On the 23rd November 1991, Freddie Mercury issued the following press release to the international press:
“Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors, and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease. My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue.”
Less than 24 hours after making this press release Freddie Mercury, the flamboyant lead singer for the band “Queen” died from Bronchial Pneumonia. A complication directly resulting from the AIDS disease.
Freddie Mercury Has died but the legend and legacy of Freddie and his band, Queen, lives on.
The early years
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara ( ફારોખબલ્સારા ) on the 5th of September, 1946. His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, lived on the East African island of Zanzibar. They were Parsee; the Parsees were followers of the Zoroastrian religion who had moved to India from Iran in the 10th Century to escape Muslim persecution. In 1954, at the age of 8, Freddie was shipped off to St. Peter’s boarding school in Panchgani, just outside Bombay. It was there that his friends started calling him Freddie, the family adopted the name and from then on that was the only name he recognized. In 1958, five friends at St Peter's - Freddie Bulsara, Derrick Branche, Bruce Murray, Farang Irani and Victory Rana - formed the school's rock'n roll band, the “Hectics”. Freddie was the piano player. They would play at school parties, at annual fetes and school dances. This was Freddie’s first band and the performing bug bit.
In 1962 Freddie finished school and returned to Zanzibar. In 1964, due to political unrest, the Bulsara’s along with other Indian families were forced out and they migrated to England. In 1966 Freddie entered Ealing College of art and in June of 1969, graduated with a Diploma in Graphic Design. While at college he began singing with a blues band called “Wreckage” Freddie had become good friends with a fellow student, Tim Staffell. Tim took Freddie to rehearsals of a band called “Smile” with Brian May on the guitar and Roger Taylor on Drums. Freddie became good friends with all three and was particularly impressed and inspired by the sound they produced. By 1970 Wreckage had fallen apart. When Tim left Smile Freddie joined them as the lead singer. In 1971 John Deacon joined the band. The name was changed to “Queen” and Freddie changed his last name to Mercury.
Flamboyance and a provocative title.
Freddie stood 5’9” tall, had black hair and dark brown eyes. He lived in a large house in Kensington, London. He shared his home with a number of cats, his favorite creatures. He loved Opera and Ballet His favorite actress was Marilyn Monroe. He had many favorite singers but was especially entranced by the Spanish opera singer; Montserrat Caballe, “Montsy” as Freddie called her. His favorite drinks were Champagne or iced Vodka and his favorite food was Indian.
Freddie had a very flamboyant personality. He was suited to a stage and to large audiences. The musical style of Queen became associated with progressive rock but it wasn’t that easy to tie them down. With songs that ranged from the rock a billy “Crazy little thing called love” to the operatic “Bohemian Rhapsody” With musical classics such as “We will rock you” and “We are the champions” They were the quintessential stadium band. Freddie’s showmanship and flair mixed with an incredible and powerful voice caused their music to hit you in the face. Freddie’s “Gimmick” was the free microphone stand. It all started when he was singing with his earlier band, Wreckage. One night at a gig, the microphone broke off from the bottom. They were unable to reassemble it so Freddie kept singing with the bottomless mic’ loose in his hand. Freddie thought that was so cool that it became his trademark from then on.
Freddie and Queen steal the show at Live Aid
The Ultimate Showman
Freddie Mercury was the ultimate showman. He could take an audience of thousands and hold them in the palm of his hand. Freddie and Queen played an estimated 700 live performances over the course of their career. Their performances were noted for their large attendances. Queen was the first band to play in South American stadiums. In 1981 they broke the worldwide concert attendance performance playing to an audience of 231,000 in the Morumbi Stadium (Estadio do Morumbo) in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 1986 they played to a crowd of 80,000 in Budapest. One of the biggest rock concerts ever held in Eastern Europe. The final concert with Queen was at Knebworth Park, England, where they drew a crowd of 300,000. The place where he demonstrated all his talents and his charisma and established his place in rock and roll history was in 1985. Bob Geldof, lead singer with the Boomtown Rats, had become disturbed by the famine taking place in Ethiopia. He persuaded a number of friends in the music industry to perform free at a concert to raise funds for a charity. The concert was named “Live Aid” and was successful beyond anyone’s expectations; raising £150 million ($286 million) there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the star of that show was Freddie Mercury.
Freddie had a number of projects that he undertook independently of Queen. They included a ballet performance at Covent Garden, a number of duets with Michael Jackson and two solo albums.
Perhaps his finest was the album “Barcelona”. In collaboration with Montserrat Caballe, it was a huge hit in both the UK and Spain. The title track became the official hymn of the 1992 summer Olympics held in Barcelona, one year after Freddie’s death. The opening ceremony had Caballe singing live with Freddie’s part played on a screen.
Freddie and his best friend
In 1970 Freddie began a relationship with Mary Austin. They lived together for 7 years but Freddie was living an aggressive bi-sexual lifestyle. It was an affair with a male music executive that ended the relationship. They remained good friends for the rest of Freddie’s life. He once stated:
"All my lovers asked me why they couldn't replace Mary, but it's simply impossible. The only friend I've got is Mary and I don't want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that's enough for me.”
The Last Song- 1991
The Final Days
Mary was with him at the end along with his long time partner Jim Hutton, Dave Clark of the Dave Clark Five and some other close friends including his personal assistant, Peter Freestone. In their private circle Peter, was known as “Phoebe” Peter would later write a biography of Freddie’s life titled “Freddie Mercury” while Jim wrote his story of his relationship with Freddie in “Mercury and Me”
Freddie Mercury left this life on November 24th 1991. His funeral service was conducted by a Zoroastrian Priest. An intensely private man, his flamboyance was his public persona, there were just 35 close friends in attendance. His body was cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery in West London. The whereabouts of his ashes are known only to Mary Austin.
Freddie is widely praised for his music and has been widely criticized for his lifestyle. The answer is in Freddie’s own words;
“Fuck them darling, they just don’t get it.”