What does it mean to be a legend? For people young and old to sing your words and dance to your music? 27 years after his death, Freddie Mercury has left an impact only dreamt about by most. We all know at least a few segments of Bohemian Rhapsody, but how much do we know about the man behind the music?
There were many ups and downs during the band’s history – and times they were even faced with bankruptcy. It would be one song in a fateful night that would save them – and not the one you think! Here, we break down all the details about Queen’s leading man and the stories that surrounded him. You won’t want to break free from this story!
His Real Name
He had a relatively peaceful childhood, but he wasn’t destined to stay there. As we would later find out, Farrokh would embark on one of life’s craziest journeys!
The Piano Found Him
While little Farrokh Bulsara was in school, everyone around him saw how he was musically gifted. He studied in Bombay, now known as Mumbai, and boy did he enjoy it! The school offered him the opportunity to explore different sounds and noises, and he experimented with the music that would soon be the soundtrack to generations.
Apparently, it was a match made in heaven: music and the piano was his first passion in life and he was determined to make it his career.
A Move To Britain
Due to the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, Farrokh and his family moved to England. Throughout his early school years, his friends would call him ‘Freddie’ as a nickname, and he decided to stick with it. He grew up to earn a degree in art and design – graduating in 1969 – and worked at Heathrow Airport.
He continued to handle everyone else’s baggage without working on his own baggage. Suddenly, he would meet three men whose lives would soon change forever.
Not A Popstar But A Legend
Freddie knew that he was going to be a star. It wasn’t a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ his big break would arrive. One night, he went to see a band perform called Smile, and he was blown away by their talent.
Two of the members, Brian May and Roger Summers, met Freddie and he declared that he would one day be a star. They took a liking to him and invited Freddie to follow them as they toured around the country. Little did they know that this would change their lives.
Opportunities For All
A day in 1970 changed everything for the band, and indeed the world. The lead singer of Smile left the band due to personal reasons – and guess who was ready to step in? Freddie wanted to be a star, but he also wanted to help the band that he so strongly believed in.
After an amazing initial performance, they reformed as the band ‘Queen’ and a new life began! At the time, the name Queen was seen as regal and also radical. Its strong connotations to the LGBTQ community would shock audiences on either side of the pond.
A Massive Range
We all know that Freddie had an amazing voice, but it wasn’t until Queen formed for the first time did anyone really understand what an impact it would leave. His voice could range between four octaves, which is extraordinarily rare for a performer, especially a male one.
Other musical icons, like Celine Dion, can only hit three different octaves. The biggest exception is Mariah Carey, who can hit a massive five octaves. As well as a stellar singer, Freddie was a true performer.
A New Noise
Three years went by, and Queen was gaining traction among fans. They saw how Freddie would own the stage and captivate his audiences with amazing songs and performances. By 1973, they had become big names in the industry. Queen was different from Smile – and everyone knew it.
People couldn’t help but fall for his charisma and charm, and the music they performed was a new and welcomed sound. Suddenly, more people knew Queen, but could they keep up with the demand?
Farrokh Bulasa became Freddie Mercury
Freddie had long been referred to by his nickname, but he decided to make it legally official. One day, he realized he had to change his name to Freddie to make it easier for fans once he garnered fame. He still needed a new last name – what would it be?
He settled on Mercury as it paid homage to the Roman deity who was a messenger from God. Farrokh Bulasa had officially transitioned into Freddie Mercury. But make no mistake: Queen was a different kind of band with different kinds of members.
An Eclectic Bunch
Even though each member loved music, the four of them came from very different backgrounds. Each member had careers in different fields of study. We knew Freddie Mercury went to art school, but did you know Brian May received a Ph.D. in physics and astronomy?
John Deacon has a doctrine in electronics and Roger Taylor was originally a dentist! Amazingly, these four found each other and decided to pursue their passion together. Maybe their differences are why their music works so well…
The First Flop
Their first official album outside of open-mic nights was released in 1973, which they called Queen. It included the song Keep Yourself Alive. Haven’t heard of it? You’re not the only one! Queen’s first album was a complete flop!
