From Wham! to Solo Success: George Michael's Life in Photos

Remembering the pop star on what would have been his 59th birthday

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George Michael
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George Michael, born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963, in London,launched his music career in the 1980s as a band member of Wham! with childhood friend Andrew Ridgeley, and released hits such as "Last Christmas," "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Careless Whisper." Here, he poses for a portrait in 1985, four years after Wham! formed and two years after the band's first album, Fantastic, hit No. 1 in the U.K.

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Wham In Australia
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Michael hits the stage with Wham! in Sydney in January 1985. In 1983, the singer came out to his bandmate Ridgeley, though kept his sexuality under wraps publicly until 1998.

"George was adamant his sexuality should be kept under wraps, which created a wholly unwelcome extra level of stress for him to manage," Ridgeley wrote in his 2019 memoir, Wham! George Michael and Me: A Memoir. "But he feared coming out at the time of Whamamerica! [tour] would scupper any chances he might have of competing with artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson in the States."

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With fellow singers David Cassidy and Mike Nolan at a movie premiere in London in 1985. "I never minded being thought of as a pop star," he told GQ in 2004. "People have always thought I wanted to be seen as a serious musician, but I didn't, I just wanted people to know that I was absolutely serious about pop music."

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"Not only was he a good friend, but he was probably one of the most brilliant songwriters this country's ever produced, and certainly one of the best vocalists ever," longtime friend Elton John, here with Michael in London in 1985, said during a tribute performance in 2017. "One of the best in the world."

The two duetted in 1991 on John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," and John spoke of trying to help Michael through his battles with addiction.

"I just want to remember him for his wonderful music and his kindness, which people are commenting on," he said. "He was the kindest, most generous man, and did it without wanting any publicity. I've seen him being so kind to so many people. I'll miss him so much for his music but more than anything for his humanity."

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Peter Still/Redferns

In March 1986, Michael announced the end of Wham! He and Ridgeley performed in a farewell concert in London later that year, attracting 72,000 fans.

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"I was really lucky that I had a stable upbringing," Michael, the youngest of three, told Spin in 1987. "My parents (pictured) never fought. There was very little aggression."

He added that his childhood likely contributed to his pop stardom.

"Since I came from such a stable background, it gave me the room to be creative without having any distractions. It's probably why I'm so mainstream in what I do 'cause I came from such a mainstream background," he said. "I don't think there's anything wrong in that."

Michael's mother Lesley died in 1997, sending him into a tailspin.

"In terms of coming close to saying I don't want to live, that would have been after my mum died," he told The Guardian in 2005. "I had this overwhelming feeling that the best was behind me. I so loved my mum, and respected her. I swear to God, it was like I had a curse on me. I couldn't believe how much God was piling on at once. There was so much death around me, I can't tell you."

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George Michael
George Michael. Michael Putland/Getty

Striking a pose during a portrait session in 1987. That year, he released his debut solo album, Faith, which sold over 25 million copies and catapulted him into success. His second album, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, — which featured the song "Freedom '90" — celebrated its 25th anniversary in September 2015.

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Though there were often rumors of feuds, Michael and Boy George (here in 1987) had a friendly relationship as they rose to fame in tandem.

"In the early days, we were competition to each other. Both called George, both made soul music. So in the early days, we were really in competition," Boy George explained to Andy Cohen in 2017. "Then sort of later on, I started to really appreciate him as a musician — you know, right around 'Faith.' I started to really appreciate his talent."

"We did, it wasn't really a feud," Boy Geroge added. "In the '80s, everyone — Peter Burns, me, we all used to be really bitchy about each other. It's like the thing that you did in the '80s with those pop magazines. Now it's the Housewives who do it!"

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George Michael
Michael Putland/Getty

Listening to music with then-girlfriend Kathy Jeung during a tour stop in Japan in 1988.

"Like my childhood with my dad and family, I spent some of the best times of my life with George," Jeung wrote on her Instagram tribute after Michael's 2016 death.

"I can barely encompass in words what George means to me, I treasured our #specialfriendship - to just scratch the surface with no exaggeration, he was the most generous, hilarious, brilliant, talented, #truefriend"

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In her 2014 memoir about her mother, There Was a Little Girl, Brooke Shields detailed how she met Michael through her mom, and how they had a few (chaste) dates.

