Books & Music

Things You Never Knew About Queen’s Freddie Mercury

This legendary rock star led an amazing life.

With the new music biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” in theaters now, new and longtime Queen fans are reacquainting themselves with the group’s iconic frontman, Freddie Mercury. The rock band’s incredible staying power — with epic hits like “We Are the Champions,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Somebody to Love” — is in large part a testament to the talents and global popularity of its lead singer.

There’s plenty more to learn about this legendary rock star, with his powerful vocal cords and electrifying energy. Keep scrolling to find out some new facts about this fascinating figure in rock history.

‘Freddie Mercury’ Was Not His Given Name

Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on Sept. 5, 1946. The nickname “Freddie” was bestowed upon him from boarding school classmates. A fan of mythology, Freddie later adopted the surname “Mercury” after the Roman “messenger of the gods.”

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He Was Born In Zanzibar

Mercury was born in Zanzibar, East Africa (now part of Tanzania). His father Bomi, who was born in India, worked as a registrar for the colonial government. Both Freddie and his younger sister were raised in Tanzania, though Freddie attended a boarding school near his father’s native Bombay (now known as Mumbai). When he was 17, Mercury and his family fled Zanzibar due to political unrest, and they settled in Feltham, England.

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He Joined His First Band At The Age Of 12

While in boarding school at St. Peter’s in Bombay, Mercury formed his first band, The Hectics, alongside several of his Indian classmates. The group idolized popular music stars of the time, like Elvis and Cliff Rogers, and they primarily played covers of rock ‘n roll songs.

Mercury’s former bandmates remember him as a child prodigy when it came to music. One member of the Hectics, Bruce Murray, recalled to interviewer Anvar Alikhan that Mercury “could play anything! He had the unique ability to listen to a song on the radio, just once, and be able to play it perfectly.”

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He Believed His Teeth Were The Reason He Could Sing

Mercury had four extra teeth that forced his front teeth forward into an overbite, earning him the unfortunate moniker “Bucky” when he was at boarding school. The singer was apparently very insecure about the way his mouth looked, and would often cover his mouth with his hand when he laughed or smiled. He never wanted to have dental surgery, however, because he believed his teeth were what gave him such epic vocal range.

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As A Child, He Was An Avid Stamp Collector

On the surface, stamp collecting seems a mundane hobby for the boy who would lead one of the most flamboyant rock bands of all time. However, Mercury’s childhood stamp collection may actually have provided a glimpse of the artist he was to become. In his book “The Error World: An Affair with Stamps,” writer Simon Garfield even described Freddie’s collection as “artistic.” Explaining one entry, he noted that Mercury “collected on unusual black album pages and designed his displays with great care for symmetry and color. On one page he used [Great Britain] stamps to spell out the letter ‘F.'”

Incredibly, this unique collection almost never saw the light of day. Mercury’s family were practicing Zoroastrians and, per tradition, upon his death in 1991, many of Mercury’s belongings were burned. Fortunately, Freddie’s dad, Bomi, kept his son’s collection.

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He Attended Art School

Mercury attended the Ealing Technical College and School of Art in West London, studying graphic art and design, and he graduated in 1969. The school is now the Ealing campus for the University of West London. Mercury later put his degree to use when he designed Queen’s logo.

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He Had A Fierce Love Of Cats

While some are debating historical inaccuracies in the new film, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” one element of Mercury’s life seems to have been captured purr-fectly. Mercury owned at least 10 cats in his lifetime, all adopted from shelters or hospitals. “His cats were his family,” longtime assistant Peter Freestone told The Washington Post.

Mercury was such a devoted cat dad that he would call home while on tour, just to speak to them. Mercury even penned the song “Delilah” in honor of his favorite feline.

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He Had A Longtime Relationship With Jim Hutton

Jim Hutton (pictured here, left) was an Irish hairdresser who met Mercury one fateful night in Heaven, a popular London gay bar. However, when Freddie offered to buy Hutton a drink, he declined. It would be over a year before the two would finally connect. Apparently, it was worth the wait, as the two remained together for six years, until Mercury’s passing in 1991.

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He Was Inspired By Actress Marlene Dietrich

The now-familiar image of the four members of Queen cloaked in darkness with their faces upturned, used for the album cover of “Queen II” as well as the “Bohemian Rhapsody” music video, never would’ve come about if it weren’t for actress Marlene Dietrich.

