If anything comes to mind when we mention the British pop singer George Michael, it’s probably the hit song "Last Christmas" he recorded during his time in the duo Wham! Or maybe you prefer his solo records, like "Careless Whisper."
The point is the late singer is still fondly remembered for his music. But Michael also stood out from other artists in one surprising way: he had an incredible, but secret, devotion to charity.
You might remember that Michael was one of the original singers on the charity song "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" from 1984. While the song raised millions of dollars for Ethiopian famine relief, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Michael’s charity work.
But because the singer insisted on donating in private, most of his good deeds were only revealed after his death from heart and liver disease in 2016, at age 53.
Childline, a free phone counselling service for children and young people, revealed that Michael had donated millions to support them, including royalties from his song "Jesus to a Child."
The charity’s founder, Esther Rantzen, said Michael’s donations helped "hundreds of thousands of children" through the years.
Royalties from another one of Michael's hit songs, his live duet of "Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me" with Elton John, were split between HIV and AIDS charities like the London Lighthouse hospice, and charities for children like Rainbow Trust, which supports the families of children with life-threatening illnesses.
Radio presenter Mick Brown even remembered that during his station’s annual Easter charity appeal, Michael "would call in at 3:30 p.m. with a [$126,000] donation."
The singer also privately donated to deserving causes he stumbled across, sometimes giving thousands of pounds to total strangers.
Richard Osman, a TV presenter, said that Michael was watching one night when a contestant on the UK version of Deal or No Deal revealed she hoped to win money to cover the cost of IVF treatment.
After the show aired, Michael secretly arranged to cover the treatment costs, giving her almost $20,000 while keeping his name out of the press.
A stranger moved by Osman’s story revealed her own close encounter with the generous pop star: "He gave a stranger in a cafe [£25,000] as she was crying over debt. Told the waitress to give her the check after he left."
Journalist Sali Hughes also wrote after Michael’s death, "I wrote in a piece ages ago about a celeb I'd worked with tipping a barmaid [£5,000] because she was a student nurse in debt. Was George Michael."
And Michael would even go all out to thank people who had helped him personally, like when he sent 1,000 free concert tickets to staff at an Austrian hospital where he was treated for pneumonia in 2011.
It’s unclear why Michael was so intensely private about his charitable side, but he hinted at his reasons for staying quiet in a 1993 interview (which was promoting a charity album for another AIDS-fighting organization Michael supported).
"Everyone's got really ---- off listening to celebrities patting each other on the back saying how generous they are being," he told MTV. "And they are right to."
Whether or not he wanted publicity for his good deeds, there’s no denying Michael was one of Hollywood’s most generous celebrities - and, in fact, he continues to give years after his death.
Trusts and funds set up in Michael's estate will continue to donate to his favorite charities for years to come.