James Gavin's truly definitive, epic-sized biography of mega pop star George Michael, who lived from 1963 to 2016, is emotionally satisfying and meticulously researched. George Michael: A Life focuses squarely on how Michael's closeted sexuality and constant fear of being found out affected his psyche, career and relationships. Michael grew up gay "under the disapproving eye of a homophobic Greek orthodox father," writes Gavin (Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee). With poor self-esteem--"I was fat and ugly and I had glasses," Michael told interviewers--he began cruising for secretive sex at age 16.
At 18, he and Andrew Ridgeley formed the pop group Wham! Five years later, Michael went solo and found even greater success with the release of his 1987 solo album, Faith. Playing the swaggering and sexually alluring pop star on stage (and singing "I Want Your Sex") was a double-edged sword for Michael, because it encouraged the media to speculate about his sexuality. In an attempt to kill that persona, Michael all but sabotaged his career by suing his record company, accelerating his drug use and refusing to promote his albums or appear in his own music videos. He was forced out of the closet in 1998 when his arrest for public lewdness garnered national headlines, a scandal that his career, already faltering, couldn't overcome. Alcohol, drugs, antidepressants, vocal damage, writer's block, suicide attempts and rehab littered the rest of his heartbreaking 18 years.
This is a sad story of illusion versus reality. Although he writes with compassion, Gavin doesn't let Michael off the hook for his self-destructive tendencies. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant