Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara; 5 September 1946 – 24 November 1991) was a British rock musician and songwriter, best known as the iconic lead singer and pianist of the rock band Queen. He is remembered for his vocal abilities and charisma as a live performer. As a songwriter, he composed many international hits, including "Killer Queen", "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Somebody to Love", "We Are the Champions" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". Mercury died of complications from AIDS, leading to greater public awareness of the disease.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Performer and songwriter
- 3 Influences
- 4 Legacy
- 5 Further reading
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on the African island of Zanzibar, at the time a British colony, now part of Tanzania. His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, were Indian Parsis, Zoroastrians of Persian descent. The family had emigrated to Zanzibar from India in order for Bomi to continue his job as a middle-ranking cashier at the British Colonial Office. Mercury had one younger sister, Kashmira.
Mercury was sent back to India to attend St. Peter's boarding school at Panchgani near Bombay (now Mumbai). It was at St. Peter's where he learned to play the piano and joined his first band, The Hectics. He remained in India for most of his childhood, living with his grandmother and aunt. Later, he also attended the Cathedral and John Connon School. Mercury completed his education in India at St. Mary's High School in Mazagon before returning to Zanzibar. He was 17 when he and his family finally fled to England as a result of the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution.
Shortly after arriving in England, Mercury enrolled as a student at Isleworth Polytechnic (now called West Thames College) in West London where he studied art at foundation level. It was here that he also made his stage debut in England, performing in a play by Arnold Wesker called ‘The Kitchen’. Fellow students remember him as a shy but friendly person who was, even then, musically inclined.
At this time he regularly went to gigs at Eel Pie Island with his friends to see artists such as Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry, The Downliners Sect, Brian Auger, The Artwoods and several black American blues artists, an experience which must have had an influence on him as a performer.
During the late 1960s he could be found selling second-hand clothes in Kensington Market in London, where he and his closest associates would meet to plan gigs and parties (presumably while he was still at Ealing College).
There is confusion among fans as to Mercury's background. He made occasional references to being Persian in interviews, but his family was officially Indian. However, they were also Parsis (Indians of Persian Zoroastrian decent). It is relatively common for Parsis to refer to themselves as "Persian".
Although he had a very close girlfriend named Mary Austin for many years, Freddie Mercury had always been fairly open about his bisexuality. Beginning in the mid 1970s, Mercury began a series of affairs with men, which ultimately resulted in the end of his relationship with Austin. However, the two remained close friends through the years, and Mercury often referred to Austin 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. I couldn't fall in love with a man the same way as I have with Mary."
In 1983, Mercury found a new lover named Jim Hutton. Hutton lived with Mercury for the last six years of his life, cared for him when he was ill, and was at his bedside when he died. According to Hutton, Mercury referred to him as his husband, and died wearing a wedding band that Hutton had given him.
Mercury possessed a notable overbite of his teeth that he had wanted to fix for many years. Early in his career, he commented that he wished to have work done, but regretted that he did not have time to do it. According to the January 2004 edition of Cat Fancy, Mercury possessed a great fondness for cats, at one point owning as many as ten. Mercury's personal assistant, Peter Freestone, wrote that his boss "put as much importance on them [his cats] as any human life." The album Mr. Bad Guy and the song "Delilah" were dedicated to cats, and Mercury wore clothes featuring cats in videos and on album covers.
Mercury kept his Indian descent a secret from most of his fans, rarely mentioning his heritage in interviews. He would sometimes refer to himself as "Persian," perhaps alluding to his identity as a Parsi. Many friends expressed their view that Mercury felt ashamed of his ethnic origins and feared racial backlash in a country that had long been troubled by race riots and violence against Indian immigrants. On the other hand, fellow band mate Roger Taylor suggested that Mercury downplayed his Indian heritage simply because he did not feel that it would fit well with his rock musician persona.
According to his lover Jim Hutton in his book "Mercury and Me", Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS in the spring of 1987. Mercury claimed to have tested negative in an interview published that year, and continued to deny that he had AIDS. Despite these denials, the British press continued to pursue the rampant rumours about his health, likely fuelled by Mercury's appearance during the final years of his life. His gaunt appearance in his last video, "These Are the Days of Our Lives", suggested serious illness.
