Queen, and its frontman Freddie Mercury, changes the face of rock music. The group produced hit after hit while Mercury pushed the boundaries of music. The legendary rockstar proved that having a unique style, putting on flamboyant performances, and even including opera in a radio song could work.
Mercury is one of the most engaging and admired performers of all time who sadly left us too soon. Learn all about his rise to fame and how he handled the pressures of stardom, even when he was diagnosed with HIV. The life of Freddie Mercury is even more incredible, shocking, and tragic than you would expect for such an incredible musician.
He Was Born In A Small Town In Zanzibar
Freddie Mercury was born on September 5, 1946, in Stone Town, Zanzibar (which is now part of Tanzania). At the time, it was a British protectorate. Mercury’s parents were Parsis from British India. He was born with another name too: Farrokh Bulsara.
Mercury always had an ear for music and began playing piano at age 7. When Mercury was 8 years old, he attended St. Peter’s School, a British-style boarding school for boys in Panchgani, India. It was there that he continued his piano lessons and developed a passion for music.
Mercury Started His First Band When He Was 12
Mercury was only 12 years old when he took his musical talent to the world and started a band. He started the band called The Hectics with some fellow schoolmates. They mainly covered rock and roll artists like Cliff Richard and Little Richard.
Former bandmate Farang Irani said that they were very influenced by Western music. Another friend of Mercury’s said that the musician had “an uncanny ability to listen to the radio and replay what he heard on the piano.” It was during this period that he shed his birth name and began to go by “Freddie.”
From Zanzibar To England
At the young age of 17, Mercury and his family left their home in Zanzibar for Middlesex, England. The Zanzibar Revolution was in full swing which made the region dangerous for Arabs and Indians. In England, Mercury attended Isleworth Polytechnic then went on to earn and a diploma in Art and Graphic Design at Ealing Art College.
After graduation, Mercury spent most of his time doing odd jobs. He sold second-hand clothes in Kensignton Market and worked at Heathrow Airport.
The Making Of Queen
After years of working of jobs in 1970, Mercury teamed up with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. May and Taylor were already in a band called Smile and needed a new lead singer. Two years later, they added bassist John Deacon and Queen was formed. They didn’t have a band name though but Mercury dealt with that. Against the band’s wishes, Mercury announced the name “Queen” to the Trident Studios management.
Mercury claimed that “It’s very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid. It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate. I was certainly aware of the gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.”
Building A Successful Career
Mercury used his design background to create the band’s logo then, in 1973, they released their debut album. Unfortunately, it didn’t get much attention. It wasn’t until their third album Sheer Heart Attack in 1974, with the hit song “Killer Queen” that they gained a following.
“Killer Queen” reached No. 2 on the U.K. charts and No. 12 in the United States. Queen capitalized on the success and their next album, A Night At The Opera, was released in 1975. The album featured “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which was at No. 1 for nine weeks and has gone down in music history.
Blowing Up In Popularity
After the success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” Queen continued to produce hit after hit. Their song “We Are The Champions” off News of the World in 1978 became an immediate Top 10 hit and the crowd-pleased “We Will Rock You” is still a sporting anthem.
During this time Queen also began experimenting with their sound. The track “Another One Bites The Dust” was disco-inspired while “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was 100% rockabilly.
Mercury Had A Signature Style
Mercury was unique because while his speaking voice was well into the low baritone range. he sang primarily in the tenor range. Still, his vocal range could go from bass to high soprano. Singer Montserrat Caballe said that “the difference between Freddie and almost all the other rock stars was that he was selling the voice.”
Other artists praised Mercury’s talent and The Who singer Roger Daltry claimed the Queen frontman was “the best virtuoso rock ‘n’ roll singer of all time. He could sing anything in any style. He could change his style from line to line and, God, that’s an art. And he was brilliant at it.”
Mercury Wasn’t Just A Singer, He Was Also An Expert Songwriter
Freddie Mercury wrote a whopping 10 of the 17 songs that appeared on Queen’s Greatest Hits album. Some of his most memorable are, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Killer Queen,” “Seven Seas of Rhye,” “Bicycle Race,” and “Don’t Stop Me Now.” He didn’t just write his own songs though. He also wrote with other artists like David Bowie and their song “Under Pressure.”
