Who’s Who in Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Movie
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of Queen, but in addition to its members -- Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon -- other people were crucial to the band's rise to fame over the years. We take a look at some of those men and women who show up in the film and mark their place in the band's history.
Born Farrokh Bulsara and raised in the British colony of Zanzibar, Freddie Mercury showed a penchant for music at an early age. He moved with his family to England in 1964 and soon after headed to London to study art. Mercury joined a series of bands while living in London, but by 1970 they had all fallen apart. In April of that year he joined guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, both of whom he'd previously seen performing in the band Smile. Despite the reservations of his fellow bandmates, Mercury insisted the group change its name to Queen. It was around this time that the singer also changed his own name, adopting the pseudonym the world knows him by today.
Mercury's flamboyant performances earned him fans the world over, but he was more subdued in his daily life. "I'm so powerful onstage that I seem to have created a monster," he would later say about his concert persona. "When I'm performing, I'm an extrovert, yet inside I'm a completely different man."
As Queen's most prolific songwriter, Mercury penned many of the group's best-known songs, including "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Somebody to Love," "Bicycle Race," "We Are the Champions" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."
On Nov. 23, 1991, Mercury issued a public statement revealing his battle with HIV and AIDS. He died at his home in Kensington a day later at the age of 45.
Brian May formed the band Smile in 1968, and after a lineup change, he and drummer Roger Taylor were joined by singer Freddie Mercury in 1970 and bassist John Deacon in 1971. At Mercury’s suggestion, they changed their name to Queen.
May is known for his Red Special, a guitar he custom-built with his father over the course of two years. He intentionally designed it to create feedback. “I wanted my guitar to be a live instrument that communicated with the air,” he explained in a 1992 interview.
The guitarist is credited with writing some of the band’s biggest hits, including “Fat Bottomed Girls," “We Will Rock You” and “I Want It All” (the latter inspired by his wife, Anita Dobson). May, who has a PhD in astrophysics, often applied his scientific knowledge in the recording studio, like the layered overdubbing of stomps and claps in “We Will Rock You."
Even though he started his first band at the age of eight, Roger Taylor's family never expected him to be a rock star. Instead, they steered his focus toward a proper education. "My father had a steady job for the Potato Marketing Board, and the family emphasis was on getting to university," he recalled during a 2011 interview with the Telegraph.
Still, music continued to call. In 1968, he joined May in the band Smile. A year later he met their future singer, Freddie Mercury, with whom he worked a stall at Kensington Market selling "clothes and bric-a-brac" to make ends meet.
Taylor wrote many of Queen's songs, including "Radio Ga Ga," "I'm in Love With My Car" and "A Kind of Magic." His distinctively high falsetto vocals were featured in several of the band's songs, including "Bohemian Rhapsody."
John Deacon was born and raised in Leicester, England, and after he received some local attention with his first band, the Opposition, he moved to London to focus on an education in electronics. In October 1970, he saw the newly formed Queen perform at the College of Estate Management in Kensington. In the Queen biography As It Began, he admitted he didn't think much of the group at first. "All I could really see were four shadowy figures," he said. "They didn't make a lasting impression on me at the time."
A few months later, Deacon was introduced to Brian May and Roger Taylor by a mutual friend. The band was searching for a bassist and invited him to audition. "We thought he was great," Taylor recalled. "We were so used to each other and so over the top, we thought that because he was quiet, he would fit in with us without too much upheaval. He was a great bass player too -- and the fact that he was a wizard with electronics was definitely a deciding factor."
Deacon was often labeled the quiet member of the band, a subject he addressed in a 1996 interview with Bassist and Bass Techniques. "In the early days I used to be very quiet because I always felt I was the new boy," he remembered. "But I think I fitted in because of that. They'd tried several other bass players before me, but their personalities seemed to clash. I was all right because I wasn't going to upstage Brian or Freddie."
The bassist was the only member of Queen to never contribute vocals on an album. It wasn't until their third LP, Sheer Heart Attack, that he received a writing credit. From then forward, he contributed at least one song to each Queen album. He penned several big hits, including "Another One Bites the Dust," "You're My Best Friend" and "I Want to Break Free."
Mary Austin was the daughter of blue-collar parents and met Freddie Mercury while she was working at a West London fashion boutique. She initially caught the eye of Queen guitarist Brian May, though he stepped aside when Mercury admitted his interest. A romance soon bloomed. Mercury and Austin would date, move in together and in 1973 -- the same year Queen's debut album was released -- got engaged. But there was never a wedding, because the singer couldn't ignore his homosexual feelings and would soon start cheating on Austin with an assortment of men. In 1976, Mercury told Austin that he was bisexual. ‘I’ll never forget that moment," she recalled years later. "I remember saying to him, ‘No Freddie, I don’t think you are bisexual. I think you are gay.'"
