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Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara September 5, 1946 — November 24, 1991) was a British Asian (i.e. British-Indian) singer, pianist and songwriter for the English rock band, Queen.
His exceptional voice, coupled with a vibrant stage personality, earned accolades and drew record crowds. As a songwriter, he produced a large number of memorable hits including "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We Are The Champions". His death from AIDS served greatly to increase awareness of the disease.
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town, Zanzibar to Persian parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara (see ). His parents practiced the ancient Persian Zoroastrian religion. The family had emigrated to Zanzibar in order for Bomi to continue his job as a middle-ranking cashier at the British Colonial Office.
Mercury also had one sister, Kashmira. He was educated at St. Peter's boarding school in Panchgani (Satara) near Bombay (now Mumbai) in India, where he gave his first onstage performances in a five-member school band called The Hectics. It was also at St. Peter's where he was given the name Freddie. He completed his education in India at St. Mary's High School in Mazagon, Mumbai and was 17 when he and his family fled to England as a result of a 1964 revolution in Zanzibar. In England, he pursued a Diploma in Art and Graphic Design at Ealing Art College, following in the footsteps of Pete Townshend. He later used these skills in order to design the famous Queen crest.
Singer and performer
Freddie Mercury possessed a very distinctive and yet very versatile voice. Although his speaking voice naturally fell in the baritone range, he also maintained excellent tone in the tenor range . His recorded vocal range spanned nearly four octaves (falsetto included), with his lowest recorded note being the F1 and his highest recorded note being the D5 . His highest recorded head voice note was the F4 . On the other hand, perhaps the most incredible aspect of his voice was not his vocal range, but the exceptional tone that he maintained over a three octave range. However, due in part to the fact that he suffered from vocal nodules (for which he declined surgery), he would often lower the highest notes during many concerts.
With his vocal versatility and a somewhat operatic technique, Freddie Mercury was one of the most technically accomplished singers to work in the pop idiom. In a list of the greatest English language singers of the 20th century complied by BBC Radio, Mercury was ranked #10 . The poll was topped by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. He also came in second in MTV's list of the 22 greatest singers of the past 25 years, having been beaten by Mariah Carey for the top spot .
Freddie Mercury's performance at Live Aid has recently been voted by various artists, journalists and music industry executives as the greatest live performance of all time in rock music . The results of the poll were televised on a Channel 4 television program in the UK called "The World's Greatest Gigs". Of the all the artists present at the Live Aid concert, Queen was widely regarded as having stolen the show, largely as a result of Mercury's incredible talent and charisma.
One of Mercury's trademarks throughout the years involved the use of a microphone (and stand) minus the bottom section. In his early years of singing he made the decision to pick up his microphone, still attached to the stand. At one particular event, the bottom fell off by accident and, from that point on, he decided to use a bottomless microphone stand. When asked why, he replied, "Everyone has to have a gimmick, dear."
Freddie Mercury composed ten of the songs on the original "Queen's Greatest Hits" album, including many of the band's most creative pieces, such as "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Killer Queen", "We Are the Champions", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Somebody to Love". He ultimately wrote or co-wrote nine international #1 hits .
Although all four members of the band Queen were songwriters, producer Gary Langhan, who worked in the studio with Queen on many of their early albums notes in the book Freddie Mercury: The Real Life that, "Freddie was always intensely supportive of other people's songwriting and would give as much attention to one of the other's as he would to his own. It was so unlike other bands I've worked with where there is an acknowledged songwriter and anyone else who writes one really has to hassle to get it anywhere".
Queen started using studio overdubs a great deal with their second album, Queen II, which features Mercury's music on the entire second side of the LP (or, in CD parlance, tracks 6–11). Although many listeners identify "Bohemian Rhapsody" as the pinnacle of his musical achievement, it is nonetheless possible to find the seeds of this mini-opera in some of these earlier songs (most notably "The March of the Black Queen.")
