Freddie Mercury, the lead singer and unforgettable voice behind the rock band Queen, was born in Zanzibar on September 5, 1946. It’s amazing to think about how an individual from an island in the Indian Ocean could go on to become one of the biggest music superstars of all time.
Born Farrokh Bulsara, Freddie was the son of Parsi-Indian parents and lived between Zanzibar (Tanzania) and India, settling in England when his parents fled the Zanzibar Revolution. In Middlesex, Freddie took on British citizenship and attended Ealing Technical College and School of Art, graduating with a graphic design course in 1969. Creativity and imagination were part of his makeup and passion.
His Illness and Death
What you have to remember is that HIV was a literal death sentence back in the 80s. They didn’t have the medicine that could stop it in its tracks like we have today. It was simply a case of wondering how long it would take for the disease to grab a hold of you and eventually take your life.
The problem for Freddie was that he would eventually become too ill to do concerts. People were becoming stunned at how ill he looked for some time, and it was suspected that something was wrong.
On November 23, 1991, he issued a statement from his home in London confirming he was dying of AIDS, and on November 24, 1991 (the next day), he passed away.
It was widely believed that Freddie Mercury had been suffering from HIV for a number of years before this point. He apparently told the band what was going on, but everyone decided to keep it a secret until the very end.
Many others also dying of AIDS at that time due to lack of knowledge about the disease were grateful for his statement, which shed light on AIDS. At that time, it was not discussed or shared as much as it should have been.
Freddie was a strong, caring, and kind individual who hid his illness from the world, still attending concerts very near the end of his life. He lived life to the fullest and lived every day as best he could. He was a voice to be reckoned with, and ultimately, he died being a voice for those that were suffering from the disease of AIDS and the stigma attached to it.
His Early Movement into Music
Freddie was well known for his sensual and striking style and a prolific vocal range that astounded and delighted audiences and critics alike. His tone was unorthodox then, and his good looks and savoir-faire appearance entranced audiences of all ages and sexes. He seemed to display an innate ability to charm fans with ease.
His musical talent and passion surfaced early. By the age of 7, while attending a British-styled boarding school near Bombay, Mercury began taking piano lessons. By the time he was an early teen, he had already formed his band, The Hectics. His earlier schoolmates mentioned that Freddie (as he had started calling himself then) could listen to piano tunes on the radio and replicate them with ease.
Of course, he would go on to become well-known for his piano playing abilities and would contribute to a number of Queen songs.
He favored rock, blues, and pop and enjoyed various artists and styles, including Cliff Richard and Little Richard. This is indicative of his diversity, even at an early age. However, it changed when he got older and the band Queen focused more on glam rock. This was where Mercury would really come of age.
Later, Mercury began listening to harder-edged rock and blues and became a Jimi Hendrix and Cream fan. This edgier style was to follow his career until the end.
The Emergence of Queen and the Road to Fame
It was in London that things changed for him when he met up with the now-famous guitarist Brian May and Roger Taylor, who was a drummer for the band Smile. There was an instant chemistry between the three, and once invited to become the lead singer for Smile, the band changed names and became the unforgettable Queen in 1970.
Although Queen had some attention in the early 70s, they did not shoot to real stardom until the album Sheer Heart Attack was released in 1974. After that initial success, the band’s real break came with Night at The Opera in 1975. That was undoubtedly when everything changed and Queen became known around the world. Some could argue that Freddie Mercury would go on to become the face of the biggest band in the world.
His Vocal Talents
It was becoming more apparent that Mercury’s talents lay in his vocal range. He could push his voice from a low deep 52 to a high-pitched G5 in milliseconds, around 92 Hz to 784 Hz. His voice was described later as a symphony of chromatic shades of a tenor. To say he was pretty unique in the world of glam rock, thanks to his voice, would be a serious understatement.
Some of the band’s greatest hits that showcase this astounding operatic ability include Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody To Love, Don’t Stop Me Now, and It’s a Hard Life.
He also held the audience’s attention with his exuberant and theatrical style. He seemed tireless, committed, and determined to his craft, and many artists and fans admired him alike.
Depending on who you are asking, the most memorable hits from Queen were Bohemian Rhapsody, from the album Night at the Opera, released in 1975. This song shot to international fame, reaching No. 1 in the US charts and staying there for a prolific nine weeks. It continues to remain exceptionally popular even today.
Freddie and His Success with Queen
His success with Queen was unusual for a rock band in the 70s as pop was taking the forefront. Mercury often joked that this was “mock opera” at its finest. Although not all critics agreed with Queen-hungry fans, arguing that at least 200 overdubs were used in the final product, Rolling Stone magazine rated Bohemian Rhapsody one of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
The song still garners attention today with its tempo-building introduction, followed by a haunting narrative ballad blending into an operatic passage. It was then closed after a complex rock symphony. To say the song is a classic is one of the biggest understatements you could ever make.
We are The Champions, released in 1977, is still one of the band’s most recognizable anthems. It became an instant global hit, making its appearance on charts around the world simultaneously.
In 2009, the song was recognized by the Grammy Hall of Fame, giving historical notation and significance to this unforgettable song.
We Will Rock You, released on News of the World album in 1977, was also listed as one of the greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone, placing it at number 330. They then went on to place it at number 146 on the Songs of the Century list later on in 2001. Eventually, the song was also recognized by the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009.
Freddie Mercury and His Personal Life
With all of the acclaim, success, and constant admiration, it might surprise some to know a little more about Mercury’s personal life and struggles. You see, Freddie Mercury did not live your usual kind of rock superstar lifestyle.
In fact, many would argue he was a bit too eccentric in certain ways to ever be a global superstar. I think after you learn the next couple of facts about his life, then you will probably agree.
Mercury was an avid stamp collector, and his collection has been displayed at the Postal Museum in London. He was nine years old when he began collecting stamps. This is one thing that often surprises people as he hardly gives off the vibes of being a stamp collector.
But that wasn’t all.
Mercury had early friendships with David Bowie before Bowie was well-known. He was also a friend to Princess Diana, dressing her up in drag to go clubbing in the 80s so she wouldn’t be recognized. He also loved cats and had many as pets calling them all his children. Mercury was a devoted cat lover and ensured all his cats received a stocking on the fireplace of his London home at Christmas. He even ensured his cats were cared for should he pass away.
His Love Life
He loved two people: Mary Austin, who he was with for four years, and Jim Hutton, with whom he spent the rest of his life. He remained friends with Austin and left most of his fortune to her after his death.
At first, Mercury hid his bisexuality, which was unacceptable in the 80s, and decided to keep his private life a closed book. During the time he experimented with his sexuality, he contracted HIV and decided to keep it a secret for a time. Of course, there were stories abound regarding his sexuality, but things were certainly not as open as they are today.
Barry has worked as a freelance writer for over a decade and has developed an eye for detail when it comes to unearthing cool and interesting facts.
His love of music stems from his student days checking out up and coming bands playing in the darkest corners of bars and clubs in Edinburgh.
The love of uncovering something new also remains with him. With an appreciation for music that’s best described as eclectic, his musical tastes range from Eric Clapton to Eminem through to Snow Patrol and Incubus. The memories that music can bring back to the fore is something he tries to portray in his writing.
For him, the voyage of discovery and unearthing something new is what makes this task of writing for MusicGrotto.com so interesting.