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Arts and Entertainment

Pop Superstar George Michael Dead At 53

George Michael performs at Live 8 in London in 2005. (Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images)
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Singer-songwriter George Michael, whose soulful vocals made him one of the biggest pop stars in the 1980s and 1990s, has passed away, according to BBC News. He was 53.

"It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period," said Michael's publicist in a statement. "The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage." The BBC says paramedics responded to a home in Oxfordshire early Sunday afternoon.

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, Michael first became a star in the early 1980s in the pop duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley. They topped the charts with hits like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," "Freedom," "Everything She Wants," and "Careless Whisper," the latter of which was Michael's first official solo single.

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Michael went on to have an even bigger career as a solo act. His first album, 1987's Faith, would sell over 25 million copies and earned multiple Grammys, including Album of the Year. He had hits with songs like "Faith," "I Want Your Sex" and "Father Figure."

With his second album, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, also helped solidify the supermodel status of Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Patitz with a video for the 1990 hit single "Freedom! '90," directed by David Fincher. (The women lip-synced the song, while Michael did not appear.) Michael was battling with the pressure of his superstardom and fame, and in the video, the black leather jacket, Wurlitzer jukebox and guitar that featured prominently in the "Faith" video are seen exploding in flames:

In the song, he sings about the struggle for control over his music and persona, "I was every little hungry schoolgirl's pride and joy / And I guess it was enough for me. / To win the race? A prettier face! / Brand new clothes and a big fat place / On your rock and roll TV," and then, "Today, the way I play the game is not the same / No way. / Think I'm gonna get myself happy. / I think there's something you should know. / I think it's time I told you so. / There's something deep inside of me. / There's someone else I've got to be."

Bad feelings over the album—it sold 8 million copies and was considered a disappointment by his recording label Columbia Records, then owned by Sony—led to Michael suing Sony to get out of his 15-year recording contract. A judge later ruled in favor of Sony.

In 1998, Michael was arrested by an undercover cop during a sting operation at Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, California. He was allegedly "engaging in a lewd act" and he later came out as gay; he explained thatwhile he felt "fraudulent" about hiding his sexuality, Michael told the Independent that he did so to protect his mother, "AIDS was the predominant feature of being gay in the 1980s and early 90s as far as any parent was concerned... My mother was still alive and every single day would have been a nightmare for her thinking what I might have been subjected to."

Michael was arrested for driving while under the influence of drugs in 2007, and, three years later, was arrested again and served jail time for driving while under the influence of marijuana.

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In 2011, he suffered a "near-death" bout of pneumonia and received a tracheotomy. Michael revealed he had a five-week memory loss after the ordeal, "I literally had to learn to walk again and weird stuff, because when they keep you sedated for that long your muscles literally atrophy at an incredible rate. And I just woke up like this feeble old man."

Fellow performers and fans shared their tributes. Elton John said, "I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend - the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and his fans."

James Corden's first Carpool Karaoke was actually with Michael, for a 2011 Comic Relief sketch (Corden played his Gavin and Stacy character Smithy):