One night, at a party for Grace Jones, he whispered to her that it was time to leave. In the limo on the way home, Michael put up the partition separating them from their driver. Shields puckered her lips.

"I thought, 'Oh God, I'm going to have my first time with George Michael in the back of a limo,' " she wrote.

Well, not exactly: The "I Want Your Sex" singer looked deep into her eyes and told her, "I think we need to take a break. I need to concentrate on my career."

Shields was devastated. "It was sort of ridiculous, but he was so sweet to me," she wrote. "I was also a really safe bet. I mean, it was like, 'Here's the virgin.' "

Plus, she added, "In that era, nobody was coming out, and he was a sex symbol. So, I was harmless. We kind of laughed. He was funny. There's a depth to him, too."

Looking back, Shields said that's what made it so sweet.

"I was smitten just because he was so respectful and I didn't feel pressured," the star said. "It all worked out. It was very enjoyable."

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Michael during a concert in London in 1993.

Five years later, he was arrested for "lewd behavior" in a Beverly Hills park, and he later said he felt forced to reveal to CNN he was gay.

"For some strange reason, my gay life didn't get easier when I came out. Quite the opposite happened, really," he told the BBC in 2014. "The press seemed to take some delight that I previously had a 'straight audience,' and set about trying to destroy that. And I think some men were frustrated that their girlfriends wouldn't let go of the idea that George Michael just hadn't found the 'right girl' [yet]. Which is still what a lot of my extended family still think!"

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Princess Diana Meeting Pop Singers George Michael, Kd Lang And Mick Hucknall At The World Aids Day Annual "concert Of Hope" At Wembley Arena To Raise Funds For The Charity Crusaid On 1st December 1993
Tim Graham/Getty Images.

"I was invited to the Palace many, many times before I actually met with [Princess Diana] because I was so afraid of the publicity if we did become friends," Michael told The Huffington Post in 2009. "And when we did meet, I think we clicked in way that was a little bit intangible, and it probably had probably more to do with our upbringing than anything else. She was very like a lot of women that have been attracted to me in my life because they see something non-threatening. Maybe because I take care of my sisters and I'm so protective of my sisters, women seem to smell that. So women who had a hard time growing up or feel that they were not … you know … when I was still sleeping with women my God it was absolutely all of the time."

Although Michael coyly avoided answering how far their relationship went, he made it clear that their feelings extended further than friendship.

"There were certain things that happened that made it clear she was very attracted to me. There was no question," he shared, adding that he knew sleeping together "would have been a disastrous thing to do."

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George Michael in Concert at Olympico Stadium - July 21, 2007
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Michael onstage at the Olimpico Stadium on July 21, 2007, in Rome. The time around this performance was turbulent for the singer: In October of 2006, he was arrested on a drug-related charge and given a warning by London police for possession of cannabis.

Earlier that year, he had been arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs after being found slumped over the wheel of his car. Just two months after that incident, he damaged three neighbors' cars and his own Range Rover in April.

In July 2010, Michael was returning from a Gay Pride parade when he was arrested on suspicion of being unfit to drive after driving into a storefront; he was later charged with possession of cannabis and driving while unfit through drink or drugs.

After pleading guilty, Michael was sentenced to eight weeks in prison, a fine and a five-year ban from driving. Released from jail after four months, "I realized it had to be something to do with me," he said in an interview about his drug problems. "It shook me out of my denial. After that crash happened, I started drug counseling and was two weeks in detox, none of which I made public. It feels so completely behind me now. It really does."

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George Michael Performs At Royal Albert Hall In London
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Performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London on Sept. 29, 2012. In his later years, "he really kept people out, he was quite private," Boy George told Andy Cohen in 2017. "I read stuff in the papers."

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George Michael, Fadi Fawaz
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Prior to his death, Michael was dating Fadi Fawaz, seen here with the singer in 2012.

On Christmas Day 2016, Michael was found dead in his London home. He was 53.

During his almost four decades of fame, the singer sold 100 million albums worldwide and garnered three American Music Awards, three Brit Awards and two Grammy Awards out of eight total nominations.

A coroner ruled his death was of natural causes; the legendary singer suffered a dilated cardiomyopathy with myocarditis and fatty liver, according to the senior coroner for Oxfordshire, Darren Salter.

Michael had been working on releasing an album for 2017 with producer Naughty Boy as reported by BBC.

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