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125: Bohemian Rhapsody

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

A lot of movies begin with a bit of an opener that’s not key to the story quite yet, and today’s story is one of those. For a brief moment, we see Rami Malik’s version of Freddie Mercury as he’s preparing for the Live Aid concert in the year 1985.
But this is a brief glimpse into what’s to come, so the movie doesn’t give us much here.
And since we’ll chat more about this later on when the movie gives us more detail, we won’t dwell on the Live Aid show too much other than to mention that, as you can probably guess, it did happen and it took place on July 13th, 1985.
After this, back in the movie, we’re sent to the year 1970. We see Malik’s version of Freddie as he’s working as a baggage handler at an airport. One of the handlers tries to be degrading to him when he calls Freddie a “Pakki”, but Freddie’s quick to point out that he’s not Pakistani.
Then, we cut back to Freddie’s house where we see his mom, dad, and sister. Although, we also find out that Freddie’s not his real name — it’s Farrokh.
And even though we don’t learn this until a couple minutes later in the movie, we also find out his family’s last name isn’t Mercury, but Bulsara.
These are all true, but there’s a lot more to the story here that the movie doesn’t mention.
Farrokh Bulsara was born on September 5th, 1946 in a place called Stone Town. That’s the capital of Zanzibar. That’s a little island off the east coast of Tanzania in Africa that’s technically part of Tanzania, but is also somewhat autonomous. At the time when Farrokh was born there, Zanzibar was a protectorate of the British Empire — that ended when the Sultanate did in 1964. But more on that a bit.
Although, Farrokh left Zanzibar for a time before that. While his family remained, he was sent to Bombay to go to boarding school. That was in 1954, when Farrokh was eight years old. There were two schools he went to in Bombay, one called St. Peter’s and another St. Mary’s. These were very formative years for Farrokh.
Being a British-influenced school, some of the other students had trouble pronouncing his name so that’s why he started going by the nickname Freddie. Eventually, of course, it became more than just a nickname. He also started listening to a lot of Western pop music, and even formed a band at the school.
By the time 1963 rolled around, Freddie had finished school and returned to his parent’s home in Zanzibar. But then there was a massive revolution to overthrow the Sultan of Zanzibar. It was a fight that saw thousands of civilians caught in the bloodshed between the revolutionaries and the Sultan’s troops.
Fearing for their lives, the Bulsara family managed to escape Zanzibar and moved to the city of Feltham in Middlesex, England. Once there, Freddie went back to school — not a boarding school this time, but to Isleworth Polytechnic in West London where he studied art. After that, he went to a further education institution called Ealing Art College. That’s also in London, and while there he continued studying graphic design and art.
He graduated from Ealing in 1969, so it was after all of this that the movie never shows that we’re finally caught back up with the movie’s timeline. That’s because soon after graduating Ealing, Freddie did the same thing a lot of recent graduates do — he found whatever job he could while he tried to find something a little more in line with his artistic skills.
And that job he found was, as the movie shows, as a baggage handler at London’s Heathrow airport. Well, that’s not quite the first job he found after college, but we’ll get to that a little later.
In fact, as a fun little side note, it was on September 5th, 2018 that British Airways put on a tribute to the one-time baggage handler turned superstar. A bunch of the baggage handlers there teamed up and performed some Queen songs in the hallways of the airport on what would’ve been Freddie’s 72nd birthday. I’ll include some links to where you can see videos of that online in the show notes, or you can just do a search for Heathrow Airport and Freddie Mercury to find ‘em.
Let’s head back to the movie now, because after seeing a glimpse of Freddie before his time in a band, we see Rami Malik’s version of Freddie Mercury heading to a bar one evening to find a band called Smile playing. He’s intrigued, and after the show he meets up with the band by their van out behind the building to give them a song he wrote.
He just thought it was a bit of fun, but the other two band members, Brian May and Roger Taylor, shrug it off. Brian May is played by Gwilym Lee and Roger Taylor is portrayed on screen by Ben Hardy, by the way.
They tell him he’s about five minutes too late — the lead singer just quit.
Then Freddie says, “Well…what about me?”
Now Brian and Roger laugh, “Not with those teeth, mate.”
You can tell from Rami Malik’s subtle acting that was a low blow — he seems a bit conscientious about them. But, he overcomes that quickly and explains he was born with four extra incisors.
