George Michael sat down with Oprah Winfrey in her show on May 26, 2004, to promote his album Patience. This is a classic interview that perfectly summed up George’s legacy. Read the transcript below and watch the interview (again and again):
Oprah: 10 years ago, he walked off the stage and he went into seclusion. And for the first time today he is telling us why he disappeared. He is SO SEXY!!!
And handsome, internationally famous, and rich — and all the stuff we like.
He was also in the center of a really humiliating public scandal. He has rarely been heard from since his shocking arrest.
This is his story:
Self-described ugly duckling, Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, hooked up with cool class babe Andrew Ridgeley in elementary school, shed his geeky image and formed the hit duo, Wham, that rocked the 80’s. George Michael, the star, was born.
In 1987, George decided to go it alone. His first effort, Faith, was a mega-hit, with 6 songs reaching #1.
His career was on fire and George Michael was an international star. Though he publicly dated women, the singer refused to discuss his love life. The press endlessly speculated about his sexuality. Was he straight? Was he gay? Was he bisexual?
What the world didn’t know was at 27 years old; George had finally found love with a man, Brazilian clothing designer, Anselmo Feleppa.
Sadly, 2 years into their relationship, Anselmo, died of a brain hemorrhage. George was alone, his troubles were not over. Unhappy with his record company, he entered a bitter legal battle that he eventually lost. The glory days now seemed to be over.
In 1997, Michael was dealt another devastating blow when his beloved mother died of cancer.
And the bombshell: In 1998, the singer was arrested in Beverly Hills for engaging in lewd acts in this public bathroom, with a man who happened to be an undercover police offer. His sexuality was no longer a secret. George Michael has rarely been heard from since …
END VOICE OVER
Oprah: So it’s been years since George Michael has performed or spoken out on American television. His fall from fame was as sudden as his rise to the top. His long-awaited album, Patience, is receiving critical acclaim. Many people say this could be the comeback of the year. Please welcome George Michael.
(Faith is played in the background. George walks out. Audience ROARS, gives a Standing Ovation. George claps to the audience. He and Oprah share a kiss and a hug. He sits down, only to have to stand up again due to the applause)
George Michael: Hi.
Oprah: How you doing?
George Michael: I’m good. I’m good. It’s great to meet you finally.
Oprah: Great to meet you finally.
George Michael: I’ve been an admirer for years.
Oprah: Really? How you feeling about doing this interview? This is a coming out of sorts.
George Michael: It’s a strange thing because I haven’t been on American television for so long. It’s weird being back here to promote because I spend a lot of time here. Because my current partner of 8 years is American. I spend quite a lot of time in America. But none of it professionally.
Oprah: Will you take us back to the day of the arrest? Will you? What was going on?
George Michael: Let me see the day of the arrest..
Kenny Goss: We went out to eat.
George Michael: We went to eat. Look Kenny is telling you. We went out for a meal.
Oprah: Cause you and Kenny were together at the time?
George Michael: Yeah, we were together at this time for about 2 and ½ years. It’s a strange thing really. When I looked back at it afterwards its was so obvious it was deliberate on my part. Strange at it may seem.
Oprah: I do the Oprah show so it’s not strange enough.
George Michael: And when I look back on it I was just kind of bursting to come out I think.
Oprah: Explain what happened.
George Michael: What happened was that there was a couple of undercover police in that particular park. Which is opposite of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Oprah: So you are in a park?
George Michael: Very classy.
Oprah: So you are in a park opposite of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the pink hotel.
George Michael: It’s a well-known cruising area. And I was in my car on the other side of the road. And there was … 2 police officers were impersonating people who were cruising.
Oprah: Impersonating people?
George Michael: I went into the bathroom when there was no one in it. The policeman came in after me.
Oprah: But you didn’t know he was a policeman.
George Michael: Of course not.
Oprah: Of course not.
George Michael: They don’t send Columbo in there. They send someone nice looking.
(Audience laugher and applause)
George Michael: Actually, absolutely, nothing went on.
Oprah: You got to tell us what happened. And telling in a way you can tell it on television because we hear a repost like that “arrested for lewd acts”.
George Michael: Yeah, you imagine something very lewd.
Oprah: Yes and in everybody’s mind its what “lewd” is to them. And these are some people who can go all the way.
