For a man whose career began innocuously enough, George Michael has managed to scale the heights of superstardom while also embroiling himself in enough controversy to last a lifetime. These were some of his own doing and some thrust upon him as a result of his success.
George Michael was born on June 25, 1963, to Greek parents who named him Georgios Kyricacos Panayiotou. The future singer formed Wham with school friend Andrew Ridgeley. They ended up one of Britain’s most successful pop duos of the past 30 years. However, it was his solo career that gave him even greater prominence, thanks in part to sales of more than 100 million records worldwide and no less than eight number one singles in the U.S. alone. That’s in addition to his numerous accolades and critical accomplishments — among them three Brit Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, four Ivor Novello Awards, three American Music Awards, and a pair of Grammys.
Michael garnered plenty of momentum from his work with Wham, thanks to a debut album — immodestly titled Fantastic — and its similarly suggestive follow-up, Make It Big, which spawned several number one singles. In 1985, the group became the first western act to tour China, and Michael himself contributed to the all-star session for the Band Aid recording of “We Are the World.” However, his desire to go solo soon overshadowed Wham’s forward speed, and his individual chart-topper “Careless Whisper” all but sealed the band’s fate.
After the pair officially parted in the summer of 1986, Michael teamed with Aretha Franklin for a one-off duet, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” adding yet another number one to his flourishing resume. His first official solo album, Faith, and its debut single, the prophetically dubbed “I Want Your Sex,” continued that momentum, but also brought Michael his first brush with controversy when several radio stations refused to air the single in its original incarnation. Undaunted by the temporary setback, Michael released several other songs from the album, each of which continued his winning streak.
Nevertheless, Michael insisted that he be taken as a serious artist, and with his follow-up effort, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, he refused to undertake any extensive promotion, even refusing to appear in a promotional video. A second volume failed to appear after he sued Sony for their refusal to support his recent work. He subsequently signed with DreamWorks which released his next album Older, his first after a prolonged absence and his most successful yet. This was thanks to the six singles it contained, each of which landed in the UK Top 3. That was followed by a greatest hits package that spent 200 weeks on British charts and became one of Britain’s best selling albums of all times.
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