Although they were delighted to see their album in record stores, no one else was and it failed to attract a national audience. They didn’t let this stop them, however. They worked hard on their second album, Queen II, and this is when things really took off.
Rock With Mott
Despite their flopped record album, they appeared on Top of the Pops in February 1974. This was a huge show in Britain which often highlighted new talent in the charts. It was a significant boost and they received the attention from another British band, Mott the Hoople.
They invited Queen to be their warm-up act as they traveled across the country and to the United States. Of course, they said yes! Brian May got sick in Chicago, but it didn’t stop them from continuing the show.
Dumping The Manager
Their next big hit came when they released Killer Queen – a song written by Freddie himself. It was a huge success: coming in at number two in the UK charts and a smash hit in the US. Despite all this, they saw little financial reward for their efforts.
It turns out their record label and management company were ripping them off with bad deals. They fired their company and hired someone new: someone with a habit of spotting particular musical talent heard in America and across the world
A Night at the Opera
They hired John Reid, who also managed Elton John! Now, this power-manager would be in charge of two of Britain’s biggest performers of the decade. Despite a new deal with a more honest and reputable manager, they still needed success to pay their debts.
Their new album, The Night at the Opera had everything weighing on it. If this failed, they would have to break up as a band and return to their day jobs. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. But what was the anthem that saved them?
Elton John heard Bohemian Rhapsody from A Night at the Opera and was far from impressed. Apparently, he got up and yelled “Are you mad?” at the band members after he first heard the six-minute rock anthem. He thought it was too long and disjointed and would never be understood by wider audiences.
Producers begged Mercury and the band to shorten the song but they refused. The gamble paid off: Bohemian Rhapsody went to number one in the UK charts and stayed there for nine weeks – a record at the time.
The Private Side
As Queen was rising to global fame, Mercury and the gang wanted to keep their personal life private. For them, it was about the music and the performance: no one needed to know the rest. During their success, there was one person who remained by Freddie’s side: Mary Austin.
The two of them met in 1969 and she had seen his rise to fame. They lived together and fell in love – leading to Mercury to ask for her hand in marriage. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Mary Austin was there for Freddie Mercury before he was in Queen and was affected by success. He was attracted to her loyalty and companionship, which inspired him to pop the question. She was surprised by the proposal but agreed to marry him.
Six long years would go by but they never followed through. Something between the two of them never felt quite right, and eventually, Mercury would forget about it altogether. He became more and more distant. Mary knew she had to do something.
A Hidden Secret
After six years, Mary Austin broke off the engagement. She confronted him with what she knew to be the truth: he was in love with another woman and was having an affair. Freddie confided in her privately that he was bisexual and was also attracted to men.
She cared for him deeply and suddenly it all made sense. Freddie Mercury was a gay man who was struggling with his sexuality. She remained in his life as a close friend and the two remained inseparable, even though they were no longer romantically involved.
A New Love
In 1984, Freddie Mercury met Jim Hutton in a bar. Even though he claimed to be bisexual and had dated both men and women, he settled down with Jim and the two became very close. No one knew just how close the two were until Jim released his autobiography, Mercury and Me.
According to the memories, the two considered each other as husbands in marriage and even wore wedding rings in public. They lived together until Freddie’s death in 1991, where Jim remained by his side through all the ups and downs.
The Song That Never Came
Who were two of the biggest stars of the 1980s? Mercury and Michael Jackson, of course! The two got together in a nightclub and agreed to make a song together after realizing they were fans of each other.
However, Freddie was put off by Michael Jackson’s reclusive and strange behavior, and it never happened. The two of them never quite thought the same thing and couldn’t agree on a sound to share. Alas, the world was never gifted with a song from these two – and now we never will.
Go Hard Or Go Home
By the time 1975 came around, Queen was one of the biggest bands in the world. Songs like Bohemian Rhapsody and Love of My Life had made them global superstars, but it didn’t come without a cost.
