Gay pop star George Michael has passed away at the age of 53, BBC reports. Michael, who found fame in the 1980s as the lead singer of Wham! later launched a successful solo career, becoming one of the biggest pop stars of the late 20th-century, selling over 100 million albums. Michael He came out in 1998 after being arrested for soliciting sex with an undercover police officer in Beverly Hills, California.
It's not clear the cause of Michael's death, but the BBC says he "passed away peacefully at home." As rumors began about whether his death was related to HIV, fans took to social media to condem the idea as "ugly," homophobic, and biased. As Heavy notes, one of Michael's partners, the designer Anselmo Feleppa, passed away from AIDS-related complications. The British singer’s song “Jesus to a Child” was reportedly a tribute to Feleppa.
Michael had been an active supporter of those with HIV since the early days of the AIDS epidemic and contributed widely to charities. According to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Michael donated over £1 million from his tour for the album Symphonica to EJAF which, "enabled the Foundation to set up a special fund commemorating the AIDS-fighting work of Elizabeth Taylor." The singer also performed in numerous fundraising concerts like Live Aid, and the World Aids Day concert. And, "In recent years, he staged a charity performance at the Palais Garnier Opera House for France’s biggest AIDS charity Sidaction."
Born in London, Michael would pair up with childhood friend Andrew Ridgeley to form Wham!. The band broke through with their second album, Make It Big, released in 1984 and featuring hits like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Careless Whisper."
His 1987 solo album, Faith, was a phenomenon, featuring the hit title track, along with the controversial, "I Want Your Sex." The album won numerous accolades, including Album of the Year at the Grammys. His follow-up, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, was a more somber affair. Eschewing his past image as a sex symbol, Michael released videos like the iconic "Freedom! '90" that didn't feature him.
Though he continued to release albums and participate in philanthropic efforts throughout the 1990s, Michael's career was in decline when he was arrested in Beverly Hills. He would soon come out and even mock the bathroom incident in his video for the single "Outside."
Michael struggled with drugs during the past decade and was arrested several times for possession or driving under the influence. The singer's health was also suffering; he had a severe case of pneumonia in 2011 and suffered a head injury after falling out of his car in 2013.