< Return to Famous Zoroastrians
The Religious Affiliation of
outrageous rock star
lead singer for Queen
From: Rick Sky, The Show Must Go On: The Life of Freddie Mercury, Citadel Press/Carol Publishing Group: New York City, NY (1994), pages 8-9:
Just like Mercury himself, the occasion [of his funeral], which the singer had spent weeks planning in meticulous detail, was a bewildering mixture of flamboyance and secrecy, witnessing the collision of two very different worlds--the modern world of rock music and the ancient world of the Zoroastrian religion, in which Mercury had been brought up.
Sky, pages 12-16:
Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest and most exclusive religions. Founded by the prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) in 600 B.C., it has only 120,000 members worldwide and just 6,000 in Britain. Its followers see life as a battle between two spirits, Spenta Mainyu, the "Bounteous Spirit," and Angra Mainyu, the "Destructive Spirit." Whichever one a Zoroastrian lives his life by determines where he or she goes to after death. The final resting place is the Zoroastrian equivalent to the Christian heaven or hell.
As Mercury's oak coffin was carried into the chapel, covererd in a satin sheet and topped with a single red rose, Zoroastrian priests, dressed in white muslin robes and caps, chanted traditional prayers to their god Ahura Mazda, also known as the Wise Lord, for the salvation of the singer's soul. Throughout the twenty-five minute service, conducted totally in the ancient Avestan langauge, the priests used no word of English other than commands to the forty mourners to stand and sit.
Mercury had insisted on his funeral being a private, low-key affair, and the magical ancient ceremony was attended only by extremely close friends and family, as he had wished. The singer's parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, wept throughout as did Mary Austin and Elton John. Among the other tearful mourners were sixties drummer turned impresario Dave Clark, the three remaining members of Queen, and Brian May's girlfriend, former EastEnders' soap star Anita Dobson.
Just after nine on that cold wintry morning, a gleaming black Rolls-Royce carrying the coffin in which Mercury's body lay drove slowly into the grounds of the West London crematorium in Kensal Rise.
For the first fourteen years of his life Farokh Bulsara had some of the world's most exotic places for a playground... Mercury's earliest years were spent on two remote idyllic islands, Zanzibar and Pemba, which lie in the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of Africa...
From: article in The Independent, 28 November 1991, on "The Parsi Faith" webpage on "Andy's Queen Page" website (http://www.pemcom.demon.co.uk/queen/parsi.html; viewed 21 September 2005):
[page 13] When he was five years old, Freddie was taken to another exotic place, the teeming Indian city of Bombay...
Mercury's parents were both Parsees and devout followers of the Zoroastrian religion, and it was in Bombay that the largest Parsee community in the world was to be found. In the tenth century, after the Islamic invasion of Persia, the Parsees fled to India, where they were free to practice their religion. India had a reputation as one of the most tolerant countries in the world when it came to religion, and in Bombay, with its polyglot population, many of the world's religious groups--Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Zoroastrians--lived side by side.
The Parsees were one of the most economically successful communities in Bombay. In their early days they had adopted the language and dress of India's largest religious group, the Hindus, but they later exchanged them for the customs and way of life of India's former colonial masters, the British. So the young Freddie was to receive a typical British public school education, even if it was achieved thousands of miles away from Eton and Harrow.
India, at the time the young Mercury arrived, had a population of 400 million, and Bombay was its largest city--and the world's seventh biggest. A harbor port lying on India's western seaboard overlooking the Arabian Sea, it was the country's financial and commercial center. Bombay was a fantastic place for Freddie to grow up in. He loved playing in its winding, narrow streets and visiting the beautiful Hanging Gardens in the affluent Malabar Hill area close by the Parsee hospital. He loved going to the bazaar to watch the snake charmers weave their magical, hypnotic tunes, or to gape wide-eyed at the fakirs, Indian holy men, lying on their beds of nails. In those crammed markets he would watch the traders sell the city's most exotic wares as he feasted on mangoes, coconuts, and litchis. In the afternoon he would go to the harbor and look out on a sea of ships laden with tea, cotton, and rice, ready to set off on voyages to distant parts.
