"In death, he reminded me of what made him so special in life,” wrote John, of his beloved pal, Mercury.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on September 17, 2021. It has since been updated.
Freddie Mercury's death came as a shock to many. The rockstar, who had the power to mesmerize crowds with his talent. He played an integral part in getting their band, Queen, to great heights, but in 1991, he died an untimely death, due to complications from AIDS.
Though it's been three decades since the music industry lost an absolute star, the world has nothing but great things to say and remember him by, and that list includes Elton John. In his book, Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS, released in 2013, John documented a heartbreaking detail from Mercury's final days.
He wrote about his friend's selflessness, even though he was very ill himself. It was something he hid from the world, and despite knowing that he wasn't going to be alive much longer, he tried to keep those around him happy.
“Freddie didn’t announce publicly that he had AIDS until the day before he died in 1991. Although he was flamboyant on-stage – an electric frontman on par with Bowie and Jagger – he was an intensively private man offstage. But Freddie told me he had AIDS soon after he was diagnosed in 1987. I was devastated. I’d seen what the disease had done to so many of my other friends. I knew exactly what it was going to do to Freddie. As did he."
Even though he knew he did not have a lot of time left, he didn't stop performing with the band, and remained his usual self. "he kept being the funny, outrageous and profoundly generous person he had always been."
When his health deteriorated, it got too much for John to bear. He just couldn't stand to watch his beloved pal in pain. "It broke my heart to see this absolute light unto the world ravaged by AIDS. By the end, his body was covered with Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions. He was almost blind. He was too weak to even stand."
"By all rights, Freddie should have spent those final days concerned only with his own comfort. But that wasn’t who he was. He truly lived for others."
You see, even though Mercury was in pain, he made sure to get John a Christmas gift! "Freddie had passed on November 24, 1991, and weeks after the funeral, I was still grieving. On Christmas Day, I learned that Freddie had left me one final testament to his selflessness. I was moping about when a friend showed up at my door and handed me something wrapped in a pillowcase. I opened it up, and inside was a painting by one of my favorite artists, the British painter Henry Scott Tuke. And there was a note on the front from Freddie."
"Freddie’s note read, “Dear Sharon, I thought you’d like this. Love, Melina. Happy Christmas.” John explained that the two had come up with drag queen names for each other, which was what Mercury wrote in his final letter to John.
The Sacrifice singer couldn't hold in his tears and broke down. "Here was this beautiful man, dying from AIDS, and in his final days he had somehow managed to find me a lovely Christmas present. As sad as that moment was, it’s often the one I think about when I remember Freddie because it captures the character of the man. In death, he reminded me of what made him so special in life.”
Later, during a 2019 interview for his book An Evening With Elton John, he spoke about how “terrifying” it was to see Freddie in his later years after illness took hold, per Smooth Radio. "I didn’t go and see him often because I found it really, really painful. AIDs was terrifying. He was physically terrifying to look at."
But even then, he had a raging spirit, one that wasn't afraid to die. From his deathbed, he kept collecting Japanese art at auctions. “It was astonishing. I thought, ‘This is amazing. This man has such a love of life. He’s not thinking about dying whatsoever. He’s still thinking about art’. He showed no fear to me about dying. No fear or sadness."
Freddie Mercury was "so so full of love and life," and it really is hard to come by someone like that. Mercury might be gone, but he is far from forgotten!
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photos By (L) Keystone (R) Kevin Winter