His disenchantment with stardom plunged into depression in the following years. In June 1994, just over a year after Felippa died, Michael lost the Sony case. In 1997, his beloved mother, Lesley, died of cancer. And in 1998, he was arrested in a Beverly Hills park for committing an “unsoapable act” with an undercover cop when he came out as gay and stated, “I don’t feel any shame.”
Amid these troubles, he released an album in 1996, ‘Older’, which featured the top 10 hits ‘Jesus to a Child’, written in tribute to Feleppa, and ‘Fastlove’. (Michael called “Elder” “my greatest moment”, and an expanded edition will be reissued on July 8.) But he made only one album of original songs in the next 20 years before his death.
“Freedom Uncut” enlivens Michael for younger generations who haven’t experienced the Pop Star Wars of the ’80s. He loved and emulated black music, which caused controversy at the time – George Benson’s eyes almost rolled back in his head when he announced that Michael had won the 1989 American Music Award in the Favorite Soul/R&B Albums category. But time often breeds empathy, and the singer is now seen as an ally. “Michael’s journey as a working gay white man from London who loved black music and black culture gave him an intersectional legacy that few artists (except Prince) will ever achieve,” wrote Jason Johnson in The Root, a website that focuses on African American issues, two days after the singer passed away.
The fact that Michael was able to write, arrange and produce at such a high level puts him in “the thin air of Sly Stone, Prince or Shuggie Otis,” added Mark Ronson in a telephone interview. “It’s crazy because he made incredible R&B music, but he didn’t go to America to record it” with black musicians, he noted. “There was no insecurity about being a white soul boy from England.”
Ronson also hears melancholic or even sad aspects in Michael’s music: “Many of our favorite artists sound catchy and peppy, but if you let go of one or two layers, you see someone dealing with serious inner demons.”