Pop singer George Michael and Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher join a large number of famous people who died this year… Whenever I hear of a celebrity passing I’m reminded of the profound statement Jesus made in Mark 8:35-37: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and for the Gospel will save it. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Jesus is saying here that you can win the world’s accolades and accumulate great amounts of earthly riches, but if your heart isn’t right with God, nothing you have achieved is going to help you when your life comes to an end and you stand before His holy throne. You can’t take your fame, your worldly goods, or even your charitable deeds, with you.
Who Can Forget Wham!?
Like so many others, I owned several Wham! cassette tapes back in the 80s and enjoyed dancing to the beats of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Last Christmas” at youth clubs. And who can forget slow-dancing with your latest crush to the tunes of “Careless Whisper”?
In the Wham! posters on our teenage bedroom walls fresh-faced George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley sported the latest 80s fashion while gazing at us, flirtatiously, from under fluffy, highlighted locks. How handsome they were! Especially Michael… With his leather jacket and beard stubble he was the epiphany of masculinity and melted thousands upon thousands of teenage girl hearts.
Great was our surprise when Michael came out publicly in the late 90s and announced he was gay after having spent years “in the closet”. He was involved in several short and long-term gay relationships, and it was his most recent boyfriend who found the 53-year old Michael lifeless in his bed Christmas morning.
Michael was a prominent gay rights advocate and raised a lot of money for AIDS research (one of his earlier boyfriends died of complications from AIDS in 1993). However, in recent years, the once dashingly handsome pop star was rarely seen in the public eye. In the wake of his death, neighbors have reported that he was a bloated version of himself and didn’t look like George Michael anymore. They saw Christmas deliveries arriving at his home, but no guests. He was also absent from the midnight service at his local church, which he had attended last year. The last time Michael was seen, he was watching the torchlight procession on Christmas Eve from his window, all by himself.
A Troubled Soul
Michael is thought to have battled heroin addiction as well as an addiction to crack cocaine although this has not been verified. It’s interesting to note, however, that cardiac arrest – the cause of death according to Michael’s manager – is common among those who have used heroin. Either way, one thing we can say for certain, looking at the way Michael chose to live his life and at statements he made in candid interviews with the press over the years, is that he was a troubled soul.
But to his fans he was the defining pop idol of their generation, to his admirers he had one of the most beautiful voices in British pop. His chart-topping hits earned him more than £100 million over the course of his career, first as part of Wham! and later as a solo artist. The day after his death, it was reported that Spotify streams of his solo music shot up more than 3,000%.
Scores of George Michael fans went to pay respects to the late singer by leaving mementos, candles, albums, flowers and balloons outside his London residence as well as his riverside home in Oxfordshire, which is where he died unexpectedly earlier this week.
A large number of celebrities took to social media platforms to express their sorrow. Super model Naomi Campbell, for one, spoke about Michael’s indelible impact on fans and, in particular, members of the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) community. “You will never know how many lives you touched with your soulful voice and your fight for LGBT rights,” she wrote. “Stand tall, George, the angels are awaiting you!!! May you rest in peace.” Former 1980s teen idol Rob Lowe tweeted, “Voice of an angel. Now he can sing for them,” while Boy George from the 80’s band Culture Club had this to say: “I hope the Buddha will hold him in his arms.”
Not surprisingly, the sentiment was, across the entertainment industry, that George Michael – because he was talented, inspiring, and generous with his money – has joined the angels in heaven and is now in the presence of God (or the Buddha…take your pick).
Michael achieved super stardom in life, and in the wake of his death he is being praised and worshiped perhaps like never before, by fans and fellow entertainers alike. Nothing new there… We saw the exact same thing when Michael Jackson died, at the passing of Whitney Houston, of Prince, David Bowie, Princess Diana, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe…the list goes on and on. It’s to be expected. When a star dies, the world stops for a moment. It grieves, it remembers their talent, their contribution, and their charitable deeds.
But then the world goes on. Everything returns to normal. The memory of the star lives on for a while – the bigger they were, the longer they are remembered – but eventually, even the memory of them fades. Truth be told, a couple decades from now hardly anyone will remember who George Michael was.
The Only Thing That Matters
When all is said and done, it won’t make an iota of a difference whether the whole world knows your name or only God knows it. It will be of no significance whether you were sought after and admired while here on earth or you lived your life in obscurity. The only thing that’s going to matter is whether you have received forgiveness for your sins through Jesus Christ and that you used your life to serve Him. The first saves you from hell and allows you to enter heaven, the latter determines your heavenly rewards.
As someone rightly stated, “No matter how big your house is, how recent your car is, or how big your bank account is, our graves will always be the same size.” Indeed. Life is a vapor and then comes eternity. Let’s remember that. Let’s remember that God’s definition of success is radically different than that of the world. And let’s be careful not to read news accounts about the death of stars through rose colored glasses, or pay attention to the spiritual musings of celebrities who have no knowledge of biblical truth.
No…it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul. Whether you’re George Michael or John Doe, ALL that matters when God looks at you – be it in this life or in eternity – is that He sees you clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Though Michael’s lifestyle may suggest otherwise, I hope that somehow – by the lavish, extraordinary, amazing grace of God – he repented and left this earthly life not covered in his own sin but in the holiness of the Lord Jesus… I hope that with all my heart.