“I always knew I was a star. And now, the rest of the world seems to agree with me.”—Freddie Mercury
It is indisputable that Queen’s own Freddie Mercury has gone down in history as one of the greatest frontmen in the history of rock music, or even any genre of music. Very few people have had a more distinctive, versatile, or powerful voice and flair for performance as Mercury did. With a band as successful and as beloved as Queen, Mercury’s legacy is unquestionable and extraordinary. Therefore, here is a list of facts around this legendary star.
42. Born in Africa
Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 to Parsi parents in what is now the city of Zanzibar in Tanzania, back when it was still a British territory. When Mercury was 17, the Bulsara family was forced to flee for England when the Zanzibar Revolution tore the region apart and resulted in the deaths of many people of Arabic and Indian background.
41. Applying Your Degree
Mercury attended the Isleworth Polytechnique, which now goes by the name of West Thames College. Mercury graduated with a diploma in Art and Graphic Design, which came in handy when he would go on to design the heraldic arms of his famous band!
40. Low-Rent Roadie
Long before Mercury and David Bowie gave us one of the greatest song collaborations of all time with “Under Pressure,” the two unknown musicians were struggling to make it in the industry. Bowie got started first, and he invited Mercury to help out with building a stage for him at the small club where Bowie was set to perform. The “stage” ended up being a few tables pushed together, which ultimately did the trick—and miraculously, didn’t collapse.
39. We’ll Keep on Fighting
In 1992, a year after Mercury died, the Mercury Phoenix Trust was founded. This trust’s objective is to fund AIDS charities on a global scale. It has also funded medical research and studies into possible vaccinations against AIDS.
38. Great Ideas Are Fleeting
Mercury was prone to getting random inspirations for songs at the strangest of times (more on that later). Because he was worried about missing an opportunity to get an idea down on paper before it left his mind, Mercury had a piano installed on his bed as a headboard! Not only that—he was double-jointed, so he didn’t even have to turn over to play the piano.
37. Rock Royalty
It was Mercury who decided that the band should be named Queen. While he later said he was aware of the LGBTQ connotations behind the name, he said he was mainly focused on the fact that it sounded “regal,” “strong,” and “very universal”. In that, he was entirely correct.
36. Sing Your Heart Out!
Despite claims that Mercury had a 4 octave-range singing voice, it hasn’t been fully confirmed if that is the case. A research team studied his vocals in the songs he left behind and concluded that he was certainly just over three octaves, but it was unclear if he had the full 4-octave range. Either way, his voice has been hailed as one of the greatest in rock history.
35. Impressive Record
Of the 17 songs listed on Queen’s Greatest Hits album, Mercury was the credited songwriter on 10 of them. And of course, that includes Queen’s most iconic song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
34. Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds
Mercury’s family were practitioners of the Middle Eastern religion known a Zoroastrianism, which is one of the oldest extant religions in the world. Mercury never abandoned this faith either; his funeral service was actually performed by a Zoroastrian priest.
33. One Band’s Success Thanks to Some Bad Teeth
On the December 1, 1976, Mercury and the rest of Queen were in the middle of promoting the release of A Day at the Races. As a result, they were supposed to appear on the talk show Today with Bill Grundy that day. However, Mercury bailed because he apparently hadn’t gone to the dentist in 15 years and it had become a now or never situation. Instead, Queen’s label, EMI, sent a newer band in Queen’s place: the Sex Pistols. The young punk band made an obscene scene on the show, prompting nation-wide condemnation and instant infamy. It was exactly the kind of big break that they needed, and it only happened because Mercury was such a procrastinator when it came to dental hygiene!
32. Don’t Mess with Mercury, or He Will Rock You
Sadly, the Sex Pistols weren’t exactly grateful to Queen for the chance to shout swear words on the air. The Pistols loathed Queen’s image and stardom, while for his part, Mercury didn’t even consider what the Sex Pistols produced to be music—fair enough, really. In 1977, the bands’ paths crossed at their mutual recording studio. While John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten) was actually polite when talking to Queen, Sid Vicious drunkenly tried to pick a fight with Mercury. For his part, Mercury wasn’t goaded into fighting with “Simon Ferocious,” as he humorously called him during the encounter. He preferred instead to belittle him, like most of the critics of the world were doing at the time—and mostly still are.
