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LONDON (AFP) – British pop star George Michael, who rose to fame with the band Wham! and sold more than 100 million albums in his career, has died aged 53, 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 publicist said in a statement.
Thames Valley Police said the ambulance service had attended a property in Goring in Oxfordshire, where the singer lived, at 1342 GMT on Sunday and a 53-year-old man was confirmed dead at the scene.
“At this stage the death is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious. A post-mortem will be undertaken in due course,” the police said.
Singer Elton John published a picture of himself with Michael on his Instagram account.
“I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend – the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist,” the British star wrote.
Madonna posted a video of herself presenting Michael with an award and wrote: “Farewell my Friend! Another Great Artist leaves us.”
Michael was due to release a documentary in 2017 after a period of living as a virtual recluse in which he hit the headlines for a series of bizarre incidents linked to drugs.
Earlier this month it was also announced that producer and songwriter Naughty Boy, whose real name is Shahid Khan, was working with Michael on a new album for next year.
Michael was best known for his 1980s hits “Last Christmas”, “Freedom”, “Careless Whisper” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” but his career spanned more than three decades.
He won a string of awards including two Grammies and three Brits. His last album “Symphonica” (2014) rose to number one in the charts.
Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou to a Greek Cypriot father and English mother in north London in 1963.
He met Ridgeley at high school and the pair went on to form Wham! in 1981.
With their good looks, perma-tans, highlighted hair and hedonistic image, the duo captured the go-getting spirit of the age and fast became one of Britain’s biggest pop acts.
In 1985, Wham! became the first Western pop band to perform in China as the country was slowly beginning to open up to the outside world under reformist leader Deng Xiaoping.
Following years of speculation over his sexuality, Michael came out as gay in 1998 after being arrested for committing a lewd act in the public toilet of a Los Angeles park.
It was the first of several incidents that were to overshadow his musical career in his later years.
He notched up police cautions for cannabis and crack cocaine possession and in 2010 was sentenced to eight weeks in jail after crashing his car into a London shop while under the influence of cannabis and prescription medication.