On September 5, 1946, the man who would become known as Freddie Mercury was born. Here are some things you might not have known about the Queen frontman (and devoted cat fiend) whose iconic voice has been studied by scientists and whose life was turned into an Oscar-winning biopic.
Freddie 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.
2. Freddie Mercury's 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.
Before landing on the stage name Freddie Mercury, the singer performed under the moniker Larry Lurex. He later said the name was a “personal piss-take” of Gary Glitter, whom Mercury did not care for. The one single he released under Larry Lurex bombed on the charts. Luckily, Queen’s debut album was released a week later.
4. Freddie Mercury and his family practiced Zoroastrian.
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.
The teeth were in the back of his mouth, which is what pushed his front teeth forward and produced his trademark overbite. He was self-conscious about the way his teeth appeared, but refused to have them fixed, believing that altering anything about his mouth could change his vocal performances.
6. Freddie Mercury's teeth are responsible for the rise of the Sex Pistols.
In December 1976, Queen had to cancel an appearance on Bill Grundy’s Today show because Freddie had developed a severe toothache and had to make an emergency visit to the dentist. The Sex Pistols were brought in as a replacement; their appearance was marked by a barrage of profanity, sarcasm, and alleged drunkenness. The shocking display is often pinpointed as the moment they began their meteoric rise.
As a tween, Mercury collected stamps from Zanzibar, the UK, New Zealand, and Monaco. His childhood stamp collecting album is one of the few possessions Freddie’s family kept after his death; the British Postal Museum acquired it in 1993 and sometimes lends it out for exhibitions, such as a 2016 Stampex show that also included the stamps John Lennon collected (and doodled on) as a child.
8. Freddie Mercury 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.
Musicians sometimes report that ideas come to them in dreams, and Mercury was prepared to capture inspiration at any time. Before becoming famous, he used an upright piano as the headboard to his bed, and would play it backward when ideas struck. "He was double-jointed and his hands could bend back completely and I think that’s where some of the passages from 'Bohemian Rhapsody' started," Mercury's former manager John Reid once explained.
10. Freddie Mercury 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 the 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.
Thanks to a degree in art and graphic design from Ealing Art College, Mercury was able to be more than just 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.
12. Freddie Mercury had a hard time relaxing.
“It’s a waste of time,” Mercurytold an interviewer in 1985 about getting a little R&R. “I hardly read books. I think that’s a waste of time. People are going to kill me for this.”
Although he was 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 wasn't the person he put over on stage.”
14. Freddie Mercury’s parties were lavish.
Mercury may have been shy, but the movie Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t exaggerate the musician's partying ways. The tales of his legendary gatherings persist even decades later: Birthday parties lasted for days and mightinvolveflamenco dancers, fireworks, $50,000 in champagne, and plenty of illegal substances. One of his most infamous bashes, held in celebration of the launch of Queen’s Jazz album, sounds like something Stefon from SNL would have dreamed up: “Freddie Mercury’s party for the launch of Queen’s Jazz album has everything: Snake charmers, 50 dead trees, and strippers with an unusual method of smoking.” His 1987 birthday party in Ibiza was so epic that the hotel still celebrates it every year.
That traces the origins of the epic tune to before he joined Queen in 1970. He was still a student at Ealing Art College when he got an idea for a tune he referred to as “The Cowboy Song” because of the Old West feel of the Johnny Cash-like lyric, “Mama, just killed a man.”
16. Freddie was aware that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was going to be in Wayne’s World—and he loved it.
Mike Myers told Brian May that they wanted to use the song in a new film and sent the clip for him to review. "I took it around to Freddie, who was not in a good state at that time,” May told the BBC in 2017. “He was … confined to his bed, but I took it round and played it to him and he loved it. Strangely enough, the humor in it was quite close to our own. Because we did that kind of thing in the car, bouncing up and down to our own tracks!” After its appearance in the hit movie, the song hit the charts again and made Queen a bigger hit than ever in the U.S.
In late 1977, Mercury was the surprise guest of the Royal Ballet at a charity event that took place at the London Coliseum, where they sang and dancedto "Bohemian Rhapsody." Between his costume changes and vocal gymnastics, Mercury performed lifts and impressively high kicks alongside the ballerinas.
18. Freddie Mercury wrote “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” in the bathtub.
His bed wasn’t the only unusual place Mercury wrote. He was taking a bubble bath at a Hilton Hotel in Munich, Germany, when he came up with the idea for the Elvis-inspired tune. Mercury later claimed the song took him between five and 10 minutes to write, and it was time well-spent: “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” would go on to become Queen’s first number 1 hit in the United States. Mercury once said that the song’s style was not “typical of my work, but that’s because nothing is typical of my work.”
