George Michael, the British singer-songwriter who emerged as half of the pop duo Wham! in the 1980s and went on to a successful solo career, has died at age 53.
“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,” said Michael’s rep in a statement to the BBC.
“The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
Michael died of heart failure, according to his longtime manager Michael Lippman, who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter.
Michael, who was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou to a Greek Cypriot restaurateur and his wife, first emerged as a hit-maker with Andrew Ridgeley in the pop duo Wham! in the early 1980s. Their early hits included the songs “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Careless Whisper” and “Last Christmas.”
But he became a true pop icon after going solo in 1987, when his album “Faith” sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. In the span of his career, Michael sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
He had eight No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. and in 2008, Billboard magazine ranked him the 40th most successful artist on the Billboard Hot 100 Top All Time Artists list.
Michael won two Grammys among eight nominations and earned many other honors during his career, which spanned more than three decades.
The pop star long self-identified as bisexual, but revealed in a 1999 interview with The Advocate that he was gay. “I never had a moral problem with being gay,” he said, further explaining that he thought he had fallen in love with a few women in his past. “Then I fell in love with a man, and realized that none of those things had been love,” added Michael.
Michael also had few brushes with the law, once arrested for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom in Beverly Hills.
In 2010, Michael was sentenced to eight weeks in jail and lost his license for five years for driving under the influence of drugs when he crashed his car into a London photo shop. He admitted to smoking marijuana and taking a prescription sedative when he was arrested.
George battled a life-threatening case of pneumonia in 2011, forcing him to stay in a Vienna hospital and postpone a series of concerts.
Soon after his recovery he spoke to members of the media outside of his London home and admitted, while in tears, his situation had been “touch and go.”
He later released the song “White Light,” which details his brush with death in 2011. It was released June 29, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his first single with the group Wham! entering the charts in 1982.
Stars are already reacting to the news of Michael’s death. Elton John posted a photo on Instagram with the message: “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.”