George Michael’s Legacy Extends Far Beyond His Music


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Music legend George Michael, known for hit songs such as “Faith,” “Freedom ’90” and holiday favorite “Last Christmas,” died at age 53 on Christmas Day, reportedly of heart failure.

But the legacy of the pop star, who sold well over 100 million albums in the span of his career, extends far beyond his music.

Image: George Michael 'Live 25' tour concert, Rome, Italy - 21 Jul 2007 Image: George Michael 'Live 25' tour concert, Rome, Italy - 21 Jul 2007

In this file photo from July 21, 2007, George Michael is seen performing in his ‘Live 25’ tour concert in Rome. Laura Antonelli / REX/Shutterstock

“George was probably the first gay pop star in the modern era, who was totally unabashed about gay sexuality,” Martin Aston, a music journalist and author of “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out,” told NBC Out.

Even though Michael was forced out of the closet, once he was out, Aston noted, “he took a great leap forward” and “came out guns blazing.”

Infamous Outing

Michael’s moment of liberation followed what seemed at first to be a time of deep humiliation.

He was blessed with sensual good looks and an exquisite voice, attributes he used to become first a teenybopper heartthrob and then a mature solo artist with videos that played up his considerable appeal. He kept his own sexual orientation private, until he was arrested in 1998 for lewd conduct in a public toilet in Los Angeles after being spotted by a male undercover police officer.

In an earlier era, that might have doomed his career. Instead of retreating, however, he made a single and video — “Outside” — that ridiculed the charges against him and mocked the Los Angeles police officers who busted him.

The memorable image of the two uniformed policemen kissing in the video — both funny and outrageous at the time — helped Michael come out as a proud gay man.

LGBTQ Legacy

Despite his infamous outing, “he never dealt with [his sexuality] in terms of shame,” Aston told NBC Out. “He realized he had to be true to himself, and that had to have helped bust that closet door open.”

George Michael George Michael

George Michael performs on stage, Australia, March 1988. Michael Putland / Getty Images

Aston referred to the late pop star as a “very good role model” and credited him with helping pave the way for openly gay contemporary artists such as Adam Lambert and Sam Smith.

Smith, who tweeted Monday for the first time in more than six months, seems to agree: “I would not be the artist I am if it wasn’t for you. @GeorgeMichael.”

In a separate tweet, the Grammy Award-winning artist referred to Michael as “one of the most magical, talented, bravest & important figures in music & life as I know it.”

Adam Lambert also took to Twitter to remember the singer, writing simply “RIP @GeorgeMichael.”

While Michael was far from the first musician to come out as openly gay, his status as a mainstream pop icon and his “huge female fan base” made him unique, according to Aston.

“For somebody of that ilk to not worry about their career or their image and be that open about it, was incredibly positive,” he said.

“From the time he was out, there was no sense of shame,” Aston reiterated, adding “the regret was that he hadn’t done it sooner.”

George Michael Performs For His Symphonica Tour - Birmingham George Michael Performs For His Symphonica Tour - Birmingham

George Michael performs on his Symphonica Tour at The LG Arena on September 16, 2012 in Birmingham, England. Dave J Hogan / Getty Images

Following Michael’s passing, a long list of celebrities paid tribute to the music legend, but openly gay entertainer George Takei may have said it best in a comment posted to Twitter on Christmas night: “Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael. You’ve found your Freedom, your Faith. It was your Last Christmas, and we shall miss you.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this reporting.)

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