When rock legend Freddie Mercury passed away due to complications from AIDS in 1991, rumors circled his illness as the paparazzi circled his home. Though shocking and difficult to accept for millions of fans worldwide, Mercury’s passing was no surprise. His lifestyle was legendarily promiscuous and his sexuality was ill defined. It was also widely assumed he had contracted HIV in a time when those three simple letters sadly meant that time was running out.
As the lead singer and lyricist for Queen, Mercury reportedly lived as hard and fast as his music, often changing tempos with the same brilliance and ease. He rarely spoke about his personal life, and was intentionally ambiguous about his partners. And though it was accepted that he slept with men, he never let his sexuality define him, in fact he avoided it. His friends and band mates knew and adored him for his strength and his character, ironically the very same traits still haunting his legacy today.
Mercury’s fierce grip on privacy undoubtedly granted him a finite measure of peace in his final years, but it was that same decision that outraged many, hoping he’d use his celebrity to shed light on a disease that was devastating the gay community. Only on the eve of his passing did the gaunt singer publicly acknowledge what the world already assumed. Finally admitting he had AIDS, he said he “felt it correct to keep this information private…in order to protect the privacy of those around me." But in protecting those around him, many privately wondered if he failed to provide support for millions suffering worldwide.
Today is 22 years since the death of Freddie Mercury, one of AIDS’s most famous victims. It’s easy to look back upon the brilliant career and secretive life of music’s most entertaining, talented, and flamboyant showman only to get lost in the music and drown in sold-out stadiums of nostalgia. But also, has enough time passed that we can finally answer the question The Advocate posed back in 1991: “Will the singer do more to battle ignorance and prejudice in death than he managed to in his lifetime?”
View a video tribute below and some iconic images in the pages to follow: