Freddie Mercury died aged forty-five on 24th November 1991 at his home in Kensington, London, U.K. just over twenty-four hours after issuing a statement that he had AIDs. The official cause of death was bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS. Freddie Mercury's close friend, Dave Clark of The Dave Clark Five, had taken over the bedside vigil when Freddie died. Freddie's parents and sister were phoned to break the news of his death, which reached newspaper and television crews by the early hours of 25th November.
On 22nd November 1991, Freddie Mercury called Queen's manager Jim Beach over to his Kensington home to discuss a public statement. The next day the following announcement was made to the international press on behalf of Mercury:
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 until now 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.
On 27th November Freddie Mercury's funeral service was conducted by a Zoroastrian priest. In attendance at Freddie Mercury's service were his family and 35 of his close friends, including the remaining members of Queen and Elton John. Freddie's coffin was carried into the chapel to the sounds of "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" & "You've Got a Friend" by Aretha Franklin. Freddie Mercury was cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery, West London. In accordance with Freddie Mercury's wishes, Mary Austin took possession of his ashes and buried them in an undisclosed location. The whereabouts of his ashes are believed to be known only to Austin, who has stated that she will never reveal where she buried them.
Three years after his death, Time Out magazine reported, "Since Freddie's death, the wall outside his house has become London's biggest rock 'n' roll shrine." Fans continue to visit to pay their respects with messages in letters appearing on the walls. Hutton was involved in a 2000 biography, 'Freddie Mercury, the Untold Story', and also gave an interview for The Times in November 2006 for what would have been Freddie Mercury's 60th birthday.
Freddie Mercury was born on 5th September 1946 in the British protectorate of Sultanate of Zanzibar, East Africa. His parents were Parsis from the Gujarat region of the province of Bombay in India. The family surname is derived from the town of Bulsar (now known as Valsad) in southern Gujarat. As Parsis, Freddie Mercury and his family practised the Zoroastrian religion. The Bulsara family had moved to Zanzibar so that Freddie's father could continue his job as a cashier at the British Colonial Office. Freddie had a younger sister, Kashmira.
Freddie Mercury spent most of his childhood in India and began taking piano lessons at the age of seven. In 1954, at the age of eight, Freddie Mercury was sent to study at St. Peter's School, a British-style boarding school for boys, in Panchgani near Mumbai). At the age of twelve he formed a school band, The Hectics, and covered rock and roll artists such as Cliff Richard and Little Richard. It has been said that one of his formative musical influences at the time was Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar. A friend from the time recalls that he had "an uncanny ability to listen to the radio and replay what he heard on piano".
At the age of seventeen, Freddie Mercury and his family fled from Zanzibar for safety reasons due to the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution. The family moved into a small house in Feltham, Middlesex, UK. Freddie Mercury enrolled at Isleworth Polytechnic in West London where he studied art. He ultimately earned a diploma in Art and Graphic Design at Ealing Art College. A British citizen at birth, Freddie Mercury remained so for the rest of his life.
Following graduation, Freddie Mercury joined a series of bands and sold second-hand clothes in the Kensington Market in London with girlfriend Mary Austin. In 1969 he joined the Liverpool-based band Ibex, later renamed Wreckage. When this band failed to take off, he joined a second band called Sour Milk Sea.
In April 1970 Freddie Mercury joined guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor who had previously been in a band called Smile. In 1971 they found their bass player John Deacon who was to stay with the band until 1997. Despite reservations of the other members and Trident Studios, the band's initial management, Freddie Mercury chose the name "Queen" for the new band. He later said, "It's very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid. It's a strong name, very universal and immediate. I was certainly aware of the gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it." At about the same time, he changed his family surname, Bulsara, to Mercury. Freddie Mercury designed Queen's logo.
Although Freddie Mercury's speaking voice naturally fell in the baritone range, he delivered most songs in the tenor range. His known vocal range extended from bass low F to soprano high F. Biographer David Bret described his voice as "escalating within a few bars from a deep, throaty rock-growl to tender, vibrant tenor, then on to a high-pitched, perfect coloratura, pure and crystalline in the upper reaches." His technique was astonishing. No problem of tempo, he sang with an incisive sense of rhythm, his vocal placement was very good and he was able to glide effortlessly from a register to another. He also had a great musicality. His phrasing was subtle, delicate and sweet or energetic and slamming. He was able to find the right colouring or expressive nuance for each word.
The Who lead singer Roger Daltrey called Freddie Mercury "the best virtuoso rock 'n' roll singer of all time". A research team undertook a study in 2016 to understand the appeal behind Mercury's voice. Led by Professor Christian Herbst, the team noted his notably faster vibrato and use of subharmonics, particularly in comparison to opera singers. The research team studied vocal samples from 23 commercially available Queen recordings, his solo work, and a series of interviews of the late artist. They also used an endoscopic video camera to study a rock singer brought in to imitate Mercury's singing voice.
