Freddie Mercury: How the government and society failed one of the greatest singers of all time
The widespread prejudice against gay men, especially gay men with Aids, caused even one of the most revered icons in rock to hide his condition which eventually caused his death
Iconic rock singer Freddie Mercury was a British singer-songwriter and the lead singer of the band Queen. He has been regarded as one of the greatest lead singers in the history of rock with his impressive four-octave vocal range and his flamboyant personality on stage. Mercury, who was born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi parents from India, formed the band in 1970 with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. The icon wrote a number of smash hits for the band including his most well-known one: Bohemian Rhapsody.
His biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody', that came out recently and won actor Rami Malek a Best Actor Oscar for playing Mercury, proved to be a huge success but failed in one aspect. The film did not go into any details regarding Mercury's struggles with AIDS or the homophobia he faced from society and lack of government initiative at the time.
When we talk about what could have been able to save the singer, one has to go back to the early 1980s, when the HIV pandemic first hit the more developed centers of the world such as the US and UK.
Doctors at the time started noticing a pattern, and observed that the virus was spreading more in groups of people who were already stigmatized by society.
This included gay men having sex with other gay men, drug users who shared needles, and the minorities such as the Haitians and Haitian-Americans. Due to the prevailing prejudices against these groups nothing much was done to address the situation.
HIV wasn't considered a disease that heterosexual people got and the doctors at the time had initially named the virus "GRID", which was an acronym for "gay-related immunodeficiency". We now know hat the risk of contracting any sexually transmitted disease is higher if you have more partners but there is nothing in the research that says gay sex in particular causes the disease.
The 1970s and 80s were filled with sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, and it was only by chance that gay men were hit harder than most.
Governments across the world, as well as society in general, didn't give a damn about those afflicted with the virus and just left them to die. The situation for people suffering from AIDS was so bad at the time, in fact, that the US government spent more time and money trying to solve mysterious poisonings that killed 7 people in Chicago when AIDS had already claimed hundreds of lives in the country.
The virus was first reported in the UK in 1981 but there was no effective treatment for the virus until 1996. In 1985, the same year the test for the virus started gaining traction, the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher allegedly tried to block a public health campaign that was promoting safe sex because she thought it would encourage teenagers to have sex. It was because of all these roadblocks that around 36 million people across the world lost their lives.
It was all of this unrest off-stage that put people like Mercury in the worst place possible. He didn't live long enough for the development of antiretroviral combination treatment which could have possibly saved his life. Mercury not only had to battle the disease but people as well who were very prejudiced against those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
The singer faced a whole lot of homophobia and he never really came out in public because of this. The UK had passed an infamous anti-gay law in 1988 which declared that homosexuality should not be promoted and that same-sex couples had "pretend" families and not real families. The law was in place for over a decade.
Mercury finally succumbed to the disease in 1991. He officially confirmed that he had AIDS only a day before he took his last breath. It was widely reported that his body was so badly ravaged by the disease that he had lost most of one of his feet because of it. The sad truth about Mercury's astronomical success on stage is that off-stage, he was another gay man who was stigmatized for being gay, as well as having AIDS.
At the end of the day, it was society and the government's lack of immediate response that killed one of the greatest singers of all time.