(audience laugher and applause)
George Michael: So I went into the bathroom. Being cautious went over and was washing my hands. And the person whose job it was to be there attracting my attention was doing exactly that. As far as I was concerned, unless he could do something clever with his thumb, then there was a man there who was interested in my attention.
Oprah: Am I following you?
Are you all following? Ok.
George Michael: This is difficult for women to imagine obviously.
Oprah: I’m still at washing your hands.
George Michael: Yes, I’m washing my hands (shows us) and drying my hands (shows us) And there is a man in the cubicle staring at me.
Oprah: Staring at you washing your hands?
George Michael: Yes, staring at me.
Oprah: Wait a minute. Is that a code?
George Michael: Staring is a kind of code. Washing your hands, you are being careful, right? And he was staring at me.
Oprah: Watching you like interested in you or something?
George Michael: Well no. He was doing rather more than that. This is the point. What I called entrapment is when someone, even if they are not, If they are pretending to be pleasuring themselves, you respond.
Oprah: Oh, he is pleasuring himself.
George Michael: This is the thing unless he can do something clever with his thumb. I thought I was watching someone pleasuring himself and watching me. And basically what happened.
Oprah: Oh! I’m with you now!!!
George Michael: OK!
(Audience laughter and applause)
Oprah: I’m there!!
(Audience laughter and applause)
George Michael: So I kind of responded in kind. Very briefly. The guy walked out of the bathroom. So I just gathered he wasn’t impressed. (Audience laughter) And I left and went back down to the street. And as I reached the street, the cops swooped on my basically.
George Michael: It’s pretty heavy stuff really I think.
Oprah: What do you think then?
George Michael: Well I stood on the pavement and said, “I’m sorry, that was entrapment”. I said that. Absolutely. There was a nice crowd gathering. And I have my hands behind on the pavement. I just said to them this is outrageous and this was entrapment.
Oprah: Were you scared?
George Michael: Part of me was very scared.
George Michael: Yeah.
Oprah: Were you thinking about your career?
George Michael: To be honest with you, I remember thinking, immediately, I just have to tell the truth about this.
George Michael: I suppose part of me, part of my subconscious, must have been saying, “Well, this is kind of what I was looking for and now I have to deal with it.”
Oprah: Well you could of thought of a better way.
George Michael: Oh, absolutely!
Oprah: You say the arrest was your outing?
George Michael: Yeah. There’s something about the fact it was opposite of the Beverly Hills Hotel, indicated I was doing it in a show-bizz manner. (Audience laughter) I think part of me was almost ready to deal with it, in whatever way it was going to happen.
Oprah: This is fascinating to me. Because I can’t imagine being a certain sexuality and hiding that. And that..and had to hide that. So your whole life you are hiding?
George Michael: No. Not really. In reality, as soon as I met Anselmo, my first partner, which was when I was 27.
Oprah: But we the public didn’t know?
George Michael: Oh no.
Oprah: So you are hiding it from us?
George Michael: Hiding it from the public, absolutely.
Oprah: Weren’t you dating women?
George Michael: There were only a couple of girlfriends that people knew about.
Oprah: Were they real girlfriends?
George Michael: Yeah, Absolutely. That was the stage I was at in my life. I was 24, coming up to 25, where I was starting to think, I’m not really bisexual. You are not going to have a choice here.
Oprah: And when people would write about write about you and say what are you, did you at one point say everyone is discussing my sexuality?
George Michael: Yeah, every time I have dealt with interviews it would be “come on we want to know”. And I would leave some kind of comment that was humorous and leave it up in the air. In reality I was angry with the media. My first partner was HIV positive for about 2 years before he died. We knew he was HIV positive. I knew he could get the best treatment in LA or Britain. He insisted on going back to Brazil every time he wanted to see a Dr. And it was unspoken; I knew he was trying to protect his family.
George Michael: His family being a Catholic/Brazilian family. I really truly believe that if he had treatment in Britain or American, he would have survived.
George Michael: So my feeling toward the press.. But I think, my God, why I didn’t sit with a journalist and say “I am gay”.
George Michael: It was so beyond me to do that.
Oprah: Do you think you might be rejected?
George Michael: To be honest I think America would have more of a problem with it than Europe. Cause it is more of a religious based question here. And I respect that.