Freddie Mercury wrote ten of the seventeen songs on Queen's Greatest Hits album: "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Seven Seas of Rhye", "Killer Queen", "Somebody to Love", "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy", "We Are the Champions", "Bicycle Race", "Don't Stop Me Now", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Play the Game". The most notable aspect of his songwriting involved the wide range of genres that he used, which included, among other styles, rockabilly, progressive rock, heavy metal, gospel and disco. As he explained in a 1986 interview, "I hate doing the same thing again and again and again. I like to see what's happening now in music, film and theatre and incorporate all of those things."
Compared to many popular songwriters, Freddie Mercury also tended to write musically complex material. For example, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is acyclic in structure and comprises dozens of chords. He also wrote six songs from 'Queen II' which deal with multiple key changes and complex material. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", on the other hand, contains only a few chords. Despite the fact that Freddie Mercury often wrote very intricate harmonies, he also claimed that he could barely read music. He wrote most of his songs on the piano and used a wide variety of different key signatures.
Freddie Mercury was noted for his live performances, which were often delivered to stadium audiences around the world. He displayed a highly theatrical style that often evoked a great deal of participation from the crowd. A writer for The Spectator described him as "a performer out to tease, shock and ultimately charm his audience with various extravagant versions of himself." David Bowie, who performed at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert and recorded the song "Under Pressure" with Queen, praised Freddie Mercury's performance style, saying: "Of all the more theatrical rock performers, Freddie took it further than the rest... he took it over the edge. And of course, I always admired a man who wears tights. I only saw him in concert once and as they say, he was definitely a man who could hold an audience in the palm of his hand." Queen guitarist Brian May wrote that Freddie Mercury could make "the last person at the back of the furthest stand in a stadium feel that he was connected".
One of Freddie Mercury's most notable performances with Queen took place at Live Aid in 1985. Queen's performance at the event has since been voted by a group of music executives as the greatest live performance in the history of rock music. The results were aired on a television program called "The World's Greatest Gigs". Freddie Mercury's powerful, sustained note during the a cappella section came to be known as "The Note Heard Round the World". In reviewing Live Aid in 2005, one critic wrote, "Those who compile lists of Great Rock Frontmen and award the top spots to Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, etc all are guilty of a terrible oversight. Freddie, as evidenced by his Dionysian Live Aid performance, was easily the most godlike of them all."
Over the course of his career, Freddie Mercury performed an estimated 700 concerts in countries around the world with Queen. A notable aspect of Queen concerts was the large scale involved. He once explained, "We're the Cecil B. DeMille of rock and roll, always wanting to do things bigger and better." The band was the first ever to play in South American stadiums, breaking worldwide records for concert attendance in the Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo in 1981. In 1986, Queen also played behind the Iron Curtain when they performed to a crowd of 80,000 in Budapest, in what was one of the biggest rock concerts ever held in Eastern Europe. Freddie Mercury's final live performance with Queen took place on 9 August 1986 at Knebworth Park in England and drew an attendance estimated as high as 160,000. With the British national anthem "God Save the Queen" playing at the end of the concert, v Mercury's final act on stage saw him draped in a robe, holding a golden crown aloft, bidding farewell to the crowd.
As a young boy in India, Freddie Mercury received formal piano training up to the age of nine. Later on, while living in London, he learned guitar. Much of the music he liked was guitar-oriented: his favourite artists at the time were The Who, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin.
Freddie Mercury played the piano in many of Queen's most popular songs, including "Killer Queen", "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy", "We Are the Champions", "Somebody To Love" and "Don't Stop Me Now". He used concert grand pianos and, occasionally, other keyboard instruments such as the harpsichord. From 1980 onward, he also made frequent use of synthesisers in the studio. Queen guitarist Brian May claims that Freddie Mercury was unimpressed with his own abilities at the piano and used the instrument less over time because he wanted to walk around onstage and entertain the audience. Although he wrote many lines for the guitar, Freddie Mercury possessed only rudimentary skills on the instrument. Songs like "Ogre Battle" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" were composed on the guitar; the latter featured Freddie Mercury playing rhythm guitar both onstage and in the studio.
In addition to his work with Queen, Freddie Mercury put out two solo albums and several singles. His first solo effort goes back to 1972 under the pseudonym Larry Lurex, when Trident Studios' house engineer Robin Geoffrey Cable was working in a musical project, at the time when Queen were recording their debut album; Cable enlisted Mercury to perform lead vocals on the songs "I Can Hear Music" and "Goin' Back",.a (1988). Mr. Bad Guy debuted in the top ten of the UK Album Charts. In 1993, a remix of "Living on My Own", a single from the album, posthumously reached number one on the UK Singles Charts.
Freddie's second album, Barcelona, recorded with Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, combines elements of popular music and opera. Many critics were uncertain what to make of the album; one referred to it as "the most bizarre CD of the year". The album was a commercial success, and the album's title track debuted at Number 8 in the UK and was also a hit in Spain. The title track received massive air play as the official anthem of the 1992 Summer Olympics, held in Barcelona one year after Freddie Mercury's death. Caballé sang it live at the opening of the Olympics with Freddie Mercury's part played on a screen, and again prior to the start of the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich in Barcelona.
