“It would be so boring to be 70. I’ve lived a full life and if I’m dead tomorrow, I don’t give a damn,” said Freddie Mercury, perfectly summing up his life – and famous attitude.
Mercury died from complications of AIDS at age 45 on November 23, 1991, just one day after announcing to the world that he’d been diagnosed with the disease.
Widely regarded as one of the all-time great rock singers and frontmen, Freddie used his powerful vocals, flamboyant persona and dynamic performing style to help Queen become among the most popular and successful bands in the world.
As an aspiring journalist, I met the flamboyant Freddie on March 20, 1974 backstage at the Municipal Auditorium in San Antonio, Texas during their Sheer Heart Attack tour in the United States.
Leading Queen’s performance onstage, was Al Stewart and a group called Brownsville Station. Freddie was upbeat, wearing a Fedora type hat with red and white foot long feather plumes poking out. The autograph I acquired from him remains promently placed in a large glass frame in our home.
I recall him saying he was happy to be in Texas, as they had played in New Orleans and Miami just days before. Dallas would be their next stop after San Antonio.
They blew the Alamo City crowd away. Even today, 47 years later, I will run across someone who was at that concert who will say “That blew my mind,” or “Could you believe them? How did so much music come from basically three players?”
While Freddie played some piano and tambourine, he was backed by the original members Brian May (electric guitar, backing vocals, banjo),
Roger Taylor (drums, backing vocals),
John Deacon (bass guitar, triangle)
The once-shy boy, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar in 1946, went on to become one of the world’s most eccentric frontmen. Mercury’s range – both vocally and in terms of his character remainslegendary. B2018’s hit biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.
A legendary songwriter, music producer, and all-around theatrical entertainer, Mercury was one of the 20th century’s best-known lead signers, who sang for Queen from 1970 until his death.
Freddie also co-wrote Queen’s classic 1981 collaboration with David Bowie, “Under Pressure.” Mercury’s performance with Queen at London’s Wembley Stadium at the 1985 Live Aid festival is considered one of the highlights of that historic event.
Mercury also released a pair of solo albums during the 1980s.
Following Freddie’s death, May, Taylor and Queen manager Jim Beach co-founded the Mercury Phoenix Trust in his honor. The charity supports AIDS-related causes.
Mercury was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Queen in 2001. His legacy continues to make its mark on the rock and pop world.
Known for challenging the parameters of pop and rock, Mercury was willing to take any musical risk to prevent him from being mainstream. He unapologetically pushed artistic boundaries and was the life of all of the band’s live performances, ensuring no two shows were the same.
Electric and eccentric, he worked across a range of genres, but the songs were always poetic and heartfelt, filled with melodies you wanted to hum and witty metaphors you couldn’t help but remember.
From perhaps his most famous song, Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975, through to We Are the Champions in 1977 and then Crazy Little Thing Called Love in 1979, which pays homage to Elvis Presley’s rockabilly styling, Mercury took music to bold new heights.
A six-minute-long banquet, Bohemian Rhapsody involved a lavish mixture of production, vocal layers and choral overdubs. Described by Mercury as “mock opera”, it topped the charts for weeks. And rightfully so.
Mercury possessed a voice so powerful and expressive it would be hard not to want to listen to him sing. His excellent pitch and incredible vocal control, array of note choices, dynamics, tones and vocal effects were astounding.
Queen’s live performances were iconic, with one of their greatest generally acknowledged as being their Live Aid Concert at London’s Wembley Stadium in July 1985. Mercury was phenomenal on stage, controlling the entire crowd of 72,000, who were all clapping along to the rhythm of We Will Rock You. Their set was electrifying.
Years of touring had given him “an arsenal of stagecraft prowess, strutting, holding poses, dressed in his glam-rock style” and the audience adored his flamboyance.
Thirty years later, Mercury continues to influence many musicians, such as 12-time Grammy award winner Lady Gaga, who has said the inspiration for her stage name came from the Queen song Radio GaGa. In the past decade, Queen’s Somebody to Love was used in film soundtracks for Happy Feeet (2006) and Ella Enchanted (2004).
Mercury will always be remembered as the powerful songwriter with the magnetic stage presence who was taken far too soon. But his legacy, of course, will continue to live on.
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