historic concert at Wembley Stadium, for which 1 million fans applied for tickets, 73,000 of them being the lucky ones.
- The event lasted 8 hours.
- Andrew later confessed that he did not enjoy it because he knew it would be his last.
Wham! sold 20 million albums, giving Michael and Andrew a lot of money and above all a lifelong friendship.
- Andrew Ridgeley released a solo album called ‘Son of Albert‘, but it didn’t work out and he would end up dedicating himself to other businesses, living away from the media.
- George Michael would grow a beard, something that remained forever in his aesthetics and began to compose his first solo album.
It was rumored that in 2007, Michael and Andrew had joined forces to compose 2 new songs, but they have never been released 🤷
Although already in the late 80’s George was aware that fame did not make him particularly happy, his ego demanded more, he wanted to be the biggest superstar in the world like Madonna and Michael Jackson. And he knew how to do it:
- He designed a manly and aggressive character, with a stubble, earrings, sunglasses, boots and tight pants.
- It wasn’t all self-assurance, though. He said he always wore sunglasses so he wouldn’t have to look people in the eye, and they wouldn’t discover his insecurities.
In 1987 he began his solo career singing with the great Aretha Franklin, ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)‘. It reached the top of all the charts.
- It would be her 3rd consecutive number 1, after ‘Careless Whisper‘ and ‘A Different Corner‘, released in 1986.
George Michael’s first solo album was also released in 1987, ‘Faith’. A tremendous success worldwide.
- In addition to playing several instruments on the album, Michael composed and produced all but one song.
- The first single, ‘I Want Your Sex‘, was banned by several TV and radio stations due to sexually explicit lyrics and his girlfriend, Kathy Jeung, appearing in a bodysuit and garter belt 💋
- Michael stated:
This song does not incite easy sex.
George Michael I Want Your Sex
The second single, ‘Faith‘, would go on to become one of his most popular songs.
- It is a song with light touches of Rockabilly that amazed everyone.
- Faith has sold more than 25 million copies.
In 1988 George Michael embarked on a massive world tour.
George Michael Faith
In the meantime, he won the award for Best Soul and R&B Album 🏆, at the American Music Awards.
- No other white person had ever done it before, and although it was a huge merit and honor, it provoked a lot of criticism from some sectors of the American black community, leaving him quite sad.
The process of promotion, videos, tour, awards, etc. left him exhausted. Plus this time he didn’t have Andrew by his side to lean on. He felt lonely and frustrated, far from his family and friends.
- So much so that at his last concert of the tour in Florida in 1988, while singing the final song, ‘Careless Whisper‘, he recalled tears coming to his eyes thinking it might be his last time 😢
During 1990, George Michael told his record company, Sony, that he didn’t want to do any more promotions for his records. Of course, his label didn’t take it well! 🤬
- Sony tried to convince him, but George was always very stubborn and faithful to his decisions.
- It got to the point that he didn’t even want to appear in their music videos or on the album cover.
That’s how ‘Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1‘ was released, which critics call George Michael’s best album and one of the best of all time.
Unlike ‘Faith’, it had hardly any publicity, which reflected in sales.
- Michael tried to build a new reputation as a serious artist. The very title of the album, ‘listen without prejudice‘, said so.
- He left his guts and his heart on the album, as seen in the first single, ‘Praying for Time‘, which speaks of social ills and injustice and reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
- The second track, ‘Waiting For That Day‘, was an acoustic single 🎚️
George Michael Praying for Time
Freedom! ’90 was a megahit, and the video, which also didn’t feature George Michael, was a revolution.
- The song alludes to the struggle of being a homosexual in the closet 🌈
- The video features the 5 biggest supermodels of the 90s: Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz and Cindy Crawford.
- In the final scenes he burns the leather jacket that made him so popular in ‘Faith‘, again symbolizing his breakup with the Pop superstar.
George Michael Freedom! ’90
In 1991 George Michael joined Andrew for a unique concert in memory of Wham!