Then, after a brief moment where he almost walks away, Freddie comes back to sing a bit of a song. It’s amazing. The band is blown away.
That’s not how it happened at all. In fact, it was quite different than that.
You see, even though the movie makes it seem like Freddie was a baggage handler who just happened upon the band Smile at just the exact right moment, the truth is that Freddie knew the members of Smile long before he joined the band. Not only that, but even though Freddie did get a job as a baggage handler soon after he graduated from college, he also joined a band.
That band was called Ibex, but soon they renamed themselves to Wreckage. As you can probably tell, they didn’t go very far. So, he formed a new band with some different members. This time their name was Sour Milk Sea. But that didn’t go anywhere either.
Even though the movie doesn’t really mention his name, the lead singer for the band Smile was a man by the name of Tim Staffell. He’s played by Jack Roth, and in the movie he’s the one we find out quit the band just five minutes or so before Freddie walks up to the rest of the band.
In truth, Tim and Freddie both went to Ealing College where they studied graphic design together. So, Freddie enjoyed his friend Tim’s band, and through going to quite a few of their performances, was introduced to the rest of the band members from their mutual acquaintance — Tim Staffell. That was before the movie’s timeline, though, because Smile formed in 1968 and for a while after graduating, as we learned, Freddie tried a few of his own bands that didn’t really go anywhere.
Then, as 1970 rolled around, Tim decided to leave Smile to pursue a different style of music. He was more interested in jazz, blues, and other types of music that allowed for a bit more improv up on stage. And since Freddie’s latest project — Sour Milk Sea — wasn’t working out, Tim invited Freddie to try to replace him in the band.
The other band members, Brian May and Roger Taylor, agreed to the swap and in April of 1970, the band Smile had a new lead singer.
Oh, and as for the mention in the movie about four additional incisors, though, it’s right about that. Freddie Mercury did actually have four extra incisors. As you can probably imagine for a teenager during his days at the boarding schools in India, we can only assume there was plenty of mocking that occurred because of the severe overbite the extra teeth caused. So, in his early years, Freddie — then still going by the name Farrokh — was very self-conscious about his teeth.
And not to get too far ahead of our story, but even after Freddie became a worldwide superstar, that self-consciousness about his teeth was still there. But, even with plenty of money to do something about it, Freddie refused to get any work done because he was afraid if he did that the process might mess up his voice.
Back in the movie, we see some text on the screen telling us that it’s one year later — so, sometime in 1971. If you’re like me, it was around this point in the film that you realize the movie is moving really fast. By that, what I mean is that it shows a lot of different things happening but doesn’t go into much depth into any of them — almost as if it’s trying to do a montage that lasts for most of the movie. Haha!
We see the band sell their van to record an album. Then in the next scene we see Freddie lying on a bed with Mary Austin. We’re left to assume this is Freddie’s apartment? Or maybe it’s Mary’s? Or maybe it’s both of theirs? Who knows — but we can see in a notebook next to Freddie there’s a logo for Queen.
Mary mentions something about how the band has changed its name to Queen, to which Freddie replies with a smile, “As in Her Royal Majesty.”
Then, without any further explanation, the movie speeds right along to what could be a major plot point in any other movie to find out that Freddie has changed his surname from Bulsara to Mercury. Even that is mentioned very casually during a conversation between Freddie and his father.
While all those things are true, the quick pace of the movie here keeps us from learning that there’s more to the story on almost every one of those plot points. Of course, we don’t have nearly the amount of time the movie did either so it’s not like we’re going to get to go in-depth, but if you’ve ever wanted to go into far more depth than we ever could here on the podcast, go check out the 2012 biography called Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie by Lesley-Ann Jones.
With that said, let’s start with Mary Austin, who’s played by Lucy Boynton in the film. Who was Mary and what sort of relationship was the movie implying by showing her with Freddie?
Well, for lack of a better way to put it, Mary and Freddie were best friends. They were more than that, though. They were lovers. They were, for all intents and purposes, everything but legally married.
In fact, in Lesley-Ann Jones’s great biography, there’s a quote from Freddie where he explains their relationship. As he put it, “All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible. The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage.”
Mary Austin met Freddie in the year before the movie’s timeline begins, in 1969. At the time, he was 24 while she was 19. If you recall, this was before Freddie took over as the lead singer for Smile. It’s also before he worked at Heathrow as a baggage handler.