On November 22, 1991, Mercury called Queen's manager Jim Beach over to his Kensington home, to discuss a public statement. The next day, November 23, the following announcement was made to the press:
|“||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 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.||”|
A little over 24 hours after issuing the statement, Freddie Mercury died at the age of 45. The official cause of death was bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS. Although he had not attended religious services in years, Mercury's funeral was conducted by a Zoroastrian priest. He was cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery, and the whereabouts of his ashes are unknown, although some believe them to have been dispersed into Lake Geneva. The remaining members of Queen (May, Taylor and Deacon) founded The Mercury Phoenix Trust and organised The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness. He left £500,000 to his chef, £500,000 to his personal assistant, £100,000 to his driver, and £500,000 to his partner, Jim Hutton. Mary Austin, his life-long friend, inherited the estate and now lives there with her family.
Performer and songwriter
Widely considered as one of the greatest vocalists in popular music, Freddie Mercury possessed a very distinctive, almost four octave voice. Although his speaking voice naturally fell in the baritone range, he delivered most songs in the tenor range. Another characteristic of his voice involved his powerful delivery of technically difficult material. On the other hand, because he suffered from vocal nodules (refusing surgery for the condition), he would often lower the highest notes during live performances. Mercury also claimed never to have had any formal training.
Throughout the 1970s, Mercury opted not to use synthesizers. He used many keyboard instruments including grand pianos, upright pianos, hammond organs and harpsichords. During the 1980s he employed more modern keyboards such as electric pianos and synthesizers. Although he did not possess great technical ability on the instrument, his keyboard contributions to Queen songs were generally very original with regard to timing and rhythm. He was a very dramatic pianist, and varied his playing by sometimes playing very gently and sometimes (as he's most known to do) crashing the chords violently. Notable examples include "The March of the Black Queen" (Queen II), "Killer Queen" (Sheer Heart Attack), "Death on Two Legs" and "Love of My Life" (A Night at the Opera), "We Are the Champions" and "My Melancholy Blues" (News of the World), "Bicycle Race" and "Don't Stop Me Now" (Jazz).
As a songwriter, Mercury wrote ten out of the seventeen songs on Queen's Greatest Hits album: "Seven Seas of Rhye", "Killer Queen", "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Somebody to Love", "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy", "We Are the Champions", "Bicycle Race", "Don't Stop Me Now", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", and "Play the Game". However, by the 1980s, all four members of the band were writing hits. The most notable aspect of his songwriting involved the wide range of different genres that he used, which included, among other styles, rockabilly, heavy metal and disco. Compared to many rock songwriters, Freddie Mercury tended to write musically complex material. For example, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is acyclic in structure and comprises nearly sixty chords. On the other hand, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" is made up of only a few chords. Despite the fact that Mercury often wrote very intricate harmonies, he also claimed that he could barely read music.
Although all four members of the band Queen were songwriters, producer Gary Langan, who worked in the studio with Queen on many of their early albums, notes that "Freddie was always intensely supportive of other people's songwriting and would give as much attention to one of the others as he would to his own. It was so unlike other bands I've worked with where there is an acknowledged songwriter and anyone else who writes one really has to hassle to get it anywhere." Mercury wrote most of his songs on the piano, often choosing keys that were technically difficult for band mate and guitarist Brian May (e.g. E flat major). Although he possessed only rudimentary skills on the guitar, he also wrote many lines and riffs for the instrument, including many of those heard in "Bohemian Rhapsody." He also wrote "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" on the guitar.
In addition to his work with Queen, Mercury produced two solo albums, Mr. Bad Guy and Barcelona, released in 1985 and 1988, respectively. The former was a pop-oriented album that emphasized disco and dance music. "Barcelona" was recorded with the opera singer Montserrat Caballé, whom Mercury had long admired.
