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The Death Of George Michael, The British Pop Star Died Christmas Day, He Was 53 Years Old; Russians Who Are In Mourning After A Deadly Plane Crash, The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Summoned The Us Ambassador On Sunday To Express His Fury Over A Un Security Council Resolution, Authorities In The Philippines Scrambled To Evacuate People From Low-Lying Areas, This Ahead Of Super Typhoon Nock-Ten. Aired: 3:00-3:30a ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 03:00   ET


GEORGE HOWELL, ANCHOR, CNN: I'm George Howell at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. For our viewers here in the United States, Finding Jesus will air in its entirety in just a moment.

But first, the breaking news that we are following this hour, the death of George Michael, the British pop star died Christmas Day, he was 53 years old. George Michael rose to fame with the 1980s duo "Wham," then he found success as solo artist. The UK Press Association reports Michael's manager says, the singer likely died of heart failure. Police say Michael's death is being treated as unexplained, but not suspicious.

That's just one of Michael's first big hits with Wham, songs like this. Tributes to George Michael are pouring in from around the World. Elton John posting this on Instagram, quote, "I have lost a beloved friend." Andrew Ridgeley, Michael's partner in Wham wrote on Twitter, "Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend." Let's pause now for our viewers in the United States, Finding Jesus is next. For our viewers around the world here on CNN International stay with us. More coverage of the death of George Michael continues in a moment.

More on the death of George Michael, the two-time Grammy Award winner works spanned several decades. Here's a look now back at George Michael's 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 band mate Andrew Ridgeley in 1986 and launched his own solo career, never looking back but headed 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 who thought 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."


HOWELL: 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. 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.


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 Alexa 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 about 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 of late, 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 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.

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 causes, 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 moment.

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

HOWELL: An artist also who pushed the envelope. I mean, as an entertainment journalist, you know that there was a song that Casey Kasem, the last Casey Kasem wouldn't even say on his show because it was just too risque at the time.

REID: He did push the envelope and he was honest about his bisexuality, then he was later honest about coming out and saying, "Hey, look, I am a gay male." He talked a lot about sex. He wanted to open up those conversations about what it meant for all of us individuals - gay, straight, whatever we chose or felt like we were born us. He wanted to speak on that and be somebody that represented everyone.

And so, yes, he definitely- he was no stranger to controversy, but he didn't waiver his in want and need to be a voice for that, for sure.

HOWELL: Holland Reid, we appreciate you being here.


REID: Thank you so much for having me, I wish I was here on better terms, yes. Absolutely.

HOWELL: Thank you.

REID: Thank you.

HOWELL: 2016, what a year. After the break, more on George Michael's career, his life and his legacy. Stay with us.

"Faith" by George Michael. You've got to love that song. He sold more than 10 million copies of that song and album. It was one of his major hits as a solo artist after five successful years in the duo Wham.


HOWELL: The British pop star died Christmas Day. He 53 years old. The UK Press Association quotes his manager as saying that Michael passed away of suspected heart failure, of course, we'll stay in touch with authorities and officials to learn more as the hours continue on.

Earlier I spoke with journalist and former columnist for "The Village Voice," Michael Musto about the death of George Michael. Here is what he had to say.


MICHAEL MUSTO, FORMER COLUMNIST, THE VILLAGE VOICE: George Michael was a very talented singer-songwriter. He and Andrew Ridgely had the duo named Wham as a result of a Wham UK at one point and they were part of the new wave movement, which was basically very fluffy, bouncy, pop music - but once George Michael went solo, which was an inevitability because of his star quality, he really develop as an artist and did much deeper more textured songs like "Father Figure" and "Faith."

And he even did a duet with Aretha Franklin, "I knew you waiting for me" and he actually proved capable of dueting with Aretha Dragon, which is not easily for a vocalist, so it's a great loss. I'm very shocked and saddened by this.

HOWELL: No, yes that is an not easy feat to ...


MUSTO: ... to hold your own together ...

HOWELL: Aretha Franklin, yes. But certainly did, you know ...