That’s when, sandwiched just after graduating from Ealing College and before working at Heathrow that Freddie worked at a small clothes shop in Kensington. Mary, on the other hand, worked at a nearby, much higher-end clothing store in London.
Even though Freddie wasn’t in the band with Brian May yet, if you recall, he knew them before the movie’s timeline of 1970. So, it was in 1969 that Freddie and Brian would wander down to the high-end clothing store where Mary worked to check out the pretty girls who worked there.
As the months passed, Freddie took a liking to Mary and before long he asked her out. They quickly grew from acquaintances to friends to dating to best friends to lovers to living together — although it may not necessarily have been in that order.
And so, when the movie shows Freddie lying on the bed with Mary right there, what it’s showing is the time that Freddie and Mary lived together in a small apartment.
Although it’s worth pointing out the movie’s timeline is a bit off here when it comes to Freddie proposing to Mary. We see this happen and Freddie gives Mary a box. She’s a bit confused, and inside she finds a ring.
“What hand should I put it on?” Mary asks.
“Your left,” Freddie replies … “I’m asking you to marry me.”
While it is true that Mary was surprised by Freddie’s proposal like this, it happened years after the movie makes it seem. Granted, the movie doesn’t show us what year this is, but we also are just finding out about the band changing its name to Queen. In truth, Freddie proposed to Mary on Christmas Day of 1973.
And speaking of the band name, that leads us to the next point the movie very briefly mentions. We see lying next to Freddie on the bed is a notebook with the word “Queen” on it. That’s when we hear Mary ask if they’ve changed the name of the band.
We don’t really know exact dates, but it was soon after joining Smile as the new lead singer that Freddie came up with a new band name. We also don’t really know the specifics behind how he came up with the name, why he came up with it, or all those other sort of questions that never get documented in history.
What we do know, though, is something Freddie himself said about the inception of the name:
“Years ago, I thought up the name ‘Queen’… It’s just a name, but it’s very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid…It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations. I was certainly aware of gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.”
It sounds like Freddie’s artistic background may have played a big part in the name — a name that sounds majestic and is open to plenty of artistic freedom at the same time.
And then there’s the point in the film about Freddie’s changing his last name to Mercury. The movie only makes a quick mention of this, and in all fairness perhaps one reason why it glosses over this is because we just don’t know a lot about Freddie’s reasons for wanting to change his last name.
But that hasn’t stopped plenty of Freddie’s fans from speculating on the reasons over the years.
Probably the simplest idea is that Freddie thought that, like his changing from Farrokh to Freddie that Bulsara would be a tough last name for an English audience. Another hypothesis is that perhaps it had to do more with the band’s name.
You see, as an artist it was Freddie himself who designed the Queen logo. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know it looks a lot like a coat of arms. And while that’s not an accident, it also contains the zodiac signs for each band member. On either side of a stylized Q there are two lions, for the zodiac sign Leo, which represents drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon. Then on top of the Q there’s a crab, which is the zodiac sign for Cancer — for Brian May. Last, but certainly not least, there are two fairies sitting just beneath the lions on either side of the Q. Those represent Virgo, for Freddie Mercury himself.
So, with all of that in mind, there are plenty of Queen fans who believe Freddie’s last name was to stay in line with the zodiac theme.
But others disagree with that, pointing out that Mercury isn’t a zodiac sign — it’s a planet. Granted, there’s a lot of overlap with the planets and the zodiac, but therein lies the debate.
Another potential hypothesis for where Freddie came up with the name comes from a song he wrote called “My Fairy King.” That’s one of songs from Queen’s debut album, and in the outro of the song there’s a lyric that says, “Oh, Mother Mercury, look what they’ve done to me.”
Years later, Queen’s guitarist, Brian May, suggested that Freddie claimed this line in the song about his mother. So, fans have guessed that this was part of why Freddie changed his last name to Mercury.
And it makes sense. But, in the end, we just don’t know for sure where Freddie came up with his new surname. But, we do know that by the time 1971 rolled around, the band’s name had changed from Smile to Queen. Freddie’s name changed from Bulsara to Mercury and Queen added a new member — bassist John Deacon — to round out the group.
He’s played by Joe Mazzello in the movie.