George Michael embarked on the ‘Cover to Cover‘ tour, which took him to Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Brazil, where he played at the Rock in Rio festival in front of 160,000 people. Among them was fashion designer, Anselmo Feleppa, who would soon become his romantic partner. Michael said:
You won’t believe it, but I couldn’t even look at him during the concert, he was so handsome that it broke my concentration.
Anselmo changed his life, it was the first time he really fell in love.
- They had 6 months of continuous vacation in what George Michael describes as “the happies time in his life 🧡“.
In 1991, George Michael sings with Elton John ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me‘ in a live concert.
- The single reached number 1 in the UK and US.
- Proceeds were split between 10 charities for children, AIDS, and education.
As the war between George and Sony continued, the British arm of the label supported Michael, but the American did not.
George Michael & Elton John Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
When everything was going great, George’s partner Anselmo started to get sick. George remembers looking up at the sky and screaming.
Don’t you dare do this to me.
He was tested in Brazil and without knowing the result at Christmas, they returned to London to spend a few days with George’s family, in what he describes as the worst moment of his life, wondering if he and his love might have AIDS.
- It turned out that Anselmo had it and George did not.
That same 1992 Freddie Mercury died of AIDS, at the tribute concert at Wembley in London, Michael sang ‘Somebody to Love‘. In his own words, it was the most incredible moment of his musical career. From this concert came the album Five Live.
George Michael & Queen Somebody to Love
Anselmo was the one who had pushed Michael to fight with Sony for his rights, so he decided to take them to court 👨⚖️
- Anselmo would die in 1993 at age 36 while having a blood transfusion in Brazil. George Michael was in Los Angeles, and when he knew his world became a blur.
- He was completely devastated, going into a depression, which would lead him to Prozac and cannabis.
- To make matters worse, he bought a dog, which would drown in the Thames.
The legal fight with Sony lasted a few months and he finally lost, but the relationship was so deteriorated that it forced Sony to sell George Michael’s rights to another record company, DreamWorks, which opened a new path for him.
George Michael Jesus To A Child (Live at MTV Music Awards, 1994, Berlin)
In Noviembre 1994, during the first edition of the MTV Europe Music Awards, George Michael appeared singing, ‘Jesus To A Child‘.
- The song was a tribute to Anselmo Feleppa, after 4 years of artistic drought.
The song healed him and in 1996 he began dating Kenny Goss, a former cheerleading coach and at the time sportswear executive.
- George recounts that when he asked her out, she wasn’t quite clear that he was gay. The second night, he confirmed it 😉 and by the fourth he had told him ‘I love you‘.
- They maintained an open relationship.
In 1996, George Michael finally released ‘Older‘, his first studio album in 6 years.
- It included the smash hit ‘Fast Love‘, inspired by a brief affair Michael had with banker Brett Charles.
- The song includes a mythical funky saxophone and a sample of Patrice Rushen’s ‘Forget Me Nots‘.
George Michael Fast Love
His mother death
In October 1996, Michael performs an acoustic concert for MTV, as his first full-length performance in years.
- His mother was in the audience, who would die of skin cancer the following year.
- She was especially proud of him. George said that something magical happened at that concert, he felt his voice was in better condition than ever and in fact, it was the only concert in his life that while his mother was in the audience, he greeted her 👋
Again, George was knocked out for a while.
In 1998 the compilation ‘Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael‘ was released, which included both his best ballads and his most danceable songs.
His homosexuality becomes public
That same 1998, he is arrested for asking a policeman for sex 👮♂️
- The cop was plainclothes on a raid targeting homosexuals who habitually have sex in public restrooms in a Beverly Hills park.
- Michael was fined $810 and sentenced to serve 80 hours of community service.
Soon after the arrest, Michael would finally come clean about his homosexuality, which came as a great relief to him.
- To laugh at the situation, his new single, ‘Outside‘ parodies the arrest and talks about his coming out.
George Michael Outside
George Michael & Mary J. Blige As
The second unreleased single ‘As’, featuring Mary J. Blige, is a gorgeous tune that help propelling the album, Ladies & Gentlemen, to sell 15 million copies 📀
On a personal level, George was beginning to show himself to the public as he was for the first time.
