Freddie Mercury, Queen’s flamboyant frontman, died in November 1991, but he’s back on the world’s radar thanks to the critically acclaimed biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Rami Malek’s portrayal of Mercury won him an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award, but what about the man himself?
It’s impossible for a movie to reveal everything about a character as fascinating as Mercury. Here are some things you might not know about the iconic rocker.
Farrokh Became Freddie Long Before Queen
Farrokh Bulsara was born on Sept. 5, 1946 in Stone Town in the British protectorate of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, East Africa, which is now part of Tanzania. It was when he was at St. Peter’s, a boys’ boarding school near Mumbai, that Farrokh changed his name to Freddie. The change became legal when Queen was formed in 1970, and Farrokh Bulsara became Freddie Mercury. Following the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, which led to the death of thousands of Arabs and Indians, the Bulsara family fled the region for the U.K., moving into a small house in Middlesex, England.
Mercury Was A Zoroastrian By Faith
Mercury and his family were Parsis and practiced Zoroastrianism, which is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions, dating as far back as 1200 B.C. The founder of Zoroastrianism is believed to be Zoroaster, a prophet who lived in modern-day Iran. Parsis worship Ahura Mazda as their supreme lord and creator, and always turn to a source of light (e.g., fire, the sun or the moon) when they pray. Even though Mercury hadn’t practiced in years, his funeral service, which took place on Nov. 27, 1991, at West London Crematorium, was performed by a Zoroastrian priest.
Mercury Didn’t Have Confidence In His Keyboard Skills
Despite playing the piano since the age of 9 and playing keyboards in a lot of Queen’s songs, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love,” “We Are the Champions” and “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Mercury struggled with a lack of confidence in his instrumental skills.
Queen guitarist Brian May told the BBC he was exceptional yet described himself as a “mediocre piano player” and dreaded playing the keyboard on stage during “Bohemian Rhapsody” because he was terrified he’d make a mistake. As a result of his anxiety, Mercury often relied on guest keyboardists for live shows.
He Had More Teeth Than Most People
Mercury had four extra teeth in his upper jaw, creating an overbite that he never considered fixing because he believed they contributed to his powerful vocal ability. The prosthetic teeth Malek wore to play Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody” were created by “toothmaker” Chris Lyons, from British company Fangs FX.
“When [the teeth] go in Rami’s mouth it pushes his lip forward, to give him that overbite look, and makes it look more like Freddie’s mouth,” said Lyons. “Freddie was very self-conscious about his teeth and was often trying to hide them with his lip. Rami loved that, because he had to work to hide these teeth as Freddie did.”
Mercury Met David Bowie Before They Hit The Big Time
In 1981, Queen scored yet another U.K. number-one hit with “Under Pressure,” their collaboration with David Bowie, but Mercury and Bowie first crossed paths many years earlier. Rumor has it that Mercury first met Bowie when he worked at a boot stall in Kensington Market in 1969, and Mercury fitted the already-famous singer with some new footwear.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King decided not to feature Bowie in the movie, saying, “I didn’t want a Bowie lookalike in the film.”
His Vocal Range Was Incredible
Mercury’s speaking voice fell in the baritone range, but he delivered most songs in the tenor range. His known vocal range extended from bass low F (F2) to soprano high F (F6), and he could also reach tenor high F (F5). Mercury’s biographer David Bret described his voice as “escalating within a few bars from a deep, throaty rock-growl to tender, vibrant tenor, then on to a high-pitched, perfect coloratura, pure and crystalline in the upper reaches.”
Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, with whom Freddie recorded an album, said that “the difference between Freddie and almost all the other rock stars was that he was selling the voice.”
Queen Wasn’t His First Band
The opening story of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the departure of lead singer Tim Stafell from his London-based rock band Smile, paving the way for the addition of Mercury, but the movie doesn’t quite tell the truth. Stafell told Esquire his departure from the band was “completely amicable,” and Mercury, who was a good friend of his from college, “simply dovetailed in.” But Queen wasn’t Mercury’s first band. He had already tried his luck with two previous bands, Wreckage and Sour Milk Sea.