MUSTO: And he had really roots in R&B and soul and that's what he wanted to do the thing with Aretha Franklin.

HOWELL: All right, Michael, I have to put you on the spot just thinking back to his deep bench of songs, so many hits, I mean, what was the song that did it for you?

MUSTO: I think "Faith," because it just was so passionate and so danceable and catchy and textured at the same time. Of course, let's not forget that George Michael had a career destroying moment when he was seeking anonymous sex in the bathroom of a public park and he got busted by an undercover cop, but the one good thing about that - that evolved out of that is that he - I knew that he was gay. A lot of people knew that he was gay, but he hadn't been out about it, but after that incident, he was openly gay, and there really was no turning back from that.

So, he even made fun of the bathroom incident in a video where he kind of securely mopped the whole, so he tried to put that behind him, but I have to say that through his career, not that he was openly gay, but that he had been busted in the park, and he really never recovered career-wise from that either in the UK or especially in America where he wasn't really selling records in the last few years.


HOWELL: Michael Musto, a journalist with us to give some insights, now tributes to George Michael had been coming in from artists across generations. The singer, Miley Cyrus wrote this on Twitter, "Miss you already. Thank you for your radical activism in the LGBTQ community. Love you always." Music producer and guitarist, Nile Rodgers said quote, "Rest in peace George Michael. You are an absolute genius. My sincerest condolences out to your family." Singer Robbie Williams wrote this, "Oh God, no, I love you George. Rest in peace."

Ahead, we will check some of the other top stories we're following around the world this hour including Russians who are in mourning after a deadly plane crash. What officials there say might be behind this disaster as "CNN Newsroom" continues.


HOWELL: Welcome back to "CNN Newsroom," I'm George Howell. The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin has declared a day of mourning for the victims of Sunday's deadly plane crash.

Russia's Defense Ministry says 92 people were on board that military aircraft. It is feared that there are no survivors. The plane disappeared from radar shortly after it took off from Sochi.. CNN's Matthew Chance has more now from Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, according to defense officials, none of the passengers or crew on board Tupolev 154 aircraft operated by the Russian military survived the crash, which happened shortly after takeoff from the Black Sea resort of Sochi in southern Russia.

A Naval recovery operation has been underway to retrieve bits of the aircraft fuselage and bodies and a formal investigation into the disaster has been launched. This was an aircraft en route to Syria and to Russia's military base there at Latakia on board were more than 60 members of the Russian Army's official military choir and dance troop. The Red Army Choir or Alexandrov Ensemble. They were due to give a New Year's performance to Russian troops stationed there in Latakia.

It's also the exact type of aircraft used by the Russian Defense Ministry to transport journalists to Syria. Me and several of my colleagues have taken this trip in the past. Indeed, Russian officials say there were at least nine journalists on board this flight, apparently all from Russian news organizations who had been especially invited to cover the musical performance in Syria.

Well, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin has offered his condolences and declared a day of national mourning for the passengers and crew who lost their lives. He has also appointed his Prime Minister, Dmitri Medvedev to oversee the crash investigation. Russian officials say they are ruling out terrorism at this stage as a possible cause, and are focusing on mechanical or pilot error to explain why this aircraft in apparently smooth weather conditions plunged fatally into the sea. Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


HOWELL: Matthew Chance, thank you. Now, to Jerusalem, a sharp and scalding reaction to the Obama administration. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned the US Ambassador on Sunday to express his fury over a UN Security Council resolution. That measure condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The US abstained, rather than use its veto power.

Netanyahu's government accused the Obama administration as helping orchestrate the resolution which the US denies. The Israeli Prime Minister also says that he made his displeasure quite known and clear to America's top diplomat. Listen.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Over decades, American administrations and the Israeli government have disagreed about settlements, but we agreed that the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue. We know that going there would make negotiations harder and drive peace further away. And as I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don't take friends to the Security Council and encouraged by the statements of our friends in the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike, they understand how reckless and destructive this UN resolution was. They understand that the Western Wall isn't occupied territory.