Speaking of which, heading back to the movie’s timeline, the next major plot point happens when we see Queen start to record an album for the first time. According to the movie, they don’t have the money to pay for studio time, though, and at Freddie’s suggestion the band sells their touring van to pay for it.
That’s not really what happened.
The movie here is really just trying to get across the point that when they first started out, the band members were broke. And that part of it is true.
For their first few years, Queen was doing a lot of touring as they tried to make a living as a band. Anyone who has tried to do that knows how difficult it is, and in that way it was no different for Queen in the early ‘70s.
So, while there’s nothing I could find that says they sold their only van to pay for studio time, life on the road was tough. But they were grinding it out, trying to make a name for themselves.
In 1970, Queen played their first 12 live gigs — well, some of those they probably still used the name Smile as they were making the transition. Then in 1971, they recorded their first demo. It included four songs, Liar, Keep Yourself Alive, The Night Comes Down and Jesus.
But things didn’t hit it off like the movie makes it seem. The record companies weren’t interested in their demo.
So, the grind continued. Queen played 20 gigs in 1971 and only five in 1972 — including one at Bedford College in London on January 28th that only had six people in attendance.
Of course, you’re probably wondering why they only played five shows all year in 1972. That’s because it was in 1972 when Queen got their first record deal. They signed with Trident Studios, and as a part of their deal they were given the chance to use some world-class recording facilities — just in the off-hours. So, during the day, the Beatles and Elton John might be recording in the studio, then at night Queen would have their chance to use the space.
The recording process lasted from June to November of 1972, and the resulting album was released on July 13th, 1973. Simply called Queen, the album consisted of ten tracks.
After its release, the album didn’t do very well. In fact, it wasn’t until Queen released their second album the next year, and after even more fierce touring that their first album made it to #32 on the UK charts in 1974. Even then, the numbers for Queen’s early albums were disappointing.
A big reason why their early albums didn’t do too well right away was, well, no one knew who Queen was yet. But that’s something they intended to — and would — change.
Back in the movie, we see Queen recording another album. This time they’re in what looks like a farmhouse or a barn of some sort. It’s here we see them recording the epic song that the movie is named after, Bohemian Rhapsody.
Then, back at the record label, Mike Myers’s character, Ray Foster, says there’s no way the song will be a hit. Or, as he says in the film, “I’m not arguing the musicianship, but there’s no way the station will play a six-minute quasi-operatic dirge comprised of nonsense words!”
That’s not really what happened. For one, the farmhouse we see in the movie is known as Rockfield Studios. That’s where the song Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded. And while it is true it was a former farmhouse converted to a recording studio, at the time it was, and still is to this day, considered a high-end recording studio.
As for the EMI record chief that we see Mike Myers playing in the film, he’s a completely fictional character. Of course, EMI really was the name of Queen’s record label, but Ray Foster wasn’t real.
Instead, the person he’s probably most based on would be the real EMI chief, Roy Featherstone. And even though Roy was skeptical of Bohemian Rhapsody’s length — after all, not many radio-friendly songs are six minutes long — but Roy was a huge fan of Queen.
And, obviously, even despite its length, Bohemian Rhapsody did turn out to be pretty popular after all.
Oh, and to keep up with the timeline, this would’ve been in 1975. Bohemian Rhapsody was a track on Queen’s album A Night at the Opera, which was recorded between June and November of 1975 and released on November 21st of that same year.
The movie makes it seem like Freddie just comes up with that name for the album while in Roy Foster’s office, but in truth the name was from a film by the Marx Brothers. The band watched it at one point while they were recording the album, liked the name and the rest is history.
Back in the movie, thanks in no small part to A Night at the Opera, Queen is starting to establish themselves as superstars. We see names of cities they’re touring: London, New York City, Perth, Santa Monica, Rio…
At one point while they’re on the road, Freddie calls Mary. They have a short conversation, and Freddie asks Mary to put one of his cats on the phone so he can tell them how much he misses them.
After this, Mary asks, “Do you miss me, too?”
“Of course, I do!” comes the reply. It’s not so convincing. Mary says, “I love you.”
A brief pause, then, “Good night.”
That’s a fictional conversation, but it does point out a few real facts. For one, it is true that Freddie would call home while he was on tour just to talk to his cats. He loved his cats.
In the next scene in the movie, though, Freddie’s back home with Mary. You can tell something’s up. It’s time for a tough conversation.
