British pop powerhouse George Michael, who rose to fame as half of the duo Wham! in the 1980s before striking out on a hugely successful solo career, has died at age 53.
“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 family said in a statement. “The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
Michael passed away from heart failure, the Hollywood Reporter said, and was found Christmas morning at his home in Goring-on-Thames.
The Grammy-winning singer and songwriter, born in London as Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, scored eight No. 1 hits in the United States: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Careless Whisper,” “Everything She Wants,” “Faith,” “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” “Monkey,” and “Praying for Time.”
He had a bout with pneumonia in 2011 that landed him in the intensive care unit and suffered a head injury after falling from a moving vehicle in 2013. He also had multiple drug-related arrests through the 2000s; British media reported last year that the star was in rehab for marijuana addiction.
Andrew Ridgeley, the other half of Wham!, tweeted, “Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog. Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved.”
Michael told the Los Angeles Times in 1990 that he found “the thing I really needed was my songwriting — I didn’t need the celebrity.”
“Most people find it hard to believe that stardom can make you miserable. After all, everybody wants to be a star. I certainly did, and I worked hard to get it,” he said. “But I was miserable, and I don’t want to feel that way again.”
Michael said his video image in the MTV golden age “was just a creation… something I wanted in the beginning because of all the childish fantasies about love and attention.”
“The truth is, it all got much bigger than I ever imagined–and much harder to control. Ultimately, I wasn’t comfortable with that kind of visibility and power,” he added. “Once I became more confident as a writer, I realized I didn’t need all that other bolstering.”