It is said that legends never die. Long after they are gone, their accomplishments and gifts to the world remain as a reminder of their genius and in some cases, short time on this earth. Growing old is often not in their interest and the ways in which they leave us are typically tragic. For Freddie Mercury (1946-1991), this was certainly the case and his decline and eventual death from AIDS is well-known. Mercury and the band Queen became household names over the span of thirteen studio albums and countless live performances. Their song We Are the Champions is still played today at sporting events. The hit song Another One Bites the Dust seizes the listener with its engaging and provocative melody. But of all the classics, it is perhaps Bohemian Rhapsody that stands out as possibly his greatest composition. Regardless of what your favorite song is, the popularity of his music is a testament to the genius of Mercury and the aura of Queen.
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.