The late pop star George Michael cultivated a public image as a glitzy showman, but in the wake of his unexpected Christmas Day death there’s evidence to suggest the Wham! singer was a good deal more humble and philanthropic than he let on.
Yesterday, Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell tweeted a picture of a letter from Rat pack crooner Frank Sinatra to Michael written in September 1990. In it, Sinatra was responding to a Los Angeles Times interview in which Michael complained of the strain that his rising celebrity was placing on his personal life. He admitted to being “miserable” because of his stardom, and that his career had become “much harder to control” than he had expected it would be. Sinatra discouraged the rising star from this sort of pessimism, telling him to “loosen up.” The Chairman put it in his imitable way: “You’re top dog on the top rung of a tall ladder called Stardom, which in Latin means thanks-to-the-fans who were there when it was lonely.”
Since the fateful missive Michael seemed more confident in his persona, no doubt encouraged to put aside his personal hang-ups in service of the millions of fans who looked to him for a positive presence in their lives.
Even more interestingly, there’s now some stories coming to light about the singer’s anonymous charitable activities during his lifetime, including longstanding patronage of several British charities. Apparently he donated heavily to groups like the Terrence Higgins Trust (which is devoted to AIDS research), Macmillan Cancer Support, and Childline—an organization that provides support to depressed or distressed teens. Childline’s founder Esther Rantzen told the Associated Press that Michael donated royalties from his popular 1996 song “Jesus to A Child” to the charity, as well donating many millions to the group over the years, always with the expressed intention that they not publicize his giving. A British DJ revealed that every year Michael would call in at 3:30 pm on Easter to donate more than $100,000 to an annual children’s charity drive. When a contestant on ‘Deal of No Deal’ revealed that she needed 15,000 GBP for an IVF treatment, Michael called the show’s executive producer the next day and secretly donated the money. He also showed generosity to the small village in north London where he was born, buying them a Christmas tree and pitching in at the local shelter.
I’ve written here before about the quiet, largely anonymous giving history of celebrities like Bob Dylan, especially noteworthy when compared to the flashy, well-publicized donations of mega-rich like the Gateses and Warren Buffet. In Michael we have just the latest example of a global superstar taking the low-key approach to charity.
Photo credit: TimWales via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA