He was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in Bushley, Hertfordshire, England.
Michael's family was not at all musical, but he grew up listening to a diverse collection of music. When he was a child, he was given three 45s as a gift that sparked his love of music. One of them was the Tom Jones song "Delilah
" and the other two were Supremes records. He cites both artists as an influence on his sound.
When Michael was in high school, he met Andrew Ridgeley (who would become the other half of Wham!). The two of them realized that they both shared an intense love for pop music. When their friendship first blossomed, Ridgeley was the outgoing, good looking, and confident one while Michael was the shy, unsure, introvert. Ridgeley groomed Michael into a pop star by teaching him how to style his hair, how to dress, and how to be a charismatic performer.
His album Faith (which he produced) won Album Of The Year at the Grammy Awards in 1988. He also won a Grammy in 1987, for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal, shared with Aretha Franklin for the song, "I Knew You Were Waiting for Me." (thanks, Ari - Elizabeth, NJ)
Michael has been arrested twice, first in 1998 for lewd conduct in a Los Angeles bathroom, and again in 2006 when police discovered marijuana in his car. After the first incident, where Michael was caught by an undercover cop, he declared his homosexuality and wrote a song about it called "Outside," where he made fun of the incident.
Michael wanted to reassure his fans that even though he was not always truthful about his sexuality, he had always been honest regarding his music. He told CNN in 1998 that he does write about his actual life, stating: "I do want people to know that the songs that I wrote when I was with women were really about women. And the songs that I've written since have been fairly obvious about men."
Michael was just 19 when Wham! rose to fame in Europe, and he became a favorite with young girls. It was also a very difficult time for him, as he struggled with fame and with his identity. He explained in a 1988 talk with Q magazine: "Around '84 it wasn't me. I don't know who I wanted me to be. I became this harmless, feminine-looking David Cassidy figure who all the little girls could take home without any fear of me putting my hand up their skirt. It was a strange situation because before that I wasn't the type of guy who could walk into a room and pull any bird, and suddenly, at 19, I could."
He has always avoided talking about his sexuality, which led to lots of speculation in the British press that he was gay. His typical response was, "People haven't the right to know."
In 1981, Michael worked various jobs after the failure of his and Ridgeley's first group, The Executive. One of the jobs that he worked was as a DJ at a restaurant, which he called "the absolute worst - probably the most embarrassing thing that I have ever done in my life." He wrote the song "Careless Whisper
" in his head on the bus on his way to work. By the time he recorded the demo, he was fired from the restaurant for always showing up late, and he started to DJ at squash club. The last night he worked at the health club, he played the finished demo for "Careless Whisper."
He recalled what happened in his book Bare
: "So right at the end of the night I played it. The floor filled. They had never heard it before and I remember thinking - that's a good sign. And I wondered what was going to happen to that song later on."
Michael felt like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown during the Faith tour in 1988. He had a difficult time dealing with the gigantic success of the album, and took to wearing sunglasses to avoid eye contact with strangers.
In September 1990, Michael told the LA Times' Calendar magazine that he would revert back to living a more private life and would do little promotion for his second solo album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. He announced: "I won't be talking again until I've got something to say."
He held to this statement, passing up interviews and refusing to tour or to star in his own music videos. Only a week after the story was printed, a letter from Frank Sinatra was published that addressed the George Michael article about the "reluctant pop star." Sinatra urged Michael to stop speaking about the "tragedy of fame" and to be thankful he is not playing to an empty bar every night. Sinatra ended the letter by telling Michael that he should not let his talent be wasted. "Those who have talent must hug it, embrace it, nurture it and share it lest it be taken away from you as fast as it was loaned to you. Trust me. I've been there," he wrote. Michael did not listen to Sinatra, though. He did not do another interview until six years later.
During the early '90s, Michael got into a lengthy legal battle with his record label, Sony. He made a statement about their "divorce," and concluded, "We do not speak the same language." Michael wanted to distance himself from the company because they did not believe in his artistic vision. He did not want to redo Faith and continue with the image that was built around it, and that was so successful. Michael was changing and growing older, so he wanted to be taken seriously not only as a singer but also as a songwriter. He told The Big Issue that he was "trying to get myself into a situation where I worked with a company that had some respect for me."
He ended up losing the case, which prevented him from making music for two years. He eventually got out of his contract with Sony and was able to sign deals with Virgin in Britain and DreamWorks in America. Ironically, he ended up re-signing with Sony in 2004.
Michael confessed that he took up smoking pot during the recording of his third album, Older. He had never been so stressed while creating an album and smoking weed is what calmed him down. He admitted to The Big Issue in 1996 that he had a hard time writing lyrics and that smoking a drag always helped him figure out exactly what he wanted to say, "It's bad because I don't want to smoke but I can't see myself giving grass up as a writer."
Michael dedicated his third album Older to his speculated (years later Michael admitted) lover, Anselmo Feleppa, who died in 1993 of a brain hemorrhage caused by HIV. He wrote in the liner notes, "This album is dedicated . . . to Anselmo Feleppa, who changed the way that I look at my life." Michael has stated in various interviews that Feleppa was the first person he ever truly loved.
His mother died of cancer in 1997. Michael revealed on the BBC's Radio 4 Desert Island Discs that his mom was one reason why he kept his homosexuality a secret for so long. He explained that in the late '80s and early '90s, the biggest fear surrounding homosexuality was HIV, and he could not bring himself to tell his Mom because he knew it would constantly worry her. "My mother was still alive and every single day would have been a nightmare for her thinking what I might have been subjected to," he said.
He dedicated his 1998 two-disc greatest hits compilation Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael to his mother. Michael experienced a deep depression for a few years following her death.
While on tour in November 2011, Michael was rushed to a hospital in Vienna and ended up staying there for five weeks battling pneumonia. The first three weeks he was in a coma and the doctors were just trying to keep him alive. When he was finally released two weeks later, he gave a tearful press conference outside his home in London. Speaking out-of-breath and wearing a now-oversized coat, he called it, "by far the worst month of my life."
Michael thanked his fans for their support and messages, and promised them he would make up the cancelled concerts. He went on to praise the staff at the hospital for saving his life, saying, "I would like to play one other show, for the doctors in the hospital in Austria that saved my life. I spent the last 10 days since I woke up literally thanking people for saving my life, which is something I've never had to do before, and I don't want to have to do it again." He wrote the song "White Light" about his near-death experience.
In 2000, George Michael bought the Steinway Model Z upright piano on which John Lennon wrote "Imagine
" for £1.45 million ($1.94 million). He loaned it to The Beatles Museum in Liverpool, where it has been on display.