Main article: Bohemian Rhapsody
Although similarly sophisticated songs can be found on earlier Queen albums such as Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack, Bohemian Rhapsody is nonetheless widely considered to be the band's greatest achievement . When Mercury played his early drafts in the studio, producer Roy Thomas Baker remembers being shocked when, after hearing the ballad section of the song, he was told, "And now this is where the opera section is going to go!".
When the band wanted to release the song as a single in 1975, it had been suggested that, at 5 minutes and 55 seconds, it was far too long and would thus never be a hit. But Mercury gave a copy of the single to friend and London DJ, Kenny Everett, informing him that it was for him personally, and that he must never play it. The reverse psychology worked and Everett ended up playing the song on the air, up to fourteen times in the same day. From then on, every major radio station played the song in full and it became one of the biggest hits of all time in the UK, remaining at the #1 position for nine weeks. Although a great deal of speculation has arisen over the song's lyrics, Mercury always insisted that the song did not have any specific meaning.
Freddie Mercury also released two solo albums: Mr Bad Guy (1985) and Barcelona (1988) with Spanish soprano, Montserrat Caballй. While the latter collaboration came as surprise to critics, the album was nonetheless widely acclaimed, if not commercially successful. Another one of his solo hits was a 1987 cover of the song "The Great Pretender" (1987). After his death, another solo song, "Living On My Own", remixed by No More Brothers, also reached the #1 spot on the UK charts.
Although he had a very close girlfriend named Mary Austin, Freddie Mercury was also fairly open about his homosexual tendencies. In a March 12, 1974 interview for New Musical Express he tells the interviewer: "I am as gay as a daffodil, my dear!" Although his relationship with Mary Austin eventually ended, the two remained close friends, with Austin often fronting as his girlfriend for the press. While Mercury had previously been promiscuous, his last boyfriend, Jim Hutton, lived with him for the last eight years of his life, cared for him when he was ill and was present with him at his bedside when he died (see []). Mercury and Hutton were also part of the Munich scene where at one point Mercury began another casual relationship with the Austrian actress Barbara Valentin.
Mercury was well known for his extravagance. As a penniless student, friends recall the aspiring musician as having exclaimed at one point, "I'm not just going to be a star, I'm going to be a legend!" When asked how he would live without fame or money, he replied, "I'll always walk around like a Persian popinjay and no one's going to stop me." On the other hand, he was also known for his kindness and generosity, showering friends and casual lovers with expensive gifts, apparently including cars and jewelry. While he was charming and outgoing at his own parties, he often appeared to be shy at other events.
Death from AIDS
According to the book Mercury and Me by lover Jim Hutton, Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS in the spring of 1987. Despite the fact that he claimed to have tested negative for HIV in a 1987 interview, the British press nonetheless stalked the singer during the final years of his life. Although rumours about his health were rampant, he continued to deny that he had AIDS. From the 1991 video "These Are the Days of Our Lives," which represents Mercury's last appearance on film, it is clear that he was suffering from severe wasting. The lyrics of the song "The Show Must Go On," credited to all four members of Queen, further gave some clue to Mercury's attempts to hide his illness: "My makeup may be flaking/But my smile still stays on." On November 22, 1991 Mercury called Queen's manager Jim Beach over to his Kensington home to discuss a public statement. Only those closest to him knew how close to the end he really was. On November 23, the announcement was made that Mercury had AIDS. Freddie Mercury died at home in the presence of close friends at age 45 on November 24, 1991.
Although he had not attended religious services in years, Mercury's funeral was conducted by a Zoroastrian priest. He was cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery and the whereabouts of his ashes are unknown, although some believe them to have been dispersed into Lake Geneva. The remaining members of Queen founded The Mercury Phoenix Trust and organized The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. He left Ј100,000 to his chef and Ј500,000 to his partner, Jim Hutton. Mary Austin inherited the estate and now lives there with her family. His Ј12 million will was much less money than he was thought to have earned.
Several recent polls show Freddie Mercury to be quite popular in England. For instance, in the 1999 Millennium Poll, in which 600,000 Britons participated, he was ranked at the #14 and #15 spots, respectively, as a popular musician and songwriter .
Freddie Mercury appears at the #58 spot in the 2002 List of "100 Greatest Britons", sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public.
