Script Written by Michael Wynands
The Heartbreaking Life of Freddie Mercury
The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be discussing The Heartbreaking Life of Freddie Mercury.
Come along as we take a closer look at the story of this legendary singer, musician and performer, including the many challenges and hardships he weathered before being taken too soon.
There are few musicians that have made a more significant or lasting impression than Freddie Mercury. With his incredible range, unconventionally operatic vocal style and refusal to subscribe to norms of masculinity, Freddie Mercury was a man who defied convention at every turn. And, alongside his bandmates in Queen, he left an enduring musical legacy that continues to resonate with listeners today.
Freddie Mercury died far too young. But even before his fatal diagnosis, the Bohemian Rhapsody singer had already faced more than his fair share of challenges; Mercury struggled in ways that few fans can imagine. For all his exuberance, wild partying, and apparent joie de vivre, Mercury also had demons and inner struggles that he contended with his entire life.
Freddie Mercury was born on September 5th, 1946 in the British protectorate of Zanzibar. His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, named him Farrokh, a popular Parsis name in keeping with their ethnoreligious background, which means “happy and fortunate.’’ At age seven, he began taking piano lessons, which would prove important in his musical development.
Mercury was sent to boarding school in India when he was eight. And though it might be hard to believe, he was incredibly shy at the time. Making matters worse was his substantial overbite, which made him the target of much mockery among his peers and earned him the nickname “Bucky.” Though this would have caused many children to retreat inwards, young Farrokh Bulsara flourished in the boarding school setting. By the age of 12, he had already started his first band with school mates. It was also around this time that he began going by Freddie and distinguished himself as a performer. Peers described him as being at once shy and a show-off depending on the situation. This is a duality that would follow him throughout his life - outwardly exuberant, but inwardly insecure.
Though Mercury’s childhood was a mostly happy one, his life was upended in 1964 when his family was forced to flee Zanzibar out of fear for their safety when a violent revolution broke out. It would ultimately go on to claim the lives of many Indian and Arab people, with some estimates placing the death toll as high as 20,000. Thankfully, the Bulsara family got out in time and relocated to the town of Feltham in Middlesex, England.
Although tragedy brought the Bulsara family to England, the move did provide Freddie with opportunities he would have been unlikely to receive back home. Here he was able to study art in West London’s Isleworth Polytechnic, followed by graphic design at Ealing Art College. All the while, he continued to develop his music, both during his studies and after graduation. Mercury was involved in a number of projects, but it was when he joined the band Smile, which would later evolve into Queen, that his life was changed forever.
The story of Queen’s success has been well-documented elsewhere, so we’re going to focus more specifically on Freddie’s personal life. As the band rose from up-and-comers to living rock gods, Freddie became an icon. His onstage flamboyance was generally accepted despite gender norms of the time, but did lead to much speculation about his sexuality, and by extension, homophobia. Decades after his passing people are still trying to put Mercury’s sexuality in a box. Was he gay? Was he bisexual? The reality is… the public confusion over his sexual identity is a reflection of the singer’s own lack of clarity. Mercury never gave the press a straight answer when asked about his sexuality, letting his actions speak for him.
Nonetheless, Freddie’s behavior did result in backlash from fans. As his style increasingly reflected the fashion of the ‘80s gay culture, American listeners began to turn against the band. Some fans went as far as to throw razors onstage, encouraging him to shave his “gay” moustache. Because he never identified himself as explictly gay, it was as if a portion of the fans sought to sanitize his image. But given the rampant homophobia of the time, it’s little wonder that, while indulging in all manner of sexual activity and being an overtly sexual being, Mercury never really explictly came out as a gay man.
Over the course of his life, Mercury had a number of notable relationships. His earliest and perhaps most enduring love, was Mary Austin. They lived together for many years and even got engaged. But as Mercury’s interest in men became more apparent, their relationship evolved into a platonic one. Freddie took many lovers over the years, but few of them are more than a footnote in his story. In 1975, however, he met radio DJ Paul Prenter at a bar, and the latter became a big part of Freddie’s life, involving himself with the rockstar both personally and as his manager. They were lovers and, for years, seemed to have behaved as life partners. Prenter’s professional influence over Freddie, however, seemingly drove a wedge between the singer and the band. Prenter and Mercury’s relationship, while largely obscured in mystery, was by all accounts a volatile and seemingly toxic one. Before passing of AIDs-related illness himself, Prenter sold a story outing Freddie to the tabloids. Around the same time that Prenter and Mercury parted ways, Freddie began a relationship with Jimmy Hutton, with whom he lived for the remaining years of his life.
Though he had lovers and friends, Mercury’s life was one characterized, first and foremost, by an intense and pervasive sense of loneliness. In a handful of candid interviews, the singer revealed that he almost always felt alone. By his own admission, he was prone to falling in love and falling hard. And because he so often got his heart broken, he learned to close himself off, “holding back” when he felt drawn to someone new. All the lovers he took and messy relationships he had, including the complex one with Mary Austin, were attempts to satisfy his greatest unrealized desire - to be in “a beautiful relationship with someone.” By his own admission, however, his self-destructiveness made him difficult to love. And so, for much of his life, Freddie suffered greatly, desperately seeking love while burdened with the knowledge that he drove it away.
Because of his iconic status as a party animal and his flamboyant nature, people often tend to gloss over his substance abuse. But according to Peter Freestone, who worked for Mercury for over a decade, getting the star his cocaine was a regular part of the job. Though Freestone doesn’t frame it as an addiction, cocaine seemed to be a staple in Freddie’s life. Part of his falling out with Michael Jackson allegedly stemmed from the Queen singer using the drug in Jackson’s home. You generally can’t “party for days” as Mercury did without it damaging your behavior. When not performing or otherwise entertaining, he was known to be quite shy, and drugs were likely an essential tool in helping him come out of his shell.
The final chapter in Freddie Mercury’s life is the darkest and most well-known. According to partner Jimmy Hutton, Mercury was diagnosed with HIV in 1987, but the singer didn’t publicly acknowledge it until 1991, just 24 hours before his death. Up until the very end however, even as his health deteriorated, Mercury continued to pursue his great passion: music. Speaking with Queen guitarist Brian May towards the end of his life, he told his bandmate “Write me more. Write me stuff. I want to just sing this and do it, and when I am gone you can finish it off.” The great showman eventually became bedridden, lost most of his foot and began to lose his eyesight. With various friends visiting him around the clock the last few weeks of his life, Freddie Mercury chose to embrace his fate by foregoing any further treatment. He died on November 24th, 1991.
Freddie left large sums of money to everyone from Jimmy Hutton to his chef and personal driver - all the people who made his life a little less lonely. The majority of his fortune, however, he left to Mary Austin, the love of his life and longest lasting friend. To the rest of us, Mercury left an enduring legacy of not only powerful and timeless music, but also his fashion sense, bold personality and the high bar he set for all performers to follow. Freddie Mercury was one of a kind. And while his life was difficult and tragically short, he continues to inspire countless fans around the world.