Biography of Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury
Photo by Paul Natkin / WireImage

Farokh "Freddie" Mercury ( September 5, 1946 - November 24, 1991) was one of the most acclaimed rock vocalists of all time with the rock group Queen. He also wrote some of the group's biggest hits. He was one of the highest profile victims of the AIDS epidemic.

Early Life

Freddie Mercury was born Farokh Bulsara on the island of Zanzibar, now part of Tanzania, when it was a British protectorate. His parents were Parsis from India and, along with his extended family, were adherents of the Zoroastrian religion.

Mercury spent much of his childhood in India and began learning to play the piano at age seven. When he was eight years old, he was sent to a British boarding school near Bombay (now Mumbai). When he was twelve years old, Freddie formed his first band, The Hectics. They covered rock and roll songs by artists like Cliff Richard and Chuck Berry.

Following the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution in which many ethnic Arabs and Indians were killed, Freddie's family fled to England. There he entered art college and began a serious pursuit of his musical interests.

Personal Life

Freddie Mercury kept his personal life out of the public spotlight during his lifetime. Many of the details about his relationships emerged after his death. In the early 1970s, he began arguably the most important and enduring relationship of his life. He met Mary Austin and they lived together as a romantic couple until December 1976 when Mercury told her about his attraction to and relationships with men.

He moved out, bought Mary Austin her own home, and they remained very close friends for the rest of his life. Of her, he told People magazine, "To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that's enough for me."

Freddie Mercury never mentioned his sexual orientation when he rarely spoke to the press, but many associates believed it was far from hidden.

His performances were very flamboyant on stage, but he was known as an introvert when not performing.

In 1985, Mercury began a long-term relationship with hairdresser Jim Hutton. They lived together for the last six years of Freddie Mercury's life and Hutton tested positive for HIV a year before the star's death. He was at Freddie's bedside when he died. Jim Hutton lived on until 2010.

Career With Queen

In April 1970, Freddie Bulsara officially became Freddie Mercury. He began performing music with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor who were previously in a band named Smile. The next year, bass player John Deacon joined them and Mercury chose the name Queen for the new band against the reservations of his fellow band members and management. He also designed for the group, which incorporated symbols for the zodiac signs of all four group members into a crest.

In 1973 Queen signed a recording contract with EMI Records. They released their self-titled first album in July, and it was heavily influenced by the heavy metal of Led Zeppelin and progressive rock by groups like Yes. The album was well-received by critics, broke into album charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and was eventually certified gold for sales in both the U.S. and U.K.

With their second album Queen II, released in 1974, the group began a string of fourteen consecutive top 10 charting studio albums at home in the U.K. The streak continued through their final studio release, 1995's Made In Heaven.

Commercial success came a little more slowly in the U.S., but the group's fourth album A Night at the Opera hit the top 10 and was certified platinum on the strength of the legendary hit "Bohemian Rhapsody," a mini-opera wrapped in a six-minute rock song. "Bohemian Rhapsody" is often listed as one of the greatest rock songs of all time.

The peak of Queen's pop success in the U.S. took place in 1980 with the #1 charting album The Game, featuring two #1 pop hit singles "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust." It was the final top 10 album in the U.S. for the group, and Queen failed to reach the pop top 10 again with later studio singles.


In February 1990, Freddie Mercury made his final public appearance with Queen to accept the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. A year later they released the studio album Innuendo. It was followed by Greatest Hits II released less than a month before Mercury's death.

Solo Career

Many fans of Queen in the U.S. are unaware of Freddie Mercury's career as a solo artist. None of his singles were significant hits in the U.S., but he had a string of six top 10 pop hits in the U.K.

The first Freddie Mercury solo single "I Can Hear Music" was released in 1973, but he didn't approach solo work with serious dedication until the release of the album Mr. Bad Guy in 1985. It debuted in the top 10 on the U.K. album chart and received strongly positive critical reviews. The style of the music is influenced heavily by disco in contrast to the majority of Queen's music being rock. He recorded a duet with Michael Jackson that was not included on the album. A remix of the album's song "Living On My Own" became a posthumous #1 pop hit in the U.K.

Between albums, Freddie Mercury released a series of singles including a cover of the Platters' classic "The Great Pretender," a top five pop smash in the U.K. Mercury's second solo album Barcelona was released in 1988. It was recorded with Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballe and combines pop music with opera. The title track was used as an official song for the 1992 Summer Olympics held in Barcelona, Spain a year after Freddie's death.

Montserrat Caballe performed it live at the opening of the Olympics with Mercury joining her on a video screen.


By 1990, despite denials, Mercury's low public profile and gaunt image fueled rumors about his health. He was visibly weakened when Queen accepted their Outstanding Contribution to Music honor at the Brit Awards in February 1990.

Rumors that Freddie Mercury was ill with AIDS spread throughout early 1991, but his colleagues denied the truth in the stories. After Mercury's death, his bandmate Brian May revealed that the group knew of the AIDS diagnosis long before it became public knowledge.

Freddie Mercury's final appearance in front of a camera was the Queen music video "These Are the Days Of Our Lives" filmed in May 1991. In June, he chose to retire to his home in west London. On November 22, 1991, Mercury released a public statement through Queen's management that, in part, said, "I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS." Just over 24 hours later on November 24, 1991, Freddie Mercury died at age 45.


Freddie Mercury's singing voice has been celebrated as a unique instrument in the annals of rock music history. Although his natural voice was in the baritone range, he often performed notes in the tenor range. His recorded vocals extended from low bass to high soprano. The Who's lead vocalist Roger Daltrey told an interviewer that Freddie Mercury was, "the best virtuoso rock 'n' roll singer of all time. He could sing anything in any style."

Freddie also left behind a catalog of phenomenal hits in a range of musical styles, including "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "We Are the Champions," and "Somebody To Love" among many others. 

Extravagantly theatrical live performances endeared Freddie Mercury to live concert fans around the world. He influenced generations of rock performers with his ability to connect directly with an audience. His performances leading Queen at Live Aid in 1985 are considered to be among the top live rock performances of all time.

Freddie Mercury stayed silent about AIDs and his own sexual orientation until just before his death. His intention was to protect those close to him in an era in which AIDS carried a heavy social stigma for its victims and their inner circle of friends and acquaintances, but his silence has also complicated his status as a gay icon. Regardless, Mercury's life and music will be celebrated for years to come, both in the gay community and in rock history at large.