10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen

Larry Holzwarth - July 31, 2018

He was born in Zanzibar, named Farrokh Bulsara, and schooled there and in India before relocating to England when he was seventeen. He learned to play piano as a child, taking lessons until he was nine, and though he wrote many songs on the instrument, he grew to be dismissive of his playing skills. In later life he claimed that he could read music but poorly, though many of his compositions were complex and musically innovative. His voice, which many claimed to carry a four octave vocal range (it reality it was just over three) became the distinctive sound of the band Queen.

Mercury was a flamboyant performer, drawing the audience into his act, but in private was described as shy and often withdrawn. He kept his personal life as private as he could, refused to answer questions regarding his sexuality, and didn’t admit that he was suffering from AIDS until just before he died of the disease, despite longstanding rumors. After his death many of his excesses became legend.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
Freddy Mercury performing in New Haven in 1978. Wikimedia

Here are some exploits and stories featuring the Freddie Mercury and Queen.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
The statue of Freddie Mercury in Montreux, Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Wikimedia

He kept his sexuality secret, even from Queen

When Queen was first building their following in the early 1970s, touring incessantly in England and Europe, guitarist Brian May frequently shared a room with Freddie Mercury. “I knew a lot of his girlfriends, and he certainly didn’t have boyfriends in those days, that’s for sure,” May later told the Daily Mail in an interview. May noted in another interview that over time in their dressing room Freddie’s visitors shifted from “hot chicks” to “hot men”.

As a schoolboy in Zanzibar, Freddie demonstrated behaviors which led a former schoolmistress, Janet Smith, to conclude at the time that the young man was gay. Smith recalled Freddie’s habit of referring to other boys as “darling”. “Normally it would have been, ‘Oh God, it’s just ghastly’. But with Freddie it somehow just wasn’t”, she recalled. When Freddie and his family fled to England, it was to a nation in which homosexual behavior was still illegal.

It is often claimed that Mercury described himself to an interviewer by proclaiming, “I’m as gay as a daffodil, my dear.” The interview cited was conducted by Julia Webb for the New Music Express, and appeared in the March 12, 1974 edition. A review of the article reveals that the quote does not appear, nor does a similar quote which could be taken out of context. What does appear is a statement by Webb that Mercury made the comment in a previous meeting.

Rumors of his sexual preferences dogged him throughout his career, supported by stories of the excesses of several parties, including one legendary birthday party described below. But he also complained frequently in interviews about his loneliness, describing himself in one interview as “desperately lonely.” Mercury said his success, “…prevented me from having the one thing we all need: a loving, ongoing relationship”.

In like manner, despite ongoing rumors and speculation regarding his increasingly gaunt relationship, Freddie refused to acknowledge that he was HIV positive and suffering from AIDS until issuing a statement the day before he died of complications from the disease. In his statement he promised to continue his longstanding policy of granting few interviews and continuing to protect his privacy, a promise kept when he was silenced forever just hours later.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
Freddie’s famous overbite can be clearly seen, attributed to extra teeth in his upper jaw. CNN.com

The voice

Freddie Mercury was famous for having an overbite, which despite his having earned millions of dollars he refused to have corrected. The overbite was caused by his having four extra teeth in his upper jaw, which pushed his incisors forward. Mercury believed that the extra teeth contributed to the uniqueness of his voice, and feared that if he had them removed it would damage the tremolo effect he was able to achieve when singing.

His range is often reported as having been four octaves, but this is an exaggeration, according to a research team which studied his recordings and was only able to confirm a range of just over three. His natural speaking voice was a baritone, but the majority of his songs were performed in the tenor range. He managed a technique known as coloratura with ease, adding trills, vocal runs, and tremolo which rivaled those of opera singers. It was the coloratura he ascribed, in part, to the additional teeth.

Montserrat Caballe recorded a duet with Freddie Mercury titled Barcelona in 1987. The Spanish opera singer, a soprano, called Mercury’s voice and technique, “astonishing”. Roger Daltrey of the British band The Who, said that Mercury was the “best virtuoso singer of all time.” Dave Grohl said that he considered Freddie Mercury, “the greatest front man of all time.” Harry Connick Jr. said of Mercury’s singing, “He had just silly ability.”

