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After Bohemian Rhapsody, 2018’s blockbuster Freddie Mercury biopic, there was a surge of renewed interest in Queen and its charismatic frontman. Younger fans began discovering the group – digging out their parents’ dusty LPs, launching the title track to over a billion streams on Spotify, and even making viral YouTube reaction videos of their first time hearing Mercury’s magnum opus.
Older fans were reinvigorated too, revisiting the albums of their youth, reminiscing about seeing the band live (those who were lucky enough to), and seeking to learn more about Mercury with all the newly available information regarding the theatrical but notoriously private singer.
Both groups will discover something new in these Freddie Mercury biographies, which offer three completely different perspectives of Mercury’s incredible life.
The first book is from his partner, Jim Hutton, who gives a wistful retelling of his time with Mercury right up until the end. The two had a complicated relationship – intimate and close in private, yet Mercury always kept a distance from Hutton while in the eye of the public and the relentless British tabloids, at a time when being openly gay was not yet widely accepted (homosexuality had only been decriminalized in the UK less than a decade earlier). Though their relationship was rocky at times, Hutton loved and cared for Mercury, was by his side when he died, and offers a fly-on-the-wall observation of his life and a heartbreaking account of his final days.
Another, a collection of quotes and interviews from Mercury himself, paints a picture with verbal pieces. Freddie’s quotes, quips and insights fuel the timeline along, creating a look at his life through his own thoughts and observations.
Finally, Somebody to Love delves deep into the history of HIV/AIDS, eventually incorporating Mercury into the disease’s trajectory, and telling the story of his final years battling the virus that eventually took his life in 1991.
All three are must-reads for any fans of Freddie looking to learn all they can about the singer’s life offstage and behind closed doors.
1. Mercury and Me
For those more interested in a glimpse beyond the glitz, Jim Hutton’s book provides a unique perspective of Freddie Mercury in his final years.
Hutton, Mercury’s partner and close friend from 1985 to 1991, was also his caretaker and confidant (and gardener as well, for a time), and offers an accurate and intimate account of the singer’s life and death. The book is almost an epilogue of sorts to the Bohemian Rhapsody film, which ends before the majority of these years take place.
Hutton, who died in 2010, gives insight into the Freddie that he knew – the tumultuous ups and downs and everything in between. He wasn’t in the spotlight, and maybe even preferred it that way, but he was alongside Mercury for the ride, and gives what often times feels like a fly-on-the-wall narrative of the singer’s life that was hidden from the public eye.
The book does touch upon the musical side of things briefly, mentioning what Mercury was working on in his last years, his devoted work ethic right up until the end, and which songs and artists were most inspirational to him. But mainly the focus here is the relationship between the two.
PROS: Hutton’s book offers a one-of-a-kind window into Mercury’s life that won’t be found anywhere else. Hardcore Mercury fans that want to learn as much as possible about the legend’s life will enjoy this. The paperback also includes color photos as well.
CONS: Readers looking specifically for Mercury’s life story, or behind-the-scenes rockstar tales about him and Queen, may want to sit this one out. The main focus is the deep, rocky and complicated relationship Hutton and Mercury shared until the end. While some users appreciate Hutton’s storytelling of the memories shared with Mercury, others find the writing style to be dull and uninteresting. There’s also controversy among readers about the book itself, and if these intensely personal and private moments of Mercury’s life really needed to be shared publicly.
2. A Life In His Own Words by Freddie Mercury
The title may be a bit misleading here – yes, it’s his own words, but this is more a collection of quotes and interviews than a true autobiography. Still, Mercury didn’t give many in-depth interviews in his life, and this book acts as a nice collection of his humor, wit, and insight into his creative process.
While most quotes are about music and the business, there are poignant ones that break the mold regarding friendship, societal problems, personal thoughts, and heartbreaking reflections on his own mortality.
Though it’s not in the format of a traditional autobiography, A Life in his Own Words gives the reader the most intimate one-on-one feel with Mercury, almost as if he’s speaking directly to you.
PROS: True Queen fans will love this one. Even if they’ve already watched the interviews quoted here, having them in one collection gives a look at Mercury’s legacy from the inside out. The forward is also written by Freddie’s mother, Jer Bulsara, giving it an even more special and bittersweet tone.
CONS: The book doesn’t really provide a narrative or a timeline, which can be confusing to new fans. There’s also not much context into where Mercury was in his life with each quote, or the situations he’s referring to when he said these things, which makes his words less impactful to the average reader and casual Queen fan.
3. Somebody to Love: The Life, Death and Legacy of Freddie Mercury
Somebody to Love, a well-researched collaboration by Mark Langthorne and Matt Richards, two entertainment industry veterans, is wholly unafraid to show Mercury from all sides. A rock legend living a lifestyle of excess, the choices he made along with their consequences, and being one of the first victims of AIDS in the early days of the epidemic.
The narrative provides a parallel and intersecting storyline about the history of HIV/AIDS, dating all the way back to the early 1900s in Africa, and chronicling the devastation the LGBTQ community went through in the Seventies and Eighties. There’s a heavy focus on Mercury’s promiscuity here, and his sexuality in general. At times it’s relevant, such as the difficulty of coming out in an era before being gay was widely accepted, but can also get lost in the extremely uncensored details and detract from the main storylines.
The book could be a standalone epidemiological study about the history of HIV/AIDS even without Mercury. But eventually, it weaves him into the timeline, giving a detailed account of his personal life, and his battle with the disease that tragically took him at age 45 in 1991. The result is a powerfully emotional read.
PROS: Fans of Mercury who are already well-versed in the legend’s life will learn something new here, providing a new lens into his life and death.
CONS: Mercury’s personal life and the history of the HIV/AIDS virus are the main subject matter here, and fans looking for stories about Queen may be disappointed here. While the book does give some attention to the band’s music, it’s mostly their mega-hits, without much insight into the lesser-known fan favorites.