Finally, Freddie admits to Mary, “I think I’m bisexual.”
Mary replies, “Freddie, you’re gay.”
There are tears, and Mary starts to take her ring off. Freddie stops her, though.
“Keep it,” he says. “We still believe in each other.”
Even though the phone conversation was a fictional one that was to make a point, this conversation was a lot more real. Perhaps not word-for-word, but that’s to be expected in any movie.
Still, it’s pretty close.
If you remember, Freddie proposed to Mary back in 1973. But then, as Queen’s fame began to grow, the topic of marriage became less and less common. Over time, one thing started to become painfully obvious to her.
Or, maybe it always was, and they simply chose to ignore it because of her love for Freddie — and vice versa.
But it wasn’t all in a single conversation like the movie shows.
At one point, Mary decided to have a heart-to-heart with Freddie. She recalled in an interview with OK! magazine that she felt “something is going on,” and she felt the need to give him some space.
Despite Freddie’s insistence that everything was the same as it always had been, Mary noticed that Freddie started distancing himself from her a bit after that.
For months on end, Mary thought Freddie was having an affair — he was out late nights and wasn’t interested in her anymore.
Then, it was in 1976, when the conversation we saw in the movie took place. Mary Austin explained what happened in a different interview with the Daily Mail saying, “I’ll never forget that moment.”
Then she admitted, “Being a bit naïve, it had taken me a while to realize the truth. Afterwards he felt good about having finally told me he was bisexual. Although I do remember saying to him at the time, ‘No Freddie, I don’t think you are bisexual. I think you are gay.’”
After this conversation is when, just like the movie shows, Mary moved out. She didn’t move far, though. The movie is correct in showing that Mary’s apartment was still close by to Freddie’s place.
Despite no longer being in a physical relationship, Mary and Freddie were still very close.
Back in the movie, we see Freddie throwing a big party. The band is there at first, and for a while we see them milling around. If you look closely, you’ll find a couple glasses of hard liquor among partygoers, but for the most part it seems like Champagne is the drink of choice.
Before long, though, the band gets fed up with Freddie’s behavior and they leave. Then, as Rami Malik’s version of Freddie Mercury exclaims to the crowd, “It’s time to get shit-faced!”
In the introduction to this episode, we learned what Sacha Baron Cohen said about how crazy Freddie’s parties were — and how there were rumors he turned down the role because the movie glossed over a lot of that.
Even though the film’s producer, Graham King, explained that Cohen wasn’t ever attached to the lead role, there’s still the aspect of the parties. And in that regard, it is true that Freddie Mercury had some wild ones.
Sir Elton John summed things up once by commenting, “Freddie Mercury could out-party me…which is saying something.”
But even though Freddie Mercury may have been heavily involved in the parties, he wasn’t alone. You see, the entire band also seemed to like the rock ‘n roll lifestyle parties. So, they probably wouldn’t have been so quick to leave the party like the movie shows.
In truth, Queen was known throughout the music industry for throwing some of the most outrageous events.
For example, on Freddie’s 41st birthday he celebrated with over 350 bottles of Champagne for his 700 party guests and a firework display that people reportedly saw over 100 miles away!
That’s roughly 160 kilometers, by the way.
Probably the most outrageous of those took place at the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans in 1978. That’s the one actor Sacha Baron Cohen was referring to in the quote we mentioned in the intro to this episode.
As the story goes, that party included naked waiters and waitresses, nude models wrestling in a bath, little people walking around with trays of cocaine strapped to their heads and even an entertainer biting off the heads of live chickens.
So … I think it’s safe to say that Queen lived the rock ‘n roll lifestyle. You know, the whole sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll bit.
Back in the movie, the next major plot point happens when we find out Freddie’s been offered a contract for two solo albums from CBS Records. The deal is for $4 million. When he breaks the news to the band, they don’t take it well.
In particular, it’s Roger who reminds Freddie he was working at Heathrow when they let him join the band. Freddie fires back by reminding him that they’d be nowhere without him.
Just as Freddie leaves the room, Roger tells him, “You’ve just killed Queen.”
That’s not really true.
In fact, not only is it inaccurate, but it also changes the way the movie ends. You see, in the movie there’s this part here where Freddie seems to have signed the deal for a solo career out of spite for the rest of the band. That’s what causes the band to break up.
Then, later on, we see Freddie Mercury begging to join the band again.