Two of Mercury's compositions, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We Are the Champions" have each been claimed, in separate polls, as the world's favorite song. Most recently, an Ericsson poll of 600,000 people in 66 different countries found "We Are the Champions" to be the world's most popular tune . This contradicts another major poll which had previously found "Bohemian Rhapsody" to be the world's most popular song from the past 50 years .
The world's first Indian rock star
Because Freddie Mercury was of full Parsi descent and did not move to England until the age of 17, he was arguably the world's first great Indian rock star. He was also the first person of British Asian ethnicity to achieve major international fame.
Valuable Mercury memorabilia
Over the years, rare Freddie Mercury solo albums have greatly increased in value . For instance, a Japanese single of the song "Guide Me Home" from the Barcelona album is now worth as much as Ј1,000. Another valuable item is a 1973 cover of the 1969 Beach Boys song, I Can Hear Music recorded under the stage name Larry Lurex. Widely bootlegged, the original record is now a valuable collectable, fetching up to Ј400.
Freddie Mercury was the one rock star mentioned in singer Kurt Cobain's suicide note :
"I havent felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guilty beyond words about these things. For example, when we're backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins, it doesn't affect me the way in which it did for Freddy [sic] Mercury who seemed to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd, which is something I totally admire and envy."
In 2004, Mercury was ranked #18 in a Forbes magazine list of the highest earning dead celebrities .
A species of East African isopod, Cirolana mercuryi N. Bruce, was named after Freddie in 2004.
A Royal Mail stamp called The Millennium Stamp commemorated the life of Freddie Mercury.
Freddie was a huge fan of Liza Minnelli.
Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson were apparently quite good friends for some period of time. With Jackson, he collaborated on some tracks which were never officially released, including There Must Be More To Life Than This and State Of Shock. The latter song, released on the 1984 Victory album, was ultimately performed by Mick Jagger and The Jackson 5. Certain resemblances between the two stars have also been noted .
Freddie's famous overbite was apparently caused by the presence of four extra teeth, which pushed his incisors out. He commented early in his career that he wished to have work done, but regretted that he did not have time to do it. He also expressed fears that such an operation might damage his voice. While smiling in interviews, Freddie would often cover his mouth with his hand in an attempt to hide the overbite.
Because Queen was very popular in Japan, various tributes to Mercury can be found in Japanese anime and popular music:
Freddie Mercury appears as a recurring character in the Japanese manga and anime series Sakigake!! Cromartie High! Known to the main characters only as "Freddie," and normally introduced by a harmonious guitar riff, this version of Freddie Mercury wears only long brown pants with red suspenders, and often carries his trademark broken microphone stand. In the world of Cromartie, Freddie is either still alive and in hiding, or a clone of the original Freddie. He shows some remarkable attributes, such as extreme patience when other characters repeatedly slap him in the head, and the ability to navigate Tokyo using only his "animal instincts," as one character describes it.
The action manga Bremen, relating the adventures of a Japanese rock band in Tokyo, features a minor character named "Mick." He appears to be a westerner living in Japan, and is the owner of a club where the main characters have their first real gig. Mick is nearly identical to Freddie Mercury in appearance, and even wears a tank top sporting the same stylised Q as in the Queen logo.
A gymnastics teacher resembling Mercury appears in Akira Toriyama's manga, Dragon Ball in a story Vol.421. Queen is said to be one of Toriyama's favourite bands. Some also consider the Dragon Ball Z character Hercule to be inspired by Mercury.
Most recently, in her 2004 album Exodus, Japanese pop star Utada Hikaru mentions Freddie Mercury in the song Animato:
"DVDs of Elvis Presley / BBC sessions of Led Zeppelin / Singing along with F. Mercury / Wishing he was still performing..."
The Japanese TV series Pride (starring the popular actor Kimura Takuya), predominantly used Queen and Mercury songs. The theme song for the show was Mercury's solo song "I Was Born to Love You" (newer version).
Piipuri Lulu of One Piece is noted to look like Freddie Mercury.
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