George Michael has died at age 53, according to the BBC. The pop star reportedly “passed away peacefully” on Christmas Day at his home in Oxfordshire, England. Initial reports suggested “no suspicious circumstances.”
Wham!, the pop duo founded by Michael and school friend Andrew Ridgeley, found international success early on with 1984’s high-gloss, ultra-catchy “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” Michael was the group’s primary creative force and de facto frontperson, and by 1986 he had left Ridgeley behind for a solo career.
He went on to become one of the defining pop stars of the late 1980s, scoring major hits (and nonstop MTV airtime) right away with “I Want Your Sex” and “Faith,” both from his 1987 solo debut. His 1990 follow-up, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, was a defiant rejection of what he saw as pop shallowness — Michael famously refused to appear in the video for “Freedom ’90” — but it only made him more famous and beloved.
Michael released four more albums, most recently 2014’s live Symphonica, but his musical output in the second half of his career was often overshadowed by his legal problems. His voice nonetheless maintained a steady presence on pop radio — particularly around Christmas, with Wham’s 1986 hit “Last Christmas,” but also year-round with 1984’s “Careless Whisper.” He remains a signature star of the MTV era and one of the most important gay icons of the 20th century. He will be missed.