How Sex, Drugs And Rock ‘n’ Roll Took Their Toll On Troubled Genius George Michael
BY ALISON BOSHOFF/Daily Mail
In one of his many candid moments, George Michael said he had spent the past 20 years trying to sabotage his glittering career via a series of humiliating drug and sex scandals.
‘But my career just seems to right itself like a plastic duck in a bath and, in some ways, I resent that,’ he said.
Hugely talented, highly intelligent and charming company, his many friends found the later years of his life infuriatingly chaotic.
Michael, who wrote and performed pop classics including Careless Whisper, Praying For Time and Faith, said himself that he suffered from two afflictions –’grief and self-abuse’.
He would smoke enormous amounts of marijuana – up to 25 joints a day at some points in his career.
He also struggled with depression, following the death of his lover Anselmo Feleppa from an HIV-related illness in 1993, and his mother, of cancer, in 1997.
His drug use included a dependency on sleeping pills and a dabble with designer drug GHB. In 2008, Michael was caught smoking crack cocaine in a public toilet.
He was in the habit of cruising for sex with strangers – an activity he declared he had started in his teens. He told friend Piers Morgan that he had up to 500 sexual partners in seven years – which works out, staggeringly, at one every five days.
Eventually his relationship with long-term lover Kenny Goss collapsed. They had been together for 12 years and some believed that he missed their relationship to the very last.
Even after it ended they remained close, with Goss later supporting him in court and flying to Austria to visit him in hospital when he contracted pneumonia in November 2011.
Earlier that year he had decided he should stop making such a mess of his life, and move forward. The final straw had been his jailing, for a second drug-driving offence, in September 2011. Announcing his tour in spring that year he said he hoped it would bring him ‘recovery’. He added that prison had left him ‘re-energised’.
He even let slip that he had started writing a new album of songs – his first since Patience in 2004. His many fans were hopeful the retreat and chaos of the past two decades were to be swept away by a new era.
But last year, a chorus of voices said the same thing – that George Michael, an enthusiastic cannabis user for decades, had moved on to a deadly selection of new narcotics. The singer, who had dropped out of public view after releasing his last album Symphonica in March 2014, was said to be smoking crack cocaine again.
Michael’s publicist and friend Connie Filipello said last year: ‘I am pleased to say he is on good form … he decided to take some time for himself and is considering and working on new projects.’
However, there were reports he was in rehab, at the Kusnacht practice in Switzerland. Miss Filipello denied this, saying: ‘He is well and enjoying an extended break.’ But little was seen of him for some time.
In September this year it was announced his 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1 was set to be reissued, accompanied by a film featuring Stevie Wonder, Elton John and the supermodels who starred in the video to his hit single Freedom! ’90.
The movie, with the working title Freedom: George Michael, was to be narrated by the singer and set to feature Mark Ronson, Mary J Blige, Tony Bennett, Liam Gallagher, James Corden and Ricky Gervais.
It is not known whether the film will still be released.
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in East Finchley on June 25, 1963, his father was a Greek Cypriot restaurateur Kyriacos, known as Jack. His mother Lesley was a dancer. She took two jobs to keep the family afloat, and Michael said that he found their lives ‘patriarchal’ and ‘oppressive’.
The family, which comprised George and his older sisters Melanie and Yioda, later moved to Radlett, Hertfordshire, and it was at Bushey Meads School that he met Andrew Ridgeley.
Michael tried working as a DJ in the clubs around Watford, and then formed a band with his school friend. While living in a basement flat in Peckham, he and Ridgeley wrote Club Tropicana – a joyous anthem to the shallow pleasures of free cocktails on a sunshine holiday.
He was only 18 when it was a hit – and he and Ridgeley found themselves instantly famous, and the objects of screaming desire for their many fans.
Wham! had a No 1 album, too, with Fantastic, followed by another No 1 album with Make It Big. In all, he achieved four UK No 1s with Wham! and five as a solo artist.
He sold more than 100million records worldwide and is one of the most successful UK chart artists of all time. He was, of course, the prettiest boy in Wham, with an absurdly bouffant do, deep tan, love of sportswear and golden highlights to match his gold hooped earring.