George Michael: And I truly felt I was dealing with it. Obviously, I wasn’t. I found that compromise massive. But it was a big problem to me in some way and I think the point it happened, a year after my mother died. At that point in time I was still angry about her death. Very kind of down on myself. I think I choose to distract myself from the grief of losing her by doing something I would of have to fight for my life almost.
Oprah: Where were you doing over there anyway?
George Michael: Well it has its upside.
Oprah: You had Kenny at home.
George Michael: Believe me I know.
Oprah: How do you make that phone call? “Uh, hello?”
George Michael: That is what kind of exactly what it was. There were very kind to me. They let me have 2 or 3 attempts for a phone call.
Oprah: Did they know who you were?
George Michael: Oh yes. This is the best bit.
Oprah: Did they say, “Can I have a CD, will you sign it?”
George Michael: Oh I’m sure I signed a few autographs. I have to spend 3 hours in the Beverly Hills police station. I was lucky. Very quiet afternoon. It is the most spotless police station.
Top class police station. They put you in a room, nothing sharp in there in case you want to take your life. There is a big slab of stone with a blanket in there in case you felt tired at 3 in the afternoon. And a copy of the National Enquirer!!!
George Michael: So you can imagine , I’m thinking this is a joke. I’m going to be on the front cover of this next week!! Someone is having a laugh.
(Audience laughter and applause)
Oprah: (to Kenny Goss) So you guys have been together 8 years now?
Kenny Goss: Yes.
Oprah: He called you?
Kenny Goss: He called me and said, “You are not going to believe what I done”. Got a DUI? He goes, “If only.” They didn’t tell me what I picked you up (to George) what you done remember?
George Michael: I know. They let me do that, didn’t they?
Kenny Goss: Yeah.
George Michael: Very nice of them. He picked me up at the police station. We went to dinner.
Oprah: The Beverly HILLS police station.
George Michael: We got to the restaurant; he said “You never know, it might not get into the press.”
I said, Kenny darling, they will either be there when he get home or when we wake up in the morning. It was in between. The helicopters started about 2 in the morning. At 2 o’clock in the morning we could hear helicopters get phone calls from London going, “what, what, what.” It was all chaos.
Oprah: Did you ever feel bad about it?
George Michael: I felt more badly for myself that I was that screwed up. What happened out of that, I plummeted into a deep deep depression, which was about my mother. Everything that happened in the year before that was my way of avoiding that, Making my life about me and not missing her.
Oprah: Cause you have not allowed yourself to grieve
George Michael: I haven’t allowed myself to grieve properly. I told myself I had.
Oprah: Were you worried about or are you worried about American fans, now with a new album, accepting you are a gay artist?
George Michael: I’m not worried about it. To be straight forward.. I’m not interested in selling records to people who are homophobic. Really.
(Audience applause)… Kenny Gives George a thumbs UP…
I’m a very lucky, very lucky man. I’m 40, live with a man I love dearly. I have more love, success, and security in my life that I could ever dream of. So really I don’t need the approval of people who don’t approve of me.
Oprah: The long awaited album, Patience, is getting rave reviews from critics. People magazine gave it a 4 out of 4 stars!!
4 out of 4. The critics saying you possess one of the best voices in the business. And that makes you feel what?
George Michael: I just wanted to tell people that I know I’ve been away a long time. The honest truth I needed to sort out my personal life. Then I felt I sorted out my personal life. Then I found out my partner was ill. I knew I was not going to be able to work. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to write or singe while I was as terrified as I was of losing my partner. He died. I spent 2 years grieving over that. 3 years after Anselmo died, I met Kenny. I called my mother the day after I met Kenny to tell her I met this wonderful man. Unfortunately, it was the same call she had to tell me she had cancer.
Oprah: On the same call?
George Michael: She kept it from me. Of course she was lying to me, telling me it was all fine now. Everything is fine. They got rid of it. So I could go on with me being happy. 7 or 8 months later, she died. That period after she died, was the blackest period of my life really. The time in my personal life and it took me to write again after I lost her, is really the reason what I haven’t been around.
I just wanted to explain to the people who have been absolutely loyal and why I haven’t been here. And to let them know. It wasn’t because I didn’t care. I just didn’t have the emotional energy to fight the uphill struggle here at the time. And now that I feel great and my writing ability had come back and touch base with them again and say, “I’m still here. I’m fighting fit now. And if you’re interested, I’m here again”.
George Michael: Patience.
