Mercury’s final years were a sombre, muted contrast to the tumult that had defined his previous decade. As his illness worsened, he was reluctant to leave the Kensington home he shared with Hutton, venturing out only for work. Despite fierce media speculation, an official announcement of his condition was delayed until the night before his death on November 22, 1991.
“Freddie didn’t want to be looked at as an object of pity and curiosity,” explains Roger Taylor, “and he didn’t want circling vultures over his head. We thought we’d announce that he had AIDS late in the day, when it was too late to really bother him.”
Mercury was never less than brutally honest whenever he was asked about the prospects of Queen’s music standing the test of time: “I don’t give a fuck, dear. I won’t be around to worry about it.”
If anything, in the decade following his death, Queen were even more omnipresent. Throughout the ’90s, their music was repackaged with such regularity there was rarely a time when they were absent from the charts. More recently, the We Will Rock You musical, written by Ben Elton, co-produced by Robert De Niro, has been a runaway success across three continents.
In the years since Mercury’s death, rumours of Queen reforming have been persistent. As Elton John once said: “For May, Taylor and Deacon it must be like keeping a fabulous Ferrari in the garage and not being able to drive.” In 2002, May appeared to have finally put the matter to rest when he remarked, “How can you replace the irreplaceable?” And so, news of Queen’s reformation this year has been greeted with stunned disbelief. If ever a band was defined by their singer, it’s Queen. But Paul Rodgers is unrepentant. “In case you’re wondering, it ain’t the money,” he says. “The original guys from Queen certainly don’t need the money. And neither do I. We’re doing this because there is a creative spark there. It’s about the music. It’s always about the music.”
What would Queen’s new singer say to Queen’s old singer if he had the chance?
“I’d say, ‘I hope we rock you, Freddie.’ If he’s up there looking down on us, I hope he’s smiling.”