On September 5, 1946, on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of East Africa, a little boy (who would grow up to be one of the best rock n’ roll voices of the 20th century) was born.
His name was Farrokh Bulsara, also known as Freddie Mercury, and he became the lead singer of Queen (of course), a British glam rock band who changed the face of rock and roll.
He has had a powerful impact on popular culture, regardless of whether you loved him or hated him—because people definitely either loved him or hated him.
Depending on which side of the prism you looked into, Freddie was either one of the most evocative performers of the era, or a debauched loon whose lifestyle threatened the very bulwark of conservative society.
The way he lived his life was very, very 1980s: all glitter, excess and jet-set living—and his music was so big and operatic, so cheesy, so much, that to me it’s not really any surprise that he polarized popular opinion.
He was a stadium rocker, his music considered the furthest thing from “cool”, but even though he was so out there, nobody could deny there was still something magical about him.
He was incredibly charming and with that buck-toothed grin it’s sort of easy to see how he used that to his advantage, putting audiences the world over into the palm of his hand.
He also took a lot of pleasure in playing into what people expected of him and his stage persona was heavily based on that parody.
(It’s no secret that I love Queen—and Freddie—a whole lot. Queen was the first band I fell in love with, when I was 12.
I mean, what’s not to love? The voice. The stage persona. The crazy parties. The all-night jam sessions. The unitards.)
Today would have been Freddie’s 68th birthday and because he’s just all around fabulous, I’m going to take a moment to celebrate his life.
“I’m not going to be a rock star, darling; I’m going to be a legend. “
Did you know?
- Without Queen, today’s musical landscape would look a hell of a lot different. Pretty much every genre of music that exists now has a band or two that cite Queen as an influence, from Iron Maiden and Metallica to Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Radiohead.
- He had a singing range of three-and-a-half to four octaves and though he was had a baritone speaking voice, he regularly sang tenor.
- He hated giving interviews and didn’t hesitate to throw down on a journalist if they asked him what he thought was a stupid question. (Which is awesome to watch).
- Freddie’s parties were legendary: they lasted for days and were as hedonistic as you might imagine—one party had the servers walking around with bowls of cocaine strapped to their foreheads, while models dressed as mermaids lounged in the swimming pool.
- His friends describe him as singularly, but privately, generous. Sources estimate that he gave away up to a third of his fortune, but that “he would only give if you could guarantee him that no-one could trace it back.”
- He had four extra molars in his mouth, which accounted for his distinctive overbite. He refused to get dental work done in case it might affect his voice.
“I like to ridicule myself. I don’t take it too seriously. I wouldn’t wear these clothes if I was serious. The one thing that keeps me going is that I like to laugh at myself.”
Some fun facts:
- He loved his cats. He wrote a song, “Delilah”, for one of his favorites. In the video for “These Are the Days of Our Lives”, you can see him wearing a vest with the likenesses of his cats painted on it.
- He and Michael Jackson tried to collaborate a few times on songs, but the partnership fell through because Michael insisted on bringing his pet llama into the studio. Freddie couldn’t handle it and quit.
- He and Princess Diana were friends. In order to sneak her out of the palace when she wanted to go to clubs with him, he used to dress her up as a man so she wouldn’t get recognized.
- His last name, “Mercury”, was chosen partly because of astrology (Mercury is the god of communication and is known as the “winged messenger”) and partly because of quicksilver—Freddie considered himself to be that quick on his feet.
- Only one person on earth knows the exact location of his remains, as per a request in his will. At one point, a plaque with his name on it was found in Kensal Green in London, but it was removed after a few years.
Granted, throughout his career Mercury made some dumb political and professional moves (such as giving a series of concerts in pre-apartheid South Africa) which can be attributed to thoughtlessness, carelessness, or worse.
He was also criticized for keeping his diagnosis of AIDS private until the day before his death—which, I feel like is a shitty thing to criticize, honestly—but that’s a topic for another day.
He seemed to live his life just by charging into and through it, and laughed off the consequences as long as he could.
He wasn’t perfect, but then again, he wasn’t pretending to be.
I’m amazed at his courage to be so flamboyantly queer at a time when most public opinion was vehemently anti-homosexual.
I love how as an artist, he was never willing to rest on his laurels and even though some of his efforts bombed miserably, he still went out exploring and didn’t let his failure stop him.
I love his camp and his sense of humor.
I love how he embraced his love of sex and hedonism. You didn’t have to agree with him, he was going to live his life his way, anyway.
And I think that’s why I like him so much. He lived as much as he could, as hard as he could, for the entire time he was given.
And that is how I feel we should mark his birthday: by taking more risks, dressing up to the nines, staying up late creating, breaking out the champagne just because it’s a day of the week—or maybe by flirting a little, getting out of our comfort zones and surprising ourselves by what we can accomplish if we just let ourselves fall out of the nest.
Happy birthday, Freddie. The world is a lot more colorful because you were in it.
Or watch him hand a journalist his own a**:
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Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Youtube Still