On This Gay Day: Freddie Mercury, Lou Reed and the AIDS quilt project

Freddie Mercury passed away in 1991, just a day after announcing he was living with HIV

Queen singer Freddie Mercury passed away on this day in 1991. The music superstar died almost three decades ago but has been a constant fixture in popular culture since his passing.

Mercry achieved international fame in the 1970’s and 1980’s as the lead singer of British rock band Queen, his flamboyant style and impressive vocal abilities made him stand out from other musicians of the time. Throughout their career Queen combined a variety of musical influences into their pop-rock sound and they topped the charts around the globe.

Don’t Stop Me Now, Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions, We Will Rock You, Who Wants to Live Forever, It’s a Kind of Magic, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Radio Gaga and I Want to Break Free are just a handful of the many hits the band enjoyed. Mercury also released a solo album Mr Bad Guy and collaborated with opera star Montserrat Caballé on an album that combined opera and pop sounds.

Mercury was bisexual, and while he did make multiple comments about his sexuality during his life, he did not publicly align himself with LGBTI causes. The day before his death he released a statement  confirming that he had been tested for HIV and received a positive diagnosis. Mercury requested the media respect his privacy.

There has been speculation that Mercury was ill for some time, which increased after he appeared looking gaunt in promotional videos for Queen’s most recently releases.

Less than 24 hours later the news broke, he had passed away.

Since his passing a posthumous Queen album has been released, and his life was depicted in the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. There’s been countless documentaries and books about his life and legacy.

Mercury’s passing is seen as a significant point in increasing public awareness about HIV as he was one of the most famous people to be lost to the disease. Following his death the remaining three members of Queen founded the Mercury Phoenix Trust which has raised millions of dollars for HIV research and support services.

In April 1992 a star studded fundraising concert was held at Wembley Stadium. In front of a crowd of 72,000 people Liza Minnelli, Def Leppard, David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Lisa Stansfield, Extreme, Seal, Guns and Roses, Elton John, Paul Young, Metallica and others joined the remaining members of Queen to perform their hits. The band’s collaboration with George Michael on Someone to Love became a chart topping hit.

Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side was released in 1972 

Lou Reed’s song Walk on the Wild Side was  released on this day in 1972. It’s one of the first pop songs to make reference to someone being transgender.

The song shares the stories of several characters, based on real people, and touches on gender identity, male sex workers, oral sex, and drug use. Name checked in the tune are many of the luminaries from Andy Warhol’s New York studio The Factory, including Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis and Joe Campbell.

The Names Project is formed and leads to the AIDS Memorial Quilt

In 1985 at an AIDS Candlelight vigil in San Francisco activist Cleave Jones conceives the Names Project. It resulted in the creation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt which has become one of the largest community art projects of all time.   The final quilt as of 2020 if assembled weighs an estimated 54 tones.

Learn more about the AIDS Memorial Quilt here.

OIP Staff, this post was first published in 2021 and has been updated. 

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