Freddie Mercury would have turned 70 this year. Unfortunately, the Queen frontman’s singular voice and songwriting talents were silenced 25 years ago, when he passed away from complications due to AIDS on Nov. 24, 1991.
A new book, Somebody to Love: The Life, Death and Legacy of Freddie Mercury (Weldon Owen) aims to flesh out exactly what happened between those two dates. Out Nov. 22, Somebody to Love touts rare — and in some cases, never before seen — images of Mercury and new insight into his life.
The book features new information about Mercury’s life with AIDS, as he grappled with a disease long before public awareness and medical knowledge had caught up with it.
An excerpt from Somebody to Love, below, reveals Mercury’s initial diagnosis and treatment.
1982 – The disastrous Hot Space album and tour almost brings the curtain down on Queen and marks the beginning of the end for Freddie when he becomes infected with HIV in New York in the summer of ‘82.
Six weeks later, Freddie and Queen were back in New York City to record a performance for Saturday Night Live in the Rockefeller Plaza with Chevy Chase. In the meantime they had completed their North America tour on Sept. 15, went back to the U.K. and then returned to New York to play two songs live, ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love,’ on Saturday Night Live. This performance, although no one knew it at the time, would be Queen’s final performance in the U.S.
But, performing both songs, Freddie was clearly not himself. Wearing jeans, a white T-shirt with a red lightning motif, and a leather jacket for ‘Under Pressure,’ and changing into a red singlet for ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ with no jacket, while playing acoustic guitar, Freddie appeared unwell – looking pale and drawn. His voice came in short breaths, and his vocals were shot with Roger having to back him up. As it happens, Freddie was in recovery from a serious bout of flu (described by him as ‘the worst flu ever’) and shingles, combined with an upset stomach. He was also suffering from severe headaches that had left him extremely sick in mid-August, when he was last in New York. During that visit he had seen a doctor on Fifth Avenue as he was concerned about a white lesion that had developed on his tongue.
Throughout his time in New York City, Freddie was actively engaged in casual and promiscuous sex. There was a density of infected men in New York City, and Freddie’s lifestyle while in the city made him a high-risk participant. It is highly likely therefore that sometime in the summer of 1982, while Queen were on the North American leg of the Hot Space Tour, Freddie was exposed to HIV and became infected. It is possible (though unlikely, given two years had passed) that infection had happened earlier, when Freddie had had a one-night stand with John Murphy who, himself, had had sex with Gaëtan Dugas, but given the symptoms that Mercury was exhibiting prior to and during the Saturday Night Live show on Sept. 25, it is likely he had contracted HIV between two to six weeks earlier, when he spent five nights in New York City. Certainly, his appearance on Saturday Night Live would suggest the symptoms of a person who has recently become infected with HIV.
Somebody to Love arrives in stores Nov. 22 — you can pre-order a copy here.