George Michael Quitting Biz

Singer plans to release music online, give proceeds to charity

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George Michael's tumultuous tenure as a member of the record business is soon to be over. Following the release of Patience (Sony) -- his first album of new material in eight years, due out in the U.K. March 15th -- the veteran pop singer, 40, plans to release his music for free, via the Internet. Listeners will be asked, but not obliged, to donate to Michael's favorite charities.

"I've been very well remunerated, as they say, for my talents over the years," Michael told the BBC Radio 1 Wednesday, "so I really don't need the public's money."

After a hit-laden career as one-half of Wham!, Michael released his blockbuster solo debut, Faith, which yielded four Number One U.S. singles, in 1987. However, the album's monster success coupled with the stubble-faced, butt-shaking image conveyed in the title track's video proved burdensome for Michael. For his 1990 follow-up album, the artistically ambitious Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, he opted not to appear in the initial videos, and the album flopped. The singer then sued Columbia Records, accusing the label, unsuccessfully, of failing to promote the record.

After releasing the even-less-successful Older in 1996, Michael became tabloid fodder in 1998 when he was arrested for soliciting an undercover policeman in a Beverly Hills men's room. The incident prompted Michael to publicly declare his homosexuality, and he went on to perform at the gay-themed Equality Rocks festival in Washington, D.C. in 2000.

"I'm not pretending I won't be famous any more," Michaels continued, "but, believe me, in the modern world if you take yourself out of the financial aspect of things . . . I'll be of very little interest to the press in a certain number of years."

A U.S. release date for Patience has not been set.

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