Although it remained on the UK Album Charts for 23 weeks, Mr. Bad Guy was not considered to have been a commercial success relative to most Queen albums. However, in 1993, a remix of "Living on My Own", a single from the album, reached the #1 position on the UK Singles Charts. The song remained on the charts for thirteen weeks and garnered Mercury a posthumous Ivor Novello Award. All Music critic David Prato describes Mr. Bad Guy as "outstanding from start to finish" and expressed his view that Mercury "did a commendable job of stretching into uncharted territory." In particular, the album was heavily synthesizer-driven in a way that was uncharacteristic of previous Queen albums.
Barcelona, recorded with opera singer Montserrat Caballé, combined elements of popular music and opera. Caballé considered the album to have been one of the great successes of her career and said of Mercury, “He was not only a popular singer, he was a musician, that could sit at the piano and compose. He discovered a new way to bring different music styles together. He is the first and only person to have done this.” In September 2006, a compilation album featuring Mercury’s solo work was released in the UK in honour of what would have been his sixtieth birthday. The album debuted in the top 10 of the UK Album Charts.
Over the years, rare Freddie Mercury solo albums have greatly increased in value. For instance, a Japanese single of the song “Guide Me Home” from the Barcelona album is now worth as much as £1,000 ($1,800). Another valuable item is a 1973 cover of the 1969 Beach Boys song, "I Can Hear Music" recorded under the stage name Larry Lurex. Widely bootlegged, the original record is now a valuable collectible.
Mercury collaborated with Michael Jackson on some tracks which were never officially released, including “There Must Be More to Life Than This” and “State of Shock”, which were both leaked to the internet. Mercury also recorded another track with Michael Jackson called "Victory" that has yet to be released to the public. The latter song, released on the 1984 Victory album, was ultimately performed by Mick Jagger and The Jacksons. Mercury was originally scheduled to appear on the Thriller album as well.
As a child, Freddie Mercury listened to a considerable amount of Indian music, and one of his early influences was the Bollywood playback singer, Lata Mangeshkar. According to Record Collector magazine, after moving to England, Mercury became a fan of Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and The Beatles. Mercury said of Hendrix: “Jimi Hendrix is very important. He’s my idol. He sort of epitomizes, from his presentation on stage, the whole works of a rock star. There’s no way you can compare him. You either have the magic or you don’t. There’s no way you can work up to it. There’s nobody who can take his place.
Another of Mercury’s favorite performers was singer and actress Liza Minnelli. In a 1975 interview, he says of Minnelli: “Liza, in terms of sheer talent, just oozes with it. She has sheer energy and stamina, which she gets across the stage, and the way she delivers herself to the public is a good influence. There is a lot to learn from her.”
- In Montreux, Switzerland a statue (pictured right) by Irena Sedlecka has been erected as a tribute to Mercury, and appeared as the cover artwork on the album released after his death. The Freddie Mercury's Montreux Memorial Day has been held annually September 1 and 2 since 2003.
- In 2006, Time Asia magazine named Mercury as one of the most influential Asians of the past 60 years.
- The 1999 Millennium Poll, in which six hundred thousand Britons participated, Mercury was voted into the number 14 and 15 spots as a popular musician and songwriter, respectively.
- He ranked at No. 58 in the 2002 list of "100 Greatest Britons", sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public.
- In a list of the greatest English language singers of the 20th century, compiled by BBC Radio, he was the highest-ranked hard rock vocalist, having been voted at the tenth spot. He also came in second in MTV's list of the 22 greatest singers of the past 25 years.
- A Royal Mail stamp issued as part of the Millennium Stamp series commemorated the life of Freddie Mercury. The stamp caused controversy because Queen drummer Roger Taylor could be seen in the background. At that time, members of the British Royal family were the only living people who usually appeared on stamps in the UK, although this policy has since changed.
- Both Mercury's songs We Are the Champions and Bohemian Rhapsody have each been voted the best ever in separate polls.
Quotations about Mercury
- "When we lost Freddie, we not only lost a great personality, a man with a great sense of humour, a true showman, but we lost probably the best. The best virtuoso rock 'n' roll singer of all time. He could sing anything in any style. He could change his style from line to line and, God, that's an art. And he was brilliant at it." - Roger Daltrey
- Rock star David Bowie, who recorded the song "Under Pressure" with Queen and performed at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert said of Mercury, "Of all the more theatrical rock performers, Freddie took it further than the rest". – "He took it over the edge. And of course, I always admired a man who wears tights. I only saw him in concert once, and as they say, he was definitely a man who could hold an audience in the palm of his hand. He could always turn a cliché to his advantage."
