When George Michael passed away on December 25, 2016, American singer Rob Thomas was “gutted.” The lead singer of the alternative rock band Matchbox 20 wrote on Instagram a poignant tribute to the late superstar:
R.I.P George Michael. Mari and I and our family are gutted. He was a true gentleman, one of the most talented people on earth and the soundtrack to our youth. An absolute legend. We were proud to be able to call him a friend and will miss that beautiful smile terribly. Sending love to all of his family on this sad Christmas. #ripgeorgemichael
Rob grew up idolizing George Michael and became friends with him later in life. He met the late British superstar through their common manager, Michael Lippman. As he wrote on Billboard,
Because we share the same manager I got the opportunity to spend a fair share of time with George and after my third glass of wine, I would start to gush and he would respond, as he did with everything, like a true gentleman with kind words and insight.
In the Billboard piece Rob wrote on January 6, 2017, he outlined how much George Michael influenced him. He revealed that his 1999 megahit from Santana’s Supernatural album, “Smooth,” was originally written with Michael in mind as lead singer.
When we finished the song, the conversation came around to who should sing it. I don’t believe I was even in the running. But I WAS in the conversation with Clive Davis and his people about my thoughts on who should.
My first thought was George Michael. In fact, it was George I had in my head when I recorded the vocals in the first place. If you listen to the melody and the cadence, it’s an attempt to emulate his style in so many ways.
His other works were tremendously inspired by the late singer as well. There were a number of Michael homages in his first solo video, for Top 10 hit “Lonely No More” (“the close-up on the boots, the dance”), and cites the video for Wham!’s “Bad Boys” as the inspiration for the cover of his 2015 album The Great Unknown.
My first solo video had pieces of George all over it. Some of the shots, the close up on the boots, the dance, all of it an homage to someone I had admired since I was a pre teen.
My last album cover for The Great Unknown was a lift from the Wham! Bad Boys video and I didn’t even realize it until after I called the president of Atlantic Records and said that was the pic I wanted on my cover.
It was just ingrained in me.
Thomas says Michael was even OK with how much he’d actually “ripped off” from him, from album covers to song titles to the video for his top-10 hit “Lonely No More,” which Thomas admits he “took straight from the ‘Faith’ [play]-book.”
In a live performance at The Music Box at the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey on January 15, 2017, Rob paid tribute to George Michael and sang Michael’s song “Father Figure.” He introduced the song with these beautiful words showing his deep love, respect and gratitude to George Michael:
I wanna send this song out … this goes out to a dear friend of ours. On Christmas day, I was with my family and I got a text that everybody else … had information that everybody else will find out a few hours later. Michael, my manager, who also managed this artist wrote me and said, “I’ve got some bad news. George passed away.”
Growing up in the 80s, there was a couple of iconic people in the world – George Michael was one of those people. Because my manager manages George and they were so close, we got to know each other and I got to become friends with him. I got to glean off of him a little bit and I got to learn things and followed him around. My wife and I, we followed him around through Europe and watched him play at 70,000 people in Greece, in Rome and just see like a master at his craft. A songwriter, a producer, a singer, a performer – just one of the greatest living legends that you’ve ever known.
It’s a loss, and the only beautiful thing about that is that there is a legacy that stays behind that we always remember those songs, that music, that voice, that smile. Just one of the most amazing people in the world.
So this goes out, just in memory of a friend and somebody who I believe in my heart. If he didn’t exist, I probably would have never done this. So …
Rob also posted a lengthy remembrance of the summer he and his wife spent on tour with George on Instagram
In July of 2007 Mari and I decided to spend our summer with George Michael on his stadium tour through Europe. George and I share a manager and we had become friends, so it seemed like the perfect way to spend the summer. We (me, Mari, our friend Dejan, our manager, Michael and his wife Nancy) started in London. Then Rome, and Greece, where George was playing for the first time in almost two decades which was a huge deal because he was of Cypriot descent. As a musician, it schooled me on what it means to be a performer. To see one man play to 75 or 80 thousand people and hold the attention of every single person, even though we knew he was full of self-doubt in his every day life, was like school and church at the same time. We spent that summer with our family sharing new experiences and making memories that were uniquely our own. His generosity gave us one of the greatest summers of our lives. Mari and I have been fortunate enough to be a part of some amazing things, and this will ALWAYS stand out as one of the best ever! We knew so well that George was always concerned that he didn’t sound just right or that the show wasn’t perfect. This was a man that wrote, produced and recorded some of the greatest songs (pop or otherwise) in history. It was his self-doubt that made his art so amazing. It was my awareness of his self-doubt in the face of his genius that made me so inspired and will continue to inspire me always. #ripgeorgemichael #legend
As Rob said in his Billboard article,
I’ll never be George Michael, but without George, I’m not sure I would have been Rob Thomas either.
- George Michael’s Cover of Don McLean’s Song ‘The Grave’
- George Michael’s Cover of “Roxanne”
- Twenty Five (2006)
- George Michael Phones Loose Women to Promote Comic Relief (2011)
- Patience (2004)