In 2003, years after his death, Mercury was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Then, in 2005, he was posthumously awarded the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection.
Mercury Could Work In Any Genre
Mercury had an uncanny ability to move between genres with ease. You could classify him in rockabilly, disco, progressive rock, heavy metal, gospel, and more. With so many genres he always wrote incredibly complex songs.
Mercury’s songs often feature complicated time changes with dozens of chords perfectly joining together at the same time. Even though Mercury was a mastermind he could barely read music and did most of his work by ear.
He Was An Expert With The Crowd
He was a singer, songwriter, and above all a showman. Fellow performer David Bowie once described Mercury as, “Of all the more theatrical rock performers, Freddie took it further than the rest… 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.”
While every concert Mercury did was phenomenal, he pushed it over the top in 1985 with Queen’s unforgettable Live Aid charity concert set. Their performance at the show is consistently ranked in the top live performances in rock and roll history.
Rock Around The World
Over the course of their career with Freddie as their frontman, Queen is estimated to have played over 700 concerts. Of course, in true Queen fashion, those were rarely typical concerts. Queen concerts were often huge, theatrical stadium shows.
They also pushed the limits of where they played. Queen was the first band to ever play in South American stadiums, and in 1986, they played for a crowd of 80,000 behind the Iron Curtain. Mercury’s final performance was in Knebworth Park, England for a crowd of 160,000.
The Truth Behind “Bohemian Rhapsody”
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is nearly-six-minutes long but is still, to this day, one of the most popular songs. You can visit any karaoke joint and an entire crowd will be singing along to the tune.
The song became so popular largely because of how unique it is. The strange sounds and lyrics left people wondering what the true meaning behind it was. According to Freddie Mercury, not much! When he was asked what the song means, he replied, “It bears no real meaning, it’s all rhyming nonsense.”
A Musician As Well
Today, we best remember Mercury for his vocals but it’s important to know how committed he was to playing instruments. While he began his musical career playing piano, he also played guitar and wrote a lot of the guitar music for Queen’s songs.
Despite his talents, Mercury was always self-conscious about playing instruments, particularly in front of a live audience. He didn’t want to be restricted from singing or engaging with the audience. If Mercury did play guitar on stage, he would simply play rythym guitar.
Mercury’s Solo Career Wasn’t A Failure
Many people look back at Freddie’s solo career as a bump in his legacy with Queen, but it wasn’t as bad as many think. While it wasn’t as successful as his work with Queen, Mercury still landed numerous singles on the UK Top 10 charts. His first album, Mr. Bad Guy was released in 1985 and praised for being a completely different sound.
His second album Barcelona had elements of popular music and opera. Even though some people called it “the most bizarre CD of the year,” it still did well. During his solo period, Mercury also worked with artists such as Michael Jackson, Billy Squire, and Mick Jagger.
Kenny Everett And Freddie Had A Special Bond
A friendship began between Mercury and Radio DJ Kenny Everett after he invited the Queen frontman onto his breakfast show in 1974. They shared a lot in common and became fast friends, bonding over their love for entertaining. Everett is also one of the reasons for “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” success, playing it anyway after the station said that it was too long to play on air.
Throughout the 1970s, two became closer and became each other’s mentors, with Mercury helping Everette accept his homosexuality. Although they were never lovers, they experimented with homosexuality and drugs, going out in London together frequently.
His Sexual Orientation Was Frequently Questioned
Ever since he stepped into the limelight, people questioned his sexuality. Some claim that Mercury hid his sexual orientation from the public, while others argue that he was “openly gay.” Mercury was questioned about it during an interview with New Musical Press, where he responded by saying “You’re a crafty cow. Let’s put it this way: there were times when I was young and green. It’s a thing schoolboys go through. I’ve had my share of schoolboy pranks. I’m not going to elaborate further.”
John Marshall of Gay Times stated that “[Mercury] was a ‘scene-queen,’ not afraid to publicly express his gayness, but unwilling to analyze or justify his ‘lifestyle’…” Towards the end of his life, he had a long-term partner named Jim Hutton, although they kept their relationship private.
