Melanie Panayiotou and her brother George Michael

The world remembers the tragic and early death of George Michael in 2016 through the death of Melanie Panayiotou this past Christmas Day, three years to the day after her famous brother’s passing. 

George Michael (Georgios “Yog” Kyriacos Panayiotou), pop icon and one side of the duo band Wham!, died exactly three years ago on Christmas Day. This year, his sister, Melanie, died suddenly on Christmas Day, exactly three years after her famous brother. Her final resting place will be beside her brother, near where their mother rests. They are each survived by their father and eldest sister. The family released a Christmas statement just two days before: 

“We will be swerving the bad and enjoying the good as much as we can this coming year . . . We know how much his lyrics can offer support when things are tough and help celebrate when times are good and life is going well . . . and that is just as powerful now as if he were still with us and as many of you say in your messages, it’s a gift . . . It seems important that his generosity of spirit and natural empathy have touched you in a way that would have him embarrassed, all your kind words are really good to hear and we know you have always known his true heart.” 

The father, a Greek Cypriot immigrant, immigrated to London in the 1950s as a restauranteur. The family settled in London before moving to Radlett when George Michael was a teenager. Shortly after, George Michael and Andrew Ridgely would meet at the Bushey Meads School and eventually would form the group Wham!. From the age of eighteen, he became an international sensation alongside Andrew Ridgely as the pop duo WHAM and as a solo artist. Fame, however, did not come easily for Michael as he struggled with substance abuse and issues related to his sexuality. 

Wham!

George Michael began performing music as a DJ and formed a band with Andrew Ridgely, Ridgely’s brother Paul, Andrew Leaver, and David Mortimer (later known as David Austin). When the band broke up in 1982, George Michael started his popular career with his partner Andrew Ridgely, known collectively as Wham!, with the hit single ‘Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do?)’.  Wham! would go on to redefine modern pop music. Michael was a brilliant songwriter who, while he took inspiration from other genres such as British pop and American soul, put his own spin on his songs. The songs of Wham! and Michael’s solo creations are still prominent in modern films such as Last Christmas featuring Emilia Clark and written by, produced by, and featuring Emma Thompson. The film included fourteen total Wham! and George Michael songs including a previously unreleased song, This Is How (We Want You to Get High).   

The first Deadpool film, featuring Ryan Reynolds, who also produced the film, and Morena Baccarin included Reynolds’ character’s seemingly endless obsession with Wham!. To this day, many still find ways to celebrate the life of George Michael. Eventually, Michael would go on to form a solo career that would release the song Careless Whisper. Fans will be familiar with other hits such as Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and Last Christmas, two of Wham!’s most popular global hits. Throughout his career, Michael sold over 120 million albums worldwide and topped the charts on every continent. His career is defined as both a collaborative and solo performer. He was the most played artist on British radio from 1984 to 2004 according to the Radio Academy. He won two Grammys, one with Wham! for best R&B performance by a duo with vocals for the song I Knew You Were Waiting For Me (1988) and Album of the Year for his solo album Faith (1989). 

His pop music was not the only aspect of his life that gave him renown.  He also was one of the first celebrities to be open about his sexuality during a period in history when that was not common nor accepted. Though he knew about his sexuality from an early age, he did not officially come out publicly for many years, though he told many close friends. He remained silent on the issue due to the public fear and ostracism following the international AIDs crisis of the seventies and eighties. In an interview with Andrew Johnson in 2007, he discussed the difficulties of being a gay man without being able to tell the world or his parents that he was. Due to the HIV/AIDs crisis, the international scare not only made Michael scared himself, but he was afraid he would worry his parents – particularly his mother – unnecessarily. 

HIV/AIDs awareness

In 1998, George Michael was arrested for public lewdness in Los Angeles and the world became aware of his sexuality. Shortly thereafter, he came out publicly acknowledging that he was a gay man. When he discussed the arrest later, he implied that it was a deliberate act, that he was tired of being “fraudulent” because of his career. After he came out to the public, he campaigned actively around the world for LGBTQIA+ rights and was an ardent fundraiser for causes related to the spread of HIV/AIDs awareness and the funding of research and treatment.  

Michael also struggled with substance abuse which resulted in numerous arrests. Scandal defined the end of his career, in both his personal and public life due to this string of drug arrests and his sexuality becoming a topic of international controversy. However, despite the troubles in his life, he remains one of the most iconic pop stars in the world.

When people think of George Michael to this day, they remember Wham! and Careless Whisper. They remember a man who redefined modern pop music and achieved international renown. They remember the man who dedicated free concerts to the nurses in London who treated his mother before she died and the nurses who treated him when he became severely ill.   

As an iconic figure, he promoted causes around the world and was extremely supportive of gay rights and AIDs/HIV research and treatment. His unexpected death in 2016 was a result of natural causes, heart failure and liver disease, though some suspect that his substance abuse contributed to his death. Artists from Elton John to Chris Martin gave tribute to the artist along with many others through speeches and songs dedicated to him. His career spanned from the eighties through his death in 2016, creating generations of fans and admirers. The contributions he made not only to pop music, but modern music cannot be understated. With a career that spanned two centuries and four decades, no one is likely to forget Michael’s music or its impact any time soon. 

Margaret Valenti

Margaret Valenti is the Editor of Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today.