Singer George Michael said farewell to the world of pop music on Wednesday, using a candid documentary about his life to put the record straight before he "disappeared." He also declared that the genre that brought him fame and riches, as well as unwanted media attention, was dead. "That genre is just dead as far as I am concerned," he told Reuters in an interview after the premiere of his documentary at the Berlin Film Festival.
George Michael: A Different Story traces a rags-to-riches journey that made Michael one of the biggest-selling artists of the 1980s and 1990s but which was not without tragedy along the way. "I just thought it was very important to explain myself before I disappear," the 41-year-old said. "I truly believe that there's a life for me that is not this one." When asked what he would do next, he replied: "Perhaps it will mean writing for other people. I have an ambition to write a truly contemporary musical, not necessarily even for the stage, but for the screen.... I have got to find ways to make music and enjoy it the way I used to." Michael railed against the advent of manufactured bands and the music world's obsession with celebrity, explaining that he was not interested in competing with the likes of British musicians Robbie Williams or Will Young. "Nobody wants to hear about politics or any kind of strong ideas in pop anymore."
In the 100-minute film, he speaks frankly about losing a lover to AIDS and the death of his mother, of the infamous lewd act in a Beverly Hills toilet, and the media fury over his anti-Iraq war stance. The documentary is fascinating as much for its insight into life as a celebrity as it is for revealing some of the truth about the notoriously publicity-shy star. "It's never suited me very well, the business of media and celebrity," Michael said. "Now I just find it unbearable."
His meteoric rise to superstardom, first with Wham! and then as a solo artist, was complicated by the fact that he was gay while widely believed to be straight. "I thought, Oh my God, I'm a massive star and I think I may be a poof. This is not going to end well," he said in the film. Michael eventually outed himself after being charged with lewd behavior in a toilet in 1998, although he lost Brazilian boyfriend Anselmo Feleppa to an AIDS-related condition in 1993. "I remember looking at the sky and saying, 'Don't do this to me,'" Michael said, referring to the moment when Feleppa told him he was going for medical tests.
Ballads like "Careless Whisper" and "Faith" have propelled Michael to the pinnacle of the music world. He has sold more than 70 million records, and his 1987 album Faith yielded six number-1 singles in the key American market. He has amassed a personal fortune estimated at $150 million. But he has also had fallow years, such as when he fought a losing legal battle against his record label in the early 1990s. He came roaring back in 1994, performing the acclaimed "Jesus to a Child" single under Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.
Elton John appears in the film and repeats his criticism of Michael that a decision not to tour was a waste of his talent. "I find him very frustrating," said John. John also takes a swipe at Michael's reluctance to tell the world that he was gay. "To be busted in the toilet is not the best way to come out of the closet, is it?" John asked. Michael said he never thought the incident would destroy his career, but he was "floored" by the media backlash triggered by his opposition to the war in Iraq. The video for "Shoot the Dog" features cartoon figures of President Bush in bed with British prime minister Tony Blair and his wife.