He used that ability in a range of styles which ranged from snarling, hard driving rock and roll to operatic arias, sometimes, as in the case of Bohemian Rhapsody, within the structure of the same song. Mercury claimed to be able to barely read music, despite some formal piano training, and presented his songs to the band through demonstration rather than on paper. Most of his musical writing was done on the piano or other keyboards, though he occasionally wrote for the guitar.

With Queen, the band used complex harmonies, melding Freddie’s voice with those of the other band members to create a shimmering sound, with multilayered guitar tracks and other instrumentation, including synthesizers in the band’s later days. Mercury also recorded two solo albums, and several solo singles over the course of his career. His solo work never reached the level of success as his recordings with Queen.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
Freddie’s onstage flamboyance was an early feature of Queen’s appearances. Biography.com

Early days of Queen

Brian May was a student at Imperial College in London when he recruited Roger Taylor to join a band they called Smile. The band’s bass player, Tim Staffel, was a friend of Freddie Mercury, who was still going by his birth name at the time. In 1970 Staffel left the band and with the encouragement of Mercury, who joined them around that time, the band changed its name to Queen. Several bass players worked with the band before they brought John Deacon in during early 1971.

Beginning in the summer of 1971 Queen began playing live in the lineup which became famous. They also made changes to management in attempts to sign a contract with a record label, recorded numerous tracks of new material, and worked nearly continuously. Mercury developed his campy, flamboyant stage presence during this time, designing costumes which matched the performance, and became known for being outrageous and carefree.

Mercury also developed his use of a broken microphone stand as a part of his act, using it to gesture to the crowd, twirling it like a baton, thrusting it about suggestively, and other gyrations which became a major part of Queen’s reputation. The use of the stand came from when Freddie had performed with an earlier band called Wreckage, when a microphone stand did break during a performance, necessitating Freddie to hold the stand throughout the set.

In 1973 Queen released their first album, on Trident Records, which received welcoming reviews from critics on both sides of the Atlantic. A single released from the album, Keep Yourself Alive, was likewise well received critically, but neither the single nor the album achieved much in the way of sales. In 1974 they released a second album, Queen II, and another single, which wasn’t as praised as the first album and likewise achieved sluggish sales.

In 1974 Queen toured the United States for the first time, as the opening act for Mott the Hoople, which was cut short when Brian May developed hepatitis. Later that year the album Sheer Heart Attack was released, and the single Killer Queen reached number two in the UK charts, as did the album. In the US the single reached number 12. Queen prepared for a massive worldwide tour to be conducted in 1975, with a stage show and costumes designed to stun audiences.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
Freddie Mercury was quiet and reserved except when performing or when at a party. Pinterest

The 1975-1976 worldwide tours

In 1975 Queen launched a worldwide tour, playing in the United States and Canada for the first time as a headline act, after which they played seven shows in Japan. The tour featured a massive light show with pyrotechnics and other special effects. The tour was only moderately successful, and led to disputes with their management and record label. Following the tour the band ended their contract with Trident and searched for a new management and record contract.

Peter Grant, manager of Led Zeppelin, tried to sign Queen to Led Zeppelin’s record label, Swan Song. Both Brian May and Mercury found the offered contract to be inadequate and instead signed with John Reid, who also managed Elton John at the time, with whom Mercury was friends. After the management upheaval the band recorded the album A Night at the Opera, taking its name from the Marx Brothers movie.

It was A Night at the Opera which contained what eventually became Queen’s signature song, Bohemian Rhapsody. The song was wildly received in Great Britain, held the number one chart position for nine consecutive weeks, and eventually became the third-best selling single in in UK history. In the United States it could only manage to reach number nine, though when it was re-released in 1992 after it was popularized in Wayne’s World it reached number two.

In November 1975 the band embarked on another tour to support the album, and performed in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The tour ran into the early spring of 1976. The band was playing in larger venues in the United States but had not yet reached the large arenas of the day. For example, their New York performances were in the Beacon Theater, a venue with just under 3,000 seats.