Mercury enjoyed his boarding school, too. He excelled in sports, particularly cricket, boxing, and table tennis. The fast, furious pace of table tennis--involving a mixture of dexterity and speed--was something he was especially skilled in and he became one of the school champions at the sport. It was at school in
Bombay that Mercury also began the piano lessons that were to be crucial to those florid, bombastic compositions for which Queen became known. The city was a bizarre musical melting pot, where the eleven-year-old was simultaneously exposed to the classics and operas that his cultured parents loved, the meandering rhythms and romance of Indian music, and a pinch of that relatively new phenomenon, rock and roll, which was slowly beginning to invade the world.
Religion, too, played an important role in Mercury's life, and he went with other Zoroastrian youngsters to the fire temples where the Parsees worship. The sacred fires are a crucial part of their religion, and prayers are said in front of them as an affirmation of a believer's faith. They are kept permanently burning--in some parts of Iran there are fires that are two thousand years old--and are tended five times a day by the priests of the temple.
At the age of eight Freddie became a full member of the Zoroastrian religion in the majestic Mayjote ceremony, during which the young initiate was given a purifying bath while the head priest chanted prayers. (The bath symbolizes physical cleanliness, which devotees regard as essential for the cleansing of the mind and soul.) Then/ in front of one of the eternal fires, he repeated the prayers of the priests, accepting the Zoroastrian religion as revealed by Ahura Mazda to Zoroaster, and was given his sudreh, a shirt made out of white muslin, symbol of innocence and purity. Around his waist the priest then tied the kusti, a cord made out of the finest and purest white lamb's wool and symbolizing the girding of the loins to serve humanity. The kusti was wrapped around him three times to remind the young boy of the three aspects of Ahura Mazda as creator, preserver, and reconstructor, and the initiate was expected to wear it for the rest of his life. Finally Mercury was showered with rice, rose petals, coconut, and pomegranate and dressed in his new clothes. Rusi Dalal, a friend of Mercury's family says of the Navjote ceremony: "It is one of the most important events in the religion and everyone from the Parsee community is invited. It is a very festive and enjoyable event."
Later Freddie was to talk affectionately about his years at boarding school. Many pop stars recall their schooldays as a horrific period that they could not wait to finish, but not so Mercury: "My time at boarding school was very enjoyable..."
He [leader of Zoroastrians in UK] was not aware that Mercury had ever been to Zoroastrian House [HQ in UK], but he was hopeful of the singer's chances in the afterlife. "From what I gather, he had the Zoroastrian traits of generosity and kindness", he said.
From: "Parsis: The Jews of India" in New Society, 22 January 1988, on "The Parsi Faith" webpage on "Andy's Queen Page" website (http://www.pemcom.demon.co.uk/queen/parsi.html; viewed 21 September 2005):
Parsis have been coming to Britain for over 200 years - longer than any other Asians. Yet how many people could say with any certainty what a Parsi was? Parsis in Britain have never drawn attention to themselves, or had much attention drawn to them. Among Parsis well-known here today are Freddie Mercury of Queen, Farrukh Dhondy (the Channel 4 editor and scriptwriter) and Zerbanoo Gifford (Liberal candidate for Harrow East at last election). None of them, however, is known as a Parsi, although Gifford at least is proud to be one. The oldest established Asian people in Britain remain a hidden minority...
Sky, page 43:
With the arrival of the British, however, Parsi fortunes underwent a quantum leap. Manifesting a business acumen which got them dubbed the "Jews of India", the Parsis came to dominate the commercial life of Victorian Bombay, the city in which they are still mostly concentrated [and where Freddie went to school]...
The Parsi journalist Delshad Karanjia believes that, using their still-ample resources, Parsis must act now to rebuild the community. But the action taken by young Parsis has been to emigrate. In Britain there are about 5000 Parsis, mainly based in London. The residue of the a once-dynamic Indian bourgeoisie, many of them are affluent professionals - although it is important to appreciate that British Parsis have been subsumed into a slightly larger community which includes Zoroastrian immigrants from East Africa [e.g. Zanzibar where Freddie was born, and Dar-es-Salaam where he used to spend his childhood with his uncle] and Zoroastrian refugees from Khomeini's Iran.