He Designed The Famous Queen Logo
Mercury’s artistic talents went beyond songwriting. He designed the famous Queen Crest logo himself, drawing on his skills from his degree in art and graphic design from Ealing Art College. The crest consists of the zodiac signs of the four band members: two lions for John Deacon and Roger Taylor (Leo), a crab for Brian May (Cancer) and two fairies for Mercury (Virgo). The band name is represented by the “Q” and the crown, and the Phoenix protects the entire design. The logo was completed in time for the release of Queen’s self-titled first album in 1973.
His ‘Bottomless Mic’ Was An Accident
One of Mercury’s stage trademarks was his “bottomless mic,” but it wasn’t intentional. During a live show early in Queen’s career, Mercury grabbed his mic stand with such force that it snapped. But instead of replacing it, he carried on performing, using the mic without a bottom. The scene was recreated in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Mercury clearly liked the freedom a bottomless mic stand gave him on stage, because he favored this style of stand over a standard mic stand during all future performances.
He Dedicated His Music To His Cats
Mercury had many cats during his life and was so close to some of them that he dedicated his music to them. For Queen’s 1991 album “Innuendo,” Mercury recorded a dedication to his female tortoiseshell cat, Delilah. However, bandmate Roger Taylor didn’t share the sentiment, revealing later that he didn’t like the song: “I hate ‘Delilah.’ That’s just not me.”
Delilah wasn’t the only one of Mercury’s cats to make it onto an album. His first solo album, the 1985 release “Mr. Bad Guy,” was dedicated “to my cat Jerry — also Tom, Oscar and Tiffany, and all the cat lovers across the universe — screw everybody else.”
He Was A Keen Stamp Collector
Like his fellow superstar John Lennon, Mercury was a childhood stamp collector, encouraged by his father. As is customary for Parsis, all of Mercury’s belongings were burned after his death, but his father Bomi decided to keep his childhood stamp album. This was later auctioned and purchased by the British Promotional Merchandise Association in 1993, with the proceeds donated to the Mercury Phoenix Trust, the AIDS charity set up after Mercury’s death.
Mercury’s stamp collection has been exhibited at stamp shows all over the world. In September 2016 (the month of Mercury’s 70th birthday) the Postal Museum, London joined with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. to display Mercury and Lennon’s stamp collections together for the first time.
He Used To Work At Heathrow Airport
Long before he became one of the biggest music stars of all time, Mercury worked as a baggage handler at London’s Heathrow Airport. On Sept. 5, 2018, to celebrate Mercury’s 72nd birthday, several of British Airways’ Heathrow baggage handlers performed a choreographed tribute to the musician. They wore Mercury-style mustaches and yellow jackets, used using wheeled carryons as props and danced to the Queen hit, “I Want to Break Free.” British Airways also offered the use of their first-class lounge to any BA passenger departing from Heathrow that day named Freddie, Frederick or Mercury’s actual first name, Farrokh.
The Love Of His Life Was A Woman
At the time of his death, Mercury had been in a relationship with Jim Hutton for seven years, but he always said the love of his life was a woman, Mary Austin, even writing the song, “Love of My Life” for her.
Austin, who is played by Lucy Boynton in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” met Mercury in the late 1960s and the two lived together for several years. At one point, Mercury proposed to Austin, but they never married. In 1976, Mercury told Austin he was bisexual, which ended their romantic relationship. However, they remained close until Mercury’s death. Mercury left Austin the bulk of his estate and his London mansion, where she still lives.
Queen Had To Fight For ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
“Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t just one of the biggest movie releases of 2018; the film takes its name from the Queen single that spent nine weeks at the top of the U.K. singles chart in 1975 and another five weeks at number one in 1991 when it was re-released following Mercury’s death. In 2018, it was also named the most streamed song from the 20th century, overtaking “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.
But the song, which was written by Mercury for the band’s album “A Night at the Opera,” almost wasn’t released as a single. Music executives told the band that, at almost six minutes, it was too long and would never be a hit. Luckily, the band insisted.
He Performed With The Royal Ballet
In 1979, Mercury joined the Royal Ballet for a charity gala performance. Despite his initial reluctance, he embraced the experience, taking part in grueling rehearsals, which he later described as “murder.” Mercury performed in front of 2,500 people in a silver bodysuit and sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” while being carried by three shirtless men.
