The True Story Behind Freddie Mercury and Queen Biopic 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Playing The True Story Behind 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

The immensely popular "Bohemian Rhapsody" is nominated for five Oscars, including one for Best Picture and a Best Actor nod for Rami Malek, whose celebrated portrayal of Queen front man Freddie Mercury has already earned him a Golden Globe.

But the highest-grossing biopic of all time is not without critics, especially among die-hard fans who take umbrage with the film's considerable number of cinematic liberties, most notably wrongly portraying the band breaking up (they didn't) and showing Mercury revealing he was HIV-positive before Queen's performance at Live Aid in 1985 (he didn't even know he had the virus then).

Here are a few instances of fact vs. fiction:

Queen did not split up.

The film builds up to Queen's highly praised performance at Live Aid in 1985 with Mercury revealing that he has signed a solo deal for $4 million without telling his fellow bandmates. He wants to take a long break, and his fellow musicians become enraged and follow their own paths. In reality, the entire band wanted a respite from a decade of being on the road. They began "The Works," their 11th studio album, in late 1983.

Live Aid wasn't a reunion for the band. 

In the film, the members of Queen weren't speaking to each other when they were booked to play the massive extravaganza that was Live Aid, rock's bicontinental benefit for famine victims in Ethiopia. Staged in Philadelphia and London, guests included Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Mick Jagger, The Pretenders and The Beach Boys. 

But it was Queen that stole the show with a 17-minute set at Wembley Stadium before more than 70,000 fans. The movie shows them having to make peace and then begin sharpening their chops. But in real life, the band had just finished a world tour for their platinum-selling "The Works" album and were in fine musical shape. And they also were getting along just fine.

Live Aid featured George Michael, Bono, Paul McCartney and Freddie Mercury.
George Michael, Bono, Paul McCartney and Freddie Mercury on stage at Live Aid. Getty

Freddie Mercury didn't know he was HIV-positive before Live Aid. 

During rehearsals for the benefit, Mercury is see on camera telling the band he is HIV-positive and wants to keep that diagnosis a secret. His attention, he says, is only on the music. Then the band goes on stage and burns down the house in the movie's emotional finale.

According to Jim Hutton, Mercury's partner from 1985 until his death, the singer was diagnosed with HIV in April 1987. Though those around him knew he had sexual relationships with men and women, Mercury didn't publicly talk about his proclivities, or his changing physical appearance as full-blown AIDS ate away at him.

One day before his death in 1991, Freddie released a statement saying, "I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV-positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private in order to protect the privacy of those around me."

There is no record executive named Ray Foster. 

A heavily made-up Mike Myers plays record executive Ray Foster in the film. The character serves as a vehicle to push Queen toward more mainstream music. Foster really, really hates "Bohemian Rhapsody" and tells the group he refuses to release it as single. The band exits and hurls a rock through his window. 

But that never happened in reality.

Some speculate the role is roughly based on EMI honcho Roy Featherstone, who was really a big fan of Queen, but thought the epic classic was too long to be a single.

John Deacon wasn't the original bass player.

On screen, John Deacon plays bass during Queen's first concert in 1970. Deacon was really the fourth bassist the band had used and he didn't show up until 1971.

The group did, however, play "Keep Yourself Alive" at their first show, a very early original for them. 

Freddie Mercury and Mary Austin did not meet the night he joined the band.

In the movie, Mercury meets the woman who would become his girlfriend about a hot minute before he signs up with the group. In reality, Austin had been dating Brian May, but didn't meet Freddie until he was well installed as the lead singer. 

"All my lovers asked my why they couldn't replace Mary, but it's simply impossible," Mercury once said of the woman he was engaged to, but did not marry. "The only friend I've got is Mary, and I don't want anyone else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage."

About six years into their relationship, as Mercury became a bigger and bigger star, Austin said she felt the relationship had run aground. In 1976, Mercury finally fessed up that he like men, too. He told her he was bisexual. "No, Freddie, I don't think you are bisexual. I think you are gay," she recalled telling him. 

Though they split as a romantic couple, they continued to be best friends until his death of AIDS-related bronchial pnuemonia. Mercury left her his Britain mansion and sizable share of his estate. She accompanied him on the road, and was the most important person in his entourage.

The formation of Queen was much more complicated than that. 

The film shows Mercury barging into a 1970 performance by Brian May and Roger Taylor in an early band called Smile. Afterward, he meets the performers just after bassist and singer Tim Staffell up and quits. An a cappella rendition of one of Smile's songs lands Mercury as the front man.

Not so fast. Mercury's entrance was not swift and not so easy. He had been longtime friends with Staffell, and was a great fan of Smile. May would later say Mercury harangued them about becoming a member, but they didn't let him in until Staffell quit in 1970.

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