Belfast Telegraph

George Michael's death at 53 shocks and saddens fans and music industry

George Michael's death from suspected heart failure has prompted an outpouring of shock and sadness from celebrity friends and fans.

The 53-year-old's death is being treated by police as "unexplained but not suspicious" after his body was discovered on Christmas Day.

Michael, who rose to fame as the front man of Wham! and had chart-topping hits including Last Christmas and Freedom, died peacefully at home, his publicist said.

The cause of the star's death was heart failure, according to his manager Michael Lippman.

Michael - whose real name was Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou - sold more than 100 million albums throughout a career spanning almost four decades.

Big names from the world of entertainment paid tribute after hearing about his death, which comes in a year that has seen the music industry lose some of its biggest stars including Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen.

Sir Elton John posted a photograph of himself and Michael on Instagram, writing: "I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend - the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans."

Michael's former Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley said he was "heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog", an affectionate nickname used for the star.

He said: "Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved. A xx"

Friend Madonna paid her own tribute, posting an undated video on Twitter in which she embraced Michael on stage. In it she tells the audience: "He's a great songwriter and he makes very classy videos, like me."

Referencing several of his best known lyrics, she adds: "George, I want your sex, so be my father figure and I will have faith if we have to live hand-to-mouth. The diva himself."

Michael formed Wham! with Ridgeley in 1981, and went on to massive success, releasing a string of hit singles including Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do), Club Tropicana, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, and Last Christmas.

They were the first Western pop act to visit China when they played there in 1985, before splitting in 1986, by which time Michael had already released a handful of solo singles.

Fans and neighbours gathered at his homes in Highgate, north London and Goring-on-Thames in Oxfordshire to pay tribute to an artist they described as a "huge inspiration".

People visited to lay flowers, light candles and recalled memories of listening to his music, seeing him live or meeting him.

On Sunday night, Thames Valley Police said they were called to a property in Goring-on-Thames shortly before 2pm, adding: "Sadly, a 53-year-old man was confirmed deceased at the scene.

"At this stage the death is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious. A post-mortem will be undertaken in due course."

The star's publicist said: "It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period.

"The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage."

As well as being known for his talents, Michael had a turbulent personal life, as brushes with the law and tales of drug use saw him hit the headlines.

He nearly died from pneumonia in late 2011, and after receiving treatment in a Vienna hospital, he made a tearful appearance outside his London home and said it had been ''touch and go'' whether he lived.

Doctors had performed a tracheotomy to keep his airways open and he was unconscious for some of his spell in hospital.

Meanwhile, Michael's 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 had been set to be reissued accompanied by a new film featuring Stevie Wonder, Sir Elton and the supermodels who starred in the video to his hit single Freedom! '90.

An appeal for archive footage and imagery from fans including "mass Wham! hysteria" had been made on Michael's website in August, with a post on his official Facebook page saying: "George is personally seeking rare Wham! & George Michael photos and video and we need your help!"

The movie, with the working title Freedom: George Michael, was to be narrated by Michael and set to feature Mark Ronson, Mary J Blige, Tony Bennett, Liam Gallagher, James Corden and Ricky Gervais.

The record was his second solo album, after the hugely successful Faith, and was arranged, produced and written almost entirely by Michael, but did not feature him on the album cover.

It featured hits including Cowboys And Angels, Mother's Pride and Praying For Time and outsold Faith in the UK, where it went platinum four times but led to a court case with US record label Sony about Michael's frustration over how the album has been marketed. Michael lost the case.

Spandau Ballet star Martin Kemp and his wife Shirlie - a backing singer for Wham! with her musical partner Helen "Pepsi" DeMacque as part of the act Pepsi & Shirlie - have both paid tribute to Michael.

Kemp wrote on Twitter: "My whole family and I are devastated at the loss of our beautiful friend Yog! We will miss him so much! We are all heartbroken!"

Shirlie wrote that she is "beyond heartbroken".

She added: "Words cannot express how sad we all are, only last week I saw him laughing and happy. My heart is broken to lose someone so special."

Kemp previously revealed how Michael was responsible for his getting with Shirlie, to whom he has been married since 1988.

Michael introduced Shirlie to Kemp in the 1980s and joined them on their very first date.

