British pop star George Michael, who had Jewish roots, dies at 53

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — British pop singer George Michael, who disclosed a decade ago that he had Jewish roots, has died unexpectedly at the age of 53.

Michael died at his home in England of heart failure, his publicist said. His family asked for privacy during this time.

Michael first achieved fame as one of two members of the popular 80s band WHAM! before beginning his solo career, where he was known for his catchy dance tunes and provocative lyrics.

In a June 2008 interview, Michael told the Los Angeles Times that his maternal grandmother was Jewish but married a non-Jewish man and raised her children with no knowledge of their Jewish background due to her fear during the period of World War II.

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“She thought if they didn’t know that their mother was Jewish, they wouldn’t be at risk,” Michael told the newspaper. His mother attended convent school, losing any shred of memory of her mother’s Jewishness.

He acknowledged his homosexuality in 1998 after being arrested for public lewdness in Los Angeles, where he attempted to pick up a man in a public bathroom.

His first solo album, 1987’s “Faith,” sold more 20 million copies, and he had several hit singles including “I Want Your Sex,”  “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” and “Praying For Time.”

His was named Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou when he was born in 1963 in London to Greek Cypriot parents.

Police said in a statement that the death was “unexplained but not suspicious,” and his publicist said he had not been ill.

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