Freddie Mercury died 30 years ago - Remember his life with these pictures
It's been 30 years since Freddie Mercury passed away from AIDS-related complications. If he were alive today, he would be 75 years old.
It's easy to image what his life would be like if it weren't for the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He might have retired by now and lived a quiet life with his cats in his London apartment. But it's also likely that Freddie Mercury would still be performing with Queen, the rock band that changed his life completely.
Freddie Mercury's life was cut short by an HIV infection and the consequences of AIDS (Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome). He passed away on November 24, 1991 at the age of 45.
Even though it ended tragically, the life of Freddie Mercury is something to celebrate. Click further to see the most amazing photos of the rock legend and read about his life, music, excesses and demise.
Freddie Mercury was born on September 5, 1946 with the name Farrokh Bulsara. His parents were from the Parsi community of western India. He had a younger sister, Kashmira.
Farrokh attended an elite British-style boarding school in Bombay, India. He called himself 'Freddie' and played covers of artists like Little Richard and Cliff Richard on the piano.
In 1964, when he was 18 years old, Freddie's family moved to Middlesex, UK. He decided to study graphic art and design at Ealing Art College in West Londen.
During his studies, he learned to design extravagant costumes like the ones Queen would later wear.
After graduating from art school, Freddie spent his time selling vintage clothing in Kensington Market and playing in bands. He met Roger Taylor there, the man who would become the drummer of Queen.
The band that would later be known as Queen started in 1970. Freddie, Roger, and the PhD student Brian May formed the band 'Smile.' They asked bassist John Deacon to join them a year later.
Freddie suggested that they change the name of the band from 'Smile' to 'Queen,' as he like the 'regal' sound of it.
(Photo: Queen posing with actress and Queen Elizabeth II look-alike, Jeannette Charles, September 1974)
According to his later statements, the singer did not necessarily choose the name for its gay connotations, although he surely was aware that gay men were called queens.
Freddie changed his own name as well, to Mercury, as he began calling himself in the 1970s. He even legally changed his name to Freddie Mercury.
Off-stage, the young Freddie Mercury seemed very different from the flamboyant stage persona that he portrayed with Queen.
He was known for his big teeth and looked a bit nerdy. In real life, he was shy and modest, as media like GQ and Irish Times report.
The singer had long been used to prejudicial treatment by people who saw him first and foremost as an Asian man.
On stage, however, Freddie Mercury went all out. He was a flamboyant rocker with a very specific taste in clothing. Everything was possible on the stage.
The more extravagant, the better.
Freddie played piano, guitar, and he sang.
Rolling Stone says that Freddie Mercury's big teeth may have been the cause of his remarkable vocal range: "his pronounced overbite - caused by four extra teeth at the back of his mouth - may have been his greatest blessing, giving his voice its distinctive resonant embouchure."
References to gay culture were obvious. With the leather pants and hat, it was as if Freddie Mercury had walked straight out of a gay bar.
Still, Queen did not appear to be a niche band for the LGBTQ+ community. It drew a general public of rock fans.
As the Guardian recalls, Freddie Mercury "was a gay man who, while never coming out publicly, put his sexuality front and centre in his performances and songwriting, apparently without his audience realising what he was doing."
Freddie Mercury wasn't the only openly queer star whom the general public embraced without hesitation. Elton John, a friend of his, also gave extravagant shows and was never considered a 'gay' artist.
Stars like Elton John and Freddie Mercury did not come out of the closet in the 1970s though. They would appear in public with their girlfriends but not with any boyfriends. Mercury called Mary Austin, pictured here, his "common-law wife". In addition, the Queen singer never spoke about his sexuality or LGBTQ+ issues.
Freddie Mercury simply evaded questions about his possible interest in men, a BBC article recalls. At one point, in an interview with music magazine NME, he'd describe his escapades as "schoolboy pranks," while on another occasion, he'd jokingly say: "I'm as gay as a daffodil, my dear!"
Queen was incredibly successful in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 70s, they began travelling the world and topped the charts with songs like 'Killer Queen,' 'Somebody to Love,' and 'Bohemian Rhapsody.'
Considered one of their most important songs, and the best-selling single of the band, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was a mini opera in which they mixed sounds and styles and experimented with visual effects in the video.
