The Reflection

Gull Lake High School's Online News Source

Celebrating Freddie Mercury 30 years after his death

Almost 30 years ago, a rock legend would reveal his biggest secret, which caused him to go into hiding and stir speculations among the media.  On November 23, 1991, Freddie Mercury told his representatives to make a statement about the AIDS virus plaguing his body since 1987.  This would be the first time he would confirm such information that news sources were digging into.  Unfortunately, this would be Mercury’s final statement before he would pass away from AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia the next day. 

The world seemed to stop for millions once they caught the news of his passing.

Everyone knows who Freddie Mercury is just by searching him on Google.  The iconic mustache, bottomless microphone stand, and unique set of teeth are the usual characteristics that get people to say, “Oh, that’s Freddie Mercury!”  

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He was the frontman of the world-renowned rock band, Queen, and pursued solo music as well. Mercury has written some of the most famous songs of all time such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are the Champions.”  He even carved out a chunk of pop culture history when it came to his flamboyant fashion statement along with other male musicians in the 70s.

Life before fame

On September 5, 1946, the legendary Freddie Mercury was born. Named Farrokh Bulsara, he was born to Bomi and Jer Bulsara in Zanzibar, Tanzania.  He lived with his parents and younger sister, Kashmira, until the age of 8, when he would be sent to a boarding school in India.  Farrokh would progress in his education and learn how to play the piano, all while joining his first band by 1963.  The following year saw a bloody revolution in Tanzania, so many families like the Bulsara’s fled to England.

Farrokh’s new life in London featured playing in one more band in college before joining the trio group, Smile.  Farrokh changed his name to Freddie at the point when he met astrophysics and dental students, Brian May and Roger Taylor.  The lead singer of Smile, Tim Staffell, soon quit after Freddie started creative clashes with him.  Freddie, Brian, Roger, and their new bassist, John Deacon, started playing with a new name called Queen.  

The iconic Queen logo seen to this day was designed by Freddie Mercury himself, drawing each member’s zodiac sign onto the design.  He seemed reborn with the new name change and growing interest in flamboyant styles, creating an attitude wanting unique and interesting associations to him and the band.

Rise to fame in the 1970s

By the early 70s, Queen was still underground, playing at bars and clubs across London.  It wasn’t until the release of the second album, Queen II, when the band got their first hit song, Seven Seas of Rhye.  Mercury became engaged to his girlfriend, Mary Austin, a year before the release of Sheer Heart Attack, Queen’s first successful album.  In 1974, the band topped the charts with “Killer Queen,” written by Mercury, and “Now I’m Here,” giving them a spot to perform on Top of the Pops.  This performance gave birth to the start of stardom for the band, and it had plans of making even better music.

Queen traveled to a quaint ranch in the English countryside to record their 1975 album, A Night At The Opera.  Each member of the group had big plans with their songs and fought to keep opinions from ruining them.  Freddie was no different, except he didn’t have such a hard time getting his songs on the album, because he would write beautiful lyrics for “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Love of My Life.”  Each song was crafted with care, yet the critics weren’t too interested in the operatic, rock ballad “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  “Love of My Life,” however, was written by Mercury to his fiance, Mary.  He struggled with his sexuality in those recent years and felt the need to let Mary know, but it led to the break-in of their engagement.  However, the couple stayed close friends with each other.

The music video to one of Freddie’s favorite songs. Video and song by Queen.

The latter half of the 70s saw Queen climbing the charts and multiple iconic songs being encapsulated in time.  Mercury concocted famous songs like “Somebody To Love,” “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “We Are the Champions.”  

His stage presence as the frontman never ceased to amaze the crowds as he donned skin-tight jumpsuits, flowy capes, and leather, strutting the stage with a bottomless microphone stand.  Entering the 80s, the band partnered with the production of the 1980 movie Flash Gordon to create a sci-fi, rock soundtrack.  Ultimately, the movie was not as successful, but the band still bounced back with their album The Game, which was released around the same time as the soundtrack for Flash Gordon.

Continuous fame in the 1980s

The 70s and 80s were times of parties and risky behavior among musicians and Mercury was no stranger to this lifestyle.  Even though he found himself in difficult situations, it rarely affected the band’s operation.  In the mid-80s, Roger Taylor and Freddie Mercury were no strangers to solo music, creating Strange Frontier (Taylor) and Mr. Bad Guy (Mercury).  

