He was a legendary superstar who dazzled the world with his music, style and charisma, but George Michael was also known for his complicated, and often difficult, life, which ended in seclusion on Christmas Day.
“I’m surprised that I’ve survived my own dysfunction, really,” Michael once said of his colorful life.
The 53-year-old singer died of heart failure, his rep told PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly. PEOPLE Magazine pays tribute in this week’s issue to the teen idol-turned pop innovator.
Those who knew Michael during his decades-long music career spoke highly of the singer. Photographer Chris Craymer – who worked with Michael in the early days of Wham! – notes that the British star had much more to offer than his dazzling talent.
For more on George Michael, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
“He was very talented, of course. But he was also very kind, sensitive and a good person,” Craymer tells PEOPLE. “He had great empathy for people. So this great talent combined with this great personality? That’s how I’ll remember him.”
Neighbors in the village of Goring-on-Thames, where Michael resided, did not often see the former Wham! front man. A neighbor tells PEOPLE that the villagers “hardly ever saw him.”
“I think he was a bit of a recluse. He had put on a lot of weight and hardly ever left the house,” the neighbor says. “Occasionally, I think he would pop to the local pub, but he wasn’t exactly a regular in any of the pubs or restaurants there.”
Instead, Michael’s boyfriend, Fadi Fawaz, would step out on occasional errands in Goring.
“His boyfriend would sometimes go to the cafe opposite his house to pick up food, but never George himself,” the source continues. “I have never seen him.”
The “Last Christmas” singer lived in a beautiful, detached house near the River Thames. His back garden, which overlooks the river, was recently decorated with festively lit deers.
To loved ones, Michael was simply “Yog,” a constant friend with a silly sense of humor who loved going out to eat or to the movies with old pals and tucking in at home.
Months before his untimely death, Michael appeared to be in high spirits with his friends in England. In the last known photo of the iconic British singer, Michael was seen enjoying dinner in a black T-shirt in September at an Oxfordshire restaurant.
“It’s a xmas i will never forget finding your partner dead peacefully in bed first thing in the morning,” he wrote. “I will never stop missing you xx.”
The two — who generally kept a fairly low profile together — were photographed together in Zurich, Switzerland.
As news of Michael’s death spread around the world, fans gathered outside his country home and his residence in London’s Highgate neighborhood, leaving flowers, candles and notes. They sang the songs that were the soundtrack of their adolescence.
On Sunday, Michael’s rep confirmed the star’s death. “It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” Michael’s publicist confirmed to Entertainment Weekly and PEOPLE. “The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
- With reporting by LIZ McNEIL and MARIAH HAAS