“There was only one person in the world that could have gotten away with it,” said bandmate Roger Taylor, who watched the performance. “Freddie was performing in front of a very stiff Royal Ballet audience, average age 94, who did not know what to make of this silver thing that was being tossed around onstage in front of them. I thought it was very brave and absolutely hilarious.”
He Wrote A Song In The Bath
Mercury got the inspiration for “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”(his homage to Elvis Presley) in a bathtub in a Munich hotel. Rock legend has it that he was so keen not to interrupt his flow, he asked his assistant to bring a guitar to the tub to let him continue with the composition, even though he rarely wrote music on the guitar. However, Rolling Stone reported that in 1981, Mercury told Melody Maker magazine that he needed only “five or 10 minutes” to write “Crazy” in a bathtub in Munich. “I did that on the guitar, which I can’t play for nuts, and in one way it was quite a good thing because I was restricted, knowing only a few chords.”
The bathtub wasn’t the only strange place Mercury wrote some of Queen’s biggest hits. He even used a piano as the headboard of his bed, so that he could start working on his ideas at any time of the day or night.
His Duet With Michael Jackson Took Decades To Be Released
Mercury recorded several tracks with Michael Jackson between 1981 and 1983, including a demo of “State of Shock,” “Victory” and “There Must Be More to Life Than This.”
None of them were released at the time, apart from bootleg recordings, and Jackson went on to record “State of Shock” with Mick Jagger for The Jacksons’ album “Victory.” However, “There Must Be More To Life Than This” was eventually reworked by Queen and released on their 2014 compilation album, “Queen Forever” — 22 years after work first began on the track.
He ‘Got Married’ to Jane Seymour
Mercury never got married for real, but he did have a fake wedding to English actress Jane Seymour during the Fashion Aid Benefit concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Nov. 5, 1985. Seymour’s outfit, a white lace ballgown and an elaborate veil with a floral headpiece, was designed by the Emanuels, the duo that created Princess Diana’s iconic wedding gown, and Mercury was dressed in a military-style uniform. The “wedding'” was part of a charity event attended by 5,500 guests, organized by Bob Geldof to raise funds for the ongoing Ethiopian famine.
He Was A Shy Guy
Mercury may have been a wild on-stage presence, known for his flamboyant outfits and captivating performance style, but everyone who knew him personally knew he had a tendency to be shy. He guarded his privacy and rarely gave interviews.
“In real life nobody knew Freddie,” Taylor once said. “He was shy, gentle and kind. He was never the one he was on the stage.” When preparing to play Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Malek listened to radio interviews with the singer and revealed to the Irish Times, “I saw a very shy and, at times, lonely human being and he admits that quite often.”
Mercury Had a Solo Career
A little-known fact about Mercury is that he had a solo career outside of the band. In 1985 and 1988, he released two non-Queen albums, “Mr. Bad Guy” and “Barcelona.” They both were commercially successful, but the critical response was mixed. In particular, many people were baffled by the mixture of opera and pop music on “Barcelona.” Mercury also covered “The Great Pretender” in 1987. But Taylor was the first member of the band to release a solo project — the 1981 album “Fun in Space.”
He Dressed Princess Diana In Drag To Go Out To Bars
Mercury had a genius solution to allow his friend Princess Diana go out to bars with him without being hounded by the press: He disguised her as a man so she wouldn’t be recognized. According to comedian Cleo Rocos, after a night of drinking champagne and watching reruns of “The Golden Girls” in 1988, she smuggled the Princess into the Royal Vauxhall Tavern — an infamous gay bar known for its rough crowd and bar fights — with Freddie and comedian Kenny Everett. Rocos writes in her 2013 memoir that Mercury said, “Go on, let the girl have some fun.” Apparently, the outfit of choice for the Princess of Wales was a camo jacket and leather cap.
His Vocals Remained Strong Until The Very End
The last Queen single released before Mercury’s death was “The Show Must Go On.” At the time of recording the song, Mercury was so ill from AIDS-related health issues that Brian May was worried he wouldn’t be able to sing the demanding vocals.
Mercury gulped down some vodka and sang the vocals in one take. However, he was too ill to appear in the video to accompany the song, so it was simply a montage of live clips of the band. “The Show Must Go On” was released just six weeks before Mercury died on Nov. 24, 1991.