[Freddie Mercury], dressed in white singlet with a plastic beaker of champagne in one hand and a king-sized filter-tipped cigarette in the other, was in a relaxed and happy mood as he told me how he believed in living life to the very hilt. Leaning forward conspiratorially, his big brown eyes flickering with glee, he told me, "Excess is part of my nature. To me dullness is a disease. I really need danger and excitement. I was not made for staying indoors and watching television. I am definitely a sexual person. I like to [have sexual intercourse] all the time. I used to say that I would go with anyone, but these days I have become much more choosy.
Sky, page 44:
"I love to surround myself with strange and interesting people because they make me feel more alive. Extremely straight people bore me stiff. I love freaky people around me.
"By nature I'm restless and highly strung, so I wouldn't make a good family man. Deep down inside I am a very emotional person, a person of real extremes, and often that's destructive to myself and others."
[Speaking about a time when he was involved in a violent fight at the New York club Gilded Grape, Mercury said:] "Life is for living. Believe me, I would be doing those things and having that philosophy even if I wasn't successful."
Sky, pages 64-65:
Mercury was stopped in full flow when I asked him if there was anything the man who had everything still wanted. In a moment of pure drama Mercury, ever the performer, looked up at me with eyes that now looked soft and soulful, paused for what seemed like an eternity, and said, "Happiness. I don't think I've got that."
Despite Mercury's homosexual promiscuity--which Munich was the perfect place to indulge--a number of his friends believe that he found his gay life ultimately dissatisfying. Mack [music producer Reinhold Mack] himself believed that the singer planned eventually to give it up and even get married and start a family. It was not an impossible dream--after all, Mercury had lived with Mary Austin for seven years and at one point the two were contemplating marriage. Mack believes that Mercury would have loved a family of his own--a desire that had its roots in his childhood, when he was often away from his parents for long stretches at a time. Speaking to me from his Munich flat, Mack said, "Freddie told me a number of times, 'Perhas I'll give up the whole gay thing one of these days.' I don't think that was strange at all. He more or less decided when he was twenty-four or twenty-five that he was gay, and before that he was considered as straight. With him nothing was impossible. I do think he could have given up being gay, because he loved women. I saw what he was like in their presence and he wasn't the kind of gay man who didn't like them in his life. He was the opposite."
Sky, page 67:
Queen's former record producer [Mack] realized how much Mercury thought about having a family whenever Mercury made one of his frequent visits to see him and his wife and children at their Munich home: "Freddie's biggest thing was to have a family and a normal life. I had a problem about five years ago when I got badly screwed by an accountant and had to pay lots of back taxes. I was discussing my problem with Freddie one day and said I couldn't deal with it all. He told me: '[Expletive], it's only money! Why worry about something like that? You've got it made, you've got everything you need--a wonderful family and children. You have everything I can never have.' That's when I became aware that when he was at our house he was watching everything and taking it all in and seeing what a family life was like and how it could have made him happy. My own family is a very close one.
"I believe Freddie would have liked a family very, very much. He was very sentimental in many ways. His close relationship with mary carried on until the end, maybe because he felt guilty at never marrying her, and everybody who was close to him was treated as part of a family to some extent."
Of Freddie's gayness, Mack [music producer Reinhold Mack] says, "Freddie wasn't one to broadcast his sex life. He was quite a private person, but at the same time he was open about it here... "Unlike some gays, Freddie didn't put the whole gay thing right into your face. When there were other people around, he was very careful about their feellings. I really respected him for that. For instance, when he was in restaurants with a lot of other people who weren't gay, he was never outrageous. He was always very conscious about not offending anyone."
Sky, page 89:
Apart from music Freddie Mercury was torn between two passions--sex and spending money... In a few minutes of ecstatic shopping Mercury was capable of spending more money than most people earn in a lifetime. When I asked him once how he coped with his wealth and whether he ever felt guilty at the millions he made, Mercury was bemused by the question. Throwing his hands dramatically in the air, he declared, "I've always coped extremely well with wealth. I don't believe in hoarding my money awway in a bank. I love to spend, spend, spend. After all, that's what money is there for. I'm not like some of these stars who are obsessed with counting their pennies."
Sky, page 93:
In one of his more dramatic moments Mercury confessed, "I have everything that money can buy except happiness." But like many of the things he said, it was a white lie that sounded much better than the truth. In those halcyon days of never-ending shopping and sex, Mercury was thrilled by every new acquisition. A more accurate comment was his confession "I'm fortunate enough to be rich. Sometimes I believe the only bit of happiness I can create is with my money."
