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Legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, one of the greatest and most charismatic rock performers of all time, died 25 years ago, on Nov. 24, 1991. The official cause of death was bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS. Mercury would have turned 70 years old this year.
As tribute, Yahoo Music has obtained these photos and an exclusive excerpt from Somebody to Love: The Life, Death and Legacy of Freddie Mercury by Matt Richards & Mark Langthorne, which comes out Nov. 22.
The beginning of 1989 saw Queen back in the studio to complete The Miracle. Given the demands on Freddie and his inability to function fully, the time when he would have to announce his news to his bandmates was getting nearer.
Freddie was at a crossroads. By revealing his condition he would not only face public excoriation on top of the disease itself, but he would also jeopardize the whole industry that Queen had become. His band members, all those people who were kept employed … he was responsible for others, not just himself, which in itself is a state of precariousness beyond belief. He at least needed to tell the band, if no one else.
Whether or not Roger knew, and he likely did know that Freddie was ill, the extent of his illness, the charade could go on no longer. "Freddie is as healthy as ever and sings better than ever on the new album," Taylor told the press in 1989. "We had a party at Brian's a few days ago, and Freddie didn't exactly give the impression he was on his death bed," he continued. But the press scrutiny was becoming intense as Roger, Brian and John were left to constantly fend off questions concerning Freddie's wellbeing, so in late May 1989, Freddie finally decided to tell his three bandmates the truth about his condition.
According to Jim Hutton, the four members of Queen were sitting in a restaurant called The Bavaria in Montreux when Freddie finally admitted to Brian, Roger and John what was wrong with him. "We kind of knew for a long time, very, very gradually, because the signs began to be there," recalled Brian, "and there came a day when he just said, 'Look, you've probably figured out what I'm dealing with. I have this thing, and as far as I know there's no cure and I only have a certain amount of time left. I want to have this conversation, I want life to carry on exactly as it is, I want to make records, I don't want anyone to know, I don't want anyone to talk about it from this point forwards and that's it.' That's what he said."
According to Jim Hutton, the way Freddie told the band differs from Brian's version: "Someone at the table was suffering from a cold, and the conversation got round to the curse of illness," said Hutton. "It was then that Freddie, who still looked fairly well, rolled up his right trouser leg and raised his leg to the table to let the others see the painful, open wound weeping on the side of his leg. 'You think you've got problems,' he told them. 'Well, look at this.' Then just as quickly as he had mentioned it, Freddie brushed the subject aside."
Hutton wasn't at the dinner, so May's description seems more reliable but, regardless of how they were told, all three of Freddie's colleagues were devastated by the news and, according to Brian, "all went off and got quietly sick somewhere, and that was the only conversation directly we had about it."
"We knew he was terribly ill; it was really only a confirmation of what we'd guessed," said Roger Taylor. "But actually hearing it was an appalling thing. For quite a long time we tried to tell ourselves it was other things."
"He never asked for sympathy from anyone else," recalled May. "He was a very strong person and always liked to be in control of his own destiny. He knew that if he did announce it his life would become a circus and he would be prevented from going about his business, which was making music. He wanted it to be business as usual until the end. There was no drama, no tears in his eyes. He was incredibly self-contained. We didn't feel we could speak about it to anyone. It was particularly hard lying barefacedly to our friends. And, of course, we had to stand by and watch this incredibly talented, strong man, in the prime of his life, gradually wasting away. There was a terrible feeling of helplessness."