Following the tour, which encompassed 78 performances, the band prepared to record another album, though they did perform four shows in the UK including a free concert in London’s Hyde Park which was attended by an estimated 150,000 fans. The shows took place in September, as the band was recording their next album, due to be released at Christmas. Freddie Mercury was an international superstar, though America still held him somewhat at arm’s length.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
By the tine they released A Day at the Races, Queen was an international hit, though they lagged somewhat in the United States. Alamy

A Day at the Races

Also named for a movie featuring the Marx Brothers, Queen’s next release, A Day at the Races, shot to number one in Japan and the UK, but managed to reach only number five in the American charts. In January 1977 the band launched another marathon tour, which included 41 shows in the United States. For the first time, Queen played before a sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York. Other venues included Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium.

Queen was filling larger venues, and developing a staunch fan base in the United States, with many thrilled by Freddie’s camp performances and costumes, while others dismissed him as being too effeminate. In 1977 Queen released the album News of the World, and in the fall undertook another massive tour. The album reached number three in the American charts, and the single We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions climbed to number four.

For the rest of the decade and into the 1980s the pattern was retained, an album released followed by tours which featured Freddie’s enticing his audience to sing with him on some numbers, accompanied with huge light and pyrotechnic displays. In 1979 Queen finally achieved their first number one record in the United States with the single Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and Mercury began playing rhythm guitar onstage when the song was performed live.

They achieved a second number one single with the song Another One Bites the Dust in the fall of 1980, holding the top spot in the United States for three weeks. Both singles were included in the album The Game, and the airplay they received helped Queen achieve the number one album spot in the US charts, the only one of their albums to reach that plateau. A collaboration with David Bowie, Under Pressure, only managed to reach number 29 in the US in 1981.

Queen’s concert tours continued to be successful, playing to large crowds of their devoted fans, but 1980 was their peak in the United States in terms of chart success. Freddie Mercury continued to be controversial with some in the US, coy about his sexuality when asked, though often teasing in a manner which fed the discussion. Later in 1981 they released their first greatest hits album which, although the greatest selling album of all time in the UK, managed to reach only number 11 in the United States.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
Elton John was notorious for excess in the late 1970s, but claimed he was not match for Freddie. Eddie Malin via Wikimedia

The king of excess

As Queen and Freddie Mercury gained fame as performers and recording artists they also acquired notoriety for their excesses. The parties held by the band were meticulously planned, hugely expensive, and legendary for their decadence. Elton John told the magazine Uncut in 2001 that Freddie Mercury could out-party him, “which is saying something.” Both John and Mercury exhibited insatiable appetites for cocaine at the time.

Expensive wines and other beverages, which Freddie arranged to have served by nude waiters and waitresses, were accompanied in at least one party with dwarves, who mingled among the guests wearing trays upon their heads containing lines of cocaine for the consumption of the partiers. The Party for the launch of the 1978 album Jazz, held in New Orleans at the Fairmont Hotel, featured nude wrestlers in a pit filled with liver.

As a promotion for the same album, which included the song Bicycle Race, the band booked Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium and 65 professional models to appear in a photo and video. The models were nude and rode the bicycles for several takes while the video was being filmed, which led the company from which the bicycles were rented to request that the band purchase new seats for the bikes. The album Jazz contained a poster sized picture of the race.

For his 39th birthday Mercury held a Black and White Ball, with invitations requesting his guests dress in drag, using only the hues of black and white in their appearance. The party was held in Munich, and some footage from the party was filmed for use in a video for Freddie’s solo single, Living on My Own. Cristal champagne and high grade cocaine flowed freely, and Freddie and his guests celebrated his birthday well into the following morning.