But there was unease behind the toothpaste smile. He told an interviewer: ‘I realised early on that being on the road to pop stardom was not going to bring me happiness, but I couldn’t get off.’
He confessed to his best friend Ridgeley and backing singer Shirlie Kemp when he was only 19 that he believed he was gay, but they dismissed it.
Even after Wham! split in 1986 and the truth was pretty much an open secret in the media, he remained in the closet for another 12 years. ‘I was spared all kinds of things by my own denial, not just the Press,’ he said.
In his book Bare, published in 1990, he painted an image of himself as a red-blooded womaniser, citing affairs with Brooke Shields and model Kathy Yeung. There was even an extraordinary flirtation with Princess Diana, whom he met at the Live Aid concert in 1985. They became close friends, but not before Michael had fended off an apparent invitation to an affair from the unhappily married princess. ‘There was no question she was very attracted to me,’ he said in a TV interview, but noted: ‘It would have been disastrous to do anything.’
In 1989 he met the fashion designer Anselmo Feleppa, a handsome Brazilian face in the crowd at the Rock in Rio concert. Feleppa idolised Michael and had secured a ticket near the front; he even took to hanging out at the singer’s hotel in the hopes of meeting him.
Within a few weeks of their meeting they were living together, quietly away from public gaze, in Los Angeles. But only six months later Feleppa announced he was HIV positive. Michael nursed Feleppa for the next three-and-a-half years until his death from a brain haemorrhage. Afterwards, the singer couldn’t write for a long time. When he did, he returned with Older, and the moving song Jesus To A Child.
‘That was the most inspired album of my career because of the feelings around bereavement,’ he said. ‘I know that record helped so many people, and you can’t get much more important than that.’
In 1998 came the first scandal when he was arrested for ‘engaging in a lewd act’ after a sting in a public toilet by Beverly Hills cops.
Michael had no choice but to come out as gay, and went on the attack – giving an unapologetic TV interview explaining he and boyfriend Kenny Goss, whom he had been dating since 1996, had an open relationship.
‘We have a great relationship and love each other dearly,’ he said ‘But like a lot of couples in long-term relationships, we are not monogamous … This is not an uncommon state of affairs in long-term gay relationships. It is not open in any emotional sense, just physical. That’s the way we choose to live.’
He wrote the song Outside following the arrest and the video featured kissing policemen. It all seemed joyfully mischievous, if a little puerile – but in fact he had all but stopped in his tracks creatively. ‘I was probably more stoned in those days – I was existing on a balance of Starbucks and weed,’ he told an interviewer, admitting to a 25 joints a day dope habit.
He promised he was happy, but there was very little work released other than compilations and greatest hits. The album Patience in 2004 included Shoot The Dog, a one-off foray into political commentary. He seemed to have lost his way.
In 2007 he admitted a charge of drug-driving after he was found slumped at the wheel. He lost his licence and carried out community service. He passed a roadside sobriety test, but said in an interview he had ‘a problem with sleeping pills’ at that time. In July 2010 he drove his Range Rover into Snappy Snaps in Hampstead – for which he was jailed at Pentonville and then Highpoint open prison in Suffolk.
In an interview after coming out of prison he said: ‘This was a hugely shameful thing to have done repeatedly, so karmically I felt like I had a bill to pay … It’s so much easier to take any form of punishment if you believe you actually deserve it, and I did.’
In March 2011 he released a cover version, True Faith, for charity and later that year he released another cover version to mark the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton – You and I.
His last self-penned single release was White Light in 2012, to mark the 30 years since his first single, co-written with Ridgeley entered the charts. He performed it at the closing of the London Olympics.
He was, though, a perfectionist and struggling with the modern problem of releasing music via the internet which has entirely changed the music business.
Maybe he felt lost without Goss. The handsome Texan art dealer had made Michael happy and confident, and the singer cried tears of bitter regret when he announced they had parted in 2011.
His last boyfriend Fadi Fawaz, is a London-based hair stylist of Lebanese origin, who spent two years tending to Katherine Jenkins’s locks. They were last seen together in September last year, after which Michael was rarely seen in public.