- Opera singer Montserrat Caballé, who collaborated with Mercury on the Barcelona album said of him, “The difference between Freddie and almost all the other rock stars was he was selling the voice.”
- Freddie Mercury was the one rock star mentioned in singer Kurt Cobain’s alleged suicide note (1994): "I haven't felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guilty beyond words about these things. For example, when we’re backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins, it doesn't affect me the way in which it did for Freddy [sic] Mercury who seemed to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd, which is something I totally admire and envy."
- Pop star Phil Collins was quoted as saying shortly after Mercury's death,"I have the greatest admiration and a lot of affection for him. But if you go around living a pretty much promiscuous life, as he did, you always run the risk of AIDS."
- Comedian Mike Myers, whose movie Wayne's World introduced "Bohemian Rhapsody" to a new generation of listeners, said of Mercury, "He had theatricality, he was larger than life, new, fresh, cool. This is a god that walks as man."
- Although singer Axl Rose has long been criticized by gay activists, he was apparently a devoted Freddie Mercury fan. He has been quoted as saying, "If I didn’t have Freddie Mercury’s lyrics to hold on to as a kid, I don’t know where I would be. It taught me about all forms of music. It would open my mind. I never really had a bigger teacher in my whole life." Rose also performed “We Will Rock You” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Elton John at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.
- Paul McCartney once said of Freddie, "King Mercury, long may he reign!"
The world's first Indian and Persian rock star
Freddie Mercury was of full Parsi descent, grew up in India, and moved to the UK when he was 17. Consequently, he was arguably the world's first Indian rock star. Due to his Parsi roots and his own claims, he was also, arguably, the world's first Persian rock star.
Controversy surrounding sixtieth birthday celebration
On August 25, 2006, an organization calling itself the Islamic Mobilization and Propagation, or UAMSHO, petitioned the Zanzibar government's culture ministry, demanding that a large-scale celebration of what would have been Freddie Mercury's sixtieth birthday be cancelled.
UAMSHO issued several complaints about the planned celebrations, including that Mercury was neither a Muslim nor a true Zanzibari and that he lived a homosexual lifestyle not in accordance with the laws of Islam. The organization claimed that "associating Mercury with Zanzibar degrades our island as a place of Islam." The planned celebration was cancelled.
- Boyce, Simon (1995), Freddie Mercury, Bristol: Parragon, ISBN 9780752511054
- Clarke, Ross (1991), Freddie Mercury: A Kind of Magic, Oxted: Kingsfleet Publications, ISBN 9781874130017
- Freestone, Peter (1998), Mister Mercury, London: Tusitala, ISBN 9780953334100
- Jones, Lesley-Ann (1998), Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography, London: Coronet, ISBN 9780340672099
- Hudson, Jeffrey (1995), Freddie Mercury & Queen, Chessington, Surrey: Castle Communications, ISBN 9781860740404
- Mercury, Freddie; Brooks, Greg & Lupton, Simon (2006), Freddie Mercury: A life, In His Own Words, London: Mercury Songs Limited, ISBN 9780955375804
- Sky, Rick (1992), The Show Must Go On, London: Fontana, ISBN 9780006378433
- Evans, David & Minns, David (1992), Freddie Mercury: This is the Real Life, London: Britannia, ISBN 9780951993712
- Freestone, Peter (1999), Freddie Mercury: An Intimate Memoir By the Man Who Knew Him Best, London: Omnibus Press, ISBN 9780711978010
- Gunn, Jacky & Jenkins, Jim (1992), Queen: As It Began, London: Sidgwick & Jackson, ISBN 9780330332590
- Jackson, Laura (1997), Mercury: The King of Queen, London: Smith Gryphon, ISBN 9781856851329
- Hutton, Jim & Waspshott, Tim (1994), Mercury and Me, London: Bloomsbury, ISBN 9780747519225
- Government of Zanzibar (1946). "Certificate of Birth". Retrieved from mr-mercury.co.uk, May 29, 2006.
