“I won’t be a Rock star. I’ll be a Legend!”
Just imagining Freddie Mercury spilling out these words at a time he didn’t even know if his music would help him last a year, gives me goosebumps! The beloved Queen star has kept up his word, and how! Freddie was an explosive on stage, but he was not your usually suave Rockstar oozing manliness in every breath. He was in fact, a delicate cat-lover with a pale face, long front teeth, thick trimmed moustache, and remarkably sharp eyes that would pierce your heart even before his music hit your ears.
A star whose legacy shines beyond music, he openly came out as bisexual at a time when “Pride Parade” wasn’t a thing yet. While “Bohemian Rhapsody” might have become synonymous with his name, Freddie’s life in itself is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Born on 5th September 1946 in the (then) colonised Zanzibar, Tanzania, Freddie Mercury was named Farrokh Bulsara. His parents worked as registrars with the British government. However, Freddie did not stay in Zanzibar for long. He soon went to a boarding school in Bombay (now Mumbai) where his fingers married a Piano. He followed a band called “Smile” where the future Queen band members, Brian May and Roger Taylor were already playing. Freddie fell in love with their music and resolved to be a part of the band someday. His family too wanted him to follow his passion for music. In an interview with The Telegraph, his mother exclaimed, “Right from the start, Freddie was musical. He had it on his mind all the time.” It was in school that Farrokh got nicknamed as Freddie, and that name stuck with him for life. He returned to Zanzibar after his schooling with a determination to make a career in music. However, his family had to flee to England to escape the violence of the infamous Zanzibar revolution in 1964. After settling in England, in order to earn a stable life, Freddie’s parents persuaded him to get a formal college education. He graduated in Graphic Art and Design and worked at Heathrow Airport for a brief period. He continued with his musical gigs and was a part of many bands such the Hectics, Ibex, etc. During this course, he befriended many musicians including Brian and Roger. In 1970, as fate would have it, the lead singer of Smile left the band, and grabbing the opportunity, Freddie took his place. His childhood dream of playing with the Smile had finally manifested.
He renamed the band to The Queen, which stirred quite a controversy. People went nuts over an All-Boys-Rock-Band having a feminine name. However, Freddie felt the name was both, Regal and Outrageous. Some also link up Freddie’s ideology behind the name to his vocal support of the LGBTQ community. Freddie shut all the noisemakers with his musical prowess. He was a gifted singer who could hit up to four octaves; a rare feat even for many maestros. He was a natural on stage with his ease while performing and interacting with the audience. Even when he started being recognised, Freddie did not go under a knife to fix his extra four teeth in the back of his mouth that widened to flash his famous “Bucktoothed girn”. He felt that his teeth complimented his vocals, and in an attempt to fix them, he might ruin his music. In 1973, they launched their first album “Queen”. Though they were ecstatic merely about the feeling of having their faces in record stores, the album did not sell. With an undying spirit, they launched their second album “Queen II” that changed their destiny. With this album, the Queen’s music struck a chord with an audience who were saturated with heavy rock and roll music. Both, the electrifying music as well as Freddie’s exploding charisma on stage swept the audience off their feet. Freddie could command the audience with his passionate notes, and the world listened to it like a sermon.
As the band started growing in popularity, Freddie decided to legally change his name as he felt his birth-name wasn’t befitting to his rock-star personality. Of course, the first name “Freddie” was a no-brainer since he had been called that his entire life. He decided upon “Mercury” as his last name after the Roman deity by the same name, who was a messenger of gods. Thus Farrokh Bulsara officially became Freddie Mercury. What is appealing about The Queen as a band, apart from its fresh music, is the unusual background of its members. None of them had any formal musical background. Queen wasn’t a band of musicians. It was a tribe of an astronomer, an engineer, a dentist, and a graphic designer hopelessly in love with music.
Though to the world they were gaining success, in reality, The Queen was in debt. The management companies they were working for sucked maximum profit off their talent and hard work. In an unusual, they fired the management company and hired Elton John’s manager, John Reid. The situation did not improve in the near future though they were happy being more in control of their music. Soon, they released their third album “A Night At The Opera” that had them risk everything they possessed. If this album flopped, The Queen would be shut. Thankfully it did well and Queen did not have to look back. They went on to fill the hearts with their electric music and lyrical sensibility for many years to come. When Freddie wrote Bohemian Rhapsody, the producers begged him to alter it. Even Elton John felt Freddie was mad to compose a song that went on for 6 minutes. However, Freddie with an inherent belief in his vision refused to budge. Rest is history.
While his music star was on a rise, his private life was carefully wrapped under a blanket, thanks to the lack of social media. Even before Freddie became a member of The Queen, he met Mary Austin, his brief lover and a life-long friend, who has also inspired his another masterpiece “Love of my life”. They dated and lived-in together for 7 years, after which Freddie popped the question. During this course, Mary and Freddie grew so close to each other, not as lovers, but as friends, that Mary knew something was off about their relationship. Freddie was reluctant to admit it, but Mary was adamant. She initially suspected an affair, hence called off their engagement. However, Freddie deeply cared about Mary and opened up to her about his bisexual identity. Mary knew Freddie better than he did and supported him in his struggle to come to terms with his sexual orientation. Even though they drifted apart as lovers, and Mary went on to marry another man, they remained thick as friends. So much so, that Freddie wished that after his death, his ashes should be handed only to Mary, who was asked to disburse them at a place unknown to the world. In this entire world, only Mary knows where Freddie rests in peace.
Apart from Mary, it was Jim Hutton whom Freddie met at a Gay bar, and whom he found love in. Though Freddie is suspected of many one-time flings, it was with Jim he breathed his last with. They were often spotted with identical rings, which many suspected to be wedding bands.
It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies for The Queen, and Freddie both. They had their own share of artistic blocks, controversies, dry spells, and failures. However, it was mainly because their ideas, vision, music, and appearance that were a cultural shock to many. In fact, they were even banned in the US because they dressed up in drag for their hit song “I want to break free!” While the band had its own share of ups and downs, Freddie’s personal life too came crashing down when he was found HIV positive. He did not want the world to remember him for anything but his music. Hence, he and his bandmates kept his condition a secret, and Freddie continued to make music until the last breath of his life. It was only in his last days, that he grew visibly ill and it became apparent that he has a limited time left.
At a young age of 45, Freddie Mercury breathed his last on 24 November 1991. He left all his possessions, including his 10 cats to Mary Austin. Freddie, known for his extravagant lifestyle, luxurious habits, and the wealth of love of his billion fans, couldn’t use any of it to earn an extra second of life for him. However, Freddie Mercury, in a short span of 45 years has become a Legend as he had promised himself, and made music that the world even today, cannot replicate.
He was truly THE KING OF THE QUEEN.