In addition to the two solo albums, Freddie Mercury released several singles, including his own version of the hit "The Great Pretender" by The Platters, which debuted at Number 5 in the UK in 1987. In September 2006 a compilation album featuring Freddie Mercury's solo work was released in the UK in honour of what would have been his 60th birthday. The album debuted in the UK top 10.
In 1981–1983 Freddie Mercury recorded several tracks with Michael Jackson, including a demo of "State of Shock", "Victory" and "There Must Be More to Life Than This". None of these collaborations were officially released at the time, although bootleg recordings exist. Jackson went on to record the single "State of Shock" with Mick Jagger for The Jacksons' album Victory. Freddie Mercury included the solo version of "There Must Be More To Life Than This" on his 'Mr. Bad Guy' album. "There Must Be More to Life Than This" was eventually reworked by Queen and released on their compilation album 'Queen Forever' in 2014.
In addition to working with Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor sang on the title track for Billy Squier's 1982 studio release, 'Emotions in Motion' and later contributed to two tracks on Squier's 1986 release, 'Enough Is Enough', providing vocals on "Love is the Hero" and musical arrangements on "Lady With a Tenor Sax".
In the early 1970's, Freddie Mercury had a long-term relationship with Mary Austin, whom he met through guitarist Brian May. He lived with Austin for several years in West Kensington, London. By the mid-1970s, the singer had begun an affair with a male American record executive at Elektra Records and, in December 1976, Freddie Mercury told Austin of his sexuality, which ended their romantic relationship. Freddie Mercury moved out of the flat they shared, into 12 Stafford Terrace in Kensington and bought Austin a place of her own nearby. They remained close friends through the years, with Freddie Mercury often referring to her as his only true friend. In a 1985 interview, Mercury said of Austin, "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." He also wrote several songs about Austin, the most notable of which is "Love of My Life". Freddie Mercury's final home, Garden Lodge, 1 Logan Place, a twenty-eight room Georgian mansion in Kensington set in a quarter-acre manicured garden surrounded by a high brick wall, had been picked out by Austin. In his will, Mercury left his London home to her, rather than his partner Jim Hutton, saying to her, "You would have been my wife and it would have been yours anyway." Freddie Mercury was also the godfather of Austin's oldest son, Richard.
By 1985, he began another long-term relationship with hairdresser Jim Hutton who was tested HIV-positive in 1990, lived with Freddie Mercury for the last six years of his life, nursed him during his illness and was present at his bedside when he died.
In October 1986, the British press reported that Freddie Mercury had his blood tested for HIV/AIDS at a Harley Street clinic. A reporter for The Sun, Hugh Whittow, questioned Freddie Mercury about the story at Heathrow Airport as he was returning from a trip to Japan. Freddie Mercury denied he had a sexually transmitted disease. According to his partner Jim Hutton, Freddie was diagnosed with AIDS in late April 1987. Around that time, Freddie Mercury claimed in an interview to have tested negative for HIV. Despite the denials, the British press pursued the rampant rumours over the next few years, fuelled by Freddie Mercury's increasingly gaunt appearance, Queen's absence from touring and reports from former lovers to various tabloid journals. By 1990 the rumours about Freddie Mercury's health were rife. At the 1990 Brit Awards held at the Dominion Theatre, London, on 18th February, a visibly frail Freddie Mercury made his final public appearance on stage when he joined the rest of Queen to collect the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. Towards the end of his life, he was routinely stalked by photographers, while The Sun featured a series of articles claiming that he was ill; notably in an article from November 1990 that featured an image of a haggard-looking Freddie on the front page accompanied by the headline, "It's official – Freddie is seriously ill."
However, Freddie Mercury and his inner circle of colleagues and friends, whom he felt he could trust, continually denied the stories, even after one front page article published on 29th April 1991, showed Freddie Mercury appearing very haggard in what was by then a rare public appearance. Freddie Mercury kept his condition private to protect those closest to him, with Brian May confirming in a 1993 interview Freddie had informed the band of his illness much earlier. Filmed in May 1991, the music video for "These Are the Days of Our Lives" features a very thin Freddie Mercury, in what are his final scenes in front of the camera. The rest of the band were ready to record when Freddie Mercury felt able to come into the studio, for an hour or two at a time. Justin Shirley-Smith, the assistant engineer for those last sessions, states: "This is hard to explain to people, but it wasn't sad, it was very happy. Freddie was one of the funniest people I ever encountered. I was laughing most of the time, with him. Freddie was saying of his illness 'I'm not going to think about it, I'm going to do this.'
After the conclusion of his work with Queen in June 1991, Freddie Mercury retired to his home in Kensington, West London. His former partner, Mary Austin, was a particular comfort in his final years, and in the last few weeks of his life made regular visits to his home to look after him. Near the end of his life Freddie Mercury was starting to lose his sight, and he deteriorated to the point where he could not get out of bed. Due to his worsening condition, Freddie Mercury decided to hasten his death by refusing to take his medication and continued taking only painkillers.