Freddie Had A Different Personality Off Stage
Freddie Mercury was known for taking command of the stage but when he wasn’t performing, he was said to be quite a shy individual. Mercury was said to be reserved around people he wasn’t comfortable with and rarely gave interviews because they made him feel out of place.
Reflecting on that, Freddie once said that “When I’m performing I’m an extrovert, yet inside I’m a completely different man.” Even Kurt Cobain’s suicide note discussed Cobain’s resentment of Mercury’s ability to make the audience love him and for him to love them back.
The Love Of Freddie’s Life Was A Woman
While Mercury played up to the rumors about his sexuality, supporters often squashed claims because he was in a long-term relationship with a woman. In the early 1970s, Mercury began dating a woman named Mary Austin. The two had met in their early 20s and were close friends.
The pair didn’t last as a couple though, and Austin admits she always felt Freddie was looking elsewhere. They remained close though and Freddie even wrote the song “Love of my Life” about Mary. When the Queen frontman died, he left most of his money, as well as his house and recording royalties, to Mary.
Freddie Mercury And The Bottomless Mic
One of Freddie Mercury’s many trademarks was the “bottomless mic” that he often performed with. While his mic preference became something he was known for, it wasn’t exactly an intended quirk. During a show early on in Mercury’s career, his mic stand snapped in half midway through a show.
Rather than going through the trouble of having it replaced, he kept the mic with the broken stand and used it as is. The rock star liked it, and apparently, the fans did too, as it essentially became part of his image.
He Wrote A Song For His Cats
Freddie Mercury was known for his iconic tunes and prowess on stage, but in his regular life, Mercury was a normal person, just like us…sort of. One surprising fact about Mercury is that he was borderline obsessed with cats. In fact, he had as many as 10 feline friends at one point. He loved his cats so much that he even wrote a song about them. Listen closely to the lyrics in “Mr. Bad Guy” and you’ll get the feline vibes. Here’s a snippet:
Delilah, Delilah, oh my, oh my, oh my – you’re irresistible. You make me smile when I’m just about to cry. You bring me hope, you make me laugh – you like it. You get away with murder, so innocent. But when you throw a moody you’re all claws and you bite –That’s alright!
He Had An Incredible Singing Range
You do not need us to tell you that Freddie Mercury had an incredible singing range. Mercury had a recorded range of three octaves and at times he reached four octaves. To put this in perspective, Mariah Carey has been recorded at five, but considering she’s a female soprano, this isn’t surprising.
It’s even more interesting when you remember that he spoke as a baritone. If you didn’t know his skills, you would hardly believe he had the pipes to sing high hits like “Under Pressure.”
There Were Rumors Of An Illness
Rumor of Mercury October 1986, the British Press reported that Mercury had been tested for HIV/AIDS at a Harley Street Clinic. When Mercury was asked about the rumor, he denied that he had the disease. As rumors continued to spread, he then claimed to have tested negative for HIV. However, according to his partner Jim Hutton, Mercury had been diagnosed with AIDS in 1987. The rumors continued to spread as Mercury began to look weak and gaunt and took a break from touring.
Finally, it seemed clear that he was ill after his appearance on stage with Queen at the 1990 Brit Awards when the band received the award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. Yet, Mercury and those close to him continued to deny the rumors that he was sick as he was stalked by paparazzi who were in search for the answer.
Freddie Didn’t Let His Illness Stop Him
Several months after discovering that he had contracted HIV. Mercury decided to throw himself a party at the Pikes Hotel in Ibiza. He had spent a lot of time at the hotel after learning about his illness and grew close to the owner, Anthony Pike.
Mercury’s birthday party was described as “the most incredible example of excess the Meditteranean had ever seen.” There were over 700 people in attendance and over 32 glasses were broken. The entire check was also handed off to Queen’s manager. Freddie wasn’t going to let his diagnoses stop him from enjoying life.
Freddie Mercury Was Influenced By The Greats
Your favorite musicians inspire you, but have you ever wondered who inspires your favorite musicians? For Freddie Mercury, when he needed some inspiration, he turned on some of the greats — mainly the likes of Aretha Franklin and Jimi Hendrix.
