His Christmas song remains a classic, but heartbreakingly the joyous time of year was always one filled with pain for George Michael.
In the 90-minute documentary, which he was working on days before his death, Michael tells viewers how the passings of his first love, Anselmo Feleppa, and his mother, Lesley Angold Panayiotou, took an emotional toll on him, specifically during the five years between the deaths.
“This is the story of just how fame and tragedy intervened,” Michael says in the documentary – according to The Sun – about his personal life during the height of his band Wham!’s popularity.
Describing his emotions as feeling like he was “picked on by the gods,” the music legend opens up about the pain he felt from Christmas 1991 through December 1996.
“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,” Michael tells the cameras, according to a transcript obtained from The Mirror. “I’d never felt that kind of depression. It was the darkest time.”
Calling Christmas Day in 1991 as “the darkest, most frightening time in my life,” Michael recalls waiting in the U.K. to find out the results of fashion designer Feleppa’s AIDS diagnosis in Los Angeles, all while their relationship was kept secret from the public and their families.
“I sat at the Christmas table not knowing whether my partner, who the people around the table did not know about … not knowing whether the man I was in love with was terminally ill, therefore not knowing whether I was, potentially, terminally ill,” Michael says.
Michael and Feleppa first met in January 1991 at the Rock in Rio concert, and their chemistry was instant, according to the star. “At the front of 160,000 people there was this guy over at the right-hand side of the stage that just fixed me with this look,” Michael describes. “He was so cute. I was so distracted by him, I stayed away from that corner, because otherwise I thought I was going to get really distracted and forget the words. The moment I looked at him I got the feeling he was going to be a part of my life.”
Just months into their romance, Feleppa became ill with the flu and was advised to take an HIV test while staying at Michael’s home in L.A.
“I remember looking at the sky and saying, ‘Don’t you dare do this to me!’ ” Michael shares in the documentary, according to The Sun. Feleppa chose not to fly to be with Michael in the U.K. until the New Year when he delivered the news that he was HIV positive.
“I was absolutely devastated to find out he had a terminal illness … just devastated,” Michael tells viewers, as reported by The Mirror.
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Also during this time, Michael’s friend Freddie Mercury died of bronchial pneumonia, a complication of his own battle with AIDS.
“I just wanted to die inside. I was so overwhelmed by singing the songs of this man I had worshipped as a child, who had passed away in the same manner my first living partner was going to experience,” the singer recalls of performing a musical tribute to Mercury at Wembley Stadium in April 1992.
Less than one year later, Feleppa died of an AIDS-related illness in March 1993.
While still mourning the loss of his first love, Michael endured heartbreak shortly after in 1996 when his mother was told her cancer was terminal and that she was allowed to spend her final Christmas with family at home.
“I was so crushed and felt so bloody picked on by the gods. For all of my adult life she was phenomenal. Terrible, horrible loss,” Michael says of losing his mother to the illness, months later in February 1997.
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Michael battled depression after losing both his mother and his lover within a few years of each other.
“I’d never felt that kind of depression. It was something different to grief. It was on top of grief, I was grieving for my mother still, but it was something else. It was the darkest time,” Michael shares with viewers.
Using previously unseen archival and private home footage, Freedom aims to give viewers a first-person account of how Michael became one of the most influential recording artists of all time.
Tragically, during Christmas last year, Michael’s U.S. publicist confirmed to PEOPLE that the musician died of heart failure.
George Michael: Freedom will debut in the U.S. on Oct. 21 at 9 p.m. ET — 10 months after Michael’s death.