Friends remembered other parties which ran for days and even weeks, impromptu affairs which drifted from site to site, but Freddie always ensured his birthday parties were well-planned and equally well executed. The site of his 41st birthday party, a legendary affair with over 500 guests flown to the island of Ibiza off the coast of Spain, still celebrates his birthday in remembrance, as do numerous cities around the world, where his fans try to live up to his legend.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
Ibiza was known throughout Europe for its tolerance for excess, and Freddie took full advantage. Wikimedia

The Ibiza birthday party

When Freddie Mercury planned his 41st birthday party, he selected the Pikes (pronounced pee-kays) Hotel on the island of Ibiza for the site. Ibiza and Pikes had a noted reputation for hedonistic behavior, which his party did nothing to reduce. The party thrown by Freddie was the most lavish, and expensive, ever thrown at the site, leading the proprietor, stunned by the size of the bar bill being run up, to wonder if the rock star could afford to pay up.

Freddie had thousands of helium balloons, colored black and gold, prepared for the party, which took three full days for them all to be inflated. The hotel owner, Anthony Pike, was a close friend of Freddie’s, but even he was unprepared for the size of the celebration. A cake in the shape of a Barcelona cathedral was prepared but it collapsed under its own weight, and was replaced with a six foot sponge decorated with the notes of Freddie’s recording Barcelona.

Flamenco dancers were hired to perform throughout the event, as well as other dancers and professional models to enhance the mood. The guest list read like a who’s who of film, music, and the arts, and included Anthony Quinn, Tony Curtis, Boy George, Julio Iglesias, and Spandau Ballet, to name just a few. Freddie opened the festivities by ordering 350 bottles of chilled Moet et Chandon champagne for his guests.

The party was well lubricated by champagne and other beverages and the partiers fortified with drugs of their choosing, if they chose, as well as freely distributed cocaine, served up by waiters and waitresses, many flown in from the mainland for the event. Its climax was a fireworks display, launched on Ibiza, which was so lavish that it was reported as being seen in Majorca, over 100 miles away. The bill for the extravaganza was sent to Jim Beach, to be paid by Queen.

Numerous urban legends emerged over the behavior of guests and their host at Queen’s parties, involving different ways of consuming cocaine using orifices other than the nasal passages. These tales are often linked to other rock stars and celebrities, and recycle from time to time, and should not be taken too seriously. Freddie’s parties were extravagant enough that they don’t need to be embellished with stale rumors and myths.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
Brian May, Queen lead guitarist, in 2014. Wikimedia

Beginning to decline

In 1982 Queen released the album Hot Space, which in the United States drew mostly dismissive reviews and lackluster sales. Following the tour that year to support the album, which found several cancelled shows due to poor ticket sales in America, Queen would not appear in the United States again. Emerging tensions in the band over musical direction led to their work schedule diminishing. All of the members of the band began to engage in other projects.

Queen did not appear in any live performances in 1983, after a decade of touring steadily. The following February the band released the album Works, which though it contained a couple of singles which achieved regular airplay in the United States, did not sell well there. In the UK it went triple platinum, and it stayed in the charts for over two years. Queen toured to support the album, earning reproves when they appeared in South Africa during apartheid.

Queen’s appearance at Live Aid in 1985 was televised in the United States and around the world, and was well received, with many critics calling their performance the best of the entire concert, which also featured a reunited Led Zeppelin (minus John Bonham), an act which did not provide much competition. The appearance was rejuvenating for the band, which by then was the subject of rumors and speculation among its fans.

A Kind of Magic was released in 1986, a reworking of songs from the film Highlander, which barely cracked the top fifty in the United States and Canada, though it sold well elsewhere. The tour in support of the album included a performance in Budapest, but the poor sales in the United States and Canada led the band to not performing there. It was the last Queen tour to include Freddie Mercury, who by that time was aware that he was HIV positive.

The band became involved in various solo projects following the A Kind of Magic tour, and Freddie recorded the album Barcelona, a project in which he collaborated with Montserrat Caballe. In 1988 Queen released The Miracle, an album in which all of the songs were credited to all four members of the band. It sold well around the world, but failed to make the top twenty in the United States (24), though it made number one in the UK.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
Freddie Mercury spent his final days in Garden Lodge, his home in Kensington, London, England. Wikimedia


In the fall of 1986, stories appeared in British tabloids reporting that Freddie Mercury had tested positive for HIV. Freddie denied the stories vehemently when questioned about them by a reporter from The Sun. The following spring Freddie was diagnosed with AIDS, though he continued to deny the stories publicly, admitting the truth of his illness only to an inner circle of friends. He also claimed that he had been tested for HIV and the results had been negative.