Freddie Mercury and Princess Diana once spent the night hanging out at Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a legendary gay bar in South London.Mercury, actress Cleo Rocos, and comedian Kenny Everett all helped Diana dress up in an army jacket, cap, and sunglasses so that she could try to keep a low profile during her night out. But the real fun seems to have come before they even left for the bar: Mercury and Diana apparently spent the afternoon watching The Golden Girls, but turned the sound down and made up their own dialogue.
20. Freddie Mercury took his Scrabble seriously.
Life on the road wasn’t always about filled with debauchery. Queen drummer Roger Taylor said the band loved to play marathon sessions of Scrabble, with the game often coming down to him and Freddie. “Freddie was brilliant because he could score more with fewer tiles,” Taylor said, but Brian May held the band’s record for best word: “lacquers,” with the Q on the triple points square.
Elton John was Sharon, while Rod Stewart was Phyllis. Freddie himself went by the name Melina. Elton John received a painting from Mercury after his death, with a card that said, “Dear Sharon, I saw this at auction and thought you would love it. I love you, Melina.” The painting is still one of John’s most prized possessions. Not all of Freddie’s nicknames were meant fondly, however: He called Sid Vicious “Simon Ferocious,” which Vicious wasn’t particularly pleased about.
22. Kurt Cobain mentioned Freddie Mercury in his suicide note.
"When we're backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins it doesn't affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury," Cobain wrote . "[He] seemed to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd, which is something I totally admire and envy."
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.
24. One of Mercury’s songs was used as the theme for the 1992 Olympics.
In 1988, Mercury put his operatic talents to good use by teaming with opera singer Montserrat Caballé for the semi-operatic album Barcelona. He was a fan of Caballé, stating that she possessed “the best voice of anyone in existence.” The title track had been written with the intention of using it as the theme to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, but Mercury died the year before. Caballé took the stage alone, with Mercury’s vocals accompanying her.
Discovered in 1991, the year Freddie died, the asteroid formerly known as 17473 was dubbed Freddiemercury in 2016, the year he would have turned 70. “Even if you can’t see Freddiemercury leaping through the sky, you can be sure he’s there, ‘floating around in ecstasy,’ as he might sing, for millennia to come,” said Joel Parker of the Southwest Research Institute. The asteroid is in orbit in an asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter.
26. Freddie Mercury 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 irresistibleYou make me smile when I'm just about to cryYou bring me hope, you make me laugh - you like itYou get away with murder, so innocentBut 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 unpredictableYou make me so very happyWhen you cuddle up and go to sleep beside meAnd then you make me slightly madWhen you pee all over my Chippendale Suite
Although he had one purebred cat, Tiffany—given to him by Mary Austin, his onetime fiancée-turned-lifelong confidante—the rest of Mercury's cats were all shelter rescues. They included Tom, Jerry, Miko, Goliath, Dorothy, Lily, Oscar, Romeo, and the aforementioned Delilah.
28. Freddie Mercury recorded several songs with Michael Jackson.
In 1983, Mercury visited Michael Jackson’s home in Encino, California, to work on three demos: “There Must Be More to Life Than This,” “State of Shock,” and “Victory.” They were never really finished, although a version of “There Must Be More to Life Than This” was released on Mercury’s 1985 solo album, Mr Bad Guy. “We never seemed to be in the same country long enough to actually finish anything completely,” Mercury once said of the King of Pop. But he was apparently also frustrated by the fact that Jackson insisted on bringing a llama into the recording studio.
Here's how that happened: early in Queen's career, Mercury 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.
30. Freddie Mercury’s famous yellow military outfit sold for big bucks.
The yellow jacket and coordinating pants worn during Queen’s 1986 “Magic” European tour sold for more than $36,000 atauction in 2004.
Mercury's former fiancée and forever friend Mary Austin received 50 percent of his wealth and future earnings upon his death. His parents received 25 percent and his sister received 25 percent as well. When Freddie’s parents passed away, their 25 percent reverted to Austin.
32. The location of Freddie Mercury’s ashes is super secret.
Many of Mercury’s friends have said that he had come to terms with his impending death from AIDS complications and wasn’t worried about dying —but he was concerned about what happened to him afterward. “He didn’t want anyone trying to dig him up as has happened with some famous people,” longtime companion Mary Austin told The Daily Mail. “Fans can be deeply obsessive.” After Austin was given Mercury’s ashes, she waited two years to remove them from his home (which he left to her in his will). She has never disclosed what she did with his ashes, and says she never will.
A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2021.