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British Pop Star George Michael Dies at 53; Police: Michael's Death Unexplained but Not Suspicious; Family: George Michael "Passed Away Peacefully"; Music World Mourns Death of George Michael; Report: George Michael Died from Suspected Heart Failure; Russia Mourns Deadly Military Airplane Crash; Furious Netanyahu Summons U.S. Ambassador. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:16] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm George Howell at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. For our viewers here in the United States, our CNN special Finding Jesus airs in just a moment.

But first, the breaking news that we are following this hour here on CNN, the death of British pop star George Michael, he was 53 years old. And we're now hearing from musicians and fans around the world mourning the loss of yet another great.

George Michael died at his home Christmas Day. His manager tells the U.K. Press Association he likely died from heart failure. Michael rose to fame with the 1980s duo "Wham" with hits like "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" and "Careless Whisper". Listen

He then went on to have a successful solo career. Michael's friends, fans, they are reacting, sharing their feelings about his death online, one of them Elton John who echoed what many people are saying around the world, posting this on Instagram.

I am in deep shock. I've lost a beloved friend, the kindest most generous soul and a brilliant artist. George Michael died at his home Christmas Day again. Again, he was 53 years old.

Let's pause for our viewers in the United States as Finding Jesus begins in a moment. But first for our viewers around the world, stand by, our coverage continues on the death of George Michael, stay with us.

More now on the death of George Michael, the breaking news we're following this hour. Here is a look back at his hit-making and sometimes controversial career.


HOWELL: It's the song that had the world dancing, that hit, "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go". It was 1984 and they were the British duo known as "Wham". They had several top 10 hits together. But really, it was George Michael with that statement T-shirt, those moves that quickly took the spotlight sealing his fame with this chart-topping song, "Careless Whisper".

Michael split from bandmate Andrew Ridgeley in 1986 and launched his own solo career, never looking back but heading straight into his first big culture clash.

The year was 1987, George Michael looking the confident rock star in a provocative video with an equally provocative title. The song's lyrics were considered by some to push the envelope.

The legendary Casey Kasem refused to even say the title of the song on his American top 40 radio show and some pop radio stations wouldn't even play the song until after dark.

Michael's lyrics speaking directly about sex bumped heads with not just conservatives, but he'd gone too far.

But with Hollywood desperate to bring attention to the AIDS epidemic and the need for safe sex, Michael would later say his lyrics were misunderstood. By the late 1980s, George Michael was a bona fide superstar, garnering awards, hanging out with celebrities and royalty and delivering more hits like "Father Figure" and "One More Try", and there was a hit song "Monkey".

In the 1980s, George Michael saw the height of his success, it can be said the 1990s weren't quite as kind, fewer smash hits and then this. April 7th, 1998, Michael was arrested by an undercover male police officer charged with engaging in a lewd act in a park in Beverly Hills, California.

It took no time for his arrest to become an international headline. On CNN not long after the arrest, Michael confirmed what had long been rumored. He was gay.

GEORGE MICHAEL, BRITISH POP STAR: I want people to know that I have not been exposed as a gay man in any way that I feel.

[02:05:04] I don't feel any shame for I feel stupid and I feel reckless and weak for having allowed my sexuality to be exposed this way. But I don't feel any shame whatsoever and neither do I think I should.

HOWELL: In the years to come, there were more scuffles with the law, drug related arrests and a nasty car accident in 2010. Michael was found to be driving under the influence of cannabis and went to jail.

In 2011, he fell ill with a severe case of pneumonia and had to cancel his European tour. But there was also the music "Symphonica", his creative masterpiece with a full orchestra, a critical success.

George Michael once said, "I still believe that music is one of the greatest gifts that God gave to man." Lucky for us, he left us plenty of it.

George Michael is dead at the age of 53 years old. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Joining us now to talk more about the death of George Michael is Entertainment Journalist Holland Reid. Thank you so much for being here with us on set. First of all, when you heard this, again, we're talking about Christmas Day, I can't help it, you know, think back to his song "Last Christmas" and here we are. I mean, what were your thoughts when you learned this?

HOLLAND REID, ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: Well, first and foremost, it was on -- in rotation this morning, opening gifts, listening to my list (ph) and you put on a Christmas station and "Last Christmas" is the song, it's a staple.

And then to go on about the day, normal, and then find out that one of your icons, a legend, such a huge influence on pop culture, gosh, I mean, this year we lost so many greats and just on Christmas Day to lose George Michael and add him to that number, it was absolutely terrible news.

I immediately, you know, went online and texting friends. And I'm like, this can't be real news, this is a fake news story, is it a hoax? And it wasn't -- And at a young age of 53, we lost yet another great.

HOWELL: You talk bout losing so many greats and I feel like I've sat here and covered the deaths of so many. I mean, there's been Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince, and here we are now.

When you talk about stars like that, these people who transcend race, culture, sex, what do you say about this particular star?

REID: George Michael, I will say, with all the controversy that surrounded him on so many levels, always being questioned about his sexuality, you know, disease, I mean, there are so many things that he's had to battle with, drug addiction, the arrest is oblate (ph) and we always saw him bounce back, we always recognize him as, you know, he's going to come back, he's George Michael.

And I never at once saw him as just like this troubled star. I feel like he's a human being and he's an artist and somebody that had to live a closeted life for so long, those -- there are so many struggles that come along with that not being able to be your authentic self.

And so, you see these artists that, you know, they hide so much from the public but then they give so much to the public. So, he's somebody that I cherish personally, just-- I mean, "Faith", the song "Faith", I gotta have faith, it was my anthem growing up. I've loved that song.


REID: Freedom, another one of his great. And he's -- he crossed all those lines, like you said, and was able to relate to people on so many levels, such a human -- just basic human level as an artist. And that's what I feel like we lost. We lost somebody that was really just at the core of a human being, being in giving us his true self as much as he could and, you know, we lost him in such a premature age. It's terrible.

HOWELL: You talk about an artist, you say, who gave us so much. Let's talk about that, I mean, when it comes to his legacy, what has George Michael given the world?

REID: I mean, let's just start with Wham. Like he-- we had Wham. I mean, we call it like, you know, yet another British invasion, you know from-- it was at 1981 to '86, five years of this duo that just-- I mean, broke records.

I mean, this is a man that sold over $100 million in records. This is not just some one-hit wonder. He was an advocate. He was advocate for, you know, AIDS, you know, education. He was an advocate for the LGBT community and worked hand in hand with Elton John.

[02:09:57] He really worked hard for human rights and he didn't just do that in his music. He donated so much of his money and his time and energy from, you know, albums being sold to his cost, things that felt near and dear to his heart.

So, this was somebody that used his talents and his gifts to be -- to make a mark, you now, on his time here. And so, you know, going from Wham to his own career as a solo artist and doing so amazing with-- I mean, you know, Wham broke up in 1986, so we all had our moments.

But then, he went on to had such a great career and just be -- you know, just lead such a legacy that he'd left. This is why we're here talking about it because he was so important to that pop culture community.