BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
British pop music icon George Michael has died at the age of 53.
Originally known as half of the mega-successful ‘80s duo Wham!, Michael continued his career into the 2000s and sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
His publicist confirmed the news of his death in a statement:
“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. The family would ask their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at his stage."
Michael's manager told The Hollywood Reporter that the singer died of heart failure was found "lying peacefully" in bed.
Michael and musical partner Andrew Ridgeley formed Wham! in 1981 and quickly ascended the British charts with hits such as “Young Guns” and “Wham Rap!”
But it was the era of MTV that launched the telegenic Michael into the pop music stratosphere in the U.S.
Wham!’s second album, “Make It Big,” marched to the top of the charts on the strength of mega-singles “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper.”
That Michael died on Christmas Day is oddly appropriate given the continued appreciation of the duo’s sweetly lush holiday hit, “Last Christmas.”
After Wham! splintered in the late-‘80s, Michael’s career continued to ascend.
His 1987 solo debut album, “Faith,” spawned the hit title track and a video forever ingrained in the pop culture universe, as well as the controversial song, “I Want Your Sex.” The album has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide and its other hits – “Father Figure” and “One More Try” -- helped establish his artistic credibility beyond the frivolous pop world.
Michael’s combination of scruffy good looks, playful mystique and blue-eyed soul vocals made him an everlasting sex symbol. In the late ‘90s, Michael confirmed in a magazine article that he was gay.
Several times throughout his career, the singer had brushes with the law, including a 1998 arrest for “engaging in a lewd act” in a Beverly Hills, Calif., public restroom; a 2006 arrest for drug possession; and in 2010, another drug arrest for which he served four weeks in prison in Suffolk, England.
Although Michael toured sporadically during the past decade – he last played Atlanta in 2008 when his “25 Live” tour swung through Philips Arena and in 2012, he performed at the closing ceremonies of the London Olympic Games– British tabloids have reported the past two years that the singer turned into a recluse, rarely being seen outside of his North London mansion.