Oprah: Patience my Friend.
Oprah: George and Kenny share a charming country estate outside London. And for the first time the ultra-private Mr. Michael
George Michael: Ultra-private. (Audience Laughter) You have NO idea how uncomfortable I was doing this. Actually you probably will have when you see it.
Oprah: Yeah! He allowed our cameras inside. Thank you very much.
George Michael (opening the door): Hi Oprah. Good to see you. Who gave you my address? We are here about 1 hour from London. This is a 16th century house that I bought 3 years ago and I did up myself. So come in and have a look.
George Michael: It isn’t exactly spacious. But it’s my beautiful house.
Of course it’s really low ceiling. Cause people were so short in those days. This is about as English and historic you can get. We kept all the original beams. This is the original fireplace. This is my favorite room. I tend to sit and work on the computer from here.
George Michael: This Piano is one of the favorite things in my house. Covered in pictures of our life.
George Michael: This is the library. Wasn’t here when we bought it. But I think every house should have a library. I’d love to tell you all the books are Shakespeare, but most of them are antique books we bought in bulk. I just think they are beautiful. They are actual furniture than cultural input.
George Michael: This is a piece of Russian art that Kenny and I saw and liked back a couple of years ago. I’m not into collecting art. Once you start collecting the art you really love, then you really do have to lock the doors every night.
The Kitchen is a modern kitchen. It’s an old fashioned Agar cooker. Which is an essential ingredient to any British old fashioned kitchen. And for Kenny and me who are absent minded, they great thing about this you can stick in a chicken or whatever and if you forget that it is there, then you won’t burn the house down, you just get a lump of coal for dinner.
George Michael: Now Oprah… I’ve heard that Mr. Tom Cruise cooked a bowl of spaghetti for your pleasure. And not to let the British down, I’ve asked my housekeeper to prepare all the ingredients (begins to LAUGH) of a typical George Michael meal.
And this is the extent of it really.
Oprah: Lovely. I understand you have 4 other homes?
George Michael: I just sold 2 of them. I thought I was being too extravagant. I don’t travel very much anymore.
Oprah: I think 4 is too many.
George Michael: 4 is way too many.
Oprah: I really do. You can’t get to 4. Don’t you think?
Kenny Goss: We never use them.
George Michael: I used to use all of them. But these days I don’t travel much so I sold a few.
Oprah: George says the reason he bought the 16th Century house is because of the surrounding Gardens. He says they are the most beautiful gardens he has ever seen. I love the gardens.
George Michael: We are right here on the Thames here. I’ve always wanted to live on the river. The actual garden is backs on to a 10th Century Saxon church. I’ve always loved the idea of living next to a church for the same reason.
And here I have to tell you a little story now. I live next door to Baroness Buscombe who is a member of the House of Lords. She apparently thought I was going to have a lot of Rock and Roll parties here. She planted all these trees. They will rip up half of the garden as they grow. I guess that is her prerogative.
George Michael: Pool house..Lovely to come out at 10 o’clock. Sit here with all of the doors open. It’s wonderful. On my 40th Birthday, I got a sundial. It acts like a compass (Kenny bought it for him)
One thing you haven’t seen from us is our children.
(George calls out the children)
(Dogs come a running)
George Michael: So Oprah this is my home. This is where I live. I don’t know when you will be in Britain… If you are popping by and seen what it’s like staying in a 16th Century British home… Feel free… See you..
Oprah: Actually your home..I might stop by for some crumpets.
George Michael: Absolutely. Crumpets? Scones maybe.
Oprah: It looks like that you enjoy being there. You didn’t look uncomfortable doing that.
George Michel: I’m a great actor.
Oprah: So you are back and forth between there and London?
George Michael: We spend a lot of time in London. We recently bought a place in Dallas, because beforehand we were staying at Kenny’s brothers. And I’m not good at sleeping in children’s bedrooms.
Oprah: How do the people in Dallas handle your accent?
George Michael: I don’t know. It’s me handling their accent isn’t it?
I think of the 3 places I know: NY, LA, and Dallas: Dallas is the warmest of the 3.
George sings”Amazing” LIVE!
… and “Faith”…
- Graham Norton Interview with George Michael (2003)
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- George Michael’s Interview with the Gay Magazine ‘The Advocate’ (1999)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Desert Island Discs: George Michael Interview (2007)