10 Things You Might Not Know About Freddie Mercury

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On September 5, 1946, the man who would become known as Freddie Mercury was born. This weekend, audiences will finally get the chance to see Bohemian Rhapsody, Bryan Singer's long-awaited biopic of the legendary musician. But the film doesn't tell the whole story. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Queen frontman.

1. HIS BIRTH NAME WAS FARROKH BULSARA.

Farrokh Bulsara started going by Freddie when he was at St. Peter's, a boarding school for boys near Mumbai. He legally changed his name to Freddie Mercury around 1970, when Queen was formed.

2. HE WAS BORN IN ZANZIBAR.

Mercury was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar (now Tanzania). His family moved there so that his dad could continue his career at the British Colonial Office. He grew up between Zanzibar and India before moving to Middlesex, England when he was a teenager.

3. HE AND HIS FAMILY PRACTICED ZOROASTRIANISM.

Mercury and family were Parsis and practiced Zoroastrian, one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions. Even though he hadn't practiced in years, his funeral was performed by a Zoroastrian priest.

4. HE HAD A RECORDED RANGE OF ALMOST FOUR OCTAVES.

Mariah Carey claims five, for some perspective. When he spoke he was more of a baritone, but majority of his singing fell in the tenor range. In 2016, a team of scientists decided to study Mercury's voice. Among the many facts they concluded was that Mercury's vocal cords moved faster than the average person's. "While a typical vibrato will fluctuate between 5.4 Hz and 6.9 Hz, Mercury’s was 7.04 Hz," Consequence of Sound reported.

5. HE DESIGNED THE QUEEN EMBLEM, A.K.A. THE QUEEN CREST.

Thanks to a degree in art and graphic design from Ealing Art College, Mercury was able to just more than be the face of the band—he also helped to brand them. The crest he designed for the band is made of the zodiac signs of the whole band—two Leo lions for John Deacon and Roger Taylor, a Cancer crab for Brian May, and two fairies to represent Freddie's Virgo sign. The "Q" and the crown represent the band name, of course, and a phoenix protects the whole thing.

6. HE WAS REPORTEDLY VERY SHY.

Although he known for his wild, outgoing antics on stage, most people who knew Mercury personally said he was very shy in his personal life, which is one of the reasons he very rarely granted interviews. "In real life nobody knew Freddie," bandmate Roger Taylor once said. "He was shy, gentle and kind. He was never the one, he was on the stage.”

7. HE REVEALED THAT HE HAD AIDS JUST ONE DAY BEFORE HE DIED.

Mercury and his manager issued a statement confirming that he had AIDS the very day before he died. It had been widely speculated for a couple of years due to his gaunt appearance and Queen's sudden lack of touring. Some people were very upset by this delayed statement, saying that an earlier announcement could have raised a vast amount of money for the cause.

8. HE WAS A DEVOTED CAT LOVER.

He loved cats and had as many as 10 at one point. He even had an album and a song dedicated to his cats (Mr. Bad Guy). He wrote a song about his favorite cat, Delilah. Here's a bit of it:

Delilah, Delilah, oh my, oh my, oh my - you're irresistible
You make me smile when I'm just about to cry
You bring me hope, you make me laugh - you like it
You get away with murder, so innocent
But when you throw a moody you're all claws and you bite -
That's alright !
Delilah, Delilah, oh my, oh my, oh my - you're unpredictable
You make me so very happy
When you cuddle up and go to sleep beside me
And then you make me slightly mad
When you pee all over my Chippendale Suite

9. THE "BOTTOMLESS MIC" WAS AMONG HIS MANY TRADEMARKS.

Here's how that happened: early in Queen's career, he was apparently mid-show when his mic stand snapped in half. Instead of having it replaced, Freddie just used it as-is. He must have liked it, because he used the mic "stick" from then on.

10. HE WORKED AS A BAGGAGE HANDLER AT HEATHROW AIRPORT.

Long before he became one of the most celebrated singers in music history, Mercury held a slightly less glamorous position: baggage handler at Heathrow Airport. To celebrate Mercury's 72nd birthday, several of British Airways's Heathrow baggage handlers took time out of their day on September 5, 2018 to entertain travelers with a choreographed tribute to their former co-worker.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2009.

8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

Fifty years ago, on July 24, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. In honor of its 50th anniversary, here are some facts about the stellar track.

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Ziggy Stardust Barbie Debuts for 50th Anniversary of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

David Bowie Barbie doll from Mattel.
David Bowie Barbie doll from Mattel.
Mattel

On July 11, 1969, David Bowie released "Space Oddity"—a song that captured the spirit of the space age in the weeks leading up to the Apollo 11 Moon landing and launched a stellar new alter ego for the singer. Though he wouldn't officially adopt his Ziggy Stardust persona until he put out his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars a few years later, the song laid the foundation for his career-long obsession with the extraterrestrial. Now, David Bowie's iconic Ziggy Stardust character is being honored by another icon: Barbie.

Mattel's new Ziggy Stardust Barbie was made to coincide with the 50th anniversary of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on July 11, 2019. The androgynous doll rocks Ziggy's signature style, from the black nail polish to the fire engine-red platform boots. The metallic, red- and blue-striped "space suit" with the flared shoulders is taken straight from Bowie's early-1970s wardrobe. And of course, it wouldn't be Ziggy Stardust without the gold astral sphere painted on the forehead.

Even the packaging will appeal to David Bowie fans. The box has been printed with a collage featuring real photographs of the musician taken early in his career. The product also includes a doll stand and certificate of authenticity.

The special Ziggy Stardust Barbie is a "Gold Label" collector's item, meaning it's only available in limited quantities. You can purchase one from the online Barbie shop today for $50 while supplies last.

David Bowie Barbie doll from Mattel.
Mattel

David Bowie Barbie doll from Mattel.
Mattel

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