Singer George Michael said a candid new documentary about his life that premiered in Berlin Wednesday was a way of telling his story before he retired from the public gaze.
“George Michael: A Different Story” traces a rags-to-riches journey that made Michael one of the biggest selling artists of the 1980s and 1990s but which was not without problems along the way.
“The time of hiding has been over for a while, but actually this is probably the most you’re ever going to see of me,” he told reporters at the Berlin Film Festival, sporting his trademark dark glasses and stubble.
“I think the future is a much more behind-the-scenes affair for me. That won’t really be a matter of privacy, it will just be a matter of me not being around. I just thought it was very important to explain myself before I disappear.”
Michael lays his soul bare in the 100-minute film in which he speaks about losing a lover to AIDS, of the infamous lewd act in a toilet and the media fury over his anti-Iraq war stance.
The documentary is fascinating as much for its insight into life as a celebrity as it is for revealing at least some of the truth about the notoriously publicity-shy star.
Michael’s meteoric rise to superstardom, first with Wham! and then as a solo artist, was complicated by the fact that he was gay while widely believed to be straight.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m a massive star and I think I may be a poof. This is not going to end well,”’ he said in the film.
Michael eventually outed himself after being charged with lewd behavior in a Beverly Hills toilet in 1998, although he lost Brazilian boyfriend Anselmo Feleppa to an AIDS-related condition in 1993.
“I remember looking at the sky and saying: ‘Don’t do this to me’,” Michael said, referring to the moment when Feleppa told him he was going for medical tests.
Ballads like “Careless Whisper” and “Faith” have propelled Michael to the pinnacle of the music world.
He has sold more than 70 million records, and his 1987 album “Faith” yielded six No. 1 singles in the key American market. He has amassed a personal fortune estimated at 80 million pounds ($150 million).
But he has also had fallow years, as when he fought a losing battle against his record label in the early 1990s. He came roaring back in 1994, performing the acclaimed “Jesus to a Child” single under Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.
Elton John appears in the film and repeats his criticism of Michael that his decision not to tour was a waste of his talent.
“I find him very frustrating,” said John.
John also takes a swipe at Michael’s reluctance to tell the world that he was gay.
“To be busted in the toilet is not the best way to come out of the closet, is it?” John asked.
Michael said he never thought the incident would destroy his career, but was badly shaken by the media backlash triggered by his opposition to the war in Iraq.
The video for “Shoot the Dog” features cartoon figures of U.S. President George W. Bush in bed with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife.
“It floored me,” he said of the response.
Michael reiterated that he had no interest in touring, and confessed to finding record promotion “soul destroying.”