31. Maybe it Was Their Names?
Before he joined Queen, Mercury had tried his luck with two previous bands. However, both Wreckage and Sour Milk Sea had failed to catch on. Just goes to show that it isn’t just the frontman who makes a successful band!
30. Sing On, Sir
When Queen participated in Live Aid in 1985, Mercury delivered what has been hailed as “The Note Heard Around the World”; a sustained note during the a cappella section which perfectly demonstrated Mercury’s incredible vocal talents.
29. Doing Your Own Thing
What people don’t necessarily know about Mercury is that he had a solo career outside of his work with Queen. In 1985 and 1988, Mercury released two non-Queen albums. While Mr. Bad Guy and Barcelona were commercially successful, some critics were perplexed by Barcelona’s combination of opera and pop music. Aside from those two albums, Mercury also covered “The Great Pretender” in 1987.
28. Greatness Endures
There has been debate into whether Mercury’s tragic death in 1991 helped cause Queen sales to skyrocket after more modest sales in the 1980s. Another thing to consider is the use of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the highly popular 1992 comedy Wayne’s World. What cannot be disputed, however, is the lasting power of Queen’s music, decades after Mercury’s death.
27. Turning an Accident into an Icon
Mercury became well known for performing with a “bottomless mic” during his live shows. However, the origin of this was a complete accident. Early in Queen’s career as a band, Mercury’s mic stand broke in two while Mercury was in the middle of a song. Mercury simply continued with the song, refusing to stop in the middle just to switch it out. The image was so memorable that they continued with it from then on.
26. Ballet to the Masses!
In 1979, Mercury once again proved his status as a Renaissance man by joining the Royal Ballet for a charity gala performance. Initially reluctant to do it, Mercury threw himself into grueling rehearsals, which he later described as “murder.” It was worth it, though, as he performed in front of 2,500 people in a silver bodysuit. He also sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” while being carried by three shirtless men—because, of course he did. As his bandmate Roger Taylor said, “There was only one person in the world that could have gotten away with it”.
25. He Looks Taller Than Usual
In tribute to Mercury, a 10-foot statue of him was erected in 1996, overlooking Lac Leman—often mistakenly called Lake Geneva—in Switzerland. The unveiling ceremony was attended by Mercury’s father and two of his bandmates, Roger Taylor and Brian May.
24. Champions, Indeed
Written by Mercury, “We Are the Champions” is one of Queen’s most well-known songs, despite the fact that it never hit #1 anywhere, not even the UK. In 2011, a team of researchers concluded that “We Are the Champions” is actually the catchiest song in the history of pop music. To be honest, we’re not that surprised by this discovery.
23. Man of Many Talents
In addition to singing and songwriting, Mercury was very instrumentally skilled. He’d been trained to play the piano since he was nine years old. He would go on to play keyboards in a lot of Queen’s songs, including “Somebody to Love,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Are the Champions,” and “Don’t Stop Me Now.” Well played, Freddie!
22. They Call Me “Feline Freddie”
According to most everyone who knew him, Mercury was a fanatical cat person. At one point, he kept upwards of six cats in his home. Apparently, he treated the cats as if they were family and while he was on tour, he would call the house and have them put the phone up to the cats’ ears so they could hear his voice. Typical helicopter parent!
21. Thanks, Buddy!
Surprisingly, Mercury wasn’t the original singer of Queen. That honor belonged to a personal friend of his, Tim Staffell. Staffell, however, thought that Mercury was better suited to the band, and so recommended him to his bandmates. The rest was history.
20. A Song to Make You Cry
One of Queen’s most beloved songs, “Love of My Life” was written by Mercury about Mary Austin (more on her later). During live performances of the song, the audience would get so caught up in it that Mercury would often stop singing and let them take over. After his death, the remaining band members would often dedicate the song to his memory when they performed it.
