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Michael, George (b. 1963)  

Although pop singer/songwriter George Michael began his musical career in 1980 as half of the inflected pop duo Wham!, Michael's sexual orientation remained elusively undefined until 1998. On April 7, 1998, he was arrested for "lewd behavior" in a park restroom in Beverly Hills, California. Following his conviction, Michael confirmed his long-rumored homosexuality and was sentenced to perform community service.

A week before his 1998 "official coming-out" interview, Michael met with Advocate editor Judy Wieder on the set of his music video "Outside." The video explicitly details (and parodies) the events surrounding Michael's arrest, including the resultant media frenzy. In his interview with Wieder, Michael addressed his contentious relationship with the press and the question of why he did not come out sooner.

He remarked, "If you tell me that I have to do something, I'm going to try not to do it. And what people don't understand in the equation of my relationship with the press is that I've had people talking and writing about my sexuality since I was 19 years old."

Born Georgios Kyriakos Panayiotou in London on June 25, 1963, Michael is the son of a Greek-Cypriot restaurant owner. His family moved to the affluent London suburb of Bushey and, while in school there, Michael met Andrew Ridgeley, who became the other half of Wham!

In 1982 the duo won a contract with Innervision Records and, in the summer of 1982, released the album Fantastic, which became a hit in Britain. Their next album, Make It Big (1984), with its infectious single "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," exploded worldwide and cemented the pair's success but led to the accusation that Michael and Ridgeley were merely pretty-boy pop stars.

In 1986, at the height of their popularity, Michael and Ridgeley amicably dissolved Wham! and Michael forged ahead as a solo artist. In sharp contrast to Wham!'s "bubblegum pop" sound, Michael's first solo album, the Motown-inspired Faith (1987), featured songs with a much more soulful sound.

In addition to topping the Pop chart, Faith also went to the top of the Black album chart, making Michael the first white artist to achieve this honor. The album went on to win American Music Awards for Best Pop Male Vocalist, Best Soul/Rhythm and Blues Vocalist, and Best Soul/Rhythm and Blues Album, as well as the Grammy award for Album of the Year.

One of the album's singles, "I Want Your Sex," reached number two on the American charts, due in no small part to its controversial content, widely interpreted as encouraging people to have sex in the age of AIDS. Michael, however, explained that the song's message promoted monogamy rather than promiscuity.

In 1992, he appeared at the AIDS-awareness Concert for Life, a benefit and tribute to Queen singer Freddie Mercury. The concert led to Michael's involvement in the album Red, Hot, + Dance, another project organized to raise funds for AIDS charities. In 1993 Michael released Five Live, a five-song EP (extended play, or shorter length LP/CD) featuring his Freddie Mercury tribute. All proceeds from the record went to the Phoenix Trust, an AIDS charity set up in Mercury's memory.

AIDS has been a particularly poignant charitable choice for Michael since the death in 1993 of his first boyfriend, Brazilian designer Anselmo Feleppa. The death spurred Michael to write a coming-out letter to his parents who, according to him, were more concerned that he had just lost his partner than that he had actually finally said what they already knew.

Michael explained to Judy Wieder that AIDS not only changed his behavior but also helped him along his journey to honest self-discovery. For Michael's life and music, this self-discovery has been liberating and has led to a new sense of joy and triumph.

Michael's popularity seems only to have been enhanced by his "coming out," despite the circumstances that forced him to be more honest than he intended. The music video "Outside" was well-received and worked to defuse the controversy of his arrest.

Michael's most recent work, however, has not received the acclaim he expected. For example, his single "Freek" (2002) reached only number seven in the charts.

Moreover, in the summer of 2002 Michael found himself at the center of a firestorm prompted by the release in Britain of "Shoot the Dog," a video and song skewering the polices of President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair in the wake of the war on terrorism.

When Americans complained that the song was an insult to the United States, Michael replied that "I am definitely not anti-American, how could I be? I have been in love with a Texan for six years." Michael's partner Kenny Goss is from Texas.

A musical artist of notable versatility, Michael emerged from the backlash that "Shoot the Dog" generated, but his vulnerability is indicated by the fact that the New York Post headlined its story about the song "Pop Perv's 9/11 Slur," which no doubt alluded to his homosexuality as much as his arrest.

Despite this setback, two years later Michael once again reclaimed the pop music spotlight with the success of his critically acclaimed album Patience. Released by Aegean/Sony Music in March 2004, the album represented what Billboard columnist Paul Sexton characterized as a "dramatic rapprochement for Michael and Sony Music," signifying the culmination of a successfully mended relationship between Michael and his record label.

Although immediately before the album's release Michael was quoted as saying that Patience would be his last major label release, Sony executives are already planning Michael's next album, a duets record featuring four new collaborations, plus archived duets with Elton John, Whitney Houston, Queen, and others.

