It isn’t easy to answer the question, who was Freddie Mercury. He was not just one of the greatest showmen ever to have graced a stage but a pioneer and visionary who was way ahead of his times. Born Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury spent his childhood shifting between Africa and India, before finally moving to England. He was a part of several rock bands before he, Brian May, and Roger Taylor finally formed Queen.
Many regarded him a true spirit, who never let anything get in between himself and music. Close friend and bandmate Brian May has often talked about how Freddie was one of the few people whom he had met who were truly fearless. Following their 1973 debuted album which received moderate praise, came the single, “Killer Queen”, that propelled them to stardom. “Sheer Heart” that released around the same time was met with enthusiasm and fervor by fans and critics alike, who hailed the track as the most rock anthem Britain had heard in a while. What followed was a Golden era that saw the release of several iconic and successful records and also sold out concerts that were fronted by none other than Mercury himself, who by that time had begun to garner the reputation for being quite a showman. Through the late 70’s and early 80’s, Queen went on to release some classic anthems of rock, such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are the Champions”.
The world was caught by total surprise, when in 1991, Mercury proclaimed to the entire world that he had AIDS. Though he was diagnosed in 1987, he chose to keep the information private and only went public with it a few months before he succumbed to the disease.
Freddie Mercury with Brian May (Source- Getty Images)
"Like a great comet, he left a luminous trail which will sparkle for many a generation to come," May wrote on the day following his death. In the years that followed, many have spoken about Rock and Rolls most extravagant showman, but few have been able to piece together who he was as an individual. Under all that pomp and glamour lay a man who was afraid of being lonely. A true poet who wished to become a savior to the misfits. A young boy, who had known his entire life that he was different from everyone else, and had to live with it. Mercury, created a larger than life image of himself so as to hide his insecurities and also give other people who had been judged to be too different, a platform to be who they truly were.
There was a time, when this small, unimposing man could hold stadiums full of people in his thrall. He was a true entertainer; a player who could get audiences to eat from the palm of his hands. Towards the end, this power packed performer, retired to the suburbs. He was restrained and rarely seen as he chose to spend the rest of his time with his cats and fancy jeweler, away from the prying eyes of the media that had hounded him throughout his career. Most people who knew him believed that he knew he was special, that he was built for this kind of life.
Source- Freddie Mercury with Roger Taylor
He had a habit of saying dear at the end of every sentence, drummer Roger Taylor remembers fondly about his former bandmate. Roger remembers how Freddie was always himself; unabashed and unashamed of who he was; whatever be his sexual orientation. He never tried to change himself according to people’s opinions and was a beacon of hope for millions of queer men and women around the world.
His ethnicity, his Indian ancestry and his unique appearance all added to his mystique- a trait he used very effectively in his flamboyant career. Freddie would only set foot in England when he turned 17. Prior to this, he had a rather idyllic life in Zanzibar and then in India. Freddie?s hero was Jimi Hendrix and on reaching England, he watched Hendrix play a total of nine times; consecutively!
As Brian May, fondly recalls, “Even back then Freddie knew he would be a star. He had no money in his pocket, no success to speak of yet, or even any hope of success, but it didn’t stop him”. This faith in himself would later prove to be the fuel that launched Queen towards superstardom. He borrowed from several artists such as Hendrix, David Bowie and even Elton John to create his signature flamboyant style. Slowly, both Freddie and the band, defined themselves musically and professionally, and the band grew with respect to both their music and their popularity.
But with Mercury, it wasn’t just his music, but also his lifestyle that was loud and over the top. Parties that lasted days, drinks that never stopped flowing and a penchant for eclectic fashion all grew to become trademarks about him.
“You could be the loneliest person. You can be loved by so many thousands of people, yet you could be so lonely. And that makes it worse, because most people just think: How can someone like Freddie Mercury be lonely? He has the money, he has the cars, chauffeurs, the lot. In fact, sometimes that kind of loneliness is the hardest to bear. You have to put on a persona, and I find it very hard to open up to people because I don’t trust the buggers.”, Mercury commented when asked about how fame had affected him. Truer and more honest words have never been spoken.
Mercury was so good at the Live Aid concert to raise money for the famine in Africa that the Royal Mail put him on a commemorative stamp.
Freddie’s solo career, which began much later in his life, helped him to step out and really experiment the way he wanted to. Mercury was always vague about his sexuality when speaking to the media and though everyone thought it was very obvious, he would never talk about it on camera. And in the end, in a way he proclaimed defeat but chose to leave with his dignity intact. He accepted his fate and yet went out like the shooting star he was, burning bright and travelling fast,
“I love the fact that I make people happy. Even if it’s half an hour of their lives, if I can make them feel lucky or bring a smile to a sour face, that to me is worthwhile.” This is how one of the greatest showman of our times summarized his life and this isn’t a great way to have lived, I don’t know what would be.
By Athulya Mohandas