British singer George Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist, died at 53 at his home in England on Sunday. He was a pioneer and has a special place in modern Chinese culture being the first Western pop artist to perform in China in 1985.
In the mid-1980s, Wham! was one of the most successful pop duos ever with singles like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go", "Last Christmas" and "The Edge of Heaven".
This file photo taken on August 12, 2012 shows British singer George Michael performing at the Olympic stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games in London./ CFP Photo
"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," his publicist said in a statement.
"The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage," the statement said.
British police said Michael's death was "unexplained but not suspicious."
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963 in London to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents in a flat above a north London launderette, Michael reportedly busked and played music on the London underground train, before finding fame with Wham!.
Wham! perform in Beijing, China, in April 1985./ Weibo Photo
With a school friend, Andrew Ridgeley, he formed Wham! in 1981, a partnership that would produce some of the most memorable pop songs and dance-floor favorites of the 1980s.
In March 1985, Wham! took a break from recording to embark on a lengthy world tour, including a ground-breaking 10-day visit to China, the first by a Western pop group. It culminated in a concert at the Workers' Gymnasium in Beijing in front of 15,000 people, generating worldwide media coverage, much of which centered on Michael.
Fans at Wham! concert at the Workers' Gymnasium in Beijing, China in April 1985. / Weibo Photo
The audience included members of the Chinese government. Chinese television presenter, Kan Lijun, who was the on-stage hostess, spoke of Wham!'s historic performance, "No one had ever seen anything like that before. All the young people were amazed and everybody was tapping their feet. Of course the police weren't happy and they were afraid there would be riots."
Wham! at the Great Wall during their 10-day visit to Beijing, China in April 1985. /Weibo Photo
The tour was documented by film director Lindsay Anderson and producer Martin Lewis in their film Foreign Skies: Wham! In China.
"I am in deep shock," said Elton John, a famous British singer-songwriter and musician. "I have lost a beloved friend - the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans."
The duo had their first hit with their second release “Young Guns (Go For It)" (1982) before their debut release "Wham Rap" became a hit the following year. The 1984 album "Make It Big" was a huge success in the United States.
But Michael was keen to reach beyond Wham!'s teenage audience and to experiment with other genres. Wham! announced their split in 1986.
Wham! at Tian'anmen Square during their 10-day visit to Beijing, China in April 1985. / Weibo Photo
Michael's death comes at the end of a year that has seen the passing of several music superstars, including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Rick Parfitt, the guitarist of British rock group Status Quo, died on Saturday at 68.
(Adapted from a story by China Daily)