None of that happened.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Freddie Mercury did have a solo album. But that didn’t cause Queen to break up. In fact, there’s never been any evidence to suggest Queen ever broke up. Not only that, but in the movie we see Roger Taylor being the one who seems to have the biggest issue with Freddie’s solo act.
In reality, though, Roger was the first member of Queen to have a solo album. In fact, Roger’s first album was released in 1981 — even before Freddie Mercury signed his own solo deal.
So, if the band members pursuing solo albums wasn’t because of an argument, why was it? Well, when Queen released Hot Space in March of 1982, they performed 70 concerts that year to support the album. But it didn’t do too well. … they were understandably exhausted, and coupled with the poor performance of the album, they collectively decided to take a break to pursue other types of music.
Freddie’s debut solo album was Mr. Bad Guy which released in 1985.
But, because the band didn’t break up, there wasn’t any need for Freddie come crawling back to the band. In fact, there’s been a lot of reviews for the film that criticize this depiction of Freddie.
However, that mention of Hot Space leads us into the next part of the film.
In the movie, we don’t really hear the name of the album, but it has a part to play. This happens when we find that Freddie’s manager, Paul Prenter, hasn’t been forthcoming. We didn’t really talk about this before, but we did see Freddie and Paul kissing earlier in the movie and there’s a heavy implication that relationship has continued. Although, not monogamously.
This all comes to a climax when we see Mary show up at Freddie’s door. It’s raining, and inside the house she can see the aftermath of what must’ve been multiple parties. There’s drinks littering the room, leftover food, and a mysterious white powder on the table top.
When Mary asks Freddie why he won’t talk to Queen’s manager, Jim Beach, about Live Aid, he’s oblivious.
“What’s Live Aid?” He asks. Clearly when we saw earlier in the movie that Paul said he’d pass the message along — he didn’t.
Freddie tries to get Mary to stay, but she ends up leaving. In the pouring rain, she tells him that she’s pregnant. Freddie is taken aback. Then, he says he’s happy for her.
Then he continues, “It’s just…I’m frightened.”
She comforts him, “You don’t have to be. No matter what, you are loved. Brian, Deacon, Roger, your family. You are loved. It’s enough.”
Then, referring to the string of men we saw Paul Prenter bring into the house a moment ago, she continues, “These people don’t care about you. Paul doesn’t care about you.”
The taxi drives off and we see Paul in the doorway a ways behind Freddie. This is when Freddie fires Paul. I love the line that Rami Malik’s version of Freddie has in the movie when he says, “You know when you’ve gone rotten…really rotten? Fruit flies. Dirty, little fruit flies.”
Great metaphor.
Oh, and Paul Prenter is played by Allen Leech in the movie.
While that particular scene is made up, the basic gist is getting across the point that Paul betrayed Freddie. And there’s a lot of Queen fans who would agree with that statement.
We haven’t talked a lot about him, but Paul Prenter was Freddie’s manager from 1977 until 1982. He and Freddie were also lovers, although I couldn’t find anything to suggest it was ongoing for all that time or not.
Remember a moment ago when I mentioned that the album Hot Space had a part to play in this?
Well, it’d seem that Paul helped influence some of the musical style of the album, something that both Brian May and Roger Taylor criticized when the album was released.
After it was released, Q! magazine featured the album in the list of top 15 albums for rock musicians who have lost their touch.
Not a list you want to be a part of.
Then, there’s the media. In the movie, we see Paul being interviewed on TV, but in truth it was a story Paul sold to The Sun newspaper that detailed Freddie Mercury’s personal life. He claimed that Freddie had slept with hundreds of men, two of which had died from AIDS. He also talked about how Freddie was afraid of being alone, how he’d go to bed by 6 or 7 in the morning — but rarely alone, and it was a different man every night.
These were the sort of things Paul Prenter’s interview in The Sun revealed to the world. Everyone knew Queen lived a rock ‘n roll lifestyle, perhaps, but this was beyond lavish parties from time to time.
Back in the movie, things come to a close when the band is getting ready for Live Aid. After Freddie joins back up with the band after their breakup, we see Freddie at home in his bedroom. On the TV, we hear a news report saying that every day two more men hear the grim news that they have AIDS. Worse yet, that there is no cure.
In the next shot, Freddie is at the hospital. It’s a very empty hospital. He’s in a hat and sunglasses in the doctor’s office.
