He Will Rock You
"I'm not going to be a star, I'm going to be a legend," Freddie Mercury said at the outset of his career. Here, to mark the birthday of Queen's late frontman, are 25 reasons he turned out to be right.
He had an extraordinary vocal range of nearly five octaves. One of the greatest rock singers ever, Freddie Mercury was a baritone who sang as a tenor, which is part of what made his voice so distinctive.
It's a Scientific Fact
In 2016, a team of European scientists released a study of Mercury's voice, which found that Queen's frontman had a unique vibrato. "Typically, an opera singer's vibrato has this frequency of about 5.5-6 Hz," noted professor Christian Herbst. "Freddie Mercury's is higher."
He Was a Graphic Artist
Mercury, who had a degree from Ealing Art College, designed the famous Queen logo himself in 1973, not long before the band released its first album.
He Named the Band
"The concept of Queen is to be regal and majestic," Freddie said. "We want to be dandy. We want to shock and be outrageous."
He Overcame a Major Obstacle
Born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946, Mercury was a painfully shy young immigrant from Zanzibar who transformed himself into the ultimate rock 'n' roll showman.
He Was a Wild Style Icon
With his flamboyant bodysuits, brightly colored jackets and skintight leather getups, Freddie outdid Lady Gaga before she was born. "I have fun with my clothes onstage," he said. "It's not a concert you're seeing, it's a fashion show."
He Paved the Way for Music Videos
Produced in 1975, the "Bohemian Rhapsody" video marked a sea change in the music business. According to Rolling Stone, "Its influence cannot be overstated, practically inventing the music video seven years before MTV went on the air."
He Made Us Appreciate Cryptic Lyrics
"Bohemian Rhapsody," which Mercury wrote, is one of Queen's most popular songs despite words like scaramouche (a clown character from early Italian theater) and bismillah (the first word in the Quran, meaning "in the name of Allah"). It may help to know that Mercury was raised in the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion of ancient Persia.
He Partied With the Best of Them
"Freddie Mercury could out-party me, which is saying something," Elton John was quoted as saying in the 2012 biography "Mercury." "We'd be up for nights, sitting there at 11 in the morning, still flying high."
He Turned Rock and Roll Into Theater
"A concert is not a live rendition of our album," Freddie said. "It's a theatrical event."
He Held His Own With the Royal Ballet Company
Mercury trained with the company after accepting their invitation to join them for a 1979 charity performance. "It was murder," he told the Evening News. "After two days, I was in agony. It was hurting me in places I didn't know I had, dear."
About the Mustache
Maybe you liked it; maybe you didn't—Freddie had the confidence not to worry about popular opinion. "It's my mustache," he told the crowd at one concert, "and I'm gonna keep it."
He Was a Great Collaborator
Every member of Queen wrote at least one No. 1 single. It's the only band since the dawn of rock and roll that can make that claim.
He Was Spontaneous
Freddie hadn't planned to write a song with David Bowie when the rock legend dropped by a studio in Switzerland to sing backup on a Queen song. But Bowie and the band ended up in a jam session that produced a 1981 hit—the Mercury-Bowie duet "Under Pressure."
He Made the 'Bottomless Mic' His Trademark
It began as an accident: During an early Queen concert, Mercury's mic stand broke. Instead of swapping it for a new one, he just kept performing—and used the "bottomless" mic stand from that day on.
He Had Global Appeal
Queen's "Greatest Hits," which came out in 1981, is certified 8x Platinum in the U.S. and it's the best-selling LP in U.K. history. The album has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide.
He Wasn't Held Back by False Modesty
Freddie put it this way: "The reason we're successful, darling? My overall charisma, of course."
He Was a Devoted Friend
Although he was gay, Mercury had a long-term relationship in the early '70s with Mary Austin, the inspiration for his song "The Love of My Life." "All my lovers asked me why they couldn't replace Mary, but it's simply impossible," Freddie said in 1985. In his will, he left his London mansion and most of his fortune to Austin.
He Opened Up a New World to Princess Diana
In the late '80s, Freddie reportedly dressed Lady Di in drag, disguising her as an androgynous male model, and sneaked her into a London gay bar, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
He Adored Cats
For a while, he had 10 of them. His favorite, Delilah, inspired this track on "Innuendo," Mercury's last studio album with Queen. Sample lyrics: "You make me so very happy / When you cuddle up and go to sleep beside me / And then you make me slightly mad / When you pee all over my Chippendale Suite."
He Kept the Band Together
Queen came close to breaking up back in the '70s as the bandmates "argued about everything—even the air that we breathe," Mercury recalled. But lead guitarist (and astrophysicist) Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor remember Freddie as the band's peacemaker, a "great diplomat."
He Was a Glorious Rebel
Here's how Annie Lennox put it after Mercury's death in 1991: "For me, he represents an era when people were less afraid of living life to the full ... when rock's extravagances went berserk ... There's a glorious rebelliousness about it, of freedom attached to it, that represents that whole spirit of rock and roll."
Yet He Could Sing Opera
Just listen to "Barcelona," his duet with Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballe, which would become the theme to the city's Olympics in 1992.
He Kept Certain Things Secret
After years of rumors, Mercury confirmed that he had AIDS on November 23, 1991. He died the next day. Mary Austin has said that, respecting Freddie's wishes, she will never reveal where she buried his ashes.
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