George Michael: Absolute Star

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Aidin Vaziri | George Michael first appeared as a vision in leather and blue jeans in 1983, dancing and rapping in front of Dick Clark and a wildly enthusiastic audience of teenagers on “American Bandstand.” The show’s genial host marveled that the songs Michael performed as half of the English pop duo Wham — “Young Guns (Go for It!)” and “Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)” — sounded “like a rap record from Detroit, Mich., or something.”

Michael was 19 years old, and he looked like the absolute star he would become.

The feeling carried over to the group’s globe-trotting videos for singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Club Tropicana” and “Careless Whisper,” in which, like chart rivals Duran Duran and Culture Club, Michael and Wham partner Andrew Ridgeley frolicked on beaches, draped themselves in neon and appeared as conquerors in eyeliner.

Michael’s public image during those early years belied his deep struggle with fame — a struggle that dogged him and sometimes played out in public, until his death at 53 on Christmas Day at his home in Oxfordshire, England.

He wasn’t a reluctant icon so much as one who didn’t trust the institutions he disrupted. Michael wrote shamelessly catchy pop songs for an industry he was certain ripped him off. He became one of the defining faces of the MTV era only to reject the idea of being perceived as smiling video moppet. He was a gay rights icon who didn’t embrace his sexuality until 1998, when he was 34 and after an undercover police officer arrested him for solicitation in a Beverly Hills park.

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