OXFORDSHIRE, England, Dec. 25 (UPI) -- George Michael, one of Britain's most popular, controversial and successful pop rockers of the last quarter of the 20th century, died at his London area home Sunday, his publicist announced. He was 53.
Michael, whose real name was Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, died "peacefully" at his home, according to a statement by publicist Michael Lippman.
"It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period," the statement said.
"The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage."
The cause of the singer's death was not immediately disclosed but police reportedly said there were no suspicious circumstances. Later Sunday, Michael's longtime manager told the Hollywood Reporter that heart failure was suspected.
"I went to wake him up and he was just gone, lying peacefully in bed," Michael's partner, Fadi Fawaz, told The Telegraph. "George was looking forward to Christmas, and so was I."
The legendary singer's death was first reported by BBC News.
Authorities said an ambulance was sent to Michael's Oxfordshire home, about 55 miles northwest of downtown London, on Sunday afternoon. However, it was not disclosed what motivated the emergency call.
The star's death prompted an outpouring of reactions from fans and industry colleagues on Sunday.
"I just heard about my friend George Michael's death. He was such a brilliant talent. I'm so sad," Ellen DeGeneres, who revealed she was gay about the same time as Michael, tweeted.
"Unbelievable. RIP George Michael," added comedian Ricky Gervais.
"Beyond sad, you were a legend, and you were far too young. Blasting 'Last Christmas' now," group One Republic posted.
"Is this year over yet? Too many people are passing away. Rest In Peace, George Michael," he said.
Born in London on June 25, 1963, the son of a Greek restaurateur and an English dancer, Michael had aspirations to be a professional musician while still a teenager. In secondary school, he met Andrew Ridgeley and the two eventually formed the pop duo Wham! in 1981.
The pair's second album, Make It Big, spawned three No. 1 hit singles in the United States -- "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go," "Careless Whisper," and "Everything She Wants." Another single from the album, "Freedom," peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 3. The album itself also charted at No. 1 and was the fourth best-selling album of 1985 in the United States.
The previous autumn, Michael collaborated with a number of other British music stars to record a charity single and raise money for famine in Africa. The result, "Do They Know It's Christmas," a tune that enjoys heavy rotation during the holidays to this day, quickly climbed atop the U.K. chart.
Michael left Wham! and embarked on a solo career in 1986, instantly going to work on his debut album, Faith -- indisputably his most successful solo project. The record produced six top 5 singles on the U.S. chart -- including four No. 1s in a row between December 1987 and August 1988 -- and was the best-selling U.S. album of 1988 on the Billboard 200 chart.
The No. 1 singles from the record -- "Faith," "Father Figure," "One More Try" and "Monkey" -- continue to receive airplay today. The video for "Faith," which famously portrays Michael with acoustic guitar, leather jacket and dangling gold earring, is one of the most enduring musical images from the 1980s. More than 25 million copies of the record were sold and it won a Grammy for 1988 album of the year.
A singer, songwriter and record producer, the visionary Michael established himself as an international sex symbol who used his music and celebrity to raise social awareness during the decade. A flamboyant and sometimes controversial performer, he pushed the envelope with sexually liberal lyrics and film noir-style erotic imagery in many of his supermodel-laden music videos and concerts.
His song "I Want Your Sex," the video to which endorsed monogamy and safe sex, was partly censored for radio play in 1987 due to its sexually robust lyrics. Some disc jockeys even refused to say the song's title. Despite its well-publicized censorship -- or perhaps because of it -- the track peaked on the U.S. chart at No. 2.
Michael's second solo effort, Listen Without Prejudice, followed in 1990. Although it spun another No. 1 hit, "Praying For Time," that album didn't approach the success of Faith, selling just 8 million units and sparking a legal dispute and a split between the singer and Sony, as Michael did not feel the label gave the record sufficient promotional muscle.
One song intended for an unproduced follow-up record, "Too Funky," peaked at No. 10 in the United States in 1992. Duets with Aretha Franklin and Elton John also topped the Billboard chart in 1987 and 1991, respectively.
A third solo album, Older, was released in 1996 through Virgin records, and sold nearly 3 million copies in Britain and the United States. It contained two singles that became top 10 U.S. hits. Two more studio albums, Songs From the Last Century and Patience, arrived in 1999 and 2004 -- the latter marking Michael's return to Sony.
Two compilation albums were produced in 1998 and 2006 and a live record in 2014 was Michael's last before his death. All told, Michael sold more than 100 million albums, won two Grammys and scored eight No. 1 singles in his 35-year career.
A Briton who also had a great love for the United States, Michael was arrested in Beverly Hills in 1998 for allegedly engaging in a lewd act at a public restroom. The story generated sensational headlines and the singer ultimately pleaded no contest to the charge -- an episode the singer himself later parodied in the video to his song "Outside."
The arrest prompted Michael to reveal he was gay -- a disclosure that shocked many unsuspecting fans due to his status as a sex symbol and the bold heterosexual imagery he often employed in his music videos.
In 2011, Michael was hospitalized in Austria for a month due to a severe case of pneumonia -- 10 days of which were spent in the intensive care unit. Multiple concert dates were canceled because of the lung infection. About four years ago, he was hospitalized again for a head injury he received after falling from his vehicle on Britain's M1 motorway.
Prior to his death Sunday, Michael had been working on another studio album, as well as a documentary set for release next year.
"George Michael is busy putting the finishing touches to his special documentary film 'Freedom'," his Facebook page stated Nov. 2. "It promises to be a real treat for fans!"
Elton John said Sunday he was in "deep shock" over Michael's death and Ridgeley expressed sorrow on his Twitter page.
"Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend," he tweeted. "4ever loved."