19. May the Force Be With You
In 1980, the second—and arguably the best—film of the Star Wars series, The Empire Strikes Back was about to be released. Mercury showed his support and enthusiasm for the series by singing “We Will Rock You” at a concert while sitting on the shoulders of a roadie who had been dressed up as Darth Vader! What happened to you not liking Star Wars, Freddie?
18. Going Out with Acclaim
Mercury’s final appearance on a stage in front of an audience was when he and the rest of Queen won the 1990 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution.
17. Filling in for Freddie
Mercury’s final vocals ever recorded were for the song “Mother Love,” which was on the album Made in Heaven, released after Mercury’s death. In May 1991, Mercury recorded the first parts of the song, but he had to stop and “have a rest” before he could finish the song. Sadly, he never ended up returning to the studio before he died that November, so fellow band member Brian May helped him finish the job by coming in to sing the final verse.
16. The Artist’s Mask
If there is one thing that people remember about Mercury—apart from the incredible voice—it was his legendary flamboyance while performing. However, this belied the intense shyness that Mercury felt when he wasn’t performing. He rarely gave interviews and tried to keep a private, personal life.
15. The Show Goes On!
On August 9, 1986, Mercury’s last live performance with Queen took place at Knebworth Park. More than 160,000 people were in attendance.
14. One Take Is all It Takes
Mercury was in the last stages of sickness from AIDS by 1991 and was so weak that he could barely walk. Working on the album Innuendo was a serious chore for him, but he powered through as much of it as he could. In particular, the vocals for the thunderous classic “The Show Must Go On” were performed by Mercury in a single, awe-inspiring take.
13. Is This Just Fantasy?
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like the song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but it’s impossible to find anyone who knows what the actual meaning of the song is supposed to be. According to Mercury, there is no meaning to be had. He dismissed the lyrics of the song as “rhyming nonsense.” Mama mia!
12. Hard Feelings
From 1972 to 1975, Queen had a manager named Norman Sheffield. Sheffield allegedly abused his position as manager, and the band ended up broke despite having released two very successful albums in Killer Queen and Sheer Heart Attack. Mercury eventually wrote a “hate letter” to Sheffield which turned into the song “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)”.
11. Hey! That’s Me!
Despite the fact that Mercury never actually mentioned his name, or declared who the song was about, Norman Sheffield had no trouble getting the hints when he first heard “Death on Two Legs.” According to Mercury himself, the song was “so vindictive that [Brian May] felt bad singing it.” Sheffield proceeded to sue the band and their new record label for defamation, ironically revealing to the puzzled audiences everywhere who Mercury had been writing about. The lawsuits were settled out of court, and Sheffield wrote an autobiography to defend his position before he passed away in 2014. No doubt he and Mercury’s ghosts are spitefully ignoring each other in the afterlife to this day.
10. The Last Laugh
Back in 1972, while Queen was still working on their first album, Mercury embarked on a solo project under a fake name. He chose the name Larry Lurex, allegedly in mockery of Gary Glitter, who at the time was a huge glam rock star. Naturally, picking on a big celebrity like that led to his fanbase turning on the mostly-unknown Mercury. Many DJ’s wouldn’t even play Mercury’s Lurex song out of spite, which contributed to the song’s failure. Of course, Mercury later became a superstar with Queen, while Gary Glitter went down in flames after he was imprisoned in a pedophilia scandal.
9. There’s Something I Need to Tell You
In the 1970s, Mercury was in a long-term relationship with Mary Austin and they lived together in West Kensington, London. However, when he told her about an affair he’d begun with a male record executive in 1976, their relationship ended. Mercury bought Austin a place of her own when they both moved out of the flat they shared.
8. Love of My Life
Despite the way that their romantic relationship concluded, Mary Austin and Mercury maintained a very close relationship for the rest of their lives. In 1985, Mercury stated “All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible. The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that’s enough for me.” When he died, Mercury bequeathed his home and recording royalties to Austin. She and her family still live in Mercury’s former home.