Sky, pages 102-103:
"I'll go to bed with anything," [Freddy Mercury] once admitted. "And my bed is so huge it can comfortably sleep six. I prefer my sex without any involvement. There are times when I just lived for sex." And during one interview he told me, "I am a very sexual person. I [have sexual intercourse] all the time, though I am much more choosy now than I used to be."
Sky, pages 104-105:
According to his friends, Mercury went to bed with hundreds of men. Many who knew him said he had a great fear of spending time along--especially at night...
Mercury often said that his promiscuity was an attempt to cure the loneliness he felt, or to heal over the scars left by a number of his relationships. While there may have been a grain of truth to this, he felt he had to defend what to many might seem unpalatable--his liking for straightforward sex without any kind of emotional involvement. Mercury enjoyed sex for sex's sake and there was no real need for him to explain it away. But he also liked the comford and security that a steady relationship brings and tried to juggle these conflicting needs. "I want to have my cake and eat it, too," he admitted. "I want my security but I also want my freedom."
...In one particularly vulnerable interview, when I asked him if there was anything that the man who seemed to have everything still wanted, he admitted, "Happiness. I haven't got that. Yes, I have thousands of friends, but you can seem to have everything, and yet have nothing. Maybe one day I'll catch up with myself and that will be my downfall."
After he finished his relationship with his only longtime girlfriend, Mary Austin, Mercury explored his homosexuality to the fullest, often having a different male lover every night. The Queen front man told his closest friends that he first had a homosexual relationship at boarding school in India at the age of fourteen. But if Mercury was promiscuous during his wilder days, he always liked to have a regular boyfriend to share whatever part of the world he had chosen as his base, and the conflict between his promiscuity and his need for a steady relationship propelled him into some furious rows with his lovers.
But in all the interviews he did, [Freddie] Mercury never really admitted to his gayness. He referred vaguely to having tried relationships with "both men and women," but that was as far as his revelations went. Usually he would say something like, "If people want to know whether I'm gay, I never tell them. Instead I say they should try to find out for themselves. People can think what they like about my bisexual image. And that's what I want them to do. I want to keep my mystique around me."
Sky, page 163:
Most of the band's fans never realized the extent of Mercury's homosexuality or refused to believe the rumors. To many of his female fans he was an ideal potential husband. One declared, "He is my Mr. Perfect. He isn't seen in public with girls because he has one special lady in his life whom he lives with and whom he wants to protect from the glare of the spotlight. But if he were to ever give her up, I'd be only too happy to step into her shoes..."
Just why Mercury never admitted he was gay to the world at lare and repeatedly trivialized, joked, or skirted round the issue is a secret the singer took withi him to his grave. Some friends believe he didn't want to upset his strictly religious [Zoroastrian] parents, others feel that as an intensely private man he never really gave out many details about himself--this is borne out by the few interviews he did and the way he hardly ever discussed his background. Others feel that, as an astute businessman, he felt parading and pontificating about his gayness would lose him many fans. In America this was borne out when people started throwing razor blades at the singer in concerts when he changed his image, affected butch clothes, and grew a mustache, which many fans rightly interpreted as a gay signal.
Even in his death Mercury was still the perfect showman. A month before the end [i.e., one month before Mercury died] Queen released one of their most poignant and moving songs, "The Show Must Go On," with its haunting lyrics that, though questioning the meaning of life, ultimately gave a message of hope and survival. Two weeks after the release of the single came the band's Greatest Hits II album, containing some of their most electrifying songs. Even in the midst of tragedy, everything seemed to be perfectly stage-managed--a fitting finale for a great showman who always knew how to make an entrance and an exit. Yet though his closest friends praised Mercury's bravery in fighting the disease, others in the pop world accused him of cowardice and of betraying the gay cause. They believed that Mercury should have admitted he had the AIDS virus a long time ago, and that the act of announcing it just twenty-four hours before he died was not courageous or heroic at all. Many felt that by not admitting to having AIDS earlier he made gayness and the disease still something to be ashamed of, still a stigma. They also pointed out how much money he could have raised by speaking thruthfully and honestly about his situation and his fight against AIDS.
