The Sad Decline of George Michael
It’s been 23 years since George Michael wanted our sex and even longer since the clean-shaven British musician emerged on the scene as half of the wholesome two-man-band, Wham! Back then we weren’t entirely sure what the pop sensation was all about, but everyone remembers his metamorphosis from that sensitive kid who was “never gonna dance again” to a superstar bad boy—you know, when the music videos stopped looking like they’d been filmed through gauze and Michael traded his biker shorts and “Choose Life” T-shirt for a black leather jacket, shades, and a single gold cross dangling from his left earlobe.
The transformation worked like a charm and Michael encountered unprecedented worldwide popularity when his debut solo album, Faith, sold one million copies in the US alone in its first week and commandeered the 1988 charts with six Top Five singles. Though Faith definitely marked the height of his popularity, he continued to enjoy professional success, especially in the UK, for another ten years while public speculation about his sexual orientation followed him around like a pink elephant. All that rampant curiosity was put to rest, however, in April of 1998, when Michael was arrested in Beverly Hills for “engaging in a lewd act” with an undercover police officer in a public restroom. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was hit with a small fine and a few weeks of community service. No big deal, unless you’re a rock star sex symbol who’s been hangin’ out in the closet for the past 15 years.
So, Michael’s career took a dive and his public performances became infrequent at best. He was open about his sexual preference, and, in a good-humored response to the incident, released “Outside,” a music video that poked fun at the exaggerated sensationalism surrounding the event and criticized the hypocrisy of police entrapment. The song was also upfront and unapologetic about Michael’s emergence from the closet, with lyrics like: “the game that you gave away wasn’t worth playing.” The whole enterprise was a nice idea, but “Outside” didn’t inspire the roaring supportive response it was designed for. It even spawned a lawsuit from Marcelo Rodriguez, the arresting officer in the case, who claimed that the video “mocked” him and that Michael had previously slandered him in interviews. In a rare stroke of luck for Michael, the case was thrown out of court.
With the notorious “public restroom” incident on his record and his glory days behind him, the star has continued to have a string of scandals and scrapes with the law, which, while minor, accumulated quickly enough to get him recently slapped with jail time. Many were traffic violations and most of them were a result of Michael’s “own stupid fault,” he has admitted. He even managed to pack many of them into the same year. Busy busy.
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February 2006: Michael was issued a warning for being found unconscious in his car, slumped over his steering wheel, and in possession of marijuana.
April 2006: An ostensibly sober Michael hit three parked cars while trying to get out of a parking lot. In his defense he admitted to being “a terrible driver.”
May 2006: Michael fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a bollard near his home.
July 2006: While the truth of this one is uncertain, it can still be categorized as a scandal, so I will allow it: In response to an article appearing in the British tabloid News of the World that claimed Michael was spotted in public “red-handed and red-faced as he emerged from the bushes after cavorting with a pot-bellied, 58-year-old, jobless van driver,” Michael defended his right to cruise for anonymous sex, saying “This is my culture!” but he denied any truth to the report.
October 2006: People call to report a car blocking a busy intersection. It’s Michael, slumped over in his car again, unconscious. This time he was brought up on charges for “driving while unfit through drugs.” He pleaded guilty and was, again, sentenced to community service.
September 2008: Michael was arrested in a public restroom, but this time it was for possession of Class C (basically marijuana) and Class A (much more serious) drugs. The authorities let him go after cautioning him for controlled substance possession.
August 2009: Michael hit a lorry in Berkshire at 1 a.m. He again claimed to be “stone cold sober” at the time of the crash, and charges were not brought up against him.
July 4, 2010: After a Gay Pride parade in London, Michael crashed his Range Rover into a photo shop. He was charged with driving under the influence of marijuana and prescription drugs. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four weeks jail time, four weeks of probation, and a $2000 fine.
Let’s hope the list stops here. It’s useful and perhaps even hopeful, to mention that between charging and sentencing of the last incident, Michael sought professional help for anxiety, depression, and addiction. Whether this was a calculated move to get leniency from the judge or the genuine acknowledgement of a problem remains to be seen. While there’s little hope that Michael will ever climb to the glorious heights he once attained, perhaps he can at least get his life back in order. In the words of the pop star himself, sometimes “you gotta have faith.”
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