Born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsee Indian parents, the flamboyant performer who would later be known as Freddie Mercury began his life in Stone Town, the center of commerce for the small African island of Zanzibar, where his father held a civil service post at the British Colonial Office. Sent to the British-run St. Peter's boarding school in Panchgani, India, at the age of eight, Farrokh displayed a strong aptitude for sports, art and music; at his headmaster's recommendation his parents added piano lessons to his curriculum, and by the age of twelve he was performing alongside four of his schoolmates in The Hectics, St. Peter's first rock and roll band. It was during his years at boarding school that he became known as "Freddie", a name which even his parents and relatives came to use for him. After completing school in 1962 Freddie returned to Zanzibar, but two years later politcal upheavals forced him and his family to leave, ultimately settling in the British county of Middlesex.
Once in Britain, Freddie decided to pursue an art education, enrolling at Isleworth Polytechnic to earn his A level in art while supporting himself with various manual labor jobs. By 1966 the promising student had been accepted into the Ealing College of Art, and he subsequently moved into a flat in Kensington to begin a study of graphic illustration. It was during this time that Freddie was once again drawn towards the music side of his interests by friend and bass player Tim Staffell, a member of the band Smile alongisde guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. Freddie and Tim briefly created their own ensemble with Freddie's roommate Chris Smith and fellow student Nigel Foster, and although no completed songs resulted from their time together, the sessions did provide the start of Freddie's career as a vocalist. In 1969 he completed his work at Ealing and opened an art and clothing stall in Kensington with Taylor, but soon after added his talents to the Liverpool band Ibex -- eventually changing their name to Wreckage before they ceased to exist later in the year.
Determined to continue his music career, towards the end of 1969 Freddie responded to an ad for a vocalist placed by the band Sour Milk Sea, but this new situation would disintegrate even more rapidly than his previous one. The departure of Tim Staffnell from Smile provided a new opportunity almost immediately afterwards, and in April of 1970 Freddie joined up with his friends Taylor and May -- changing the band's name to Queen and changing his own name to Freddie Mercury. A transitional period followed, during which the three developed their sound and moved through a series of bass players; a successful match was finally found in the person of John Deacon in 1971, and ultimately a deal with EMI was arranged. A few months prior to any release by the band, Mercury released the single I Can Hear Music b/w Going Back under the name Larry Lurex (although still backed by his Queen bandmates), which quickly vanished without a trace.
Queen's self-titled debut arrived in 1973, positioning them in the UK top 30 for several months and giving them some mild radio rotation with the song Keep Yourself Alive. Critical response to the release was far from enthusiastic -- a condition that would persist throughout most of the band's career. The second release Queen II (1974) fared a little better than the first album, and it's single Seven Seas of Rhye provided them with their first entry into the top 10; but it would be the third album Sheer Heart Attack (1975) and the single Killer Queen that finally earned mainstream success for the band, both releases finding their way up to number 2 chart positions in the UK, while finding a much larger audience in the States as well. Mercury and his bandmates then cemented their reputation for elaborate, theatrical productions with the release of 1975's A Night at the Opera: a career-defining album that featured one of the band's most popular (and ambitious) songs, Bohemian Rhapsody.
Continuing in the same vein as Opera, the fifth Queen effort A Day at the Races (both it and its predecessor taking their titles from films by the Marx Brothers) was released in 1976, the lead single Somebody to Love once again utilizing the extensive, multi-tracked vocals that charcterized Bohemian Rhapsody. By this time Queen had become one of the leading stadium rock bands of the decade, attracting enormous audiences in many different parts of the world to their over-the-top live performances. The critical reception given to the band's output continued to be somewhat unfavorable despite this huge popularity, and subsequent albums such as News of the World (1977) and Jazz (1978) -- while still finding their way high into the charts -- were given dismissive reviews. A brief hiatus from the exausting schedule of recording and touring of the previous five years was subsequently taken in 1979, the gap in releases being filled by the platinum-selling live album Live Killers. In October of that year, Mercury was given the opportunity to perform with the Royal Ballet, adding live vocals to orchestral versions of Bohemian Rhapsody and the band's newest single, Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
In 1980 Queen returned with one of the most successful albums of their career, topping both the US and UK charts with the platinum-selling effort The Game. The first two singles Another One Bites The Dust and Crazy Little Thing Called Love also managed to reach #1 in the States, while a considerably more reserved reception was given to the band's campy soundtrack to Mike Hodges updated version of Flash Gordon, released six months later. The David Bowie collaboration Under Pressure followed in 1981, once again placing Queen at the top of the UK charts, but the disco/funk leanings evident on some of the tracks of 1982's Hot Space outdistanced the sensibilities of their mainstream rock audience and resulted in somewhat of a backlash against the quartet. Another (and longer) hiatus from live performance was taken in 1983.
The subtle decline in Queen's fortunes continued in 1984, and while their 11th studio album The Works made the top 10 in most areas and produced several popular UK singles, response in the US set them back to their pre-Sheer Heart Attack days. This turn in public opinion was worsened by a series of performances at Sun City in South Africa in the midst of growing anti-apartheid sentiment in the West. In the aftermath, Mercury spent a period away from the band recording his only full-length solo album Mr. Bad Guy, released in early 1985; but he and his bandmates would reassemble in time for a show-stealing performance at the Live Aid benefit, staged at Wembley Stadium and broadcast around the globe in July. The next studio album A Kind of Magic successfully returned the band's into popular favor, and the subsequent tour (the final one to include Mercury, as it would later turn out) quickly sold out in Britain's largest venues.
While Queen took an extended break over 1987 and 1988, Mercury took the time to assemble two more solo projects: a single release of his interpretation of The Platters 1956 classic The Great Pretender (1987) and an album-length collaboration with soprano Montserrat Caballé titled Barcelona (1988). The latter project was completed after the singer had been diagnosed with AIDS -- a fact he struggled (not entirely successfully) to conceal for the next four years while continuing to pursue his creative activities. Another album with Queen, The Miracle, was released in 1989 to enthusiatic public response in the UK and Europe and a somewhat milder welcome in the US; it's follow-up Innuendo would surface two years later and represent the singer's final recorded performances. An official announcement of Mercury's illness was finally made on 23 November 1991 -- the day before he succumbed to AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia.