Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara (Gujarati: ફરોખ બલ્સારા*), 5 September 1946 – 24 November 1991) was a British musician, singer and songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist and lyricist of the rock band Queen. As a performer, he was known for his flamboyant stage persona and powerful vocals over a four-octave range. As a songwriter, Mercury composed many hits for Queen, including "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Killer Queen", "Somebody to Love", "Don't Stop Me Now", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "We Are the Champions". In addition to his work with Queen, he led a solo career, and also occasionally served as a producer and guest musician (piano or vocals) for other artists. He died of bronchopneumonia brought on by AIDS on 24 November 1991, only one day after publicly acknowledging he had the disease.
Mercury was a Parsi born in Zanzibar and grew up there and in India until his mid-teens. He has been referred to as "Britain's first Asian rock star". In 2002, Mercury was placed at number 58 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, in 2006, Time Asia named him one of the most influential Asian heroes of the past 60 years, and he continues to be voted one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music. In 2005, a poll organised by Blender and MTV2 saw Mercury voted the greatest male singer of all time. In 2008, Rolling Stone editors ranked him number 18 on their list of the 100 greatest singers of all time. In 2009, a Classic Rock poll saw him voted the greatest rock singer of all time. Allmusic has characterised Mercury as "one of rock's greatest all-time entertainers", who possessed "one of the greatest voices in all of music".
Although Mercury's speaking voice naturally fell in the baritone range, he delivered most songs in the tenor range. His vocal range extended from an F (F2) to an F (F6). He could belt up to a high F (F5). 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". Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, with whom Mercury recorded an album, expressed her opinion that "the difference between Freddie and almost all the other rock stars was that he was selling the voice". She adds, "His technique was astonishing. No problem of tempo, he sung 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." As Queen's career progressed, he would increasingly alter the highest notes of their songs when live, often harmonising with seconds, thirds or fifths instead. Mercury was said to have "the rawest vocal fold nodules" and claimed never to have had any formal vocal training.[29
Freddie Mercury's vocal range
In the early 1970s Mercury had a long-term relationship with Mary Austin, whom he had met through guitarist Brian May. He lived with Austin for several years in West Kensington. By the mid-1970s, however, the singer had begun an affair with a male American record executive at Elektra Records, which ultimately resulted in the end of his relationship with Austin. Mercury and Austin nevertheless remained close friends through the years, with 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 [Austin], 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". In his will, Mercury left his London home to Austin, rather than his then partner Jim Hutton, saying, "You would have been my wife and it would have been yours anyway". Mercury was also the godfather of Mary's oldest son, Richard.
During the early to mid '80s, he was romantically involved with Barbara Valentin, an Austrian actress, who is featured in the video for "It's a Hard Life". By 1985, he began another long-term relationship with a hairdresser named Jim Hutton. Hutton, who was tested HIV-positive in 1990, lived with Mercury for the last six years of his life, nursed him during his illness, and was present at his bedside when he died. Hutton claimed that Mercury died wearing a wedding band that Hutton had given him. Hutton died from cancer on 1 January 2010.
Mercury was an acknowledged bisexual. While some critics claimed he hid his sexual orientation from the public, others claimed he was "openly gay". In December 1974, when asked directly, "So how about being bent?" by the New Musical Express, Mercury replied, "You're a crafty cow. Let's put it this way; there were times when I was young and green. It's a thing schoolboys go through. I've had my share of schoolboy pranks. I'm not going to elaborate further." Homosexuality was legalised in the United Kingdom in 1967, only seven years earlier. In the 1980s, he would often distance himself from his partner, Jim Hutton, during public events.
In 1992, John Marshall of Gay Times expressed the following opinion: "[Mercury] was a 'scene-queen', not afraid to publicly express his gayness but unwilling to analyse or justify his 'lifestyle' ... It was as if Freddie Mercury was saying to the world, 'I am what I am. So what?' And that in itself for some was a statement." A writer for a gay online newspaper felt that audiences may have been overly naïve about the matter: "While in many respects he was overtly queer his whole career ("I am as gay as a daffodil, my dear" being one of his most famous quotes), his sexual orientation seemed to pass over the heads of scrutinising audiences and pundits (both gay and straight) for decades".
Mercury did not disclose his HIV status to the public for several years, and it has been suggested that he could have made a contribution to AIDS awareness by speaking earlier about his situation and his fight against the disease.
Queen were widely criticised when they broke a United Nations cultural boycott in 1984 by performing a series of shows at Sun City, an entertainment complex in Bophuthatswana, a homeland of (then) apartheid South Africa. As a result of these shows, Queen was placed on a United Nations list of artists who broke the boycott and was widely criticised in magazines such as the NME.
A further controversy ensued in August 2006, when an organisation calling itself the Islamic Mobilization and Propagation petitioned the Zanzibar government's culture ministry, demanding that a large-scale celebration of what would have been Mercury's sixtieth birthday be cancelled. The organisation issued several complaints about the planned celebrations, including that Mercury was not a true Zanzibari and that he was gay, which is not in accordance with their interpretation of sharia. The organisation claimed that "associating Mercury with Zanzibar degrades our island as a place of Islam". The planned celebration was cancelled.
Illness and death
According to his partner Jim Hutton, Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS shortly after Easter of 1987. Around that time, 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 Mercury's increasingly gaunt appearance, Queen's absence from touring, and reports from former lovers to various tabloid journals – by 1990 the rumours about Mercury's health were rife. At the 1990 Brit Awards held at the Dominion Theatre, London on 18 February, 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 daily tabloid newspaper The Sun featured a series of articles claiming that he was seriously ill; notably in an article from November 1990 which featured an image of a haggard looking Mercury on the front page accompanied by the headline "It's official – Freddie is seriously ill".
However, 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 29 April 1991, which showed Mercury appearing very haggard in what was by then a rare public appearance. Brian May confirmed in a 1993 interview that Mercury 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 painfully thin Mercury, which are his final scenes in front of the camera.
After the conclusion of his work with Queen in June 1991, Mercury retired to his home in Kensington. His former partner, Mary Austin, had been 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, Mercury was starting to lose his sight, and his deterioration was so overpowering he could not get out of bed. Due to his worsening condition, Mercury decided to hasten his death by refusing to take his medication, and just continued taking pain killers.
On 22 November 1991, Mercury called Queen's manager Jim Beach over to his Kensington home, to discuss a public statement. The next day, 23 November, the following announcement was made to the international press on behalf of Mercury:
A little over 24 hours after issuing that statement, Mercury died on the evening of 24 November 1991 at the age of 45, at his home in Kensington. The official cause of death was bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS. The news of his death had reached newspaper and television crews by the early hours of 25 November.
“ 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. ”
On 27 November, Mercury's funeral service was conducted by a Zoroastrian priest. An intensely private man, Mercury's service was for 35 of his close friends and family, with Elton John and the remaining members of Queen among those in attendance. Mercury was cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery, West London, with the whereabouts of his ashes believed to be known only to Mary Austin.
In his will, Mercury left the vast majority of his wealth, including his home and recording royalties, to Mary Austin, and the remainder to his parents and sister. He further left £500,000 to his chef Joe Fanelli, £500,000 to his personal assistant Peter Freestone, £100,000 to his driver Terry Giddings, and £500,000 to Jim Hutton. Mary Austin continues to live at Mercury's home, Garden Lodge, Kensington, with her family. Hutton was involved in a 2000 biography of Mercury, Freddie Mercury, the Untold Story, and also gave an interview for The Times for what would have been Mercury's 60th birthday.