LONDON, Dec 27, (AP): Grieving fans on Monday mourned the death of George Michael as British charities revealed that the pop star had secretly been a major behind-the-scenes donor who gave his time and money to support cherished causes.
The man with the reputation for self-indulgence had actually given millions of pounds (dollars) to charities involved with helping children, cancer victims and AIDS sufferers.
He was also remembered for small acts of kindness: helping his village in north London get a Christmas tree, and volunteering at a homeless shelter.
Former Beatle Paul McCartney posted a statement on his website praising Michael’s “sweet soul music,” which he said will live on.
“Having worked with him on a number of occasions his great talent always shone through and his self-deprecating sense of humor made the experience even more pleasurable,” McCartney said, posting a picture of the two of them together.
The singer’s death was announced late Sunday. Many paid tribute on Facebook and Twitter and others cited years of good works that received little publicity — largely because Michael insisted on keeping his charity work out of the limelight.
Fans placed flowers and other tributes at his homes in north London and in Goring, England, where he died of apparent heart failure.
Michael’s later years were marked by occasional brushes with the law and a series of driving incidents related to substance abuse, but this was overlooked Monday as directors of major charities and advocacy groups stepped forward to praise him.
Among the groups he supported were the Terrence Higgins Trust, which helps people with AIDS, Macmillan Cancer Support, and Childline, which offers confidential phone counseling for young people.
Childline founder Esther Rantzen said Michael gave royalties from his 1996 hit “Jesus To A Child” to the charity along with many other donations.
“Over the years he gave us millions and we were planning next year, as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations to create, we hoped, a big concert in tribute to him — to his artistry, to his wonderful musicality but also to thank him for the hundreds of thousands of children he helped,” she said.
She said Michael was determined that no one outside the charity should know “how much he gave to the nation’s most vulnerable children.”
Jane Barron from the Terrence Higgins Trust said Michael made many donations and gifts, including the royalties of his “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” duet with Elton John in 1991.
Michael had spoken publicly about the pain of losing a partner to AIDS early in the epidemic, but he kept his long history of donations to the Trust private.
Rights activist Peter Tatchell, who knew Michael before he achieved fame, said Michael had hidden his homosexuality in the early part of his career because gay public figures were subjected to vicious treatment by the British tabloid press.
He praised the singer for making his sexual orientation known after he was arrested in 1998 for lewd behavior in a public toilet in Los Angeles.
Tatchell said Michael’s response to his arrest amounted to “a defiant defense of the right to be gay” that had an impact throughout the gay community.
George Michael’s death brought back memories in China of the heady 1980s when Wham! was the first major Western band to play in the country after the death of Mao Zedong and decades of cultural isolation.
Many Chinese who had never even heard of the band lined up for hours to buy $1.75 tickets to the groundbreaking April 1985 concert at the People’s Gymnasium, the biggest stadium in Beijing at the time.
Inside the 12,000-strong stadium seated spectators watched in bewilderment as Michael and Andrew Ridgeley danced in big-shouldered jackets with bleached and feathered hair.
The backing dancers’ strapless costumes and polka-dot miniskirts also stunned the audience in China at a time when people still dressed in similar shades of green and gray.
“It was the first time a Western band had come to China, everyone was ready to make some noise and stand,” said Li Ji, a restaurant owner who went to the concert in his 20s. “But there were so many police officers there, people didn’t dare to.”
Wham!’s manager Simon Napier-Bell had spent 18 months persuading the Chinese government to let them in and secure their place as one of the world’s biggest bands by telling them it would help them attract foreign investment.
The police had warned spectators to stay seated, worried that they would be unable to control the crowds and that there might even be riots. Some young Chinese who got up to dance were hauled away by security officers.
The Wham! concert influenced Chinese musicians, who had never seen electric guitars played on stage and began to get interested in rock ‘n’ roll.
Huang Wen, a music writer, said that the performance had an impact on big-name musicians, including the godfather of Chinese rock, Cui Jian. “In the early 1980s, pop songs from Hong Kong were very popular in mainland China and after the concert college students and people in the music industry started to get interested in rock ‘n’ roll,” she said.
Li said the army department that his parents worked for had given out tickets as a benefit. He attended the concert along with his parents’ colleagues and their kids.
“I remember there was a little incident during the concert, the main lights went out because there was a problem with the electricity, so the bassist danced a little break dance,” Li said. “It was the first time people saw that and it was so popular, people liked it.”
State media said Monday that the concert “was a sensation.”
While young Chinese today don’t know the names George Michael or Wham!, many instantly recognize his well-loved songs “Last Christmas” and “Careless Whisper.” The latter song had already been translated into Chinese and sung in several versions before the 1985 concert.
“George Michael’s sweet soul music will live on even after his sudden death. Having worked with him on a number of occasions his great talent always shone through and his self deprecating sense of humour made the experience even more pleasurable.” — Paul McCartney, on Instagram.
“Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog. Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved. A xx” — Michael’s Wham! groupmate Andrew Ridgeley, on Twitter. Yog stands for “Yours Only George.”
“Whenever an Artist dies, the world loses a bit of what makes us uniquely human. RIP George Michael (1963-2016)” — Neil deGrasse Tyson, on Twitter.
“George Michael RIP. Your music lifted our spirits. Your heart was pure. Sad. You will be missed.” — Goldie Hawn, on Twitter.
“So sad about George Michael. Truly one of the greatest songwriters.” — singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding, on Twitter.
“Can’t believe George Michael has passed … one of the greatest singers and writers the UK ever produced. I’m really saddened … a lovely man.” — singer Howard Jones, on Twitter.
“I met George Michael a few times & he was ever a gentle, unassuming soul. A rare presence in a world full of self. Honest, genuine talent.” — singer-songwriter Alison Moyet, on Twitter.
“It’s hard to take in. One of our most talented singer songwriters has left us. RIP George Michael. Such sad, tragic news. 2016 please end.” — pop group Simply Red, on Twitter.