George Michael celebrated his last Christmas on Sunday before dying of heart failure. The pop star was fifty-three years old, and while you may know him best for his holiday hit, “Last Christmas” (Taylor Swift’s version will never compare), or his 1980s stardom as one half of the pop duo, “Wham!” there’s a lot more to Michael than most people realized.
Michael came from a Greek background and was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in England. He entered the pop music scene in the 1980s (switching to pop after an attempt at ska music) with singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” Wham! was the first Western band to perform in China on its world tour, and Michael performed for Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to benefit Ethiopian famine relief. He continued producing music until his last album in 2004.
After producing music for more than 20 years, Michael said, “I never minded being thought of as a pop star. People have always thought I wanted to be seen as a serious musician, but I didn’t, I just wanted people to know that I was absolutely serious about pop music.”
But Michael was more than a pop star. Many people have come forward to praise his charitable giving over the years, much of it done without any public recognition. Michael was a vocal public advocate for AIDS sufferers since the 1980s; he was also an ambassador for Macmillan Cancer Support after his mother died of cancer, and, most recently, he worked with animal charities. But since his death, more and more people have been coming out with stories of Michael’s private acts of generosity. I’ll let the tweets speak for themselves:
— David Walliams (@davidwalliams) December 26, 2016
Every Easter at Capital when I was on air with chris Tarrant for help a london child George would call in at 3.30pm with a £100.000 donation
— Mick Brown (@djmickbrown) December 25, 2016
A woman on 'Deal Or No Deal' told us she needed £15k for IVF treatment. George Michael secretly phoned the next day and gave her the £15k.
— Richard Osman (@richardosman) December 26, 2016
I wrote in a piece ages ago about a celeb I'd worked with tipping a barmaid £5k because she was a student nurse in debt. Was George Michael.
— Sali Hughes (@salihughes) December 26, 2016
And perhaps his most revealing act of kindness:
George Michael worked anonymously at a homeless shelter I was volunteering at. I've never told anyone, he asked we didn't. That's who he was
— EMILYNE MONDO (@EmilyneMondo) December 26, 2016
From donating to charities and personally helping a student in debt, to donating £100,000 every year for children’s dental care in Africa, Michael was a generous soul. But what is especially compelling is that he did so much of this work secretly or anonymously. It’s one thing to be a rich celebrity and donate money to charities (all while boasting about it on Twitter); it’s another (and rare) thing to perform hands-on acts of giving for people in need, and to do so without any expectation of recognition.
After a celebrity dies, stories often come out about a secret act of kindness they performed, but I can’t recall any celebrity in recent years whose death has generated such moving stories. Humble celebrities like him are rare. Today we have people like Kanye West asking other celebrities to give him money instead of building schools in Africa, or David Arquette’s 2009 publicity stunt, which involved him living inside a box (with furniture nicer than I’ll ever be able to afford) supposedly to raise $250,000 for hunger awareness.
With celebrities like that, it’s no wonder the public appreciation for Michael’s generosity has been as enthusiastic as it has. His partner, Fadi Fawaz, said it best, “I want people to remember [Michael] the way he was—he was a beautiful person.” After all the stories of Michael’s generosity, I don’t think that will be hard to do.