There’s been a lot of hype about Bohemian Rhapsody recently. The film is said to be a celebration of the lead singer, Freddie Mercury, but it was on this day 27 years ago — November 24, 1991 — that Mercury died leaving fans around the world devastated.
Born Farrokh Bulsara, in Zanzibar, on September 5, 1946, it was only when he started attending school at St Peter’s (a boarding school for boys in Mumbai) that he became known as ‘Freddie’. Coincidentally, it was during his time at St Peter’s that his talents as an entertainer were first recognised. The head teacher suggested Freddie would benefit from a musical education in a letter to the boy’s parents. They agreed, and Freddie learned to play the piano, joined the school choir and had various roles in the school’s theatrical productions.
His family moved to England in the early-60s and Freddie was enrolled in the Ealing College of Art. Although he’d become friends with Brian May and Roger Taylor (they played in a band with one of Freddie’s friends, Tim Staffwell) it wasn’t until 1970 that the trio joined forces, along with John Deacon, for form Queen. It was also at this time that Freddie legally changed his name to Freddie Mercury.
Freddie Mercury was the face of Queen. The band had a wildly popular mix of hard rock, pop, cabaret, glam and opera music in the ’70s. Their debut album was recorded between 1971 and 1972 and released in July 1973. It reached gold sales status in the United Kingdom and the United States. At that time, Freddie Mercury designed the Queen crest logo that became a familiar sight on most of the band’s product.
The band enjoyed phenomenal success. The band’s second album Queen II was released in March 1974 and coincided with an extensive tour of the UK featuring songs ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’, ‘Father to Son’, and ‘The Fairy Fellers Master-Stroke’. While their third album gave Queen a big hit with ‘Killer Queen’, it was A Night at the Opera that scored their first number one hit, the 7-minute ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
This was the song that proved just how extraordinary Freddie Mercury was to the world. In ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, Mercury layered his own voice into a choir. It was a painstaking process in the days of reel-to-reel tape. The song features melodramatic tempo changes and bombastic operatic tones. The recording of the single was long and gruelling and is said to have taken no less than four months.
A Night at the Opera propelled them onto the world stage. Other well-known singles on this album include ‘You’re My Best Friend’ and ‘The Prophet’s Song’, but there is also ‘Love Of My Life’ which is rumoured to hae been written by Freddie as a tribute to his then long-term girlfriend, Mary Austin.
Although it’s no longer a secret Freddie Mercury was gay, he did care for Mary Austin quite deeply. Even after they broke up, Freddie and Mary remained involved in each other’s lives. Freddie was godfather to Mary’s son, and when Freddie died, he left Mary Austin most of his money, his house, and — most notably — his recording royalties. It’s certain such royalties would have brought her quite a lot of money over the years, especially when you consider the back catalogue. Austin is also said to be the only person who knows the final resting place of Freddie Mercury, after he gave her strict instructions on where to place his ashes (a secret kept from even his parents).
Freddie Mercury was one of the most flamboyant performers on the British rock scene for almost 20 years. He had a legion of fans, many of whom had become concerned about his health and wellbeing when he appeared gaunt and unwell in the 1980s.
On November 23, 1991, Freddie Mercury released a statement saying: “Following enormous conjecture in the press, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private in order to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has now come for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth, and I hope everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease”. A day later, news came that he had passed away.
A concert was held in Freddie Mercury’s honour five months after his death at Wembley Stadium. It was attended by more than 70,000 people.
Brian May and Roger Taylor have continued performing as Queen, with a series of guest singers including the late George Michael stepping into Freddie Mercury’s shoes. However, Mercury’s contribution to music, his unique persona and his untimely death meant he would forever be remembered as a legend of rock.
10. ‘Let Me Entertain You’, 1978
9. ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, 1979
8. ‘You Take My Breath Away’, 1976
7. ‘Barcelona’, 1987
6. ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, 1979
5. ‘ Love of My Life’, 1975
4. ‘We Are The Champions’, 1977
3. ‘Somebody to Love’, 1976
2. ‘Killer Queen’, 1974
1. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, 1975
*According to this Starts at 60 writer.