Andrew Ridgeley and Sir Elton John have led tributes to pop superstar George Michael, who has died at his home in Oxfordshire aged 53.
Michael’s former Wham! bandmate wrote on Twitter that he was “heartbroken by the loss of my friend” who would be “4ever loved”. John, another friend and collaborator, wrote on Instagram of his “deep shock” at the loss of “the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist”.
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Michael “passed away peacefully” at home, according to his publicist. His manager, Michael Lippman, said the singer had died from heart failure in bed.
Michael, who was set to release a documentary in 2017, rose to fame as half of Wham!, known for their hits Club Tropicana and Last Christmas. He had a highly successful solo career that included the songs Careless Whisper, Faith, Outside and Freedom! 90.
Michael – who was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou – had 11 UK No 1s and sold more than 100m albums during a career spanning almost four decades. His last album, Symphonica, was released in 2014.
Thames Valley police said an ambulance had attended a house on 25 December in Goring, Oxfordshire, at 1.42pm. They said the death was being treated as “unexplained but not suspicious” and they would not comment further until after a postmortem.
In a statement, the star’s publicist said: “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 that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
Michael’s death prompted an outpouring of emotional tributes with musicians, celebrities and politicians posting their memories of Michael on social media.
Among those who remembered him were Madonna, who wrote on Twitter: “Farewell my friend! Another great artist leaves us”. Also paying tribute, contemporaries Duran Duran referred to the loss of “another talented soul” in a year which which has seen the deaths of several major-league rock and pop stars, among them David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Rick Parfitt, guitarist in Status Quo, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 68.
Brian May, the Queen guitarist, said the news of Michael’s death was “beyond sad” and LaToya Jackson said he had “an amazing gift”. Martin Fry, the lead singer and songwriter with ABC, said on Twitter: “Absolutely devastated to hear of the loss of George Michael.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said Michael was “an exceptional artist and a strong supporter of LGBT and workers’ rights”. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, was among the first to pay tribute, describing him as “an amazing talent gone too soon”.
Michael was born in London to Greek Cypriot parents and first achieved pop success with school friend Ridgeley in the pop duo Wham! They split up in 1986 and he went on to have a glittering solo career in which he collaborated with Elton John, Aretha Franklin and Queen, after the death of Freddie Mercury.
He also had frequent brushes with the law, including his highly publicised arrest in a Los Angeles public toilet in 1998, an episode that led him to acknowledge his homosexuality and his relationship with Kenny Goss. His track Outside, released the same year, poked fun at the arrest and reached No 2 in the charts.
But Michael would struggle to recapture the same success and his last studio album, Patience, was released in 2004.
In later years he was arrested for drugs and driving offences and twice banned from driving. In 2011, he officially announced the ending of a turbulent 15-year relationship with Goss – though he said that the pair had actually split about two years earlier. After a career hiatus that he described as “a very long period of grief and self-abuse”, he announced his return to performing and said he felt remorse for the impact his high-profile arrests might have had on young gay people striving for acceptance.
Michael nearly died of pneumonia in late 2011. After receiving treatment in a Vienna hospital, he made a tearful appearance outside his London home and said it had been “touch and go” whether he lived. Doctors had performed a tracheotomy to keep his airways open and he was unconscious for some of his spell in hospital.
In May 2013, Michael had to be airlifted to hospital with a head injury after falling from his vehicle on the M1.
Michael’s 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 had been set to be reissued, accompanied by a new film featuring Stevie Wonder, 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 Michael and set to feature Mark Ronson, Mary J Blige, Tony Bennett, Liam Gallagher, James Corden and Ricky Gervais.
The record was his second solo album, after the hugely successful Faith, and was arranged, produced and almost entirely written by Michael, but did not feature him on the album cover. It contained hits including Cowboys and Angels, Mother’s Pride and Praying for Time and outsold Faith in the UK, where it went platinum four times, but led to a court case with US record label Sony spurred by Michael’s frustration at how the album was marketed. Michael lost the case.