Photographer Mick Rock was inspired to create the iconic album cover based on a movie still from the 1932 film “Shanghai Express,” in which Dietrich is staring upward into a light with her hands near her face, the rest of her shrouded in shadow. The image is shown in the background in the new biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” as a nod to its influence on Mercury and the band’s legacy.

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He’s Been Inducted Into Multiple Halls Of Fame

In addition to receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, plus many other honors and accolades, Queen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and then the U.K. Music Hall of Fame in 2004. Mercury, along with the other three members of Queen, was also inducted into the Songwriting Hall of Fame in 2003, making Queen the only band in which all members are Songwriting Hall of Famers.

A press release announcing the induction explained that Queen had “achieved the distinction of being the only group in which each of its band members have achieved No. 1 songs.” Mercury reached No. 1 with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” while John Deacon’s “Another One Bites The Dust” was his chart-topper. Brian May wrote a true winner when he penned “We Will Rock You” and Roger Taylor’s No. 1 hit was “Radio Ga Ga.”

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He Died In 1991 From AIDS-Related Pneumonia

The famously private singer was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1987. Mercury rarely gave interviews and hid his illness from the public. He spent years denying rumors of his declining health. He instead focused on work, continuing to record with Queen. His last appearance on screen came in their video, “These Are the Days of Our Lives,” in which he appeared wearing a custom-made vest featuring the likenesses of his beloved cats.

In November 1991, Freddie finally released a statement confirming the rumors, urging fans to join him in “the fight against this terrible disease.” He would lose his fight the very next day, at the age of 45.

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He Was Once Engaged To Be Married

In 1969, when he was a 24-year-old aspiring musician, Mercury met a 19-year-old shopgirl in London named Mary Austin. The two began dating, fell in love and even got engaged on Christmas day in 1973. The wedding was called off, but the two remained very close friends for the rest of Mercury’s life.

“All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible,” Mercury said in a 1985 interview, according to Vanity Fair. “The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage.”

At the end of his life, Mercury left an estate and much of his fortune to Austin.

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Queen Beat Out The Beatles For The Title of ‘Top British Band’

More than 20,000 BBC Radio 2 listeners deemed Queen the best British band in 2007, edging out the Beatles by just 400 votes. Judging each band on its live performances, songwriting, originality, lyrics and showmanship, the voters crowned Queen over other popular groups such as The Rolling Stones, Oasis and Take That.

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He Recorded Music With Michael Jackson

It’s true! Two of music’s most enigmatic performers collaborated on not one, but three tracks in 1983, one of which was “There Must Be More to Life Than This.” The melancholy ballad was released on the band’s 2014 compilation “Queen: Forever.” While a second song, “Sudden Shock,” has appeared in various places online, a third, “Victory” (not to be confused with The Jacksons album “Victory”), has never been released.

Queen initially attempted to secure the release of all three tracks but managed to only snag “There Must Be More to Life Than This.” According to The Standard, Queen’s lead guitarist Brian May said that working with the overly protective Jackson estate has been like “wading through glue.”

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Some Claim ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Was Mercury’s Coming Out Anthem

In his 2018 collection of personal essays, “My Life as a Goddess: A Memoir Through (Un)Popular Culture,” comedian Guy Branum posits that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was actually telling the story of a gay man coming out to his mother, vaguely coded in anguished poetic lyrics and cheeky wordplay.

This interpretation of the song isn’t entirely new, though Queen guitarist Brian May has soundly refuted the claim.

“What’s it about? None of us know,” May told the BBC in 2015. “Freddie … had something in his mind and he loved to spin these little pieces of magic. A little bit of reality and a little bit of fantasy. If anyone tries to unravel it, they’ll never manage it because they’ll never know what went into those lyrics. … It’s an outlandish song. I think it’s beyond analysis.”

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He Released An Album With A Spanish Opera Singer

With his searing voice and astounding range, Mercury was born to share the stage with an actual opera singer at some point in his life. That time came in 1988 when he released a second solo album “Barcelona,” on which he collaborated with the Spanish operatic soprano, Montserrat Caballé.