In the new decade, Queen continued to surprise pop and rock fans with different styles in music, costumes and videos. 'Radio Ga Ga' (in the image), 'We Will Rock You,' and 'Don't Stop Me Now' are examples of their biggest hits in those years.
The entire band appeared in drag for the video of 'I Want to Break Free' in 1984. They made a parody of the popular British series 'Coronation Street,' but according to Rolling Stone magazine, American and Brazilian fans did not appreciate the joke at all. The video was even banned on MTV in the US.
(Image: still from 'I Want to Break Free' video, YouTube)
Earlier, in 1980, some American fans had already expressed their dislike of Mercury's extravagant stage presence. As Rolling Stone reports, "fans tossed disposable razor blades onstage" because they wanted the singer to shave his moustache.
"They didn’t like this identity of Mercury – what they perceived as a brazenly gay rock & roll hero – and they wanted him to shed it," Rolling Stone says. Queen would stop touring the US after 1982.
Others criticized the band's tours in South American countries, such as Argentina which was ruled by an oppressive military junta at the time, and in Apartheid-era South Africa which most other British bands avoided for political reasons.
Queen regained its popularity during the Live Aid marathon of concerts in the UK and US on July 13, 1985. That day, Queen played a 21-minute set that would become part of music history. Considered as the 'The World's Greatest Gig' by a panel of industry professionals on the British Channel 4 in 2005, the concert was also reenacted in its entirety for the movie 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in 2018.
Queen was known for its massive stadium concerts. Some of the last and most memorable performances were the band's shows in Wembley Stadium in the summer of 1986.
The singer brought out two solo albums in the 1980s: 'Mr. Bad Guy' in 1985 and 'Barcelona' in 1988. The former had a lot of synthesizer music on it, which Queen didn't make often. The song 'Living on My Own' was one of the best known from the album.
The second solo album, 'Barcelona', mixed pop music with opera. The title song with Montserrat Caballé was a big hit.
By the time of that album, though, journalists and fans had been speculating for a while about Freddie Mercury's health. He looked much thinner and older while promoting 'Barcelona,' even though he was hardly past 40.
As it would turn out later, he had tested positive for HIV a year before the release of that album, as Rolling Stone reports.
Freddie Mercury never talked about his health in public. He was concerned with making as much music as he could in his remaining years and dealing with the illness in private. He did tell the other band members about it.
During Queen's 1986 tour, Rolling Stone reports, Mercury told the rest of the band: "I’m not going to be doing this forever. This is probably the last time." They gave one last concert in Knebworth Park, near London, for 200,000 spectators.
While the band continued recording albums, Freddie Mercury appeared much less in public than before. This is him with singer Annie Lennox in 1987.
The last time Freddie Mercury appeared at a public event, was the day he and the band went to the 1990 Brit Awards to receive an award for their Outstanding Contribution to Music.
On November 23, 1991, when he was already very sick, Freddie Mercury sent out a message to tell the world about his illness. "Following enormous conjecture in the press, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV-positive and have AIDS," the statement read.
"I felt it correct to keep this information private in order to protect the privacy of those around me," he continued. "However, the time has now come for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth, and I hope everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease."
(Image: still from Queen video 'These are the Days of our Lives')
The next day, on November 24, the singer passed away from bronchopneumonia. He left behind his boyfriend of six years, Jim Hutton, who had always been by his side, although he'd rarely appeared with him in public.
(This photo, with Jim Hutton on the right, was made backstage after the Live Aid concert.)
Five months after his death, Freddie Mercury's colleagues and friends, including David Bowie and Annie Lennox (image), held a tribute concert at Wembley stadium in honour of the singer.
'The Concert for Life - The Freddie Mercury Tribute,' in April 1992, was meant to raise awareness of the global epidemic and funds for the development of AIDS treatments. Guns N' Roses sang a now-famous version of the song 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door' and George Michael was one of the artists to sing a Queen song: 'Somebody to Love'.
In 1995, Queen released an album 'Made in Heaven,' with the last remaining recordings with Freddie Mercury. Roger Taylor and Brian May continued as Queen, but John Deacon (second left) stopped playing with the band.
Queen are now touring with singer and American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert. While 'The Show Must Go On,' as the Queen song states, Roger Taylor has been quoted by Rolling Stone in saying: "I have never got over his death. None of us have... For those of us left, it is as though Queen was another lifetime entirely."