Pop Singer George Michael Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In 1998, pop singer George Michael was arrested by an undercover Beverly Hills police officer for engaging in a lewd act in a public restroom. Michael, who paid a fine and did community service, incorporated the incident into a song and music video. His arresting officer sued him for slander because of the song and video, but lost his case. After the arrest, Michael also came out as gay.

Summary of Event

The 1980’s brought the British pop duo Wham! out of its native Great Britain and into the forefront of the American music scene. Singing peppy tunes such as “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and sad ballads such as “Careless Whisper,” the duo, made up of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, attracted a fairly broad audience. Flashy singer Michael drew much press attention for his alleged relationships with a variety of celebrities, ranging from Whoopi Goldberg to Brooke Shields. However, Michael knew he was gay from a relatively young age and had been out to much of his family, including one sister, by the time he was nineteen years old. [kw]Michael Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct, Pop Singer George (Apr. 7, 1998) Michael, George Michael, George [g]United States;Apr. 7, 1998: Pop Singer George Michael Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct[02890] [c]Drugs;Apr. 7, 1998: Pop Singer George Michael Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct[02890] [c]Law and the courts;Apr. 7, 1998: Pop Singer George Michael Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct[02890] [c]Music and peforming arts;Apr. 7, 1998: Pop Singer George Michael Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct[02890] [c]Popular culture;Apr. 7, 1998: Pop Singer George Michael Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct[02890] [c]Public morals;Apr. 7, 1998: Pop Singer George Michael Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct[02890] [c]Publishing and journalism;Apr. 7, 1998: Pop Singer George Michael Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct[02890] [c]Sex crimes;Apr. 7, 1998: Pop Singer George Michael Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct[02890] Rodriguez, Marcelo

George Michael, left, with Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley in 1984.

(PA Photos/Landov)

By the end of 1986, Wham! disbanded, and Michael launched his own career. He had a number of hits, including “Faith” and “I Want Your Sex,” and a hit duet with R&B singer Aretha Franklin called “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me.” While he was touring in 1991, he met and fell in love with Feleppa, Anselmo Anselmo Feleppa, a Brazilian fashion designer, who died in 1993 from AIDS-related complications. Michael’s 1996 single “Jesus to a Child” and his album Older, from the same year, are both dedicated to Feleppa. Michael wrote Older under the influence of marijuana and developed a habit for the drug. In 1998, he claimed he was outing himself to his fans with Older and with “Jesus to a Child,” and he had already been out to his family and friends for several years. One family member he was not out to was his mother, who died in 1997.

Michael’s career by this point had moved almost entirely to Britain, and he had little popularity with American fans. However, while in California in 1998, his sexuality became tabloid fodder. On April 7, he was followed into a park’s public restroom by undercover Beverly Hills police officer Marcelo Rodriguez. Michael exposed himself and was arrested as he left the restroom for his car. The arrest was not a surprise to the media, and it failed as a major news story in either the United States or Great Britain.

The arrest did trigger some publicity, however, and Michael took quick steps to address the matter. He came out as gay while interviewed by Jim Moret on CNN’s NewsNight. Michael had not intended to discuss his sexual orientation with the press, but he wanted to discuss the circumstances that led up to his arrest. In an MTV MTV interview in November, Michael said that being oversexed was the issue, not his homosexuality. In later interviews, he said he thought he had been set up by the Beverly Hills Police Department with help from the London Paparazzi paparazzi, but he could not prove his accusations. In 2005, he said that gay celebrities did what they could to desexualize themselves so as to appear nonthreatening to their fans. Michael said he felt no need to maintain such a low profile, and he admitted to enjoying public gay sex.

During his NewsNight interview, Michael said he had been embarrassed by his arrest, suggesting he had behaved in the same manner before. He was, in fact, involved in a monogamous relationship with Kenny Goss, an American clothing executive, at the time of his arrest. Michael told MTV the relationship was not open, but that Goss had forgiven him. However, he told other news sources that the relationship indeed was open. Years later, in 2007, he admitted that the actions that led to his arrest were unconsciously deliberate, that he wanted to get caught. He said it was difficult for him to be closeted publicly but out privately. He had kept his sexuality secret before 1998, largely for the sake of his mother, whom, he believed, would have suffered from worrying about his chances of HIV infection or of developing AIDS.

Michael pleaded no contest at his criminal trial for lewd conduct. He received a light fine (approximately eight hundred dollars) and was ordered to perform community service.

Impact

The consummate entertainer, Michael immediately capitalized on his arrest and conviction with his next single, “Outside,” which mocked and condemned police persecution of public sex between men. The video for the single, released in November, 1998, depicts dancers in police uniforms kissing in a men’s restroom transformed into a dance club.

In 1999, the scandal reemerged when the arresting police officer, Rodriguez, sued Michael, claiming he was maligned by his video, song, and interviews with the media. Rodriguez said the video was intended to mock him specifically and that Michael had slandered him in interviews. He filed a ten-million-dollar civil suit in a California court, demanding compensation for emotional distress. The case was dismissed but reinstated on appeal. The court determined that because Rodriguez was a public servant, he was ineligible to recover monies for emotional damages. The media suggested, indirectly, that the suit was nothing more than an attempt to get a chunk of Michael’s roughly $100 million estate.

Michael’s career was unaffected by the scandal. His greatest hits album Twentyfive debuted at the top of the British charts in November, 1998, just months after his arrest. Scandal is often an intrinsic part of celebrity life, and Michael’s arrest was accepted in stride by his fans. Furthermore, his coming out as gay had no apparent negative effect on his career. Michael, George

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gill, John. Queer Noises: Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth Century Music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995. Analyzes the music industry’s shift from repression to general acceptance of homosexuality beginning during the early part of the twentieth century with the blues and through the age of rock during the 1990’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jovanovic, Rob. George Michael: The Biography. London: Portrait, 2007. Critical biography of Michael, incorporating much discussion of his sexuality and his pop-music career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leap, William L., ed. Public Sex/Gay Space. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. A collection of studies that explore the intersections of gay sex and public sex and how these acts coalesce to form a type of gay space. Good background material.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Michael, George. George Michael: In His Own Words. London: Omnibus, 1999. Michael discusses his homosexuality and his admittedly oversexed personality.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Newton, Michael, and John L. French. Celebrities and Crime. New York: Chelsea House, 2008. Written especially for younger readers, this book examines the intersection of celebrity and crime. Discusses how law enforcement handles celebrities accused of criminal acts and celebrities victimized by crime.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wapshott, Nicholas, and Tim Wapshott. Older: The Unauthorized Biography of George Michael. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1998. Published in the same year as the scandal. A critical examination of Michael’s life and career.

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