Marrying a guitarist who grew up in the 1980s, I probably couldn’t have escaped that the band Queen would enter our lives at some point. My new husband’s enthusiasm for the musical group caught my attention, and in time, I, too, grew to have an appreciation for many of Queen’s songs, even if I scratched my head at times at some of their meaning.
As it turned out, Queen became an indelible part of our beginning as pieces of our history merged. On our wedding day, Nov. 23, 1991, my husband shared his shock that Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band which boasted one of his favorite guitarists, Brian May, was stricken with AIDS. Even more dramatically, the next morning, we learned Freddie had died.
Through the years, I’ve continued to hear the songs of Queen pumping through the radio, a CD, iPod speakers, and whatever other means became available for channeling music. Watching and hearing this band through my husband’s eyes, ears, and heart, I’ve come to appreciate the talent of this creative crew, and as a musician myself, admire much of what the band accomplished in uniquely stirring its audiences’ souls.
So when we learned “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a movie telling more of the band’s and Freddie’s stories, would be coming to the big screen, it seemed a given we’d go.
I knew the movie would cover, along with his musical genius, Freddie’s attraction to men, a matter that had become fairly well-known in the later stages of his career. What I did not know until very recently was that Freddie had once been engaged to a woman named Mary Austin. In watching the movie and reading articles later, I learned they met when he was 24, and she, 19; that she was with him at his deathbed 21 years later; and that he’d left most of his estate to her and her two sons.
This revelation cast a whole new light for me on Freddie’s life. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was produced in part by several Queen band members, is as much the love story of Freddie and Mary as anything. While I appreciated the music and learning more about the band’s history, a tinge of sadness permeated my viewing of this musical film as I realized more and more how a chance at marriage and family life with Mary had eluded Freddie.
I also only recently learned that the song “Love of My Life” was written by him, about and for Mary. Despite the course his life would take, Freddie, in many ways, stayed true to his first love, once saying that none of his other partners could come close; that it was, and always would be, Mary who knew him best. As his fame grew, Freddie’s life became mired at times in drugs and recklessness. Through it all, and despite other attractions, he seemed always to be longing to stay connected with Mary. She was the one who grounded him.
Years after their engagement broke off, and both had moved onto other relationships, Freddie learned Mary was pregnant. In the film, we see his bewilderment at this. He is angry, disappointed. But then he realizes, he can’t have it both ways: He’d given up the chance to father Mary’s children and be her husband. And yet, because of his love for her, he was able to step back from his own disappointment and be happy for her. After all, she was happy, and this made him happy, too. This is how true love works: We will the good of the other.
But the movie left me wondering, what if Freddie had not given in to the passions the world offered? What if, instead, he’d seen the truth of what he later came to know deep down — that Mary was his true love? What if he’d followed up on his initial desire to marry Mary and have a family with her? He knew something would be incomplete with anyone other than her; this was, I think, a God-given understanding.
If that had happened, would Freddie still be with us? Would we still be enjoying his creative genius even now?
As I take all of this in, the tragedy of Freddie’s early death and the desire for power that took hold of him, as it does many, I grieve at the lost chances in life and how sin can pull us off track, changing our entire life’s course. Sometimes clarity comes and we have a chance to back away from the things that will hurt us and others, make amends and change our lives. But we can also fall into the false life, trading in what would have been real and ultimately more satisfying for the fake, fleeting version of life and love.
At some point in Freddie’s journey, AIDS took over, and he knew his life would be cut short. I find, however, the fact that he stayed loyal to Mary in some important ways a sign of hope in this tragic story. That he chose Mary to be the main beneficiary of his life’s work says something about his soul, and the true love and responsibility he felt for her — someone he once referred to as his “common-law wife.”
“Bohemian Rhapsody” tells the truth of the gay lifestyle Freddie fell into, but it also shows the clarity revealed in Freddie’s soul at death. I came away from the theater rather astounded by what I had learned, and, though sad, heartened to know that even though that love story did not have the chance to flower to the full, Freddie recognized and experienced his love for Mary, and hers for him, as a gift; one that may well bring him to the gates of Heaven.
God alone knew the state of Freddie’s soul at death. We can pray it was transformed to Christ in his tortured dying; a process that included the love of his life, Mary, at his side.
May God bless Mary Austin, whose life and love played a significant role in the story of Freddie Mercury; a piece many of us are just learning. And may the perpetual light shine upon Freddie Mercury, now and forever.
Q4U: Did you see “Bohemian Rhapsody?” What were your takeaways?