- In 1999 Michael released ‘Songs from the last century’. A fourth album full of old hits and covers of popular songs such as Roxanne by The Police or Where or When by Sinatra.
- In 2000 he sang with Whitney Houston the hit song ‘If I told you that’.
In 2004, George Michael released ‘Patience‘, his 5th album.
- George decided to promote it for the first time in 20 years and although he still didn’t like it, the truth is that it worked very well and became a worldwide number 1.
- At 41 years old, he finally accepted and felt comfortable with the way he looked. Who would have said he wasn’t before? But that’s how it was 🧔
The album included 3 legendary songs:
- Freeek!: A danceable track, with a mix of R&B and Pop, although somewhat dark and controversial for its sexual lyrics.
- Flawles (Go to the City): Another dance hit by Michael, with an amazing rhythm and freshness.
- Shoot the Dog: A critique of the friendship between the UK and US governments during the Iraq war.
- The video was a total scandal and although many people supported the message that George wanted to convey, he was showered with criticism, especially from the American public.
- He did not expect it and the press hammered him harder than ever before, plunging him back into a serious depression.
George Michael Shoot the Dog
In 2006 he was again accused of anonymous public sex, known as cruising. This time it was in London.
- Michael said that he went out in search of anonymous sex and that this was not a problem in his relationship with his partner Kenny Goss, although he would break up with him 3 years later 💔
Musically, he released ‘Twenty Five‘, her 2nd greatest hits to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his music career.
- It was another best-seller with 3 new songs: An Easier Affair, This Is Not Real Love (a duet with Mutya Buena, former Sugababes member), and a new version of Heal the Pain, recorded with Paul McCartney.
George Michael An Easier Affair
Due to the success, George Michael announced his first tour in fifteen years, 25 Live . The tour lasted 3 years, until 2008. There were 80 concerts that brought together more than 1.3 million of his fans around the world 🌍
In 2006 George Michael had many incidents related to drug use:
- In October the police found him semi-conscious in the seat of his car, something that had already happened to him in May of the same year. He was banned from driving for two years and sentenced to community service.
- George confessed that his cannabis use was proving to be a problem, and that he was struggling with it.
In 2008 he was caught using in a public place, which would lead to him being stripped of a Brit Awards nomination.
- The following year he confessed to using around 25 joints a day 🚬, along with crack and cocaine.
In 2010 he drove his car into a store and was sentenced to 8 weeks in jail.
During those years he was still touring, accumulating $97 million, in addition to what he earned from private concerts he gave periodically, such as to billionaire Vladimir Potanin.
- Michael was the first artist to play at the new Wembley Stadium, although he was fined £130,000 for going 13 minutes over the set time 😲
- He also made his acting debut in the television series Eli Stone, where each episode is named after one of his songs.
In the spring of 2008 George Michael announced his retirement from the profession, although later it would not be so.
That same year, Michael played what was to be his last concert in Abu Dhabi, although in 2010 he returned for 2 shows in Australia.
In 2011 Michael released a cover of New Order’s ‘True Faith‘ for charity.
In 2014 George Michael released his latest album, ‘Symphonica‘, recorded during the tour of the same name between 2011 and 2012.
- The album includes a selection of his classics and songs by some of George’s favorite artists.
- He also announced a new tour but caught pneumonia in Vienna and was even in a coma for 10 days.
George Michael (Facebook Image)
On December 25, 2016, at the age of 53, George Michael died at his home in England.
- He was found by his partner for the last 8 years, Fadi Fawaz, who was sleeping in the car that night.
- He died of heart failure.
A big secret was revealed after his death. For years he had anonymously donated millions to different humanitarian causes, in fact from his time in Wham! he already created a charity association 😇
George Michael was the artist with the highest radio airplay between 1984 and 2004 📻 remaining among the greats of music for 30 years, thus reaching sales over 80 million copies.