Freddie Mercury's body was so badly affected by AIDS that he lost most of his foot during his final days
The Queen frontman only desired peace towards the end of his life, but the fire to make music lived with him until his last breath.
Freddie Mercury, the maverick frontman of Queen, died from AIDS-related complications in 1991 at the age of 45. However, the details surrounding his ailment are still a mystery. The rock legend, born as Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 to Parsi parents, rarely granted interviews to reporters and was known to be an intensely private individual.
Mercury kept his health concerns a secret despite constantly being under the magnifying glass, especially when rumors circulated that he had been tested for HIV/AIDS in 1986. The news of his deteriorating health led Queen to abruptly end the 1987 Magic Tour, one of the band's largest tours seen by over a million people.
Photographs of the luminary which ran in British media at the time showed him as increasingly frail and thin, despite the singer's denials. A very feeble Mercury was featured in the Queen music video “These Are the Days of Our Lives” in May 1991 - his final video for the band - while he continued to battle his illness in private.
In a conversation with The Telegraph in 2013, guitarist Brian May said: “We all knew there wasn’t much time left. Freddie wanted his life to be as normal as possible. He obviously was in a lot of pain and discomfort. For him, the studio was an oasis, a place where life was just the same as it always had been. He loved making music, he lived for it.”
Mercury had just one desire towards the end of his life - all he wanted was peace. “He was pursued by the press and curious people,” May told the newspaper at the time. “He just wanted peace and quiet, to be able to get on with what he did.”
While the 'Don't Stop Me Now' singer wanted to be left alone, his hunger for music was far from satiated. “He just kept saying, ‘Write me more. Write me stuff. I want to just sing this and do it and when I am gone you can finish it off.’ He had no fear, really,” May recounted.
In early November 1991, May recalled Mercury returning to London and telling him and the other bandmates: “I’m not feeling that great, I think I should call it a day. I’ll finish it when I come back, next time."
But he never did.
On the 23rd day of that month, Mercury released a statement to The Guardian, confirming to the public for the first time that he had tested positive for the dreaded disease.
“Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS,” the statement read. “I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease. My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue.”
On November 24, a gaggle of paparazzi and fans crowded outside his home in Kensington by the time he decided to go off of AZT. Every onlooker was eager to get a glimpse of the star as he shriveled away. Everyone wanted a piece of Freddie Mercury, even at the hour of his death.
After the tragic news became official that day, his loyal fans created a shrine dedicated to him just outside the residence and decorated the outside wall of the house with graffiti messages.
“We were all wondering if it was an illusion and he was going to be cured,” May told The Telegraph, saying he couldn't believe his ears when he heard the news. “You can’t really take these things in properly. Then we got the phone call...It was surreal. Even though we had been preparing for such a long time, it still didn’t feel possible.”
It was only when the news aired on TV that the guitarist was struck with the reality of it all. “We all got together and talked and had a drink and then saw it announced on the TV,” he said. “Strangely enough, that was when it seemed real for the first time. You thought, ‘Oh my God, he really has gone and everybody knows now. It can’t be taken back.'”
May later revealed during a conversation with the Sunday Times Magazine last year that Mercury had lost almost all of one of his feet to the disease.
“The problem was actually his foot — and, tragically there was very little left of it,” May said. “Once, he showed it to us at dinner. And he said: ‘Oh, Brian, I’m sorry I’ve upset you by showing you that.’ And I said, ‘I’m not upset, Freddie, except to realize that you have to put up with so much terrible pain.’ ”
The 70-year-old guitarist regretted that his lifelong friend couldn't benefit from the revolutionary antiretroviral drugs that were introduced just a couple of months after his demise.
“He missed by just a few months,” May grimaced. “If it had been a bit later, he would still have been with us, I’m sure.”