George Michael’s death shocks world

December 26, 2016 GMT

If you needed one more, sadly ironic reason why 2016 was one of the all-time worst years for music, just consider that George Michael — who among other things, wrote one of the best Christmas songs to be released in the ’80s — died mysteriously on Christmas Day. And it’s a good bet that many of us had the still-irresistible “Last Christmas” by Wham! on our holiday mix tapes when we heard the news.In some ways, George Michael was the right voice in the wrong decade — an old-fashioned matinee idol and romantic crooner in an era of slick and trendy pop. That didn’t stop him from becoming a breakaway star in the MTV era, nor did coming out as gay keep him from being a crush object for women and men alike. He played the sex-symbol role with high style and plenty of subversive winks, especially after coming out; and his unfailing sense for a great pop hook didn’t hurt either.Michael was allegedly part of a duo when he first hit big, but nobody was fooled: His partner in Wham! — Andrew Ridgeley — was even less of a creative equal than John Oates or Art Garfunkel. True to their name, Wham! were sexy and silly and proud of it: When one of their early tours hit Boston, Ridgeley made a big deal of Michael putting on a flattering pair of sunglasses. The early hits “Wham Rap” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” were guaranteed to get on the nerves of anyone who took pop music too seriously. Yet when Michael came up with the yearning ballad “Careless Whisper” — the last single under the Wham! name, and a worldwide No. 1— it became obvious that the man had genuine soul. He also did a memorable turn on the Band Aid single “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” the only ’80s seasonal song to give “Last Christmas” a run for its money.The seductive tenor would remain a trademark, but his records got much edgier over the years: “I Want Your Sex” and “Praying for Time” both proved that you could be sex-positive while keeping a social conscience, and still manage to get into the Top Ten. Some of his dirty laundry got aired in public, such as when a police sting got him busted for sex in a public restroom in 1998. But he continued to be a voice for those affected by the AIDS epidemic, and a protester of the oppression of England’s Thatcher era and beyond.The cause of Michael’s death is unknown, though a spokesman said he died peacefully at 53.Meanwhile, his songs have proved evergreen, especially in England where the Christmas song got re-released every year. That chorus of that hit claims that “I gave you my heart”—which is just what George Michael did, over and over.