I look forward to working with those friends and with the new administration when it takes office next month.


HOWELL: Sunday's meeting between Mr. Netanyahu and the US Ambassador kept the day of diplomatic rebukes as 10 other ambassadors from countries that voted for the resolution were also summoned. CNN's Oren Liebermann has more now from Jerusalem.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: If you want an idea of how angry Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is about this resolution, think about this. On Christmas Day here in the Holy Land, he called 11 ambassadors in for meeting. The 11 countries voted for this UN Security Council resolution. Ten of those countries met with Israel's Foreign Ministry. One of those countries, the United States whose abstention allowed this Security Council resolution to pass met directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that would be the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, an appointee of President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu has directed some of his anger at the United Nations and we've seen them take some diplomatic steps against the UN including curtailing funding to five different UN organizations, but the majority of that anger is pointed directly at President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who he blames for what he calls this quote, "Anti-Israel resolution" and "shameful resolution."


LIEBERMANN: He could have waited here, he could have waited until Obama was out of office. He has already made it very clear, he is looking forward to working with President-elect Trump, but the fact that he called in Shapiro, which is Obama's appointee for Ambassador is making one more statement against Obama and how angry he is at Obama for allowing this resolution through.

Again, Netanyahu and many of his Cabinet ministers have already made it clear, they're very much looking forward to a clean slate, a new start with President-elect Trump and his pick for Ambassador to Israel, a man who has far closer views to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.


LIEBERMAN: Oren, thank you. Japan is paying very close to a Chinese aircraft carrier, a carrier which is apparently moving into the western Pacific Ocean, for the very first time, the Japanese Defense Ministry says this demonstrates China's expanding military capabilities and that Japan will need to take all necessary steps for warning and surveillance.

China says the aircraft carrier is performing routine exercise. Now, to the Philippines people there celebrated Christmas as a major typhoon pushed. Authorities scrambled to evacuate people from low- lying areas, this ahead of Super Typhoon Nock-Ten. The raging storm stranded thousands of travelers and forced ports to close.

Our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam is live now with the very latest. Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, METEOROLOGIST, CNN: George, we're starting get a clearer picture of the devastation that Nock-Ten left behind in the Philippines on Christmas Day, some of the first few images coming to us here at CNN. You saw some of the video a second ago, this was a powerful storm, but it really was the heavy rainfall that caused the most destruction. You can see some of the people navigating floodwaters across some of the local streets just north of Manila.

Some of the reports, believe it or not, these are localize reports of 600 millimeters of rainfall or more in less than 24 hours. That is a significant amount of precipitation in a short period of time. No wonder there was flooding. The official reports that we have come across so far showing the Calapan Region, 146 millimeters. Legazpi at 94 millimeters, again that's in about a day's time.

The track of the storm system is phenomenal to see how quickly it grew into this monster storm and not only did it make landfall once on Christmas day, actually a second landfall occurred as it moved across the Bicol Region in Southern Luzon eventually moving throughout Manila and now finally starting to exit across the South China Sea where it will dissipate and really become nothing more than a disturbance over the next 24 hours or so.

This is the latest numbers from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, although - actually, this is latest to CNN. That number has just decreased, so a good side that this is a weakening storm system. At about five minutes ago, it was at 150 kilometers per hour, now it's sustained at 130, so we're starting to see that disorganization take place. We get unfavorable wind conditions in the upper levels of the atmosphere helping sheer off the tops of those thunderstorm cloud and continues to move again across the South China Sea.

The only caveat here is that it is going to bring some of this moisture into an area of Vietnam that has been flooding within the past couple of weeks, so we'll have to monitor that situation very closely in the days to come. George. Thank you.

HOWELL: Derek, we'll be sure to stay in touch with you for that. Thank you for the information, and thank you for being with us for this edition of "CNN Newsroom." I'm George Howell at CNN Center in Atlanta.

"Tokyo POV" is next, but first your world headlines right after the break.