Melissa Etheridge shares her first impression of George Michael for PEOPLE's commemorative edition, George Michael: A Pop Star Life

George Michael was one of the rare pop stars seemingly without an enemy. When his death shocked the world in the waning days of 2016, musicians from across the industry came forward to talk about the beloved icon. In this excerpt from PEOPLE’s commemorative edition, George Michael: A Pop Star Life (on sale now), Melissa Etheridge shared her memories of George Michael with Entertainment Weekly‘s Kevin O’Donnell.

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Do you recall the first time you met George?
Yeah, we did a photo shoot in 2000 for The Advocate. We did the Millennium March on Washington’s Equality Rocks concert at the RFK Stadium. It was George and myself and Garth Brooks and Chaka Khan . . . a really big, fun thing to do. It was just after he had come out, and he was really into it. There’s a wild freedom when you first come out. He was really in that space.

Was he embraced by the gay community—even those who suspected he was gay before he came out?
Oh, completely. We enjoyed him for so long. There are some people you just know are [gay]. You think, “I wish you would come out! He’s making the music we love. He was that handsome gay man we love!” So of course when he finally did, you were just sorry it was so messy.

What was he like?
He was a tiny bit guarded. He was very kind. He was musically really brilliant. I think people would be surprised at how musical he was. To be so talented and to look so beautiful, you know? Sometimes the beauty gets in the way, and they don’t realize how talented you are. He was English, so he had that reserve about him. [But] he was very warm.


Were you a fan of his music?
In the Wham! years, not so much. I was a little “Oooh, that was too bubblegum. That’s a bit too much sugar.” The shorts [he wore] were too short. I was all lesbian with my hairy armpits and mullet. I think I was at the club Rage in Hollywood when “I Want Your Sex” came on, and it was like, “What is that?!” I was like “Okay, I’m a fan.” The Faith album was ridiculous. “Father Figure,” “Faith,” “I Want Your Sex” … You couldn’t get any bigger. And then Listen Without Prejudice.

What do you think of his impact on pop culture?
I think his beautiful voice and his beautiful face and his beautiful moves and his beautiful music were such a gift. It was such a beautiful androgyny and a different type of masculinity that was huge in the ’80s and the ’90s. It really opened up a lot of doors for LGBT people to feel confident about themselves. And when he finally did come out, it was like, this is you! He represented this sort of artistic female-ish side. He was a beautiful mix of man and woman. The male and female, that gorgeous sort of yummy thing.