Sky, page 170:
The [memorial] concert [commemorating the life of Freddie Mercury] was crammed full of other memories--some moments that worked brilliantly, some that didn't quite come off. There was dreadlocked singer Seal, Italian star Zucherro, Mick Ronson (now also sadly dead) [Mormon musician Ronson was best known as the guitarist for David Bowie], and Ian Hunter (who did a version of "All the Young Dudes" with David Bowie), as well as satellite links with Irish superstars U2 and South African band Mango Groove from Johannesburg.
Sky, pages 171-172:
Shortly before the [memorial] concert [commemorating the life of Freddie Mercury, held after he died], Mary Austin had revealed how the singer had decided to finally let go of life because he was in so much pain. Mary admitted, "It was Freddie's decision to finally end it all--he chose the time to die. One day he suddenly, quietly said that he had decided that he had to leave this life. The quality of his life had changed so much that he was in more and more pain every day. He decided enough was enough and stopped all the medicine that was keeping him going. He just turned it off."
Sky, pages 174-175:
Mary--who first met Freddie when she was nineteen years old and she was working in public relations for the trendy London boutique Biba--added that even in death Freddie wsa so courageous. She said that he acceptd death bravely and died peacefully with a smile on his face.
Friends of Mary's say that for six years the couple had a totally normal physical [sexual] relationship... Said a friend, "One day Freddie told her right out of the blue that he was bisexual and that their relationship would have to change. But though they no longer shared the same bed, they never stopped loving each other."
[Brian] May, who has been the Queen member to most actively pursue a solo career... did [an] interview ten months after Freddie's death, said that even thoug a lot of time had elapsed, it was still hard for the rest of the group to belive he was no longer with them. Said May, "There's a part of us that doesn't Fred's not there yet. It takes a long time to reall adjust and redraw your map. I still expect him to come through the door, especially when I am in the studio. There is still that feeling.
Sky, pages 183-185:
"I'm not a heavily spiritual person, but when I'm in the studio, I can hear Fred saying, 'No, c'mon, you can do better than that,' and that lifts me and makes me work better."
When Freddie Mercury's will was published in May 1992, the swirl of controversy that had surrounded the singer throughout his life continued. Freddie was expected to elave around $42 million in this thirteen-page will after almost two decades of pop success. But in the end, just over $12 million was left, and people wondered what exactly had happened to the fortune he had earned.
By far the biggest shock was the omission in the will of any bequests to AIDS charities, which had been expected to benefit heavily. A number of people publicly criticized what they saw as a severe omission after so many friends of Freddie's had publicly said how much he wanted to help research to find a cure for AIDS as well as help those who were suffering because of the disease.
One of the most stinging attacks came from Simon Watney, a columnist for Britain's top gay magazine, Gay Times, who said, "Mercury was basically a gay, working-class guy turned disco bunny who became a rock star and made a lot of money. He never had any sense of gay identity or insight into the gay cause. I shouldn't think anyone will be surprised that he left nothing to AIDS charities."
However, those who attacked the omission of AIDS charities in the will were forgetting Freddie's generosity to charities during his life, the truests that he had set up to financially further their cause, and the work done by those around him after his death. The tribute concert held the previous month raised a modest amount for AIDS, while the AIDS charity the Terrence Higgins Trust had previously received $1.5 million in royalties from the "Bohemian Rhapsody" single that was released shortly after the singer died...
Mercury was extremely generous with his bequests to the friends who had been loyal to him throughout his life. It was [long-time girlfriend, lover and later friend] Mary Austin who got the bulk of the singer's fortune, including the $6-million mansion in Kensington, West London, all his personal possessions, and what was believed to be half of the cash. Among other friends who benefited from Mercury's generosity were [GLBT] lover Jim Hutton, his chef Joe Fannelli, and his assistant Peter Freestone, who each got $750,000...
After the will was published, a friend of Mercury's said, "I suppose a lot of outsiders might feel amazed that he made no direct provision for charities in his will, but that was not Freddie's way. He did an awful lot of things in secret for charities. He was a very generous guy; he just didn't like to show off about his charity work. Various AIDS charities had benefited very well and generously from the gifts that he made."
Mary Austin revealed that the singer had given away millions before he died to help a number of AIDS charities. She admitted, "It was something he kept quiet about. Freddie was always very committed to the AIDS cause and to the people who suffered from the disease the way he did, and he always honored his commitment."
Webpage created 21 September 2005. Last modified 21 September 2005.
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