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Music

Pop icon George Michael dies, aged 53

The British pop star and former singer of Wham!, George Michael, has died at the age of 53, according to his publicist. The global superstar reportedly "passed away peacefully at home" in England.

In a statement released late on Christmas Day, George Michael's publicist said: "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."

Emergency services reportedly attended a property in Goring, west of London, at 13:42 local time (1442 UTC) on Sunday. According to authorities, there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. Thames Valley police said a "post-mortem will be undertaken in due course."

"Billboard" magazine quoted George Michael's manager Michael Lippman as saying that the singer had died of heart failure. His publicist Cindi Berger said he had not been ill.

The 53-year-old shot to fame in the 1980s as a member of pop duo Wham!, which he formed with school friend Andrew Ridgeley. 

The group - which became the first western pop act to play a concert in China - was best known for the songs "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," "Club Tropicana" and the Christmas hit "Last Christmas."

Global success

Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou to a Greek Cypriot father and English mother in north London in 1963. He went on to enjoy a hugely successful solo career, spanning almost four decades and selling more than 100 million albums worldwide.

His 1987 debut solo album "Faith" alone sold more than 20 million copies across the globe. During the 1990s, Michael released several further albums, including a bestselling "Greatest Hits" compilation. The singer-songwriter won numerous music accolades over the years, including four Ivor Novello Awards, three American Music Awards, three Brit Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, and two Grammy Awards from eight nominations.

In 2014, Michael released his sixth and final album "Symphonica." The record was his only live album and marked his first album of new recordings since "Patience" in 2004.

Prior to his death on Sunday, Michael's 1990 album "Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1" had been due to be reissued. A new film featuring Stevie Wonder, Elton John and the supermodels who starred in the video to his hit single "Freedom! '90" was set to accompany the album's re-release. Earlier in December it was meanwhile announced that Michael was working on a new album for next year.

Making headlines

As his music career waned, Michael continued to hit the headlines, but often for the wrong reasons. Following years of speculation over his sexuality, Michael disclosed in 1998 that he was gay after being arrested for "engaging in a lewd act" in a public toilet in California.

In October 2006, Michael was banned from driving after pleading guilty to driving under the influence of drugs.

Two years later, the singer was cautioned for possessing class A drugs, including crack cocaine. Within a year, Michael crashed his car into a shop in north London. He was later handed an eight-week prison sentence. Michael had remained out of the limelight in recent years. 

In 2011, he postponed a number of concerts after being hospitalized for several weeks with pneumonia where he remained unconscious for some time.

After recovering from the respiratory infection, Michael said it had been "touch and go" whether he would live.

Wham!

George Michael with fellow Wham! member Andrew Ridgeley in 1984

Fellow musicians pay tribute

In the early hours of Monday morning, fellow musicians and entertainers paid tribute to the late singer, including his former Wham! bandmate. 

"Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog," Ridgeley tweeted. "Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved. A xx"

1980s pop band Duran Duran also tweeted their sympathy to Michael's family, referring to the so-called "curse of 2016,"  which has seen the deaths of a host of stars, including David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Prince. 

Musician Elton John reacted to the news on Instagram, posting a photo of himself and Michael. 

"I am in deep shock," the singer-songwriter wrote. "I have lost a beloved friend - the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans."

In 1991, John and Michael re-recorded the former's 1974 hit "Don't let the sun go down on me" - reaching number one in both the US and UK charts.

Michael was also a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. In 1984, the singer starred alongside a host of contemporaries to form Band Aid. The supergroup's Christmas charity single "Do they know it's Christmas?" raised £8 million ($9.8 million / 9.4 million euros) for the famine in Ethiopia within twelve months of release.

ksb, ss/kl (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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