On the titular song, “Barcelona,” Mercury’s rock vocalization and Caballé’s powerful pipes are backed by a full orchestra to create a moving piece. In 1992, a year after Mercury’s passing, the song was featured at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

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He Designed The Band’s Logo, The Queen Crest

Putting his art school degree to use, Mercury designed the logo for Queen, a crest resembling a British coat of arms. In addition to a large Q and a phoenix, the crest features the zodiac signs of the band’s members. Two lions represent the Leo sign for both John Deacon and Roger Taylor, a crab represents Brian May’s Cancer sign and Mercury chose two fairies for his Virgo sign.

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The Band Believed They Lost Popularity In America Due to Mercury’s Sexuality

Queen drummer Roger Taylor has stated that he noticed a drop in interest in Queen among American audiences, which he believed was a backlash against Mercury’s bisexuality. Mercury also sensed a diminished popularity in the U.S., and Brian May told the BBC in 2015 that Mercury used to darkly joke, “I suppose I’ll have to die before we get America back.”

In a way, May pointed out, that was indeed what happened when “Bohemian Rhapsody” became wildly popular again in the U.S. after its inclusion in “Wayne’s World,” shortly after Mercury’s death.

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His Isolated Vocal Tracks Are Phenomenal

Queen’s dramatic, voluminous songs are meant to be heard as whole pieces — complete with rockin’ instrumentation and Mercury’s passionate vocals. However, isolating just Mercury’s vocal tracks from some of the band’s most iconic tunes is also astounding. In fact, it’s guaranteed to blow your mind.

Among others, check out the recording of Mercury’s vocals on “We Are the Champions” and “Somebody to Love.” In writing about Mercury’s vocals on “Somebody to Love,” the AV Club’s Gwen Ihnat wrote in 2015 that if she could travel back in time to hear one artist, it would be Freddie Mercury.

“For me, the answer is always Queen, for the chance to hear Freddie Mercury in person,” Ihnat wrote. “There isn’t even anyone in second place.”

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He Enjoyed Boxing

In addition to music, art and stamp collecting, one of Mercury’s early interests as a youth was boxing. His private school friends from Bombay recounted that Mercury was a “good sportsman” and “very tenacious” in the boxing ring.

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Mike Meyers Fought To Have ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ In ‘Wayne’s World’

The now-iconic scene in the 1992 Mike Meyers comedy “Wayne’s World,” in which the main characters drive around and headbang to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” almost didn’t happen. In a 2014 episode of Marc Maron’s podcast “WTF,” Meyers revealed that the producers wanted to use a Guns N’ Roses song for that scene, but Meyers was fiercely adamant about using “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“I didn’t have any jokes for a Guns N’ Roses song” Meyers explained. “I had lots of jokes for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ It’s just inherently comedic.”

Eventually, the song was used after Meyers threatened to walk away from the film altogether, and Queen’s guitarist Brian May later told Rolling Stone that Mercury loved the scene.

“He just laughed and thought it was great, this little video,” said May. “The funny thing was, we always regarded the song as tongue in cheek ourselves.”

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A Queen-Inspired Musical Opened In London In 2002

In May 2002, the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End debuted the rock musical “We Will Rock You” featuring the music of Queen. Set in a dystopian future in which homogeneity reigns supreme and music is banned, the story follows a group of Bohemians who work to restore individuality and freedom of expression.

Although Queen’s music is a natural fit for a rock musical, critics were deeply derisive of the show, essentially deeming it immature and weak.

“Freddie Mercury’s music demands a lush, grandiose setting,” read the review in The Guardian. “In Christopher Renshaw’s production it is saddled with an expensively trashy video-game aesthetic.”

Audiences, however, enjoyed the show enough to keep ticket sales booming. The show became the longest-running musical at the Dominion Theatre, finally closing in 2014 with a performance that included Queen’s Roger Taylor and Brian May.

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Kurt Cobain Had Great Admiration For Mercury

While Mercury was famously private and kept his personal matters to himself, his exuberant onstage persona was anything but shy. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain expressed envy and admiration for Mercury’s love of performing and the ease with which he seemed to connect with his audiences. In Cobain’s suicide note, he wrote that Mercury “seem[ed] to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd, which is something I totally admire and envy.”

