British singer George Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980's with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist with sometimes sexually provocative lyrics and a finger on the pulse when it came to fashion, died at his home in England on Sunday. He was 53 years old.
In the mid-1980s, Wham! was one of the most successful pop duos ever, ahead even of Simon & Garfunkel, with singles like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go", "Careless Whisper", "Last Christmas" and "The Edge of Heaven.” "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," his publicist said in a statement. "The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage," the statement said.
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou June 25, 1963 in London to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents in a flat above a north London launderette, Michael once played music on the London underground train system before finding fame with Wham!. With a school friend, Andrew Ridgeley, he formed Wham! in 1981, a partnership that would produce some of the most memorable pop songs and dance-floor favorites of the 1980s.
The duo had their first hit with their second release "Young Guns (Go For It)" (1982) before their debut release "Wham Rap" became a hit the following year. The 1984 album "Make It Big" was a huge success in the United States, but Michael was keen to reach beyond Wham!'s teenage audience and to experiment with other genres. Wham! announced their split in 1986.
A pilot solo single, "I Want Your Sex," was banned by daytime radio stations but was one of his biggest hits. Also recall “Freedom ’90,” which was directed by then-unknown David Fincher and starred Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Tatjana Patitz lip-syncing his lyrics. The video was artful, engaging, and sexy, and it perfectly embodies the age of the original supermodels, the ones who dominated fashion in the early ‘90s in a way that simple has not been seen since.
Casting the truly iconic video came about after the singer saw Peter Lindbergh's portrait of the five women for the January 1990 cover of British Vogue. The models have said the following about the video ...
Naomi Campbell: "I came to the set on the first day they were shooting. Oh my god, it was crazy! It was during the fashion collections, so I came straight from Paris, and I'd done 4 or 5 shows the day before and we finished at 2 o'clock in the morning. They didn't have the Eurostar then, so I took the 6 o'clock train to London and then went to the airport. I didn't sleep—I went from the plane to the shower to the set. I was up all night working to work all night again! But it was great. I love George Michael, and I love all the girls who were in it, and the director, David Fincher, is a great filmmaker."
Tatiana Patitz: "All the models and I knew George Michael—I think I had done a photo shoot with him before at some point. His manager contacted my agent to see if I could do the video. George wasn't in it—he wasn't even there on the set when I was there. David Fincher directed it, which was so exciting even then because he had already done one of Madonna's videos.
When I shot my segment it was just me on the sound stage in London, and it took all day for each girl. I was up against the wall in this leopard robe, and David told me to imagine that I was in this huge loft by myself, relaxing. He was very clear with his direction. The hairdresser did my hair really curly—I was like, are you trying to make me look like I put my fingers in a socket? And then he also had me lie on that chaise-lounge and smoke.
But the way it came out, it looked so cool. When you're doing something, you don't know what it's going to look like, but the way they cut it together, with all the close-ups, if amazing. It was shot on film, which to me is so romantic. The digital world had become so crisp and unforgiving, but film is just... yummy!"
Linda Evangelista was the one who took the most persuading. She recalls, "He thought it would make us into a big deal, that it would be good for us. I was like, 'Please, we're here. We've already arrived!'"
After speaking with Michael, she was convinced, and rearranged her schedule. More recently, she said, "Little did I know that to this day, when someone meets me for the first time, they bring up that video. That's what they remember. So yeah, George was right ... 25 years later, this video—and not my magazine covers—is what people mention the most when they approach me on the street. It's pretty incredible."
Christy Turlington: "It was a whirlwind. I flew in from LA and drove straight to the set, so I was pretty delirious. Each of us filmed for a day on our own, except Linda and I overlapped on the last day because we had a scene together. They were long days. I don't recall any specific direction from David FIncher. He was focused on the lighting I recall.
George was there the whole time and very involved. I didn't get the cassette for the song until I arrived. I listened to the track repeatedly the entire drive to the studio. I barely had the lyrics down when we filmed. My first shot was me crawling behind a paper board with a slit cut in it so it only revealed a part of my face. Every time I couldn't remember the words, I ducked down so only my eyes were visible. By the end of the shoot, I couldn't not hear the song in my head."
Cindy Crawford: "I remember them sending me a Walkman so I could learn the words before I got to set. The studio was huge and dark and smoky. Someone explained to me that my first shot would be in a bathtub. They oiled me up and put me in an empty tub with a smoke machine to make it look like steam. I had to sit on an apple crate because you couldn't see me over the edge of the tub.
My second shot was sitting on a chair with a towel on my head, and I kept thinking my part wasn't going to be that sexy. I watched the video recently, as I wanted to write about the whole supermodel phenomenon in my new book, "Becoming," and my kids were like, "Hey, we know that song!" I think it stands the test of time and still looks amazing today. I like how David Fincher saw something different in each of us and tried to bring that out in the video."
Fun fact: An initial disagreement over their salaries threatened the casting, but was resolved when Annie Veltri, who represented Crawford, Evangelista, Campbell, and Patitz at Elite Model Management, made it clear that all of her clients would receive the same compensation — $15,000 a day.
Michael's death, which police have said was "unexplained but not suspicious," comes at the end of a year that has seen the passing of several music superstars, including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen.