George Michael, Singer Of 'Freedom '90,' 'Faith,' 'Last Christmas,' Dies At 53

George Michael in 1988
British singer George Michael performs at Rockfest in June 1988 at Wembley Stadium in London. An estimated 70,000 fans packed the venue for the 10-hour concert in honor of the jailed black South African ANC leader Nelson Mandela. (Gillian Allen/AP)
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British pop singer George Michael, who achieved fame as half of the duo Wham! before a breakout solo career, has died at his home in Oxfordshire, England, his publicist tells NPR. He was 53.

Michael had struggled with depression and faced both drug and health problems, reports NPR's Frank Langfitt; he postponed a series of concerts in 2011 after being hospitalized for pneumonia.

His manager told The Hollywood Reporter that he died of heart failure.

Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in North London, the son of a Greek Cypriot restaurant owner.

Critics questioned the quality of some of his early lyrics, but Michael was extremely gifted at writing pop hooks. He was recently nominated for the Songwriters Hall of Fame and sold more than 100 million albums during his nearly four-decade career.

He was clearly the creative force behind Wham! Michael and guitarist and schoolmate Andrew Ridgeley produced huge hits, like "Freedom" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," as well as the seasonal staple "Last Christmas." Live audiences were drawn to the handsome duo's dynamic dance-heavy stage shows.

Michael soon went off on his own. In 1987, he released the album Faith, which eventually sold more than 25 million copies. Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 followed in 1990, which included the hit single "Freedom '90." Both albums also gained recognition for their racy videos. Michael won two Grammy awards, including best album for Faith in 1989.

At the time of his biggest hits, The Associated Press notes, Michael had not disclosed his homosexuality:

"Much of his chart success was based on his sex appeal to young women. His look was raw and provocative, with tight jeans, tight T-shirts, black leather jackets and designer stubble, and his videos pushed the accepted limits with many lingerie-clad models vying for Michael's attentions on screen.

"But Michael's situation changed abruptly in 1998 when he was arrested for lewd conduct in a public toilet in Los Angeles after being spotted by a male undercover police officer."

The arrest eventually led to his coming out.

Michael's career and popularity as a live performer remained strong afterward, if no longer chart-topping, the AP reports, "despite a growing number of run-ins with police, many of them stemming from a series of driving-under-the-influence-of-drugs incidents."

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