George Michael, a life, by James Gavin

This was a great biography. Someone asked me at a dinner who my favorite singer was and I almost instantly answered George Michael. He had been dead 3 years at that point. But I’m not exactly sure why. It just seemed that whenever he released a song, whether it was from the days of Wham or his solo career, the songs always felt like me in a way that no other singer — say Elvis or even Elton John — ever did.

I knew he was gay when he sang Careless Whisper which was when he was with Wham, and, as he insisted many years later, he was having sex with women. And I assumed he was gay right up until he was publicly outed having been coerced into having sex in a public bathroom by a cop who had publicly exposed himself. But I’ve always been curious whether George Michael lived in shame. Because he couldn’t avoid talking about it and, in fact, in brought attention to the fact that coercion is illegal: you can’t do something illegal to get someone else to do something illegal. But, as you can see on his interview with David Letterman, he joked about it, laughed at it, and eventually made a song and a video about it. But I just always had the sense that he was somehow ashamed of being gay, and when he died, and there was a pretty big cover up about what was going on, I wondered if the shame had finally gotten to him. It appears that it had.

He was an addict for a good part of his career. He smoked marijuana all day long, and when he was older he started doing a drug that was popular in the gay world — especially the gay club and sex scene — called G. G does the same thing that Crystal Meth does, except you don’t lose your teeth. But it’s a very dangerous drug and when it first appeared in the clubs, a lot of men were overdosing because it stays in your system. Michael was taking it every day. His family refused to release the toxicology report. But G also makes you binge eat, and apparently some photos got out of George looking like a fat old thing, which must have mortified him.

I knew that he was having trouble because even though he completely lost his American audience, and really thought that America had abandoned him, I had kept following him, mostly via Youtube or Vemo. He overdosed about 8 times. And after doing part of a tour, he came down with cryptococcol pneumonia. That is the type pneumonia which primarily affects AIDS patients. He was put into an induced coma and had to have a tracheotomy for a breathing tube. He recovered and according to his last boyfriend, that was when he discovered he was HIV positive. His boyfriend was a somewhat shady character, and became pretty insane after George died, so there’s no actual confirmation that George had HIV, and because the family has kept these secrets from the public, we have no way of knowing. But one of his last songs and probably his last good song was “White Light,” which was about wanting to live. (He didn’t see the white light, which meant he wasn’t ready to go.) But I think that was probably a wished-for projection, because someone who knew him well, and also knew the problems that addicts have, said he could see it in George’s eyes that he was giving up. And I think this book makes it pretty clear that George was deeply ashamed, and the blame for that lies squarely on his father, who was a conservative Greek and humiliated by his son’s homosexuality.


There is a mountain of predictable reviews to Blonde: that the movie doesn’t go into Marilyn’s brilliance, talent, business acumen, but exploits her in exactly the same way that she was exploited in real life. To this I would counter that you can’t make an anti-war movie because war is inherently dramatic, frightening and exciting. We like watching movies about war and violence. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a movie about the wars that we wage which tries to state that war is terrible. The Lord Of The Rings is full of anti-war sentiment, even though it is essentially, one long war. The Killing Fields is about as close an anti-war movie as I’ve ever seen, but it’s still incredibly dramatic.

You can’t make a movie about Marilyn Monroe without dealing with female exploitation and the male stare (the male gaze) behind the camera. If they wanted a movie that shows the entire person, then they should write it, make it or re-watch one of the others, like “My Week With Marilyn,” which was a great movie that dealt with a single week in Marilyn’s life.

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