“Last Christmas”: R.I.P. George Michael

By on December 25, 2016

George Michael — an acclaimed pop singer and one-half of the successful 80s-era pop duo Wham! — has died of heart failure at his home in Goring in Oxfordshire, England, his longtime manager Michael Lippman reported on Christmas Day, 2016. He was 53.

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Michael wrote “Last Christmas” for Wham! in 1984, a song, which according to Billboard and Nielsen SoundScan, is the tenth most downloaded song in history (751,000 downloads).

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It rose to #2 on the UK charts, and was only outdone by the star-studded Christmas benefit song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band Aid, which featured Michael (and others) on lead vocals. (Royalties for both songs were given to famine relief in Ethiopia.) Lots of big popstars (and little ones too) have covered it, but we have no info about where they’re sending their royalties.

This video for Wham!’s “Last Christmas” — which is not exactly what anyone would call a “Christmas” song — features both George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley of Wham! accompanying lovely ladies to what appears to be an empty ski resort (some scenes were shot at the resort in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, a resort village in the Swiss Alps near the Italian border).

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Ridgeley’s girl is played by model Kathy Hill (who was apparently in a relationship with George Michael at one point) and we’re also treated to lots of montage-y slo-mo shots of longing looks between all the players with their perfectly 80s-era hairsprayed hair.

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The video — which also features Wham!’s backup singers Pepsi and Shirley and (curiously) Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp — has been viewed 221 million times on Youtube. It also marks the last filmed appearance of a clean-shaven Michael; he kept the beard he grew afterwards until his death.

George Michael — born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in East Finchley, London, on June 25, 1963 — and Andrew Ridgeley formed Wham! in 1981 after first trying their luck with a ska band, The Executive.

(Michael also busked around London for a time, performing songs by the Beatles, Elton John and David Bowie.)

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Wham! had success with their first single, 1982’s “Young Guns (Go For It),” a Top Five hit. They released their debut album, Fantastic, in July 1983, and it climbed to #83 on Billboard‘s 200 chart that same year.

Their follow-up album, Make It Big — released on October 23, 1984 — was a #1 charting release in the United States, Japan and other countries, propelled the top of the charts by the lead-off track, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for three straight weeks.

Another hit from the album, “Careless Whisper,” also reached the number one spot on the U.S. singles charts and it, too, stayed there for three weeks. Two other singles — “Freedom,” and “Everything She Wants” — were also big hits for the duo.

Wham! officially split in 1986, releasing a farewell single, “Edge of Heaven,” after which Martin had a successful solo career.

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Here’s more from the New York Times:

For much of his career, including his best-selling albums “Faith” and “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1,” he was also his own producer and studio backup band. Much of his music drew on R&B, old and new, but his melodic gift extended across genres.

won a Grammy Award in 1988 for “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me),” a duet with Aretha Franklin, and “Faith” won the Grammy for album of the year. In Britain, he was showered with awards, and in 2004, Britain’s Radio Academy said he had been the most-played performer on British radio from 1984 to 2004.

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In 1998, Mr. Michael came out as gay after being arrested on charges of lewd conduct in a men’s room in Beverly Hills, Calif. He had long lent his name and music to support AIDS prevention and gay rights. During interviews in later years, he described himself as bisexual, and said that hiding his sexuality had made him feel “fraudulent.” He also described long struggles with depression.

During the 2000s, Mr. Michael’s output slowed; his last studio album of new songs was “Patience” in 2004. In later years he put out individual songs as free downloads, encouraging listeners to contribute to charity. But in 2006, 25 years into his career, he could still headline stadiums worldwide.

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No official cause of death has been released yet, but it was reported that he was found “in bed, lying peacefully.”

His publicist Connie Filippello said in a statement that was given to the BBC:

“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.”

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.