They used six different studios to record the iconic sounds of Bohemian Rhapsody and the album ended up costing $500,000. That may not sound like a lot today but in 1975 it was a fortune! No wonder they had so much pressure to make it a success!
Don’t Cry For Me
In 1981, they finally realized just how big they had become. It’s hard to gauge when you spend all day in a recording studio, but Queen – and Mercury – were known far and wide across the world.
The producers told the band that they were wanted in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to play in a soccer stadium. They weren’t sure if they were popular enough to fill an entire stadium – how wrong they were! They met with 50,000 fans who absolutely loved their sound.
Singing Is Believing
One thing led to another and Freddie Mercury was standing in a soccer stadium singing to a crowd of 50,000 people! It was by far the biggest performance of their career and they even moved to a bigger stadium for a second performance.
It turns out they were huge in South America and ended up singing to 100,000 people at a time! They went to Argentina, Brazil, and then up to Canada – they were unstoppable.
Relaxing With His Loved Ones
Freddie Mercury never lost sight of the things in life that brought him the small joys outside the studio. At his home, Freddie had 10 (yes 10) cats. He started owning the felines during his relationship with Mary Austin where they adopted two cats called Tom and Jerry.
Over time, his favorite cat appeared: Delilah. She remained close to his side until the day he died in 1991. He loved her so much that he wrote a song about her on the album Innuendo.
A Short Break
Over time, Queen realized just how tired they had become. They had been writing, singing, touring, and partying for more than 15 years, and had been enjoying global fame for 10 of them. In the mid-1980s they took a year off to refresh themselves and relax, trying to recapture their creative spark.
Once they rejoined, they produced some of their biggest hits, such as I Want to Break Free and Radio Gaga. It wasn’t easy, however, as their comeback was faced with criticism and outrage.
Banned in the US
Today, I Want to Break Free has one of the most iconic music videos in history. It’s hard to think that it was considered radical and outrageous at the time. Based on the popular British soap opera, Coronation Street, it features the men in drag performing as women.
While Europeans understood and appreciated the reference, Americans were put off by it and they banned the video from being played. Today, it is one of the most memorable videos in history.
Queen’s famous Live Aid performance would be known as one of their greatest in the band’s career – but why? After the banned video, they needed to garner the attention of America again and this is how they would do it. During the 1985 Live Aid concert, Freddie Mercury and the gang captivated the audience and the world.
Even though they were only booked for 18 minutes, they ended up playing for almost an hour due to their ability to work a crowd and give the people what they wanted. But something was going to get in their way and stop them in their tracks…
Talk about going out on a high. Soon after the world-famous Live Aid concert in 1985, Freddie Mercury felt like he had just peaked. He couldn’t place his finger on his feelings, but he wasn’t sure if the band would ever perform like that again.
The others disagreed – now they were back and ready to tour the world again. After the best performance of their careers, they felt like they could do anything. Freddie Mercury didn’t feel well.
Queen’s lead singer would receive life-changing news that would be felt for generations to come. In 1987 he was diagnosed with AIDS and was HIV+. At the time, it was a devasting diagnosis that wreaked havoc among the gay community.
Even though he became sick in the 1980s, it wouldn’t be until the last few days of his life that he would publically announce it to the world. He wanted to share these last few moments with his loved one and his family.
Even though his sickness was kept a secret, it was clear that something wasn’t right with Queen’s leading man. He looked thinner, became weaker, and couldn’t perform live anymore. He wanted to keep working until the very end and continued to write songs and film videos in front of a camera.
Famously, he recorded the music video for These Are The Days Of Our Lives just a few months before he died. In it, he looks sick but determined to give one last song and performance to his fans.
A Legacy For The Ages
It’s been 27 years since Freddie Mercury left us aged 45. He died on November 24, 1991, in London surrounded by friends and family. He left all his possessions to his best friend, Mary Austin.
To fans across the world, he left a lasting legacy of love, passion, expression, and freedom. He will be felt for generations to come as a pioneer of music and personal accomplishment. He is missed every day by millions around the world.