Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara (Gujarati: ફ્રારુક બુલ્સારા), 5 September 1946 – 24 November 1991) was a British musician, best known as the lead vocalist and a songwriter of the rock band Queen. As a performer, he was known for his flamboyant stage persona and powerful vocals over a four-octave range. As a songwriter, Mercury composed many hits for Queen, including "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Killer Queen", "Somebody to Love", "Don't Stop Me Now", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "We Are the Champions". In addition to his work with Queen, he led a solo career, penning hits such as "Barcelona", "I Was Born to Love You" and "Living on My Own". Mercury also occasionally served as a producer and guest musician (piano or vocals) for other artists.
Mercury, who was a Parsi born in Zanzibar and grew up there and in India until his mid-teens, has been referred to as "Britain's first Asianrock star". He died of bronchopneumonia brought on by AIDS on 24 November 1991, only one day after publicly acknowledging he had the disease. In 2006, Time Asia named him as one of the most influential Asian heroes of the past 60 years, and he continues to be voted one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music. In 2005, a poll organised by Blender and MTV2 saw Mercury voted the greatest male singer of all time. In 2009, a Classic Rock poll saw him voted the greatest rock singer of all time. In 2008, Rolling Stone editors ranked him number 18 on their list of the 100 greatest singers of all time. Allmusic has characterised Mercury as "one of the most dynamic and charismatic frontmen in rock history."
Mercury was born in the British protectorate of Zanzibar, East Africa. His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara,[a] were Parsis from the Gujarat region of the then province of Bombay Presidency in British India.[b] The family surname is derived from the town of Bulsar (also known as Valsad) in southernGujarat. As Parsis, Freddie and his family practised the Zoroastrian religion. The Bulsara family had moved to Zanzibar in order for his father to continue his job as a cashier at the British Colonial Office. He had one younger sister, Kashmira.
In 1954, at the age of eight, Mercury was sent to study at St. Peter's School, an English style boarding school for boys in Panchgani near Bombay(now Mumbai), India. At school, he formed a popular school band, The Hectics, for which he played piano. A friend from the time recalls that he had "an uncanny ability to listen to the radio and replay what he heard on piano". It was also at St. Peter's where he began to call himself "Freddie". Mercury remained in India for most of his childhood, living with his grandmother and aunt. He completed his education in India at St. Mary's School, Bombay.
At the age of 17, Mercury and his family fled from Zanzibar for safety reasons due to the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution. The family moved into a small house in Feltham, Middlesex, England. Mercury enrolled at Isleworth Polytechnic (now West Thames College) in West London where he studied art. He ultimately earned a Diploma in Art and Graphic Design at Ealing Art College, later using these skills to design the Queen crest. Mercury remained a British citizen for the rest of his life.
Following graduation, Mercury joined a series of bands and sold second-hand clothes in the Kensington Market in London. He also held a job atHeathrow Airport. Friends from the time remember him as a quiet and shy young man who showed a great deal of interest in music. In 1969 he joined the band Ibex, later renamed Wreckage. When this band failed to take off, he joined a second band called Sour Milk Sea. However, by early 1970 this group broke up as well.
In April 1970, Mercury joined guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor who had previously been in a band called Smile. Despite reservations from the other members, Mercury chose the name "Queen" for the new band. He later said about the band's name, "I was certainly aware of the gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it". At about the same time, he changed his surname, Bulsara, to Mercury.
In the early 1970s Mercury had a long-term relationship with Mary Austin, whom he had met through guitarist Brian May. He lived with Austin for several years in West Kensington. By the mid-1970s, however, the singer had begun an affair with a male American record executive at Elektra Records, which ultimately resulted in the end of his relationship with Austin.Mercury and Austin nevertheless remained close friends through the years, with Mercury often referring to her 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." He also wrote several songs about Austin, the most notable of which is "Love of My Life". Mercury was also the godfather of Mary's oldest son, Richard.
During the early-to-mid-80s, he was romantically involved with Barbara Valentin, an Austrian actress, who is featured in the video for "It's a Hard Life". By 1985, he began another long-term relationship with a hairdresser named Jim Hutton. Hutton, who himself was tested HIV-positive in 1990, lived with Mercury for the last six years of his life, nursed him during his illness and was present at his bedside when he died. Hutton claimed that Mercury died wearing a wedding band that Hutton had given him. Hutton died from cancer on 1 January 2010.
Although he cultivated a flamboyant stage personality, Mercury was a very shy and retiring man in person, particularly around people he didn't know well. He also granted very few interviews. Mercury once said of himself: "When I'm performing I'm an extrovert, yet inside I'm a completely different man."
Illness and Death
According to his partner Jim Hutton, Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS shortly after Easter of 1987. Around that time, Mercury claimed in an interview to have tested negative for HIV. Despite the denials, the British press pursued the rampant rumours over the next few years, fuelled by Mercury's increasingly gaunt appearance, Queen's absence from touring, and reports from former lovers to various tabloid journals. Toward the end of his life, he was routinely stalked by photographers, while the daily tabloid newspaper The Sun featured a series of articles claiming that he was seriously ill. However, Mercury and his colleagues and friends continually denied the stories, even after one front page article published on 29 April 1991, which showed Mercury appearing very haggard in what was now a rare public appearance.
On 22 November 1991, Mercury called Queen's manager Jim Beach over to his Kensington home, to discuss a public statement. The next day, 23 November, the following announcement was made to the press on behalf of Mercury: 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 me, 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 that statement, Mercury died on the evening of 24 November 1991 at the age of 45. The official cause of death was bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS. The news of his death had reached newspaper and television crews by the early hours of 25 November.
Although he had not attended religious services in years, Mercury's funeral was conducted by a Zoroastrian priest. Elton John, David Bowie and the remaining members of Queen were among the few people who attended the funeral. He was cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery and his ashes are in possession of his mother.
In his will, Mercury left the vast majority of his wealth, including his home and recording royalties, to Mary Austin, and the remainder to his parents and sister. He further left £500,000 to his chef Joe Fanelli, £500,000 to his personal assistant Peter Freestone, £100,000 to his driver Terry Giddings, and £500,000 to Jim Hutton. Mary Austin continues to live at Mercury's home, Garden Lodge, Kensington, with her family. Hutton was involved in a 2000 biography of Mercury, Freddie Mercury, the Untold Story, and also gave an interview for The Times for what would have been Mercury's 60th birthday.