7. Jim and Freddie
In the latter part of his life, Mercury also had a long-term relationship with hairdresser Jim Hutton. Hutton looked after Mercury during the last years of Mercury’s life, nursing Mercury while he was stricken with AIDS, and was at Mercury’s side when he died. According to Hutton, Mercury died wearing a wedding band that Hutton had given him.
6. What a Crowd!
Mercury was the first major rock star to die of an AIDS-related illness, shedding a lot of light on the condition which had previously been swept under the rug and ignored for years. In the wake of his passing, the remaining members of Queen organized The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness. The incredible list of artists who performed there include Metallica, U2, Guns N’ Roses, Spinal Tap, Elton John, George Michael, David Bowie, Seal, and Liza Minnelli! And that’s just to name a few.
5. The Princess and Queen
The idea that Mercury was friends with Princess Diana—yes, that Princess Diana—would raise enough eyebrows as it is, but in the mid ‘80s, the two of them were hanging out with actress Cleo Rocos and comedian Kenny Everett when Diana found out they were heading to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern that night. The Tavern was the most famous gay venue in London during that time, and Diana figured she’d had a long day and wanted to join them for a drink.
To make sure she didn’t spark a riot, Mercury and Everett dressed her in drag, with Rocos later amusedly reflecting that they were trying to make Princess Di look like a “gay male model”. Apparently, though, the disguise worked! Everyone in the Tavern freaked out to have Freddie Mercury amongst them, not even realizing that Princess friggin’ Di was standing nearby, ordering a white wine. Talk about a missed opportunity!
4. Queen and the King of Pop
One of Mercury’s longtime idols was the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. Mercury had admired Jackson all the way back to his Jackson 5 days, and in 1983, barely a year after Jackson’s Thriller had become the biggest album in the world, Mercury got the chance to collaborate with Jackson. They began recording three demos that were, sadly, never completed.
Asked in 1987 why things didn’t work out, Mercury evasively blamed the fact that the two stars were never being in the same country long enough and commented that Jackson had “retreated into his own little world.”
Another story emerged wherein Jackson had allegedly picked a fight with Mercury after catching him using substances during the recording session.
A third explanation, from Queen manager Jim Beach, stated that Jackson brought his pet llama into the studio, which astonished and frustrated Mercury’s attempts to record. Turns out you shouldn’t ever meet your heroes.
3. A Song Is Born
When Mercury stepped into the bathtub at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich during the summer of 1979, he had no idea that he would soon be hit with incredible inspiration. As he got into the bath, he got a melody stuck in his head that was too good to ignore. He called for an acoustic guitar, wrapped a towel around himself, and put together the groundworks for a new song in what Mercury described as “five or [ten] minutes.” Resisting the urge to shout “Eureka,” Mercury arranged for a recording session immediately, so convinced was he of the song’s worth. It turned out he was right, because “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” went to #1 before Queen had even finished their new album.
2. Under Pressure and Underpaid
David Bowie and Freddie Mercury had another interaction when they were still at the beginning of their careers. Mercury found work in a clothing stall for a man named Alan Mair. Mair was familiar with Bowie’s manager at the time, so it didn’t surprise him when Bowie strolled into his shop looking for new clothes.
Unfortunately, while Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” had just come out and had found success, he apparently hadn’t made much from it, and confessed to Mair that he couldn’t afford to pay for anything. Mair, rather than throw the musician out of his shop, let Bowie have a pair of boots for free, which Mercury fitted for him. We desperately wish that there was a photograph of that early interaction.
1. Rest in Secret
To this day, Mercury’s final resting place is unknown. After his death on November 24, 1991, his body was cremated, and his ashes were kept in an urn by his lifelong friend, Mary Austin. Two years later, Austin quietly left her house with the urn, fulfilling Mercury’s wishes to be covertly laid to rest without risk of disturbance. Not even his parents were told, and Austin has kept the secret of where the star’s final resting is to this day.