This November will mark twenty-seven years since the death of Farrokh Bulsara (1946–1991), known by his stage name of Freddie Mercury. On November 2, 2018, moviegoers will be able to see the anticipated biopic Bohemian Rhapsody starring Rami Malek as Mercury. The film is on my list of those to view before the year is over. I do not know what to expect from the film but I certainly do hope that the filmmakers accurately portray the events in Mercury’s short but extraordinary life. When he died on November 24, 1991, the music world mourned the loss of one of its true greats. Today, if you hear a song by Queen on the radio, you can rest assured that at least several people will be happily singing along, knowing every word to the classic tune. The longevity of his music is a testament to his genius as a songwriter and the talents of his band. The world has yet to see another artist that possesses the aura that Mercury did. Incredibly, for all of his public antics, the singer was highly private and in fact, the world only learned of his battle with AIDS less than twenty-four hours before his death, through a carefully prepared statement. In his final moments, he was surrounded by those closest to him, including his partner at the time, Jim Hutton. Contained within the pages of this book is Hutton’s story of his time with Mercury and life after his death. Hutton died on died January 1, 2010, from the effects of lung cancer and will not be able to see the film about his former partner when it is released. But I believe he can rest in peace knowing that even today, Freddie’s fans are still as fascinated by him as they were when Queen was tearing up music charts.
I instantly loved the book once it began and I think the reason for that is Hutton does not talk extensively about Queen or the music business. On occasion he does mention a new song that Freddie was writing or a hit that was released, but the primary focus is his relationship with Mercury and what made him tick. Readers uncomfortable with homosexual subject matter might decide to take a pass on the book. While there are no descriptions of sexual acts, the story is about a gay couple. Lovers, ex-lovers, domestic issues and the like appear in the book showing the human side of the man deemed by many to be a music God. Hutton is very direct in his words, possibly because of his Irish roots and Freddie, like most musical genius is not a simple character but multi-dimensional and composed of many traits, some interesting and others amusing. But from Hutton’s words, we can see that to know him was to love him.
If you have decided to read this book or consider reading it, then I take it to mean that you are a fan of Queen or interested in Mercury’s life. Whichever applies to you, I believe that this book will appreciated. In comparison with publicity photos and recorded video, this side of Mercury is not from a script but a reality of his very private side filled with shopping sprees, property in multiple countries, lavish parties, the gay scene, a long-term relationship and a love of cats. To say his life was unorthodox would be an understatement. Mercury lived on his own terms and every day was a new adventure. The thrills are high and the pace fast but there does come a point in the book where the inevitable appears and it is the part the reader might dread the most. Roughly about halfway through the book, Mercury’s health begins to become an issue. Hutton, was not oblivious to Freddie’s lifestyle before they met and even after they became an item. And during era in which AIDS wreaked havoc on the gay community, mortality became a dark cloud over daily events. As Mercury makes his descent towards the end, Hutton is there with him and his recollections of those times highlight the devastating effects of AIDS on the human body in the days before advanced drugs kept the virus in the stage of HIV only. But through it all, Freddie remained stoic, accepting his fate and embracing death as the next phase in his life. And there to support him was the partner whom he could always trust, his beloved Jim.
If you like this book and have more questions about Mercury’s life, I highly recommend Somebody to Love: The Life, Death and Legacy of Freddie Mercury by Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne. It will not let you down.
But who was the real Freddie Mercury? His death on November 24, 1991 came just hours after he released a statement informing the world that he had developed AIDS after being diagnosed as HIV positive several years earlier. Those close to him were not surprised at the announcement. The press was relentless is following Mercury around London attempting to get a glimpse of the star who was rumored to be on his deathbed. I remember when Mercury died and the news broadcasts that flashed across several networks. The music world had lost one of its greats. However, like all musicians, much of his life was subject to speculation and misinformation. In fact, to this day there is much about him many people may not know. But here in Somebody to Lovem we have a complete picture of the life of the late Freddie Mercury.
The story begins with the origins of HIV and its progression from SIV in Chimpanzees to a disease that became an epidemic. In 1946, the world welcomed Farrohk Bulsara, born to Persian parents of the Zoroastrian faith. He would be joined a younger sister, Kashmira. From an early age, it is evident that music is his calling but the path he would take to stardom and his life after finding it, is a classic example of the importance of always following your dreams. But with his rise to stardom and relationships with women, there was another side to Freddie Mercury that he fought desperately to hide from the press. Today most of us think nothing of a gay or lesbian celebrity. But we often take for granted how much the world has changed. For Mercury, coming out was not an option and the efforts he went to in order to contain his secret life are astounding. But it is also a tragedy for Mercury was never able to find the true love that escaped him his whole life. He does his best to find true love and the people who came in and out of his life all play a part his rise and eventual decline. Mercury was not innocent himself and at times is nearly out of control and seemingly on a path of self-destruction.
It goes without saying that any book on Mercury could not be written without addressing the gay community. Coincidentally, as Mercury was becoming a household name, kaposi sarcoma began to afflict large numbers of gay men in New York and San Francisco. It would be known at first as the “gay cancer” and prompt officials in San Francisco to close all of the City’s bath houses. The race to identify the disease and find a cure became the topic of Randy Shilts‘ And The Band Played On. The book was later adapted to a film starring Matthew Modine and Alan Alda. Mercury was fully immersed in the gay lifestyle at this point and his connection to the story by Shilts might surprise even those who are well-read on the AIDS epidemic. Before Mercury’s demise, he would lose many of those once close to him and the world would learn about a deadly killer that crossed all social and ethnic lines.
In just forty-five years, Freddie Mercury rose to the top of the music industry and Queen became legends. In death, his status as a rock icon grew without boundaries but sadly he joined a long list of victims of AIDS, and his name is mentioned next to many such as Arthur Ashe and Rock Hudson, as celebrities who were unable to escape a killer that spared no one. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had Mercury lived. Before his death he had been planning more projects and writing material until he was forced to abandon his passion. His passing was our great loss and we should be grateful for all of the great music he left behind. His lifestyle was not agreeable to all but his talent was undeniable. This is the life, death and legacy of Freddie Mercury.