Even after their breakup, they remained close friends, and Mercury's affection for Austin never waned. “All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible," Mercury later said of his lifelong companion. "The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage." Austin took a role working for the Queen frontman's management company and remained a faithful confidant as Mercury battled AIDS. She was with him moments before his death.
In his will, Mercury left Austin millions of his fortune, including his palatial Edwardian mansion in West London. Austin would later scatter the singer's ashes in a still-secret location. In a 2013 interview with the Daily Mail, she admitted, "Nobody will ever know where he is buried because that was his wish."
After Queen signed with Trident Studios' production company at the beginning of their career, they looked for a more established manager as their career began to take off. In stepped John Reid, a former music promoter who had made a name for himself managing Elton John. In 1975 Reid and the band agreed on a three-year contract, after which Queen decided to end the relationship and had their lawyer, Jim Beach, manage them. In the documentary Queen: Days of Our Lives, Reid admitted the separation was amicable. "I've never had any difficulty with them at all," he explained. "That's been one of the gentlest parting of the ways of anybody I've ever worked with."
Queen first approached lawyer Jim Beach in 1975. At the time, he was heading up the fledgling music department at London law firm Harbottle & Lewis. The band was reaching international stardom but because of a severely lopsided contract signed with its original management partner Trident, it had very little to show for all the hard work. Beach was integral in negotiating the group's release from its contract with Trident and became their manager in 1978, after Queen parted ways with John Reid.
Beach was by Freddie Mercury's side as he battled the effects of HIV and AIDS. Ten days before his death, the singer famously told the manager, “You can do whatever you like with my image, my music, remix it, re-release it, whatever. … Just never make me boring."
Paul Prenter was Freddie Mercury's personal manager from 1977 to 1986. They were also lovers. Prenter created tension within Queen because of his growing influence on their music, specifically the 1982 album Hot Space, which steered the band's sound toward more disco and funk. Roger Taylor and Brian May were especially critical of this stylistic change.
Angry Queen fans often called Prenter Mercury's "Judas," stemming from a 1987 interview with The Sun in which he detailed the Queen singer's homosexual escapades."While we were touring, there would be a different man every night. He would probably go to bed by 6AM or 7AM – but rarely alone," said Prenter, who later revealed Mercury's fear of the AIDS virus. "Once his friends started dying, Freddie knew his wild life had to stop."
Ray Foster, played by Mike Myers in Bohemian Rhapsody, is a fictional character, loosely based on former EMI executive Roy Featherstone, who was instrumental in signing Queen’s first distribution deal in the U.K. He'd heard the band's demo while attending a festival in the south of France and immediately thought they’d be perfect for EMI’s new label. Like most record execs, he had serious reservations about releasing "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a single, given its length.
Following Freddie Mercury's breakup with Paul Prenter, the singer began dating hairdresser Jim Hutton. They met at Heaven, one of London's premier gay nightclubs at the time. In a 2006 interview with the Times, Hutton admitted he had no idea who Mercury was when they met. "I honestly hadn’t recognized him. It didn’t matter to me," he confessed, later noting there was "something about" Mercury that he gravitated toward. They began a long-term relationship, and Hutton moved into Mercury's home, living with him for the last six years of his life.
Bomi Balsara was working as a cashier at the British Colonial Office in Zanzibar when his son, Freddie, was born. He and his family practiced the Zoroastrianism, a pre-Islamic religion with origins in Persia. In 1964, Bomi and his family fled to England to escape the Zanzibar Revolution. In a 2016 quote, Brian May noted, "It’s probably true to say that Freddie’s father, strongly committed to the Parsee faith, didn’t find it easy that Freddie took the path he did, as a rock musician, and a fairly irreverent one, at that. Nevertheless the support was always there."
Jer Bulsara was supportive of her son Freddie's artistic endeavors. Still, she never expected him to become a rock star, as she admitted in a 2012 interview with The Telegraph. “My husband and I thought it was a phase he would grow out of, and expected he would soon come back to his senses and return to proper studies," she said. "It didn’t happen.” Commenting on the relationship Mercury had with his mother, Brian May said that she was "always a keen follower of our progress as a band, and always came to see us when we played nearby, always with huge enthusiasm. Freddie was very close to his mum, and, I think, took a mischievous pleasure in trying to shock her."