Freddie Mercury died of AIDS on November 24, 1991. With Innuendo, the Queen frontman ensured a farewell in style.

Freddie Mercury died of AIDS on November 24, 1991. With Innuendo, the Queen frontman ensured a farewell in style.

“I don’t want people to buy my music out of pity,” Freddie Mercury once told the other members of Queen. The legendary singer is diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, but decides to keep that news hidden from the general public for as long as possible.

However, the rumors about Mercury’s health become more and more persistent, especially when Queen does not announce any new performances after their last show in August 1986. That does not happen after the release of the album The Miracle in 1989. In an interview at the time of the release, the singer stated that he wanted to break with the regular routine of releasing a record, followed by a tour, followed by another plate.

BRIT Awards

Although Mercury would no longer perform with Queen, he appears in public one last time. In 1990 Queen received a BRIT Award for their ‘Outstanding contribution to British music’. An emaciated Mercury, dressed in a plain gray suit, stands on stage with the other members of the band as Brian May speaks. The singer only utters three words at the end of the ceremony: “Thank you… goodnight.”

And while that may be the last time fans will see Mercury on stage, behind the scenes he’s working on a grand musical farewell. A record where the approaching end of his life seeps into a number of songs, but also a record on which the singer would prove one more time to be one of the greatest frontmen of all time.


“The sicker he got, the more he felt the need to record songs,” says Roger Taylor in a documentary about Innuendo, the last Queen album to be released in Freddie Mercury’s lifetime. “To give himself something to do, a reason to get up. When he was able, he came to the studio. So it was actually a period where we worked quite intensely.”

Brian May also remembers how driven Mercury is during those last months, he says in the documentary. “Freddie said, ‘I want to keep working, business as usual, until I drop. That is what I want. And I want your support, and we’re not going to argue about this.’”

It leads to a return to a classic, guitar-driven Queen sound on Innuendo. For example, the title track is an epic that, in the style of Bohemian Rhapsody, consists of numerous parts. The track meanders between hard rock, flamenco guitars and the unforgettable bridge on which Mercury sings “You can be anything you want to be”. Those who don’t know any better would think that the singer is blazing with health and recording his impressive outbursts.

Solid rock

That opening track is exemplary for the sound that dominates a large part of Innuendo. Where Queen lets a lot of disco influences sound in the music in the 80s, this album evokes memories of the band’s early period, in which the group makes heavier rock music.

An incredibly powerful Mercury can also be heard on Headlong (originally written by May for a solo album). And I Can’t Live With You is also an uptempo, rocking track that could have been on an early Queen record.

Emotional moments

Still, Innuendo doesn’t sound like business as usual for Queen everywhere. Mercury’s approaching farewell can be heard on a number of emotional tracks, such as the Roger Taylor-written These Are The Days Of Our Lives. The lyrics are both about the memories of the drummer’s time when he met Mercury in the late 1960s and about appreciating the here and now.

“I was at home, I knew Freddie was sick, and I think this song came out of that melancholy mood,” Taylor says in 2011 of These Are The Days Of Our Lives. “I think I wanted to put an optimistic spin on the situation – that’s what happened then, but this is the time of our lives. Today is more important than yesterday.”

The song will be released as a single and feature the final music video featuring Mercury. Shot in black and white, the video ends with the singer whispering “I still love you”.

The Show Must Go On

But if there’s one moment on Innuendo that typifies Freddie Mercury, it’s the closing track: The Show Must Go On. The song describes an artist who, despite all the setbacks in life, takes the stage again and again and puts on a show.

“I always felt like it was an important song,” Brian May said on The Show Must Go On in 1994. “Because it was about something we couldn’t talk about. But in the world of music it was possible.”

The song speaks of hope, despite the hopeless situation Mercury is in during the recordings. May wonders during the recording whether the vocal line is feasible for the singer: “I said: ‘Fred, I don’t know if I can sing this.’ And he said: ‘I’ll fucking do it, darling’, knocked back some vodka, went into the studio and sang it brilliantly.”

Creative upswing

Innuendo is finally released on February 4, 1991. The recording of the album provides a creative impulse for Mercury, who sees it as his mission to leave as many songs as possible before his death. He continues to return to the studio, working on songs like You Don’t Fool Me and A Winter’s Tale. The last vocal part he records is for Mother Love. These songs eventually end up on the posthumous album Made in Heaven.

“Freddie said at that point, ‘Write me songs, I know I don’t have long,’” May recalls of that time. “Write me lyrics, keep giving me things, then I keep singing. And then you can decide what to do with it later.”

Write songs for me, I know I don’t have long.
Freddie Mercury, around his last recording sessions
Despite the fact that the band members know that they are working on the final sessions with Mercury, May looks back on those last days in the studio with positive feelings. “Strangely enough, we got so close as a band that those sessions were full of joy,” says May. “There was a dark cloud hanging over it, but that cloud was outside the studio, not inside. I have very fond memories of that time.”

The last days

In November 1991, Mercury decides enough is enough. When the singer can no longer walk properly and begins to lose his sight, he chooses to stop taking his medication. On November 23, Mercury confirms to the world for the first time, through a press release, that he is suffering from AIDS.

“Due to the massive press speculation over the last two weeks, I want to confirm: I am HIV positive and have AIDS,” Mercury writes. “I felt it was right to keep this information private until now to protect the privacy of those close to me. However, now is the time for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth. I hope everyone joins me and my doctors in fighting this terrible disease.”

A day later, on November 24, 1991, Freddie Mercury dies at the age of 45. He not only dies as the frontman of one of the greatest bands of all time, but also as someone who broke through all possible barriers, and whose presence is still strongly felt and missed more than thirty years later.

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