Gay Iconography: All Hail the Queen Frontman, Freddie Mercury
Make no mistake: Freddie Mercury is one of the most important fixtures in music history. As the frontman of legendary rock band Queen, Mercury’s voice is recognizable across unforgettable anthems like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody To Love,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” and many, many, many more.
Since forming in the early 1970s, Queen has become one of the best-selling musical acts in history, with some estimates as high as 300 million records sold worldwide. The scope of Queen’s popularity made Mercury’s death from bronchopneumonia one of the most high-profile AIDS-related losses and brought increased mainstream attention to HIV/AIDS.
His vocal abilities and genre-spanning songwriting alone are worth celebrating, but his impact as one of the most beloved LGBT performers of all time is still felt today.
Rock out to some of our favorite Queen clips, AFTER THE JUMP ...
Among Queen’s 18 number one albums, 18 number one singles and 10 number one DVDs, one of the most defining is, of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The six minute-plus opus has no chorus and was, at the time, the most expensive single ever made. Its promotional video, above, is often credited with ushering in the music video age. “Rhapsody” enjoyed a resurgence in popularity following its inclusion in the Wayne’s World film in 1992.
In the early ‘70s, Mercury was romantically involved with a woman named Mary Austin. They ended their romantic relationship when he revealed to her that he’d had an affair with a male music executive. However, the two remained close friends the remainder of Mercury’s life. He wrote “Love Of My Life,” above, about her. In an interview, he once said, “The only friend I've got is Mary and I don't want anybody else … We believe in each other, that's enough for me."
Folks still struggle to place a label on Mercury (gay, bisexual, “flamboyant,” “theatrical,” “camp”) or agree if he was or wasn’t open about his sexuality. He famously said in 1974, “I am as gay as a daffodil,” but often distanced himself publicly from his male romantic partners (like Jim Hutton) and the LGBT movement. He was famously averse to interviews, but he wasn’t afraid to introduce elements of queer culture into his art. Take for example the band’s name (“I was certainly aware of gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it,” he said) and their dragged-out video for “I Want To Break Free,” above.
Not only was Mercury known for being an incredible singer and songwriter, but he was a legendary performer. One of the band’s most well-known concerts was their set at Live Aid in 1985. Mercury commanded the stage in front of 72,000 people inside Wembley Stadium (and nearly two billion watching around the world). Watch him get the whole crowd clapping along to “Radio Ga Ga,” above, but their whole set is worth watching in its entirety.
Mercury acknowledged that he had AIDS via press release on Nov. 23, 1991, 24 hours before his death from bronchopneumonia. The remaining members of Queen organized the Mercury Phoenix Trust, which held the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness in 1992. The concert featured many incredible guest performers, including Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John, George Michael and a powerful performance of “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Annie Lennox, above. The concert was broadcast to an estimated 1 billion viewers around the world.
What are your favorite Mercury memories?