Mercury first exhibited signs of being infected with HIV in 1982, including during an appearance in September of that year on Saturday night live, according to the book Somebody to Love, and the same source speculates that it was contracted during Queen’s tour of the United States that year. Mercury continued to deny the reports and only those closest to him were aware of his secret, which did not for some time included the other members of Queen.

“We didn’t know actually what was wrong for a very long time,” Brian May told an interviewer many years later. “Gradually, I suppose in the last year and a bit, it became obvious what the problem was, or at least fairly obvious. We didn’t know for sure.” Freddie became increasingly frail in appearance, and public appearances ceased after the February 1990 Brit Awards, when Mercury appeared with the band, speaking only four words, “Thank you, good night”.

As Freddie grew weaker he continued to work, recording with Queen tracks which became the 1991 release, Innuendo. The other members of the band made themselves available to work based on Mercury’s schedule, and his failing health and steady weakening raised concerns over his ability to be able to sing some of the songs, though May later commented that he performed the songs capably, even brilliantly at times.

Throughout the period of his illness, the British tabloids had photographers watching Mercury’s London home, and occasional photographs of the clearly dying man appeared, with each presenting Freddie appearing more haggard than the photo preceding. Innuendo was released in early 1991, with Freddie spending most of that year in his London home, supported by his inner circle of close friends, and his long-time companion, Jim Hutton.

10 Fabulous and Fantastic Facts About Freddie Mercury and Queen
A frail Freddie Mercury in his garden at home during the summer of 1991. imgur

Death and legacy

On November 23 1991, a statement was issued on behalf of Freddie Mercury in which he admitted his diagnosis of AIDS, but did address the issue of whether or not he was gay. He died of AIDS related pneumonia the following day. Dave Clark, of the Dave Clark Five and a close friend, was with him when he died. According to friends Mercury was by the time of his death nearly blind, and had been bedridden for some time.

As his conditioned worsened in the final weeks Mercury decided to face the inevitable and quit taking the medication which was lengthening his life, taking only the medicine needed to control pain. Though he was aware that he was very near the end, his statement gave the impression that he was not on his deathbed, since he indicated that he intended to continue his policy of maintaining his privacy and avoiding granting interviews.

Or maybe that was just a final joke from a complex personality. Mercury had lived with a woman, Mary Austin, in the days before Queen became a huge international hit, and they remained close for the rest of his life. He left her the bulk of his estate and the London home in which he died, as well as his ashes, with instructions for their dispersal. To his long-time companion Jim Hutton he reportedly left $500,000. Hutton died of cancer in 2010.

Mary Austin also received Freddie’s royalties, which saw an upsurge following his death. Sales of Queen’s albums increased in the United States the year after Mercury died, fueled in part by the movie Wayne’s World, which was released in 1992 and featured Bohemian Rhapsody. At the time of Freddie’s death Queen had sold about 17 million albums in America, by the year 2004 that number had increased to 34.5 million albums.

Many of the songs written, or co-written, by Freddie Mercury have become iconic, including Bohemian Rhapsody, We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Somebody to Love, and others. He was inducted with Queen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the UK Music Hall of Fame. A statue of Freddie Mercury overlooks Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland. The statue presents him holding a microphone on a broken stand.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Queen: The Early Years”, by Mark Hodkinson, 1995

“Scientists explain Freddie Mercury’s incredible singing voice”, by Fox News, April 19, 2016, online

“Freddie Mercury: An intimate memoir by the man who knew him best”, by David Evans and Peter Freestone, 2001

“Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography”, by Lesley-Ann Jones, 2011

“Freddie Mercury: A Kind of Magic”, by Ross Clarke, 1992

“The Man Who Would Be Queen” Wikipedia.

“The Sins of Saint Freddie”, by John Harris, Guardian on Friday, January 14, 2005

“I Couldn’t Bear to See Freddie Wasting Away”, by Tim Teeman, The Times of London, September 7, 2006

“Queen star dies after AIDS statement”, by Paul Myers, The Guardian, November 25, 1991