Combine that audience with those reached by live television and radio broadcasts in 76 countries across the globe, and Michael’s voice reached hundreds of millions of ears during the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness. But the late pop star was really thinking of just one person.
“The performance most well known in my career,” Michael said in the documentary Freedom, “was sung to my lover who was dying.”
Anselmo Feleppa had just been diagnosed with AIDS, but Michael wasn’t publicly out – so his relationship with Feleppa was a secret. That left Michael to take the stage while enduring a very personal pain, even as he honored another of the disease’s victims.
“I went out there knowing I had to honor Freddie Mercury and I had to pray for Anselmo,” Michael said in the film, which was produced before he passed away in 2016. “I just wanted to die inside. I was so overwhelmed by singing the songs of this man I had worshiped as a child, who had passed away in the same manner my first living partner was going to experience.”
Mercury died six months before this tribute concert, which co-starred Metallica, Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, Elton John and other A-list artists. Highlights included Annie Lennox and David Bowie performing “Under Pressure,” and Queen teaming with Robert Plant for “Innuendo.” But Michael’s work that evening in London was stunning.
Watch George Michael Perform ‘Somebody to Love’ With Queen
With the three remaining Queen members beside him, Michael launching into a stomping take on “39” fit for an Irish pub session. He welcomed Lisa Stansfield for a tear-jerking collaboration on “These Are the Days of Our Lives.” But “Somebody to Love” – which was paired with “These Are the Days of Our Lives” for 1993’s Five Live, a benefit EP for the Mercury Phoenix Trust – brought the house down.
Michael’s performance inevitably led to thoughts of a more permanent role in Queen.
“I remember hearing the rumors, but it wouldn’t have suited us,” Roger Taylor later told Classic Rock. “George wasn’t really used to working with a live band. When he heard the power he had behind him in rehearsal, he couldn’t believe it. He thought he was on Concorde or something.”
Taylor called it “a thrill to work with George Michael,” though he wasn’t surprised by how fluidly the former Wham frontman stepped into Mercury’s hard-to-fill shoes. “I knew he had that in him,” Taylor told Classic Rock. “In addition to the great delicacy which he has — the great control, great dynamics — he has enormous power. And from the moment he stepped into the rehearsal room and was doing ‘Somebody to Love,’ we went, ‘Whoa.’ I think in most people’s feeling, he got closest to the range of Freddie himself.”
Michael felt that same magic too, and had only kind thoughts for Queen. “It was probably the proudest, proudest moment for me of my career,” Michael said in Freedom, “because it was me living out a childhood fantasy, I suppose, to sing one of Freddie’s songs in front of 80,000 people. It was a really strange mixture of incredible pride and real sadness for me.”
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