Originally published on theguardian.com

With an outpouring of shock, distress, affection and respect, fans and fellow musicians have been paying tribute to George Michael, after the musician was found dead at his Oxfordshire home at the age of 53.

Scores of mourners gathered throughout Boxing Day outside Michael’s home in the village of Goring-on-Thames, laying flowers and candles at his doorstep. Michael was found “in bed, lying peacefully” early on Christmas morning, his manager Michael Lippman said, having apparently died from heart failure. Thames Valley police attended his house around lunchtime on Sunday, later saying that they regarded the death as “unexplained, but not suspicious”.

Michael’s death stunned friends and fellow musicians, a number of whom said they had seen him in the past few days, apparently without cause for concern. He had not been unwell, his publicist said.

Former long-term partner Kenny Goss, who went out with Michael from 1996 to 2009, said he was heartbroken at the news. Goss said he had lost his “dear friend and long-time love” and “an extremely kind and generous man”, adding: “He was a major part of my life and I loved him very, very much.”

Michael’s current partner Fadi Fawaz, who began seeing him after his split with Goss, said he had found the singer dead in bed when he arrived to wake him ahead of plans to go for Christmas lunch.

Fawaz told the Daily Telegraph: “We don’t know what happened yet. Everything had been very complicated recently, but George was looking forward to Christmas, and so was I. Now everything is ruined. I want people to remember him the way he was – he was a beautiful person.”

Andrew Ridgeley, the childhood best friend with whom Michael founded the era-defining group Wham! when they were both teenagers, tweeted:

Elton John, another close friend and collaborator, said:

Shirlie Kemp, the Wham! backing singer who remained a lifelong friend, wrote:

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou to a Greek-Cypriot family in suburban north London, Michael had signed a record contract and released his first single by the time he was 18. Wham! went on to be one of the biggest-selling acts of the 1980s, with hits including Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Last Christmas and Club Tropicana.

In 1985, Wham! became the first western pop band to tour to China. Janey Lee Grace, now an author and BBC Radio 2 broadcaster, was a backing singer on the tour. She told the Guardian Michael had always been a perfectionist. “Even though my colleagues and I were the backing singers on all the live gigs and the live videos, George rarely used session singers in the studio, because he was so brilliant he did all his own backing vocals. Infuriating for us, but what a star.”

Even before Wham! separated in 1986, Michael had given a hint of his solo ambitions and that remarkable soul voice with the single, Careless Whisper. Mark Ronson, the DJ and producer, described him as “one of the true British soul greats”, while Sir Paul McCartney said the singer’s “sweet soul music will live on even after his sudden death”. McCartney added: “Having worked with him on a number of occasions, his great talent always shone through and his self-deprecating sense of humour made the experience even more pleasurable.”

Faith, Michael’s first solo album, sold 25m copies. In his career, he sold more than 100m albums in total. But in the early 90s, a bitter dispute with his record company, Sony, coincided with private tragedy when Anselmo Feleppa, the long-term partner he had been unable publicly to acknowledge, died from an AIDS-related illness.

Michael later said he would have been “a happier man” if he had felt able to reveal his homosexuality at the age of 19, when he first came out to some friends, but he had not spoken out in order to protect his parents from the fear of AIDS.

The singer did not fully acknowledge his homosexuality until 1998, when he was 34, after being arrested for performing a “lewd act” in a Los Angeles public toilet. Despite the circumstances, he was unapologetic about his sexuality, and remained an outspoken advocate of gay rights and gay sexuality for the rest of his life.

He was a passionate supporter of the Terrence Higgins Trust, and spokeswoman Jane Barron said those at the HIV charity were “so saddened” by his death: “Along with other charities, we were grateful to benefit from the royalties of George’s 1991 duet with Elton John, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me. His donations contributed to a vision of a world where people living with HIV live healthy lives free from prejudice and discrimination.”

It was not the only charity to benefit from Michael’s generosity. Wham! donated the royalties of Last Christmas to Band Aid. After his death, Esther Rantzen revealed that Michael had given the proceeds of Jesus to a Child, written about Feleppa’s death, to Childline.

Always more political than his early public image suggested, Michael played a free gig for NHS nurses to thank them for caring for his mother, and supported causes including the striking miners, Palestine and the homeless. Among those who paid tribute to his activism were Jeremy Corbyn – who called Michael “an exceptional artist and a strong supporter of LGBT and workers’ rights” – and campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Other instances of his generosity emerged after his death. The Guardian writer Sali Hughes revealed on Twitter that Michael once tipped a student nurse £5,000 because she was struggling with debt. Richard Osman tweeted:

The singer struggled with depression throughout his career, and once said he had spent more than a decade “in darkness”, turning to Prozac and cannabis. But he refused to be apologetic about his prodigious marijuana use and resisted attempts to cast him as a tragic figure following a number of drug-related arrests, one of which resulted in a short jail sentence after he crashed his car into a shop in north London.

Michael almost died in 2011 after falling ill with pneumonia while on tour in Germany. He was taken to hospital with head injuries in 2013 after falling out of his moving car on the M1, and again with an undisclosed illness a year later.

The singer had several plans for 2017. He had been working on a documentary about his life, entitled Freedom, due to be released in March along with a reissue of his album, Listen Without Prejudice.

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