In this period between 1984 to 1986, the band saw one of their most famous performances being made.  July 13, 1985, multiple musicians came together at Wembley Stadium to raise money for a famine raging in regions of Africa, calling the event Live Aid.  Queen was one of the last performances of Live Aid, being seen by millions of people on live television and thousands in front of them.  Mercury would give one of his best stage performances with the band, mesmerizing the audience with vocals that had the entire audience repeating after each note.

Freddie Mercury dazzles the Live Aid audience in 1985. Photo by Flickr

Queen returned to the studio in 1986 to create the album A Kind of Magic with songs featured in the movie Highlander, released that same year.  In this era of Freddie’s life, he felt satisfied with all the parties he held at his home, the Garden Lodge, the relationship between him and his partner, Jim Hutton, and the many cats he treated like his children.  

The health crisis: AIDS

The band went on tour as usual throughout the lavish lifestyle of Mr. Mercury, hitting many different countries without knowing this would be the last tour featuring all four members.  The end of the tour marked the beginning of Mercury’s illness; he was fatigued but refused to cancel any of the remaining shows.  Shows such as the one held at Wembley Stadium would be the last the world saw the frontman strutting the stage.

Mercury had a contract to release two albums and 1987 saw his second one.  But, this was the time when he was tested positive for the HIV virus, creating a change in how the public saw him.  Though they didn’t have confirmation, the media created rumors from the album Mercury put out as his music video for The Great Pretender was the reveal of his new look, which eliminated the iconic mustache.  Although he was diagnosed with AIDS months after, Mercury still found time to care for his home with his cats and Jim Hutton.  The band, however, found their next album to slow in sales, yet staying a hit among fans.  In music videos for The Miracle, all four members of the band played a role, but it was becoming clear that Mercury was weakening.  Yet, when he first told the band about his condition, he said it was not going to stop him from making music.

Final moments in and out of music

In the final music video Freddie did, he donned a vest with all of his cats painted on it. Video and music by Queen.

The AIDS virus made Mercury a fragile body with a passionate soul all thanks to his music career.  It was his pride and joy to write and record songs with May, Taylor, and Deacon, even up until he could stand no more.  The band rushed around the clock, creating songs for the Innuendo album, and even making two more videos before Mercury passed.  The most notable of the two, “These Are the Days of Our Lives,” was the last music video he ever did.  A designer friend created a waistcoat with all of Mercury’s cats to wear on camera, and Freddie put on his Adidas boxing sneakers one last time.  The lights came up, the camera started rolling, and music played.  

Brian, Roger, and John all watched their friend struggle to stay standing with sheer determination and questioned if this was it.  In the song, the final lyrics are “I look and I find…I still love you…I still love you…” and the percussion fades out with the final whisper of the last line.  It was like a formal goodbye when Mercury sang the lyric for the camera and it’s rumored he was looking directly at his partner, Jim Hutton, who was behind the camera at the time.

In the spring of 1991, the recording booth was filled with Mercury’s vocals for a final time.  He and the rest of the production team wanted to record as much audio of him singing since it was his final goal.  One of these sessions became the last as Brian May and Freddie Mercury sat at a table, May wrote lyrics for Mercury to sing on scraps of paper, and they got as far as two verses.  May remembers Mercury telling him “I’m tired, so I’m going to go home.” and he never saw him back at the studio again.  He finished the final verse for him in the end, but that was after 1991.

As mentioned previously, Mercury made his assistants send out a statement the day before he died, confirming his illness.  Many friends came by to visit him one last time in the final months and Mary Austin, his ex-fiance turned lifelong friend, recalls the final two weeks were when Mercury stopped taking his medicine.  

In 1996, Montreux, Switzerland created this statue in honor of Freddie, who loved visiting the city. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

His life of many accomplishments came to an end on November 24, 1991, with his favorite cat, Delilah, by his side.  All who knew Freddie Mercury collectively mourned the death of their dear friend and made a touching tribute to him.

An immortal legacy

So where’s the band and its legacy 30 years later?  The manager of Queen, Jim Beach, created The Mercury Phoenix Trust in hopes of finding a cure for HIV and AIDS a year after Mercury’s passing in inclusion with the massive tribute concert.  By 1998, John Deacon would retire from the public eye and performance with the band because he said he “felt it was too hard to go on without Freddie.”  Brian May and Roger Taylor continue today to keep the legacy of Queen and Freddie Mercury alive by such things as touring with Adam Lambert and releasing tributes to their late friend. 

Thirty years later, Freddie Mercury’s fantastic vocals and piano skills touch the hearts of fans across the globe.  It’s important to keep his legacy alive, but there’s no doubt one would need to try hard to make that happen.

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