George Michael, the creamy-voiced English songwriter who sold tens of millions of albums in the duo Wham! and on his own, died on Sunday at his home in Goring in Oxfordshire, England. He was 53.
A police statement said: “Thames Valley Police were called to a property in Goring-on-Thames shortly before 2 p.m. Christmas Day. Sadly, a 53-year-old man was confirmed deceased at the scene. At this stage the death is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious.”
Mr. Michael, who was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, was one of pop’s reigning stars in the 1980s and 1990s — first as a handsome, smiling, teenypop idol making lighthearted singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” with Wham!, then arriving as a grown-up pop sex symbol with his 1987 album “Faith.”
But Mr. Michael grew increasingly uncomfortable with the superficiality and relentless promotion of 1980s-style pop stardom. He turned away from video clips and live shows; he set out to make more mature statements in his songs, though he never completely abandoned singing about love and desire. Mr. Michael wrote supple ballads, like “Careless Whisper” and “Father Figure,” as well as buoyant dance tracks like “Freedom ’90” and “I Want Your Sex.” For much of his career, including his best-selling albums “Faith” and “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1,” he was also his own producer and studio backup band.
Mr. Michael won a Grammy Award for “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a duet with Aretha Franklin, and “Faith” won the Grammy for album of the year. In Britain, he was showered with awards, and in 2004, Britain’s Radio Academy said he had been the most-played performer on British radio from 1984-2004.
In 1998, Mr. Michael came out as gay after being arrested on charges of lewd conduct in a men’s room in Beverly Hills. He had long lent his name and music to support AIDS prevention and gay rights. Later, he said that hiding his sexuality had made him feel “fraudulent.”
During the 2000s, Mr. Michael’s output slowed; his last studio album of new songs was “Patience” in 2004. In later years, he put out individual songs as free downloads, encouraging listeners to contribute to charity. But in 2006, 25 years into his career, he could still headline stadiums worldwide.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” his publicist Connie Filippello said in a statement. “The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”