Biography 'gets close to truth' of George Michael's life and tragic death

George Michael's home in Highgate has allegedly been handed down to his sister

George Michael's home in Highgate has allegedly been handed down to his sister - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Buried next to his mother and sister in Highgate Cemetery, George Michael went from chart-topping icon to drug and alcohol addiction, and early death.

His final project, Freedom Uncut, was a documentary he co-directed and narrated, which was released in June.

According to US author James Gavin, the famously private singer was trying to control his life story and image - a desire that endured after his death with his close circle declining to cooperate with outside projects.

Thus Gavin's book George Michael A Life meant battling through barriers of protection to conduct 250 interviews with core musicians and friends, and research hundreds of interviews and cuttings dating back to the first Wham! hit in 1982. Contributors include record boss David Geffen, Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell, sax player Steve Gregory and original backing singer Dee C Lee.

George Michael A Life by James Gavin is published by Abrams £25

George Michael A Life by James Gavin is published by Abrams £25 - Credit: Supplied

"George lived most of his life in hiding and had a circle of silence around him," says Gavin. "I dutifully wrote to people but the estate would not cooperate with any George Michael project not their own."

"It was so calculated how he controlled his own image. He spent the first half of his life creating George Michael and the second half destroying it."

Gavin's unvarnished tale is of a talented, shy, singer born in East Finchley to a Greek Cypriot dad and English mother, who enjoyed huge fame but ended up deeply unhappy.

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"By the end of his life he was unable to write a song, his voice was damaged from smoking, he had heart and liver problems," says Gavin, who says George's drug intake included GHB, crystal meth, crack, and skunk.

From smashing his Range Rover into Hampstead Snappy Snaps to his prison sentence, and falling from a speeding car, he believes George's life had become "painful, almost torture".

"He was very self destructive and flirted with death in a serious way. By the end, after all he had put his body through it just gave out, but I think he was done and wanted out."

Growing up in Kingsbury, at the age of seven, George had developed a dream to "conquer the world and be a big star".

"It was obvious from the first time he opened his mouth to sing that he had a tremendous natural gift," says Gavin, who has previously penned biographies of Peggy Lee and Chet Baker.

"Musicians admired him because it was so damn good. His voice had a sweet caressing texture which touched people, his songs worked as a tonic of the spirit, reminded people of happy moments in their lives that George had given them."

Going back through the cuttings, he said newspapers initially accepted his persona as a macho playboy.

"They weren't out to get him in the early days. They wrote columns about his affairs with beautiful women, they wanted to sell newspapers, they weren't interested in the truth."

A sea of flowers outside George Michael's home in Highgate

A sea of flowers outside George Michael's home in Highgate - Credit: Archant

But after a string of hits in the 80s and 90s, George became obsessed with getting back to No1 and found it tough when it didn't happen.

"He wanted acceptance on a grand scale to make up for that empty space that's inside a lot of people like George who are broken inside. The childhood wounds were too deep. He's quoted as saying there were things his father said to him when was growing up that he simply never got over."

Gavin describes how homophobia, including from his father, played a role in George's downfall. The infamous incident in a Los Angeles toilet in 1998 and risky activities on Hampstead Heath were George's way of "forcing himself out of the closet".

And the death from AIDS of Brazilian lover Anselmo Feleppa in 1993 profoundly affected him, as did his mother Lesley's death from breast cancer in 1997.

"George grew up hiding and hid his sexuality until he was 34. AIDS in the early '80s added an extra layer of shame and stigma. Anselmo was proudly out and exerted pressure for George to come out, but he was partnered with one of the most fiercely closeted men in the world who tried to keep the relationship in the shadows. They were together for 18 months, six months in, he learned he was HIV positive."

Gavin became a fan because of George's 1996 Older album - "a love letter" to Anselmo.

"I could see this was a tortured man who had found a way to translate that into beautiful, sad music. It was George trying to bring Anselmo back to life - it's so personal and raw but highly uncommercial. He wanted it to put him back to number one. He'd opened his heart and was finally telling an honest story, but it wasn't received well and he was devastated."

Even when he was out, there was "never a sense of celebration about being gay."

He uncovered a tape of George addressing a gay pride event in Washington DC: "confronted by all these people being joyful, he was angry at how gay life had let him down."

But for many, George was a great friend and "great guy". "A gentleman who posed for selfies and was lovely to his fans."

And there was his anonymous philanthropy - including donations to Highgate's annual Christmas lights.

"I think his musical career was off track, he was feeling in need of a sense of purpose, and helping strangers or friends in need was something that made him feel good."

He adds: "He lived this oddly duplicitous life, and wanted to tell his truth but it never really got told. I believe I have come the closest to telling the truth of George Michael and I hope that instead of the sad ending, his talent will win out and he will not be perceived as a tragic figure but as someone who gave so much pleasure."