Few Knew How Ill He Was During His Final Public Appearance
In 1990, Queen won the BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution. All four members of the band came to the stage to accept the award for what would be Mercury’s last appearance in front of an audience. Rumors about Mercury health had been circulating in the British tabloids for years and including claims he had been tested for HIV/AIDS as early as 1986.
However, only Mercury’s family and closest friends (including his band members) knew he was seriously ill at the time of the BRIT Awards. Mercury also received a posthumous BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution in 1992.
He Only Confirmed He Had AIDS The Day Before He Died
The day before Mercury died of an AIDS-related illness, he and his manager released a statement confirming that he had AIDS. His gaunt appearance and the lack of live Queen shows had led to much speculation for a few years, but the news still came as a shock to many people. Some criticized Mercury for keeping his illness a secret for so long, saying that earlier confirmation could have raised a lot of money for HIV/AIDS charities. May revealed in 2017 that Mercury lost most of his foot during his AIDS battle, and said he believed that he could have survived if a combined drugs therapy had been available just a few months sooner.
Mercury Refused Medication
During his final days, Mercury refused to take medication to prolong his life, taking only painkillers. He died on Nov. 24, 1991, at the age of 45, only 24 hours after confirming he had AIDS. A brief statement from his publicist, Roxy Meades, said: “Freddie Mercury died peacefully at his home. His death was the result of bronchio-pneumonia, brought on by AIDS.”
In 1992, the Mercury Phoenix Trust was founded by May, Taylor and their manager Jim Beach, with the aim of funding AIDS charities on a global scale. The trust has also funded medical research and studies into possible vaccinations against AIDS.
A Shrine To Mercury Caused Controversy
After Mercury died, many grieving fans left flowers outside the Kensington mansion where he spent his final days. However, some people took it further, turning the outside of the building into a shrine by writing on the walls and leaving poems and pictures, attracting fans from around the world. Austin, who inherited the property from Mercury, turned a blind eye to the shrine for a time but eventually had it removed. Friends of Austin’s told the Mirror Mercury would be “turning in his grave” if he saw how much graffiti was on the building.
Kurt Cobain Was A Big Fan
Three years after Mercury died, Nirvana’s frontman Kurt Cobain died by suicide. His suicide note mentioned Mercury, revealing that he admired and envied the Queen singer’s ability to perform and embrace the love of his audience.
In 2001, with both Mercury and Cobain long gone, Cobain’s former Nirvana bandmate Dave Grohl inducted Queen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Grohl, who found huge success with The Foo Fighters since leaving Nirvana, is an avid fan of Queen, often covering hits like “Under Pressure” during gigs.
He Has A Rose Named After Him
Two years after Mercury died, fans raised over $2,500 to create and name a new variety of rose after him. The Freddie Mercury is a pink, yellow and apricot hybrid tea rose introduced by Eric Stainthorpe of Battersby Roses in 1994. Fans can buy a potted Freddie Mercury rose bush for around $22.
Other “celebrity roses” include the President Herbert Hoover, which won a gold medal at New York’s International Flower show in 1929; Ingrid Bergman, which was named the world’s favorite rose by the World Federation of Rose Societies in 2000; and Dolly Parton, which Parton grows at her home and her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
There’s A Swiss Statue In His Honor
On Nov. 25, 1996, a statue of Mercury was unveiled in Montreux, Switzerland, to commemorate the singer’s love for the area. He first visited in 1978 with Queen to attend the Montreux Jazz Festival and record the album “Jazz,” and decided to buy an apartment overlooking Lake Geneva. He also bought the Mountain Studio recording studio, where he composed and recorded “Made in Heaven,” his last album with Queen. The bronze statue, which also overlooks the lake, is 10 feet high and is kept permanently in flower by visiting fans.
His Childhood Home Has An English Heritage Blue Plaque
The organization English Heritage erected a Blue Plaque on Mercury’s childhood home at 22 Gladstone Ave. in Feltham, England, on Sept. 1, 2016.
English Heritage Blue Plaques, which is funded by donations, has been running for more than 150 years and is believed to be the oldest organization of its kind in the world. Found across Greater London, they celebrate the links between notable figures in history and the buildings in which they lived and worked. Mercury’s sister, Kashmira Cooke, told the BBC he “secretly would have been very proud and pleased” to receive the honor.