The doctor says, “Do you understand? The way we go from here is that treatments are available…but they’re not very effective, Freddie.”
After this, while the band is practicing for their big Live Aid performance, Freddie’s voice is straining. The band decides to take a break and go grab a drink.
Freddie interrupts them, “Before you leave, could I have a second?”
It’s at this moment that Freddie tells the band he has AIDS.
But he insists that the band shouldn’t feel sorry for him. “I don’t have time to be their victim or their AIDS poster boy or cautionary tale. I’m going to be what I was born to be,” he says.
That’s not how it happened.
It is true that Freddie Mercury had AIDS, and while he would’ve gone to a doctor to get diagnosed, in truth he wasn’t diagnosed until 1987. That’s two full years after the Live Aid concert.
Although, it is worth pointing out that Freddie didn’t let his AIDS diagnosis slow him down. Remember that party I mentioned with 700 guests, 350 bottles of Champagne and fireworks you could see from a hundred miles away? That took place just a few months after he was diagnosed with AIDS.
Back in the movie, we see a masterful recreation of Queen’s performance during Live Aid.
The filmmakers did a great job recreating this. And even though there’s not a lot to compare with history here, I did want to point out they even got the set list correct.
The set list for Queen’s performance at Live Aid was just like the movie shows: The first half of Bohemian Rhapsody first followed by Radio Ga Ga. Then there was the Ay-Oh! improve bit. Yup, that happened.
Next was Hammer to Fall. After that was Crazy Little Thing Called Love, the first verse and chorus of We Will Rock You, and finally We Are the Champions.
At the very end of the show, Brian May and Freddie Taylor came out on stage to do an acoustic version of Is This The World We Created?
All in all, Queen’s performance stole the show. You can find versions of the show on YouTube, just do a search for “Queen Live Aid” — and of course, I’ll add a link to that in the show notes over on
At the very end of the movie, there’s some text on screen to wrap up the story after Live Aid. So, let’s do a quick fact-check on these.
It starts by saying that Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related pneumonia on the 24th of November in 1991.
That’s true. Freddie Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS in April of 1987. According to an interview on the Sacramento Bee newspaper with Brian May in 1993, the band was informed of Freddie’s diagnosis just a short time before he died.
Freddie was, like the movie says, only 45 years old when he passed.
The next bit of text explains that Freddie and Jim enjoyed a loving relationship for the rest of his life while he and Mary Austin remained life-long friends.
That’s true, too. We haven’t talked too much about Jim Hutton, but he and Freddie became an item in 1985. They remained together until Freddie passed in ’91.
As for Mary, she and Freddie always loved each other. I don’t think anyone could deny that. They just misidentified what that love meant during their early part of the relationship. Once they separated, there was still a bond there that never really faltered — they were good friends for life.
The next piece of text says that Freddie was cremated in the tradition of his family’s Zoroastrian faith.
And again, that’s true.
Freddie passed away at home on November 24th, 1991. Three days later, a Zoroastrian priest conducted the funeral service at the West London Crematorium. It was a closed service that only included 35 of his close friends, one of which was Elton John, his family, and the other band members.
The next bit of text says that two weeks after Freddie died, Bohemian Rhapsody was re-released and reached #1 again…a full 16 years after its initial release.
That’s mostly true, although according to my research I could only find that the song made it as high as #2 on the Billboard music charts. And it also wasn’t two weeks, but two months. Still, impressive.
Bohemian Rhapsody was first released in 1975 on the album A Night at the Opera. Then, in January of 1992, it was re-released along with the song The Show Must Go On in honor of Freddie. All the proceeds for that re-released single went to the Magic Johnson Foundation for AIDS research.
The final bit of text says that in 1992, Queen and Jim Beach established the Mercury Phoenix Trust in Freddie’s honor — dedicated to fighting AIDS worldwide.
That’s true, too.
According to the Mercury Phoenix Trust’s website, since its inception, the Trust has given away over $15 million dollars in Freddie’s name to over 700 projects in the ongoing battle to fight HIV/AIDS.
And it is ongoing.
The Trust is still very active today, and while I’m not associated with the Trust at all, in the research I’ve done for this episode, it does seem like they’re doing some great work. You can learn more about their mission and help them fight AIDS in honor of Freddie Mercury’s memory over at



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