Aretha Franklin was one of the Queen frontman’s biggest role models. He was moved by her success as a soul singer and was influenced by the female powerhouse to write songs of a religious nature. One of Mercury’s biggest hits, “Somebody to Love” was directly inspired by Franklin.
Mercury’s Untimely Death
After finishing his work with Queen in 1991, he retired at his home in Kensington, West London. Here, his health began to deteriorate rapidly as he began to lose his sight and could no longer get out of bed. He then released a statement to the public stating “Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS.”
The statement continued, “I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me.” On November 24, 1991, just 24 hours after releasing his statement, Freddie Mercury died at the age of 45. He was at home and had succumbed to bronchial pneumonia, resulting from AIDS.
Only 35 People Were Invite To His Funeral
Freddie Mercury’s funeral service was at West London Crematorium and was conducted by a Zoroastrian priest, as he was born Zoroastrian. Only his family and 35 of his closest friends were invited, including some huge stars like Elton John.
His coffin was carried in a procession while the song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”/”You’ve Got A Friend” by Aretha Franklin. Mercury’s “love of his life” Mary Austin followed his wishes and placed his ashes in an unknown location. To this day, she hasn’t revealed where she buried them.
Mercury’s Popularity Still Soared After His Death
After his death, Queen’s album sales saw a great increase, as they had been struggling by the end of the 1980s. In 1992, an American critic wrote that “What cynics call the ‘dead star’ factor had come into play—Queen is in the middle of a major resurgence.”
Then, the 1992 movie Wayne’s World featured the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” which exposed younger viewers to Queen’s music that may not have heard it before. By 2004, Queen had sold 34.5 million records in the United States, with nearly half of them being post-Freddie.
He Has Left An Incredible Legacy
Freddie Mercury was the first internationally famous rock star to pass away from AIDS. It helped to raise awareness about the disease and Queen came together to establish The Mercury Phoenix Trust which has raised millions for AIDS research. Furthermore, they organized The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert For AIDS in 1992 to celebrate his life and raise money for the disease.
Since his death, he is ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Britons of All Time, one of Japan’s 100 Most Influential Heros, and is included in the 100 Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians. In 2011, he was voted second in Rolling Stone’s Best Lead Singers of All Time. He’s still remembered and adored by fans and admirers to this day.
A Tribute Concert To Him Brought In 72,000 People
Years after his death, numbers stars gathered to put on The Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert was held at London’s Wembley Stadium for an audience of 72,000. Guests ranged from Robert Plant, Roger Daltry, Extreme, Elton John, Metallica, David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Tommy Lommi, Guns N’ Roses, and Elizabeth Taylor performed.
Elizabeth Taylor gave a speech saying that Mercury was an extraordinary rock star who rushed across our cultural landscape like a comet shooting across the sky.” 76,000 people attended the concert but it was broadcasted to more than 1 billion people.
Elton John Started A Charity In Mercury’s Name
Freddie Mercury and John Elton were close friends and confidants, so when the Queen frontman passed away, John wanted to pay tribute to his friend in a meaningful way. John created the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
The foundation works to provide those suffering from HIV or AIDS with the means to protect themselves. The group also provides access to medicine and other aid. They are following Freddie’s belief that everyone is entitled to dignity, respect, and compassion.
Queen Is A Top Record Holder
Today, the estimation for the amount of Queen records sold worldwide is around 300 million. In the United Kingdom, Queen has spent more weeks on the UK Album Charts than any other band including the Beatles. In addition, Queen’s Greatest Hits album is the United Kingdom’s top-selling album of all time.
In polls by Sony Ericsson and Guinness Book of World Records, “We Are The Champions” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” have been voted as two of the greatest songs of all time. Both songs are also in the Hall of Fame. Don’t stop these guys now.
Freddie Mercury Designed The Queen Logo
Although not known to everyone, Freddie Mercury used the skills he learned in art school to create the iconic queen logo. The logo combines all four zodiac signs of the band members, two lions for Leo, a crab for Cancer, and two fairies for Virgo. The lions embrace the stylized “Q” for Queen with flames, and the fairies taking shelter beneath the lions.
There is a crown inside of the “Q” and the entire logo sits below a phoenix. The entire symbol shares a great resemblance to the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, especially with the lions.
