Freddie Mercury frequently remained an enthrallingly baffling mystery, both in life and after his passing. The Oscar contender musical drama Bohemian Rhapsody sheds light on some aspects of the Queen frontman’s daily life while also upholding his gauzy, larger-than-life persona. It has earned close to $1 billion at the box office globally.
However, the movie has drawn criticism—and not just for the enormous prosthetic teeth that lead Rami Malek sports in his portrayal of Mercury. Additionally, it appears to many viewers to casually skip over his indisputably gay s*xuality, which was at the heart of the sickness that ultimately claimed his life.
The Real Cause of Freddie Mercury’s Death
Although it is now widely known that Mercury had HIV/AIDS, the master singer and musician didn’t publicly announce his prognosis until his untimely death on November 24, 1991, at 45. (Today, he would be 72.) At the very last minute, the surprise announcement seemed to fit the British’s theatrical, eccentric personality full of dramatic entrances and exits.
Mercury passed away from AIDS-related complications after developing bronchial pneumonia and losing his immune system owing to the illness. This was at a period when antiretroviral medications that may dramatically lengthen patients’ lives were still out of reach in the medical community, even for someone with Mercury’s wealth and resources.
Mercury had known since 1987 that he was HIV-positive, but many around him may not have known. Producer Dave Richards stated in a documentary, “There was absolutely no impression from me that he could’ve been sick.”
While Mercury continued to withdraw from public life, tabloids published a few rare images of him appearing eerily thin and ill. Mercury attracted attention for his skeletal build when he made his final public appearance to accept the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music for the critically acclaimed Innuendo album, which was released the year before he passed.
“When we did discover that Freddie had this terrible AIDS virus in his body, there was still a disbelief in us,” Queen’s guitarist Brian May said. “You think, Nah, it can’t happen to our mate, it can’t happen to Freddie. There’s going to be some way out of this; he’s going to be cured. And right up to the last minute, we knew, but we didn’t know. We refused to know if you like.”
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Aside from Mercury’s admitted shyness and prudence, HIV was stigmatized. That stigma is related, at least in part, to the fact that the LGBTQ community is disproportionately affected by HIV, particularly men who engage in male-to-male intercourse. (HIV can infect anyone. If you have any questions, read up on the 8 HIV misconceptions you need to stop believing if you have.)
Even to his bandmates and colleagues, whom he left his s*xual orientation notoriously ambiguous, Mercury kept his diagnosis a secret until it was too late. However, many close to him knew he had had male and female s*xual partners over the years. (Today, it is commonly accepted that he was bis*xual.)
It isn’t easy to believe that Mercury didn’t hesitate about coming out about his s*xual orientation at a time when it might have negatively impacted his reputation as the frontman of one of the most prominent rock bands in history. However, Mercury had at least two intimate personal relationships publicly disclosed outside the spotlight.
He was once engaged to Mary Austin, who Lucy Boynton portrayed in the Queen biopic. Mary Austin remained his longtime confidante and friend until his passing, and she was awarded the majority of his estate, including his opulent London residence and upcoming recording royalties. (She continues to act as a careful spokesman for her ex-boyfriend.) In addition, Mercury maintained a relationship with his stylist Jim Hutton from 1985 till his passing.
While acknowledging this background, Bohemian Rhapsody sanitizes Mercury’s membership in the LGBT underground and his drug and alcohol-fueled lifestyle. While only giving a passing mention to his male partners, it strongly emphasizes his connection with Austin. You’d be excused for feeling a little out of the loop even after the two hours and more of running time. That might shed some light on why Sacha Baron Cohen, initially involved in the film, left due to concerns that it wouldn’t get into the “nitty gritty” of Mercury’s life.
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Without a doubt, Mercury had much more to offer the world when he passed away, especially in light of Queen’s unexpectedly productive production up until 1991. May said we worked in the studio until Freddie retired, and we were a very close-knit bunch, like a family.
Although there was some criticism about how long he kept his s*xual orientation and diagnosis a secret from campaigners, it’s now apparent that Mercury left on his terms. In an interview, he defiantly remarked about aging, “I don’t care. I’ve lived a full life, and I don’t give a damn if I’m dead tomorrow.”
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