The legendary singer died at age 45 on Nov. 24, 1991, after a private battle with AIDS.
One of the most iconic musicians in rock history, Freddie Mercury died on Nov. 24, 1991, at the age of 45. The singer passed away after a private struggle with AIDS. It's been 30 years since he died and friends, family, and fans remember the flamboyant Queen frontman for his powerful spirit, showmanship, and vocals. "Freddie lived for his music and loved his music and he was proud of himself as a musician above everything else," said Queen lead guitarist Brian May in the upcoming documentary Freddie Mercury: The Final Act, as per PEOPLE. "Freddie was very extrovert onstage, as we all know, but he was very shy in his private life and liked to be private," May told PEOPLE in 2017.
"For him, the studio was an oasis, a place where life was just the same as it always had been," May pointed out in a 2013 interview with The Telegraph. "We all knew there wasn't much time left," but "Freddie wanted his life to be as normal as possible." May's wife Anita Dobson recalled to filmmaker James Rogan, according to a report in The Mirror, "I remember he said 'When I can't sing anymore darling, then I will die. I will drop dead.' And that's what he did."
Mercury was diagnosed with the disease in 1987. Over the next four years, his body weakened and he made fewer public appearances. Despite it all, he was determined to give it his all even in his last days. When he first wrote The Show Must Go On in 1989, May admitted he "was uncertain whether the title was too obvious." In a 2020 statement, he pointed out that "Freddie heard it and loved it and dismissed any thoughts that there was a problem with the chorus or the title. He wanted to work on it. We didn't discuss what the meaning of the song was, but it was of course evident in the background that it was an attempt to give a voice to the feelings that Freddie's valiant fight against AIDS created in all of us, and even in Freddie."
In May 1991, on their way to their Montreux studio, the singer began opening up. "He did sit us down and say, 'Look you know what I'm suffering from, you know what the problem is, but I don't want to talk about it anymore. I just want to make music until the day I f---ing die. And let's get on with it,'" May shared in the 2011 documentary Queen: Days of Our Lives. The assistant engineer in Switzerland, Justin Shirley-Smith also revealed that the atmosphere "wasn't sad, it was very happy. He was one of the funniest people I ever encountered. I was laughing most of the time, with him. Freddie was saying [of his illness], 'F--- that. I'm not going to think about it, I'm going to do this.' We all were."
Speaking to Telegraph, May noted that his longtime friend "had no fear, really" in those final days in the booth. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2014 he said, "There was a lot of joy, strangely enough." He added, "Sometimes it would only last a couple of hours a day because he would get very tired. But during that couple of hours, boy, would he give a lot. When he couldn't stand up, he used to prop himself up against a desk and down a vodka: 'I'll sing it till I f---ing bleed.'"
Freddie only announced that he was battling AIDS the day before he died. On Nov. 23, 1991, he publicly confirmed his AIDS diagnosis but noted, "I felt it correct to keep this information private in order to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has now come for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth, and I hope everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease." Director Rudi Dolezal recalled to PEOPLE in 2019 that he still remembers what the legendary singer told him in 1991: "Never try to be second best. Always go for the impossible."