- “The Great Pretender”, Mail on Sunday, 2000-11-26, <http://queenarchives.com/viewtopic.php?t=104&sid=38bd7151123e719c98cdec1b04a0b6c4>
- “Star of India”, Sunday Times Magazine, 1996-11-17, <http://queenarchives.com/viewtopic.php?t=137>
- Photographic evidence exists.
- VH1 special about Mercury, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7-Rqm-STn8>
- “The Mercury that's rising in Rock is Freddie the satiny seductor of 'Queen'”, People, 1977-12-05, <http://www.queenarchives.com/viewtopic.php?t=168>
- “Freddie and Jim: A Love Story”, The Guardian, 1994-10-22, <http://queen.peoples.ru/html/archive/stati/fred_jim.htm>
- Hutton & Waspshott
- “Freddie & His Best Friends”, Cat Fancy
- Wigg, David (2000-01-22), “The Shy Woman Who Was Left The Mercury Millions”, Daily Mail, <http://mr-mercury.co.uk/Articles/MaryWeekendMagInterview.htm>
- Prato, Greg, Freddie Mercury, All Music Guide, <http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:5mfnzfdhehok>
- Sinatra is voice of the century, BBC, 2001-04-18, <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/entertainment/music/1281522.stm>
- Music Of The Millennium, <http://mr-mercury.co.uk/Articles/music_of_the_millenium.htm>
- Mercury was listed #2 in MTV's 22 Greatest Voices in Music, aired March 2003 by MTV, compiled by MTV and Blender magazine.
- Guazzelli, Andrés E., Characteristics of his voice, <http://f-mercury.com.ar/eng_characteristics.htm>
- “Interview with Mercury”, Circus, 1977-12-05, <http://queenarchives.com/viewtopic.php?t=32>
- "Bohemian Rhapsody" transcribed, <http://people.csail.mit.edu/custo/FTP/Chitarra/Bohemian%20rhapsody%20-QUEEN.txt>
- “Interview with Mercury”, Melody Maker, 1981-05-02, <http://queenarchives.com/viewtopic.php?t=26>
- Evans & Minns
- Rivadavia, Ed, Mr. Bad Guy, All Music Guide, <http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=10:1e61mpv39fco>
- Barcelona Queen, <http://queen.musichall.cz/index_en.php?s=de&d=barcelona_en>
- Jones, Tim (July 1999), “How Great Thou Art… King Freddie”, Record Collector, <http://freddie.ru/e/heaven/rc.html>
- Davis, Andy (March 1996), “Queen Before Queen”, Record Collector (no. 199), <http://freddie.ru/e/archives/qbq/2.html>
- “Queen’s Freddie Mercury Shopping for an Image in London”, Circus, April 1975, <http://queenarchives.com/viewtopic.php?t=30>
- Fitzpatrick, Liam, “Farrokh Bulsara”, Time Asia, <http://time.com/time/asia/2006/heroes/at_bulsara.html>
- The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, 1992-02-20, <http://queenconcert.com> Cite error: Invalid
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- Teeman, Tim (2006-09-02), “We thought he'd go on forever”, The Times, <http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,14932-2333576_1,00.html>
- Cobain, Kurt, Suicide Note, <http://geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Venue/6582/Nirvana/suicidenote.html>
- Donna, Kelley, CNN Morning News, at 3:05 minutes, CNN, <http://youtube.com/watch?v=zIefMwvFE0I>
- "Star of India". Sunday Times Magazine, November 17, 1996. Retrieved from Queen Archives, July 29, 2006.
- http://www.freddie.ru/e/bio Record Collector
- Zanzibar Muslim leader: Ban Freddie Mercury party, <http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:8kgyU8YEyucJ:www.wwrn.org/article.php%3Fidd%3D22582%26sec%3D33%26cont%3D3+tanzania+%22freddie+mercury%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=5>
- Queen Archives - transcribed interviews, articles and reviews.
- Freddie Mercury at the Internet Movie Database
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