Speaking to Piers Morgan on his Life Stories programme in 2014, Kemp said: "'He's a special person, George. He's been a good friend to us for years.

"It's funny because I remember the first date that Shirlie and I ever went on. George came as a chaperone. I spent the whole evening trying to lose him so that me and Shirlie could sneak off somewhere and snog.

"He's a special person and he always will be."

Entertainment's long list of losses in 2016

The world of entertainment has lost stars from all genres of the industry in 2016.

Here is a list of some of the biggest names to die so far this year:

:: Singer David Bowie died aged 69 on January 10.

:: Actor Alan Rickman died aged 69 on January 14.

:: Eagles frontman Glenn Frey died aged 67 on January 18.

:: Broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan died on January 31 aged 77.

:: Author Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, died aged 89 on February 19.

:: Actor Frank Kelly, who played Father Jack in the comedy series Father Ted, died aged 77 on February 28.

:: Coronation Street creator Tony Warren died aged 79 on March 1.

:: Nancy Reagan, actress and former first lady of the United States, died aged 94 on March 6.

:: Beatles producer Sir George Martin died aged 90 on March 8.

:: Magician Paul Daniels died aged 77 on March 17.

:: Comedian Ronnie Corbett died aged 85 on March 31.

:: This Morning agony aunt Denise Robertson died aged 83 on March 31.

:: Sherlock Holmes actor Douglas Wilmer died aged 96 on March 31.

:: Drugs campaigner Howard Marks, known as Mr Nice, died aged 70 on April 10.

:: Reality TV star and music producer David Gest died aged 62 on April 12.

:: British playwright Sir Arnold Wesker died aged 83 on April 12.

:: Comedian Victoria Wood died aged 62 on April 20.

:: Pop star Prince died aged 57 on April 21.

:: Television writer Carla Lane, known for sitcoms such as The Liver Birds and Bread, died aged 87 on May 31.

:: Boxing champion Muhammad Ali died aged 74 on June 3.

:: Singer Dave Swarbrick of folk band Fairport Convention died aged 75 on June 3.

:: Anton Yelchin, actor in Star Trek, died aged 27 on June 19.

:: Comedian, Royle Family actress and writer Caroline Aherne died aged 52 on July 2.

:: Ken Barrie, the voice of Postman Pat, died aged 83 on July 29.

:: Kenny Baker, who played droid R2D2 in the Star Wars films, died aged 81 on August 13.

:: Gene Wilder, who played Willy Wonka and other memorable comedy roles, including parts in The Producers and Young Frankenstein, died aged 83 on August 28.

:: Former Israeli president Shimon Peres died aged 93 on September 28.

:: Former Coronation Street actress Jean Alexander, who played Hilda Ogden, died aged 90 on October 14.

:: Raine Spencer, the stepmother of Diana, Princess of Wales, died aged 87 on October 21.

:: London-born fashion designer Richard Nicoll died aged 39 on October 21.

:: Jimmy Perry, screenwriter known for shows including Dad's Army and It Ain't Half Hot Mum, died aged 93 on October 23.

:: Singer, songwriter and television personality Pete Burns, who founded pop band Dead Or Alive, died aged 57 on October 23.

:: Sir Jimmy Young, who hosted BBC radio programmes for half a century, died aged 95 on November 7.

:: The death at 82 of Canadian singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, who penned the classic song Hallelujah, was announced on November 11.

:: The Man From Uncle star Robert Vaughn died aged 83 on November 11.

:: Musician Craig Gill, drummer of Madchester band Inspiral Carpets, died aged 44 on November 22.

:: The death of West End star Keo Woolford, 49, who starred in The King And I opposite Elaine Paige, and in the television remake of Hawaii Five-O, was announced on November 30.

:: The death of comic actor Andrew Sachs, 86, best-known for playing Spanish waiter Manuel in Fawlty Towers, was announced on December 1.

:: Peter Vaughan, who starred in Game Of Thrones and Porridge, died aged 93 on December 6.

:: Greg Lake, King Crimson founder member and one-third of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, died aged 69 on December 8.

:: Restaurant critic AA Gill died aged 62 on December 10.

:: Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt died in Spain at the age of 68 on Christmas Eve.

:: George Michael passes away aged 53 on Boxing Day.

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