Singer of cult classics like Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Careless Whisper and Last Christmas, George Michael passed away at his home on Christmas day.

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He was 53. Born in London to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents, George’s real name was Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou. Initially part of the popular band Wham! George went on to become a superstar solo artist and his songs continue to be popular till date. But the legacy that George Michael has left behind is primarily that of a gay icon.

He came out of the closet in an era when openly gay celebrities were rare and the LGBTQ movement was still in its relatively nascent stages. Along with Ellen DeGeneres, George Michael was one of the few big stars who openly spoke about their homosexuality in the 1990s.

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Michael was aware of his sexuality by the age of 19, and had confided in his close friends and his sister but were advised by them not to reveal the same for fear of upsetting his parents, especially his mother. Finally, the reveal was taken out of his hands since an undercover operation by a police officer resulted in his coming out to the media. But he refused to cow down or be shamed by the same.  He spoke to CNN in 1998, “This is as good of a time as any. I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I’m in a relationship with a man right now. I have not been in a relationship with a woman for almost 10 years. I don’t feel any shame. I feel stupid and I feel reckless and weak for having allowed my sexuality to be exposed this way. But I don’t feel any shame whatsoever.”

A native of East Finchley, London, Michael first found success in 1984 after forming the band Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley. Their 1983 debut, Fantastic, reached No. 1 in the UK and produced a series of top 10 singles including “Young Guns”, “Wham Rap!” and “Club Tropicana”. Their follow-up album, 1984’s Make It Big, received even greater fanfare. It reached No. 1 in 11 different countries, including in the UK and US, and four of the album’s songs made their way to the top of the singles charts. Among them: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, “Careless Whisper”, and “Freedom”. In 1985, Wham became the first band from the Western Hemisphere to tour China.

In 1987, Michael launched a solo career with the release of Faith. The album spent 51 non-consecutive weeks in the top 10 of the US Billboard 200, including 12 weeks at No. 1. Four of its songs — “Faith”, “Father Figure”, “One More Try”, and “Monkey” — reached No. 1 on the US singles chart. Faith was later awarded the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1989.

In the ensuing years, Michael maintained a steady output of solo releases, including 1990’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, a 1991 duet with Elton John called “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, 1993’s Freddie Mercury tribute EP Five Live, and 1996’s Older. The success of these various releases led the Radio Academy to name Michael the most played artist on British radio during the period of 1984–2004.

As a solo artist, Michael sold more than 100 million records worldwide and achieved eight No. 1 singles in the US. His last release came in the form of 2014’s Symphonica.

For many youngsters who struggled with their sexuality, George’s open acceptance was a huge factor in giving them the courage to face the stigma and fight against the ostracism that they faced from society, and they have still not forgotten, as is obvious from the tweets below.

Sad to hear that George Michael has died. He was an exceptional artist and a strong supporter of LGBT and workers’ rights.

George Michael RIP. You soundtracked so many moments, and your visibility and pride helped 90s LGBT kids like me realise we weren’t alone.

We’ve lost a great LGBT role model in George Michael, 2016 needs to cut it out already. Got have faith that 2017 will be better#RIPGeorge

#GeorgeMichael was gay at a time when it wasn’t cool or easy. He fought his way through the homophobia and created songs of an era. RIP.

Thank you George Michael for being a trailblazer of #LGBTQequality and acceptance. You will be missed.