Queen singer is rock's first major AIDS casualty
By Jeffrey Ressner
FREDDIE MERCURY, THE OUTLANDISH frontman for Queen, whose worldwide hits
like ``Bohemian Rhapsody'' and ``We Are the Champions'' combined gaudy
theatrical pomp with heavy-metal bluster, became the first major rock
star to die of AIDS when he succumbed to complications from the disease
on November 24th at his London home. He was forty-five years old.
Mercury, whose real name was Frederick Bulsara, had not performed with
Queen in concert since 1986. He had become a virtual recluse over the
past two years, yet he repeatedly denied reports that he had contracted
AIDS until the day before his death.
``The time has now come for my friends and fans around the world to know
the truth,'' he said in his statement, explaining that he had waited so
long to make the announcement because ``my privacy has always been very
special to me.''
Although Mercury's condition was long rumored in the tabloid press and
virtually an open secret in the music industry, his death still startled
many fans and colleagues. Bouquets from Elton John, David Bowie, U2,
Ringo Starr and the Scorpions adorned the West London Crematorium, where
a brief funeral service in the Zoroastrian faith was held for his family
and a few close friends, including the surviving Queen members, Brian
May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.
``Of all the more theatrical rock performers, Freddie took it further
than the rest,'' says Bowie, who collaborated with Mercury and Queen on
their 1981 hit ``Under Pressure.'' ``He took it over the edge. And of
course, I always admired a man who wears tights. I only saw him in
concert once, and as they say, he was definitely a man who could hold an
audience in the palm of his hand. He could always turn a cliche to his
Beginning in the early Seventies, the flamboyant Mercury - who cited
Jimi Hendrix and Liza Minnelli as his main influences - led Queen
through eighteen albums that sold 80 million copies worldwide, amassing
almost a dozen U.S. hit singles, including his campy ``Killer Queen,''
the Elvis spoof ``Crazy Little Thing Called Love'' and the bass-heavy
anthem ``Another One Bites the Dust.'' Queen's popularity nose-dived in
the United States during the Eighties, but the group remained popular in
England and around the world.
Queen laced British glam pop with swooping arias, corny vaudeville
themes and heavy-rock bombast, but it was Mercury's wicked taste for
wretched excess that set the band apart. ``Freddie was clearly out in
left field someplace, outrageous onstage and offstage,'' says
Capitol-EMI president and CEO Joe Smith, who headed Queen's American
label, Elektra Records, at the peak of the group's success. ``He was the
band's driving force, a tremendously creative man.''
Elektra's release of Mercury's overwrought, six-minute mock opera
``Bohemian Rhapsody'' - complete with a goofy choir chirping ``Mama mia,
Mama mia'' - was only one example of his musical extravagance. He was
even more extreme when it came to his concert performances, appearing in
leather storm-trooper outfits or women's clothes and taking an arch,
gay-macho stance that both challenged and poked fun at the decidedly
homophobic hard-rock world.
Offstage, Mercury was known for his wild antics and the lavish gifts he
bestowed upon friends. To celebrate his forty-first birthday, for
instance, he flew eighty pals to an exclusive hotel on the resort isle
of Ibiza, where they were treated to fireworks displays, flamenco
dancers and a twenty-foot-long cake carried by waiters dressed in gold
and white costumes. ``All I can remember about the whole time we were
making records and hanging out was that it was like one continuous
party,'' says producer Roy Thomas Baker, who worked on five Queen
Excess also defined Mercury's sexual