Michael, who had also been rumored to have said that, after Patience, he would quit the music business and release his songs free on the Internet, has apparently discovered that Patience is, indeed, a virtue. His patience was further rewarded when, in May 2004, he was honored by U.K.-based PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd.) as the most-played artist on British radio in the past twenty years. In accepting the honor, Michael paid tribute to his early musical hero Elton John by telling the assembled gathering, "Without Elton John, there is no way I would be standing here. I used to dissect his records and obsess about song after song and it was the beginning of my love affair with pop."

After wild successes and equally notable failures, Michael has seemingly and finally found peace with both his homosexuality and his music.

Nathan G. Tipton


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George Michael performing in Antwerp in 2006. Photograph by Yves Lorson.
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arts >> Overview:  Music and AIDS

A number of musical works in various genres have responded directly or indirectly to the AIDS crisis, generally focusing on expressions of grief, anger, or sympathy rather than on the personal and social consequences of the disease.

arts >> Overview:  Music: Popular

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons have had tremendous influence on popular music, though some musical genres have been more receptive to a homosexual presence than others.

arts >> Overview:  Music Video

Gay and lesbian content in music videos was rare in the early 1980s, but with more openly gay and bisexual artists that situation has gradually changed.

social sciences >> Overview:  Outing

First used by homophobes and then by glbtq activists, outing is the public revelation of a person's sexuality without the consent of that person.

arts >> Overview:  Rock Music

Although rock music has been closely associated with freedom of expression and rebelliousness, it has not been particularly welcoming to gay and lesbian performers.

arts >> B-52s

Commonly known as the "World's Greatest Party Band," the B-52sĀ features openly gay members who are active in glbtq, AIDS, environmental and animal rights issues.

arts >> Anderson, Lindsay

Influential in shaping British cinema in the 1960s, director Lindsay Anderson, who often presented homoerotic elements in his films violently and disturbingly, was tormented by his homosexuality.

arts >> Bass, Lance

Singer Lance Bass gained fame as a member of the boy band *Nsync; since coming out in 2006, he has spoken on behalf of glbtq rights.

arts >> Berlanti, Greg

Writer-director-producer Greg Berlanti has had a prolific career in television, successfully incorporating glbtq characters and storylines into prime time shows.

arts >> Epperson, John

Talented actor and writer John Epperson has had an extremely successful career performing as the glamorous and hilarious drag diva Lypsinka, among other characters.

arts >> Gately, Stephen

Singer, songwriter, and actor Stephen Gately gained fame as one of the lead vocalists in the Irish pop group Boyzone.

arts >> Gold, Ari

Ari Gold, the award-winning recording artist, is unusual for his openness in an industry that has not exactly welcomed openly gay performers.

arts >> Halford, Rob

Rob Halford--dubbed "The Metal God" by fans and critics--is one of the most talented vocalists in heavy metal music and one of the few out artists in the genre.

arts >> John, Sir Elton

Pop superstar Elton John's combination of melodic skills, dynamic charisma, and raucous performance style have make him a remarkably popular musical artist.

arts >> Martin, Ricky

Singer Ricky Martin, whose good looks and sensuous stage performances fueled an extremely successful career in pop music, avoided answering questions related to his sexuality until 2010, when he came out publicly via a Twitter announcement.

arts >> Mercury, Freddie

The front man of one of the world's most popular rock groups, Queen, Freddie Mercury was noted for his flamboyant, gender-bending androgyny.

arts >> Scissor Sisters

The American pop band Scissor Sisters was spawned in New York City's gay club scene; frequently addressing issues of transgressive sexuality, the band has cultivated a large glbtq fan base.

arts >> Young, Will

The first winner of the British Pop Idol talent show, Will Young has gone on to achieve success as a recording artist and actor, while also using his celebrity to advocate for good causes.


Hay, Carla. "By George, Radio Loves Him." Billboard 116 (May 22, 2004): 35.

Larkin, Colin, comp. and ed. The Encyclopedia of Popular Music. 3rd ed. New York: Muze, 1998. 5: 3652-3653.

"The Official George Michael Website."

Rampson, Nancy. "Michael, George." Contemporary Musicians: Profiles of the People in Music. Julia M. Rubiner, ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993. 9:169-172.

Sexton, Paul. "Strong Interest Precedes New Michael Album." Billboard 116 (March 27, 2004): 9+.

Wieder, Judy. "All the Way Out George Michael." The Advocate 799 (January 19, 1999): 24+.

_____. "Our Celebrities." The Advocate 810 (April 30, 2000): 42+.


    Citation Information
    Author: Tipton, Nathan G.  
    Entry Title: Michael, George  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated June 3, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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