Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) was the life force and front man of the rock group Queen. Born Farrokh Bulsara on the then British-controlled island of Zanzibar, Mercury’s first musical experience was playing piano at a boarding school in India. At age 17 he and his family fled the Zanzibar Revolution for England, where he studied art and graphic design at Ealing Art College. He would later use those skills in designing Queen’s famous signature crest.

Mercury was a singer with a four-octave range, which he showed off with abandon, making many of his hits nearly impossible to cover. He also served as songwriter and pianist for Queen, which was formed in 1971 in London. When he was invited to join the rock band Smile, Freddie Bulsara suggested they change their name to Queen and altered his own name to Freddie Mercury. Possessed of a wildly flamboyant stage persona, Mercury made the rock world sit up and take notice. Within four years the band had become an international sensation.

Bohemian Rhapsody, released in 1975 on their A Night at the Opera album, was their first world-wide hit. Two years later News of the World (1977) was released, and the album contained two of rock's most recognizable anthems, We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. By the early 1980s, Queen had become one of the biggest stadium rock bands in the world. Their performance at 1985's Live Aid is regarded as one of the greatest moments in rock history.

A writer for The Spectator described Mercury as "a performer out to tease, shock and ultimately charm his audience with various extravagant versions of himself." He wrote rock music in disparate genres, effortlessly maneuvering between rockabilly, progressive rock, heavy metal, gospel and disco. Queen’s stadium concerts drew record-breaking large crowds. An estimated 300,000 fans attended Freddie’s last live performance with Queen in 1986.

Mercury also released several solo albums. Barcelona, recorded with Spanish operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé, contained elements of both popular music and opera. The title track received massive air play as the official hymn of the 1992 Summer Olympics, held in Barcelona one year after Mercury's death. Caballé sang it live at the opening of the Olympics with Mercury's part played on a screen, and again prior to the start of the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final in Barcelona.

Although Freddie came out as gay in a 1974 magazine interview, he maintained an important and enduring relationship with a woman, Mary Austin. Upon his death, Mercury left his estate to her. Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, but publicly denied it until the day before his death at age 45 on November, 24, 1991. Mercury died of bronchial pneumonia due to AIDS complications. At the time of his death Mercury had lived with his partner Jim Hutton for six years. Hutton, a hairdresser, tested HIV-positive in 1990. He nursed Mercury during his illness and was present at his bedside when he died. Hutton died from cancer in 2010.

Mercury died an immensely wealthy man. In his will, he left the majority of his estate, including his home and recording royalties, to Mary Austin, and the remainder to his parents and sister. He also left £500,000 to his chef Joe Fanelli, £500,000 to his personal assistant Peter Freestone, £100,000 to his driver Terry Giddings, and £500,000 to his partner Jim Hutton. Mary Austin continues to live at Mercury's home, Garden Lodge (Kensington), with her family.

Freddie Mercury and Queen’s popularity continue long after his death. Of the 35 million Queen albums sold in the United States, about half have been purchased since Mercury's death in 1991.

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