Switzerland Honored Freddie In A Special Way
In 1996, a statue of Freddie Mercury was unveiled in Montreux, Switzerland. This statue was made by sculptor Irena Sedlecka and stands 10 feet high while overlooking Lake Geneva. Mercury’s father as well as Queen bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor were on hand to reveal the statue.
Since 2003, fans have come to visit the statue from around the world to pay tribute to Mercury a part of the “Freddy Mercury MontreuxMemoriall Day” on the first weekend of September. It is an annual event where fans and musical artists can pay homage to Freddie.
Scientists Have Even Named Animals After Him
To further show tribute to Freddie Mercury’s impact on the world, species have even been named after him. The frog genus Mercurana was discovered in 2013 in Kerala, India and was named in his name because his “vibrant music inspires the authors”. In addition, where the frog was found was near where Mercury had grown up during his childhood. Furthermore, a new species of the genus Heteragrion from Brazil was named “Heteragrion freddiemercuryi” in his honor.
The person that named it that stated: “I name this species after Freddie Mercury, artistic name of Farrokh Bulsara (1946–1991), superb and gifted musician and songwriter whose wonderful voice and talent still entertain millions of people around the world.”
A Posthumous Album
Four years after Freddie Mercury passed away from AIDS-related complications, the final remaining members of Queen compiled Mercury’s final recordings into an album. The album was called “Made In Heaven” and was released in order to honor Mercury and show that he was still making music in the final days of his life.
Unfortunately, the results of the album weren’t that successful as Freddie’s illness had taken quite a toll on him during that time. The album seemed a little thrown together because it was, but nobody complained about hearing Mercury’s voice once again.
The Final Song Ever Recorded
On the album Made In Heaven, songs such as “Too Much Love Will Kill You,” and “Heaven For Everyone.” The song “Mother Love” was also included. “Mother Love” was the last recording that Freddie Mercury would ever produce before his death. Although he used a drum machine, his band members later added the instrumental. After completing the song.
Mercury told the band that he “wasn’t feeling that great” and stated, “I will finish it when I come back next time”. Sadly, he never made it back into the studio, so May took it upon himself and recorded the final verse of the song
Even Google Knows To Show Respect
In 2011, for what would have been Mercury’s 65th birthday, Google dedicated their Google Doodle to him. The doodle included an animation of him to his iconic song “Don’t Stop Me Now”.
Guns N’ Roses even paid tribute to him in the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech reciting the lyrics “I’ve taken my bows, my curtain calls, you’ve brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it, and I thank you all” from his hit track “We Are The Champions.”
Asteroids, Plaques, And Other Tributes
On September 1, 2016, an English Heritage blue plaque was unveiled at mercury’s home at 22 Gladstone Ave in Feltham, West London. It was unveiled by his sister Kashmira Cooke as well as Brian May. The UK Secretary of Culture was in attendance who stated that he was “one of Britain’s most influential musicians”, and added he “is a global icon whose music touched the lives of millions of people around the world”.
In addition, on what would have been his 70th birthday, the “17437 Freddiemercury” asteroid was named after him to honor him and his lyrics “I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky.”
Making Freddie Mercury To Broadway
On November 24, 1997, a melodrama play took the stage that followed Freddie Mercury’s life. The performance was titled Mercury: The Afterlife and Times of a Rock God and opened in New York City. The play portrayed Mercury in the afterlife, examining his own life seeking redemption and searching for his true self.
The play was written by Charles Messina and Mercury was played by actor Khalid Goncalves. For one of the shows, Billy Squire opened with an acoustic performance of a song that he had written about Mercury.
Freddie On The Big Screen
Bohemian Rhapsody is a 2019 biographical film about Freddie Mercury that starts with his childhood and leads up to Queen’s Live Aid performance in 1985. The film is going to be a collaboration between Britain and the United States. It is produced by 20th Century Fox, New Regency, GK Films, and Queen Films. Written by Anthony McCarten and directed by Bryan Singer, Freddie Mercury is portrayed by actor Rami Malek along with other notable actors.
Queen founding members Brian May and Roger Taylor are also serving as producers.