The man who became known as “Freddie Mercury” was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar (later Tanzania), on September 5, 1946. As lead vocalist for the rock band Queen, Mercury became one of the most popular songwriters and performers of the 20th century. Known for his flamboyant style, powerful delivery and dramatic lyrics, he was one of the true rock icons of his era.
A product of an international family, Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi parents. His parents had immigrated to Zanzibar from India. His father, who worked as a clerk for the British government, sent Freddie to boarding school in India where he showed his talents as a musician at an early age, playing piano and starting to write songs. In the early 1960s, Zanzibar experienced political unrest, later becoming part of Tanzania. Mercury returned to England with his family where he studied graphic art and design at Ealing Technical College and School of Art. While in college, he met many artists and musicians, sparking a career that would take off in the 1970s.
Inspired by the blues-influenced rock music of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and other bands that were part of the British scene, Freddie joined Brian May and Roger Taylor of the band Smile, becoming their lead singer in 1970. John Deacon became their bassist shortly thereafter. Renaming the band Queen and taking on the moniker Freddie Mercury, Freddie and the band cultivated a unique style which merged hard rock, glam, and heavy metal. Their early albums Queen (1973) and Queen II (1974) were moderately popular, but the band catapulted to fame with the albums Sheer Heart Attack (1974) and A Night at the Opera (1975).
Mercury became famous worldwide for his dynamic stage presence and operatic singing voice. One of Queen’s signature songs, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” captured the intensity of Mercury’s style and became a huge hit worldwide. Later, the songs “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You” became enormously popular rock anthems, electrifying crowds in huge stadiums throughout the world. Wearing his infamous moustache, Mercury often took to the stage in elaborate costumes, from capes and crowns to skintight striped shorts. Openly bisexual, he crossed all kinds of boundaries and was regarded as one of music’s most eccentric talents.
One of Queen’s most vibrant performances was at the 1985 Live Aid charity concert at London’s Wembley Stadium, in which the band played for a little over 20 minutes, including a rendition of the song “Is This the World We Created?” In November 1991 Mercury shocked the public by announcing that he had AIDS—he died just a day after the announcement, on November 24, 1991, at the age of 45. Throughout the world, he continues to have a huge fan base with Queen songs as mainstays of the rock world.
Freddie performing at Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium, 1985.
In honor of his birthday, here are a few more things you may not know about Freddie Mercury:
1. His family practiced Zoroastrianism. One of the world’s oldest religions, Zoroastrianism was founded by the Iranian prophet Zoroaster. The religion is known to have influenced other faiths including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
2. He was actually quite shy. Despite his onstage presence and spirited performances, Mercury rarely granted interviews and insisted that he was a shy and private person in his life off stage.
3. He wrote a song that was inspired by the Tour de France. Mercury penned the tune “Bicycle Race” after watching a leg of the Tour de France. The song was released in 1978 on the band’s album Jazz.
4. He was honored by other musicians. In 1992, a Freddie Mercury tribute concert was organized at Wembley Stadium to raise funds for AIDS research. Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard and other bands paid tribute to Mercury’s legacy; the concert was also broadcast live on TV and radio stations worldwide.
5. His legacy continues to give back. Each year, the “Freddie For A Day” fundraising event encourages people to dress like Freddie to raise money for the Mercury Phoenix Trust, an AIDS charity set up in his honor. This year on September 5, Mercury would have been 71, and he would have appreciated the creative homages that celebrate his larger-than-life stage persona. In his own words: "Whatever you do, don't make me boring."