British pop superstar George Michael died on Christmas Day, stunning the music world and fans around the globe. Michael was only 53 years old and his voice was heard countless times over the holidays, as "Last Christmas," the smash hit from his former group Wham!, has grown to become a staple of the season. Heart failure has been given as the cause of his death.
In a statement to the BBC, his publicist said, "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. The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage."
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, he and Andrew Ridgeley shot to superstardom as Wham! in the early '80s. Michael was only 21 when their sophomore album Make It Big was released, featuring their massive hits "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Careless Whisper," among others. After Wham! split in 1986, Michael embarked on a solo career.
His 1987 album Faith catapulted Michael into the Pop stratosphere in the late '80s, with hits including the title track, "Father Figure" and the controversial "I Want Your Sex." Faith sold 10 million copies in the U.S. alone and won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1989.
The follow-up Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 was released in late 1990 and featured multiple hits but couldn't match the massive success of Faith. In the '90s, Michael ended up in a court battle with Sony Music and signed with DreamWorks and Virgin, who paid Sony millions of dollars to acquire his contract. However, he only released three more studio albums (one of which was all cover songs).
In 1998, Michael was arrested for "engaging in a lewd act," and spent years appearing in the tabloids on and off due to drug problems and sexual encounters. The singer was not shy about his sexuality but never officially came out as gay until 2007.
Michael was also renowned for his charitable work throughout his career, performing benefit concerts for many causes, including fighting HIV/AIDS.