How did George Michael die? New Netflix documentary Wham! looks back at the singer's life

As the new documentary Wham! is now on Netflix, we answer; how did George Michael die?

George Michael in Wham!
(Image credit: Getty)

A new Netflix documentary looks back at the meteoric rise of singer George Michael and friend Andrew Ridgeley during their time in 80s pop band Wham!

George spent four years as frontman of Wham!, which also featured backing singers Shirlie Kemp (nee Holliman) and Pepsi DeMarcque, before going on to have a hugely successful solo career. The new documentary features archive interviews with George and Andrew as well as never-seen-before footage, and has viewers asking questions about the pair, from where Andrew Ridgeley is now to when did George Michael come out.

Singer George tragically died suddenly on Christmas Day in 2016. Here we take a look at the new Wham! documentary and a deeper dive into George's life, his personal struggles with his sexuality, his early death, and what happened afterwards.

How did George Michael die?

The legendary Wham! frontman George Michael died unexpectedly aged just 53 on Christmas Day in 2016. The following year in March 2017, senior coroner for Oxfordshire Darren Salter confirmed that George had died of natural causes, having suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy with myocarditis and fatty liver. 

The singer was found dead in bed by his boyfriend Fadi Fawaz. He was living in Goring-on-Thames, South Oxfordshire, at the time of death.

According to the Mayo Clinic, dilated cardiomyopathy can be an inherited condition, or is sometimes caused by viral infections and high blood pressure. It's a disease of the heart when the left ventricle stretches and can't pump blood properly. As the muscle gets weaker, it can lead to heart failure. 

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart commonly caused by a viral, bacterial or fungal infection. The Mayo Clinic explains: "Severe myocarditis weakens the heart so that the rest of the body doesn't get enough blood. Clots can form in the heart, leading to a stroke or heart attack."

Meanwhile, fatty liver disease is caused by a build-up of fat in the liver, and can be worsened by alcoholism, says the NHS. But it can also affect people who aren't heavy drinkers. Other common causes of fatty liver include diabetes, kidney disease and obesity.

“Enquiries into the death of George Michael have been concluded and the final post-mortem report received," the Oxfordshire coroner said in a statement. "As there is a confirmed natural cause of death, being dilated cardiomyopathy with myocarditis and fatty liver, the investigation is being discontinued and there is no need for an inquest or any further inquiries."

George would have turned 60 in June this year, and Elton John dedicated his hit duet Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me in memory of his good friend during his epic Glastonbury set in 2023.

The new Netflix documentary on 1980's icons Wham! is on Netflix now

(Image credit: Netflix)

What is the Wham! documentary about?

This new documentary uses archive footage to chart the rise of schoolfriends George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley during their time in the bestselling 80s pop duo Wham! It looks back at their childhood friendship and their rise to global fame.

Starting the story in their hometown of Hertfordshire, the new Netflix documentary charts their friendship, and covers George's personal struggles before he came out as gay during a CNN interview in 1998. 

Aged 34 at the time, he told CNN's Jim Moret that his first homosexual relationship wasn't until he was 27, and he chose to keep his sexuality private because of the way he'd been scrutinised throughout his career. 

The exclusive interview was poignant for more reasons than one - just three days earlier George had been arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer in a public restroom in Beverly Hills, California. Although the singer pleaded guilty to engaging in a lewd act in public, he claimed he was a victim of entrapment. 

He later went on to write the song Outside about the experience, and the accompanying music video featured George dressed as a policeman kissing another male officer.

In the days before George's death, he was working on a documentary about his life, George Michael: Freedom. The documentary aired almost a year after he died and featured some of his final conversations. In the film, he talked about the death of his first love, Anselmo Feleppa, from AIDS, and his mum Lesley.

“From the day I found out about my partner to the day I can say I was on the mend from my mother, it was just constant fear. It was either fear of death, or fear of the next bereavement,” he said in the documentary. “I’d never felt that kind of depression. It was the darkest time."

Why was there speculation around George's death?

After he died, some fans claimed George's death was caused by his previous drug use. In 2008 he was arrested for drug possession and later told The Guardian that he had been smoking crack cocaine at the time. In the same interview, he admitted that he smoked at least seven marijuana joints a day.

He had a car accident in 2010 and was charged with driving while unfit through drink or drugs, and spent four months in jail. It was a turning point for the singer, who said at the time: “After that crash happened, I started drug counselling and was two weeks in detox, none of which I made public. It feels so completely behind me now. It really does.”

But a childhood friend Andros Georgiou claimed the singer had started taking hard drugs again in the months leading up to his death, believing that George had accidentally mixed drugs, antidepressants, and alcohol with fatal results. Andros also speculated that Fadi had something to do with George's death, despite Thames Valley Police confirming that it was "not suspicious". 

Despite all the speculation George's family refused to be drawn into the drama, and said in a statement that they did not “wish to comment in relation to any such speculation, whether current or in the future.”

All the rumours were finally quashed in March 2017 when the Oxfordshire coroner made his verdict that George had died of natural causes.

How much was George Michael worth when he died?

George Michael reportedly had assets worth £200 million when he died, the bulk of which went to his two sisters Melanie and Yioda. According to Today's Wills and Probate, they received equal shares of the majority of his assets, including two London properties.

George also left money to his dad Kyriacos Panayiotou, as well as a racing horse farm where he had been living for some time. The rest of his estate was split between other family members and seven friends, including Wham! bandmate Shirlie and record producer, David Austin. 

Both George's ex-partner Kenny Goss and boyfriend at the time of death Fadi inherited nothing from the Will.

Looking for more stories like this? Find out; why did Wham! break up? and What happened to Sage Stallone?

Maddy Biddulph
Freelance parenting writer

Maddy Biddulph is a freelance journalist specialising in lifestyle and family-focused content. With 25 years in consumer media, she has worked as a writer and editor for some of the bestselling newspapers, magazines and websites in the UK and US.  As a mum of two art-obsessed daughters, Daphne and Esther, Maddy is always looking for parenting hacks to make life easier. She is also a Level 3 personal trainer, and creates energising workouts for busy mums who need some me time.