One of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the glam rock band Queen, is back in the spotlight. The smash hit film Bohemian Rhapsody won the 2019 Golden Globe for best drama movie, and its star, Rami Malek, took home the Golden Globe for best actor for his portrayal of Mercury.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a great movie, and Malek is fantastic as Freddie. But how much does the film get right and wrong? Let’s find out by looking more closely at the rock star’s life.
Freddie Mercury is a stage name of Farrokh Bulsara, a Persian boy born on the small island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean. Farrokh’s parents sent him to an English-style boarding school in India, where his friends gave him the nickname “Freddie.” This name stuck.
In school, Freddie was a star of table tennis and was a well-regarded artist. It was music, however, where he really stood out. The headmaster of the school noticed this talent and suggested to his parents that Freddie pursue music. He learned to play piano and became a member of the school choir. Freddie also joined his first rock’n’roll band in school with four friends. The band, “The Hectics,” played at school parties and dances.
Freddie in England and the Start of His Music Career
After his early school years, Freddie attended the Ealing College of Art in England and began to study drawing and design, eventually graduating with a diploma in graphic art and design.
It was during this time in the late 1960s that Freddie started paying more attention to popular music and listening to Jimi Hendrix in particular. He met some other young people in the Kensington Music scene and was invited along to the band practices of the band Smile, which featured Brian May on guitar and Roger Taylor on the drums. Freddie became good friends with Brian and Roger and began practicing, playing the piano and singing.
The young men around him were stunned at the strength of Freddie’s voice, his unique piano sound and his ability to work with melody. This encouragement helped Freddie think about pursuing a music career.
After graduation from Ealing, Freddie moved in with Roger Taylor, stringing together a series of odd jobs. One of these was working with the band Ibex, for whom he wrote some songs and made his first public performances.
Moving on from Ibex, Freddie became the full-time lead singer of a band called Sour Milk Sea. The band hired him not only for his amazing vocal range but also for his charisma, performance ability and way of “fronting a show.”
Freddie’s time with Sour Milk Sea was short; the band broke up in 1970. Smile, however, had just lost their lead singer. That same year, Freddie joined Smile, and the band changed its name to Queen.
Life During Queen
In 1971, John Deacon joined Queen and the band was complete. Freddie designed the band’s logo and wrote their first top songs: “Seven Seas of Rhye,” “Killer Queen,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This was when Freddie changed his last name to “Mercury.”
The band’s success exploded. They garnered a massive following in Japan, where they toured. Freddie fell in love with the Japanese aesthetic and began to collect Japanese art and antiques.
During this time, Freddie was living with his girlfriend, Mary Austin, and his famous and beloved cats: Tiffany, Romeo, and Delilah. Indeed, some say that the cats were the “true loves of his life.”
In 1982, after a decade of touring and making music, the band took a break. Through the 1980s, Freddie developed a solo career, recording music for the re-release of Fritz Lang’s classic sci-fi film Metropolis, among other work, including collaborations with the famed opera singer Montserrat Caballe.
Sexuality, Illness, and Death
We wish the issues of Freddie’s sexuality weren’t related to his death, but the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, unfortunately, makes this connection inescapable. As Brian May puts it, in the late 1970s, Freddie had split amicably from Mary, and on the road “it was fairly obvious when the visitors to Freddie’s dressing room started to change from hot chicks to hot men.”
Freddie engaged in many homosexual relationships throughout the 1980s, a terrible period where HIV and AIDS (and how to prevent them) were barely understood and much of the gay community became infected. Sometime during this period, Freddie contracted HIV.
Queen came back together for a stunning performance at Live Aid 1985, a benefit concert, where Freddie and the band stole the show.
A concert with Monserrat Caballe was his last public performance in 1988- a time by which he was very ill. He recorded a song called “These Are the Days of Our Lives” with the band between 1989 and 1990, a video of which is still available on YouTube. In the video, a noticeably frail Freddie Mercury shows all of his signature vocal talent and showmanship wearing a snazzy vest decorated with…his beloved cats.