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Sacha Baron Cohen Was Supposed To Play Mercury In The Biopic

Although the role ultimately went to American actor Rami Malek, the original pick for playing Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” was Sacha Baron Cohen. The British actor and comedian certainly looks the part, but he eventually quit the project because he couldn’t agree with the surviving members of the band on the direction of the film. In 2016, Cohen told Howard Stern that he had wanted to provide a starkly honest portrayal of Mercury, in all his wildness and eccentricity, while the band wished to “protect their legacy as a band.”

After Cohen departed the film, Queen drummer Roger Taylor told The NME that he’d actually been let go because the band members didn’t want the movie to be “a joke.” Meanwhile, Brian May has said that Cohen was ultimately too recognizable to play Mercury.

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He And Jane Seymour Got ‘Married’ During A Charity Event

In 1985, Mercury participated in the Fashion Aid charity event, which raised funds for Ethiopian famine relief. In the star-studded fashion show, Mercury strutted his stuff down the catwalk wearing a military jacket designed by David Emanuel, who also created Princess Diana’s wedding gown.

Mercury linked up with actress Jane Seymour in the show, who wore an over-the-top wedding dress and crown wreath, and the two proceeded to “marry,” sealing their union with a kiss. Nothing can be heard over the soaring choral music but the visual spectacle of seeing Mercury and Seymour ham it up as they’re joined in “matrimony” is enough of a delight on its own.

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Vanilla Ice Claims To Own The Rights To ‘Under Pressure’

Alright, stop. In 1990, Vanilla Ice enjoyed massive success with the hit tune “Ice, Ice Baby.” The song relied heavily on sampling the unmistakable bass riff from the Queen/David Bowie duet “Under Pressure.” The problem there: Ice failed to properly credit — or compensate — any of the song’s creators. The band, along with Bowie, threatened to sue Vanilla Ice for copyright infringement.

Collaborate and listen. In a 2017 interview on the “Dan Patrick Show,” the ’90s-rapper-turned-’00s-reality-TV-home-renovator claimed to have solved that problem, saying he purchased the song outright as it was less expensive than a long, drawn-out lawsuit. A spokesperson for the band disputed this in 2017, however, telling Ultimate Classic Rock, “An arrangement was made whereby the publishing in the song was shared.”

Too cold. Too cold.

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The New Biopic Has Been Criticized For ‘Straightwashing’ His Sexuality

Some viewers of the recent biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” have claimed that the movie starkly downplays Mercury’s bisexuality, which was arguably a major element of his persona — both onstage and off. Even Rami Malek, the actor who plays Mercury in the movie, said he understands this criticism, telling USA Today, “There were conversations left and right about how to incorporate more of that story into this film … Freddie Mercury is a gay icon, and he’s an icon for all of us.”

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Queen Was Named Best Live Rock Show For Their Live Aid Show

In a 2005 BBC poll, voters deemed Queen’s Live Aid show in 1985 to be the “World’s Greatest Rock Gig,” followed by Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock appearance in 1969 and the Sex Pistols’ Manchester concert in June of 1976.

According to BBC News, “The judges lauded Queen’s ‘show-stealing performance’ at the Live Aid concert in Wembley Stadium, where singer Freddie Mercury had 75,000 people clapping in unison to ‘Radio Ga-Ga.'”

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His Final Resting Place Is A Secret

Only Mercury’s close friend, Mary Austin, was entrusted with the knowledge of where Mercury’s cremated remains were scattered.

“Nobody will ever know where he is buried because that was his wish,” Austin said, according to Vanity Fair. “He wanted it to remain a secret and it will remain so.”

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Queen Still Tours With Adam Lambert Filling In For Mercury

When “American Idol” runner-up Adam Lambert performed “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the reality talent show, he wowed audiences around the world — including Queen’s own Brian May and Roger Taylor. The musical legends invited Lambert to join them on tour as their lead vocalist in 2012, singing the parts made famous by Freddie Mercury.

Lambert admitted to having some reservations about taking Mercury’s place in the performances.

“When we first got together to perform a whole show, I’m happy to say it went really well,” he told People. “It was a success, and we pulled it off — but man, I was really nervous beforehand … Freddie is irreplaceable. There’s no way to compare to him. It was always my hope that audiences would understand that I’m up there just excited to sing great music that everyone knows.”

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