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They called him Mister Fahrenheit. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Freddie Mercury moments.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the defining moments from the life, times, and career of one Farrokh Bulsara—the signature moments that built the icon that is Freddie Mercury.
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#10: 2012 Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony
It’d been over two decades since Freddie Mercury had left the stage we mortals call life, but his ability to work a crowd hadn’t diminished in the least. The rumour mill prior to the 2012 London Games Closing Ceremony had it that the legend would return to the stage as a Tupac-ian hologram, but viewers were instead given something that looked more akin to a comm-link from the great beyond. Donning his once trademark moustache and Wembley-era yellow jacket, virtual-Freddie worked the crowd into the same state of frenzy as he did back in 86. It was hard act for anyone to follow, but especially for Jessie J who—donning a snappy yellow jacket of her own—joined Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor to fill in for Mercury on “We Will Rock You.”
#9: Leaving (Almost) Everything to Former Girlfriend Mary Austin
The coupling of Mary Austin and Freddie Mercury may’ve only lasted a handful of years, but their friendship remained intact until the end. Although Mercury had proposed to Austin, the relationship came to an end as the singer came to terms with his sexuality. When they split, Freddie bought Mary a lavish apartment near his home and later became godfather to her first son. Ten years after the split they remained close, with Mercury claiming she was not only irreplaceable but that she was his only friend. As the end neared, Freddie told Mary he’d planned to leave her his Georgian mansion, royalties, as well the bulk of his £9,000,000 fortune. Austin would have preferred the £20M home be donated to a trust but Mercury insisted that if life had turned out differently they would’ve married and it would have been hers regardless.
#8: “Barcelona” - His Duet with Montserrat Caballé
It’s hardly surprising to learn that Freddie Mercury had an appreciation for opera—after all, Queen’s fourth album was called “A Night at the Opera.” But what is surprising is just how well he could pull off the genre. Far from just some rocker riding the coattails and name recognition of an opera star, Mercury not only co-wrote “Barcelona,” but also sang Montserrat Caballé’s vocal parts for her when demoing the song. Paired with the soprano, Mercury was able to sing in his natural baritone vocal range - something he rarely did. While the rock icon was amazed by Caballé’s vocal control, the opera singer in turn developed the utmost respect for Mercury’s range and phrasing - which she found “astonishing.” Released as a single in 1987, “Barcelona” hit #8 on the British charts, but re-charted at #2 around the time of the 1992 Olympic Games for which it was written.
#7: Queen’s “Saturday Night Live” Appearance
Sure, by 1982 lots of bands had played SNL, but few of those spots come with the back-story and trivia gold mine of Queen’s season 8 visit. Travelling with his then-beau Bill Reid, Freddie blew his voice out the night before during a heated argument with Reid and spent most of the day trying to get it back. Fixing his voice just as show time approached, the band played “Under Pressure” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”—a song Freddie not only wrote on guitar but played on guitar as well, despite claiming he couldn’t play the instrument “for nuts.” Meanwhile, the set represented not only Queen’s only SNL appearance, but their only performance on American TV as well as their last ever live performance on U.S. soil with Mercury in the lead... and it was almost sabotaged by a shouting match.
#6: “The Great Pretender”
On the surface, “The Great Pretender” is just some old song from the 50s, but as old songs from the 50s go, few suited him better. Although arguably the most dynamic frontman of his time, off-stage Freddie Mercury was a shy and reserved individual and saw the Platter’s cover as a fitting anthem. For the video, Mercury shaved his moustache—his signature look for most of the decade—revisited classic wardrobe choices and even re-enacted old Queen videos to make a statement about image. “The Great Pretender” suited Mercuryso well it became the title for the American version of his posthumous album as well as a documentary about his life. Released right around the time he was diagnosed with HIV, the song’s title would only become weightier as he denied AIDS rumors and deflected queries about his health until the week he died.
#5: Piggybacking Darth Vader
Despite proclaiming the opposite, Freddie really did like Star Wars—in fact, he liked Star Wars almost as much as he didn’t like riding bicycles. To this end, at a show in Houston, Texas, on August 10th, 1980, Mr Fahrenheit returned to the stage for an encore on the shoulders of the Sith lord himself. Sure, it was security guy Wally Verson rather than David Prowse in the Vader suit, but it’s still a hell of an entrance! Mercury actually did this a few times during the 1980 tour—until George Lucas allegedly took issue, that is. At a show in late 1979 Freddie made his way back to the stage by hitching a ride on Superman, but it’s the Houston Darth Vader encore that’s gone down in infamy thanks to photographer Tom Callins who captured the bizarre image.
#4: “Under Pressure” - Queen & David Bowie
Proving to be one of Queen’s biggest hits, “Under Pressure” was not only the band’s second UK #1 but also David Bowie’s third. Although the track grew out of a jam session and was partly rooted in an unreleased song from Roger Taylor, the former Ziggy Stardust completely drove the session and shook up the band’s usual MO. Bowie’s... intensity... may have put off some of the members of Queen, but his supremely confident vocals motivated Mercury to take things to a whole other level. Making full use of his upper register, Freddie delivered a performance that was as complementary as it was competitive with Bowie and proved that no matter how big the star, no one outshone Freddie Mercury.
#3: 1990 Brit Awards
By the time it had come for Queen to collect the Brit for Outstanding Contribution to Music, Freddie Mercury had been fending off and denying AIDS rumors for years. However, Queen’s lack of touring, and the occasional glimpse of Freddie’s deteriorating personal appearance did little to dissuade the rumor mill and tabloid press. Taking the stage for the first time since 1986, it was Brian May—rather than the always magnetic Mercury—who fronted the band. Dressed as suavely as ever, Freddie looked both stoic and yet terribly frail—a shell of the man who once worked crowds of thousands into a frenzy on charisma alone. While May spoke at length with charm and humor, Mercury offered only a simple “thank you, good night” in what would prove to be his final public appearance.
#2: His Much-Delayed AIDS Reveal
Although confirmed HIV positive in 1987, Freddie Mercury did everything he could to keep his diagnosis secret. While fans and media were forced to speculate, only friend Mary Austin, partner Jim Hutton, the members of Queen and few others knew the truth. Even close family was kept out of the loop, with his sister Kashmira not knowing the reality of her brother’s health until August of 1990. Mercury kept working and recording with Queen until June of 1991, but by November he saw the end was near and had stopped taking his medications. On November 23rd, the singer broke the silence by issuing a press release stating that not only had he contracted HIV but was now battling AIDS. Freddie Mercury would die of AIDS related complications the following day.
#1: Live Aid
Ironically, Freddie Mercury originally didn’t want to take part in Live Aid, for fear of making a political statement. But, once onboard he saw the show as way for Queen to upstage and out perform all the competition in one go. Banking on the band’s experience with stadium shows, Mercury led Queen through a week’s worth of rehearsals—distilling six of the band’s biggest hits into a now legendary 20-minute set. Freddie also selected an unassuming 6PM timeslot—knowing that it was not only British primetime but also early enough that American audiences wouldn’t yet be jaded by a day’s worth of huge bands. Meanwhile, the band’s engineer saw to it that Queen was the loudest band to take stage, which—coupled with Freddie’s unrivalled stage presence—made for what is now considered to be one of the finest rock and roll performances of all time.
Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite Freddie Mercury moment? For more stone cold crazy Top 10s that you can’t stop now, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.