- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2016

Superstar ’80s musician George Michael died Sunday of heart failure at the age of 53, according to his manager.

The smooth-voiced singer of such songs as “Careless Whisper” and “Last Christmas,” the BBC reported, died over Christmas weekend at his home at Goring in the English county of Oxfordshire.

“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,” publicist Connie Filippello said in a statement issued to multiple news outlets. 

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According to The Associated Press, manager Michael Lippman said the death was the result of heart failure.

The police had put out a statement earlier declining to specify a cause of death, saying only that it was “unexplained but not suspicious” and “a post mortem will be undertaken in due course.”

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in London, Mr. Michael first became famous as the frontman of the duo Wham! with partner Andrew Ridgeley. The pair had a string of No. 1 hits in the mid-1980s including “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and “Everything She Wants.”

On Sunday, Mr. Ridgeley tweeted about Mr. Michael using a Greek nickname for “Georgios” and saying that he was “heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog. Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved. A xx.”

After Wham! broke up, Mr. Michael went on to even more success as a solo act, topping the charts with songs like “Faith,” “Father Figure” and his remake duet with Elton John of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”

“I am in deep shock,” Mr. John wrote on Instagram. “I have lost a beloved friend — the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans.”

He also helped take Aretha Franklin to the top of the U.S. pop chart for just the second time in her storied career with the duet “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me.”

All told, Mr. Michael hit No. 1 on the U.S. chart 10 times, topped the British chart 11 times and sold more than 100 million records worldwide.

Though it was widely believed from the start of Wham! success that he was gay, Mr. Michael did not definitively come out of the closet until the late 1990s.

In 1998, he was arrested on charges of cruising for anonymous sex in a men’s room in Beverly Hills. In 1999, he told The Advocate that it was “falling in love with a man that ended” his conflicted bisexuality.

Ironically, one of his first brushes with controversy came over the heterosexual solo hit “I Want Your Sex” in 1987. The explicit lyrics (“not everybody does it, but everybody should”) and risque video (the first shot is of a woman in black underwear) caused many radio stations, along with MTV, to refuse to play it or restrict it to certain hours. The video also features a shirtless Mr. Michael writing “explore” and “monogamy” in lipstick on the back of girlfriend Kathy Jeung.

Mr. Michael had a history of health problems, including a 2011 bout with pneumonia that put him in a coma and resulted in a tracheotomy. Mr. Michael said afterward that his survival was “touch and go.”

He also had several convictions for drug possession and driving under the influence, which culminated in a four-week jail sentence in 2010.

A documentary was planned for release about Mr. Michael’s career, with the tentative working title “Freedom: George Michael,” with the singer narrating. The title came from two of his songs, one with Wham! in 1986 and the other as a solo act in 1990.

The release was timed to coincide with a planned reissue of Mr. Michael’s 1990 album “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1.” Among the musical and TV talents tied to the documentary were Tony Bennett, Mary J. Blige, James Corden, Liam Gallagher and Ricky Gervais.

Numerous celebrities took time out of their Christmas celebrations to note Mr. Michael’s death.

“We have lost too many beautiful souls this year. #rip you will be greatly missed,” tweeted LeAnn Rimes after several repetitions of “no.” Added the Roots drummer Questlove Gomez: “I don’t have it in me anymore to write about our greats. I just knew one day I’d get to work with #GeorgeMichael. Sad Christmas.”

“I just heard about my friend @GeorgeMichael’s death. He was such a brilliant talent. I’m so sad,” tweeted Ellen Degeneres.

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