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By Michelle Martin
LONDON, Dec 23 (Reuters) - A gaunt and breathless George Michael tearfully thanked his doctors and fans on Friday for seeing him through a “touch and go” battle with pneumonia.
A thin and visibly weak Michael told reporters outside his home in north London that he wasn’t supposed to speak for very long and was still recovering from a tracheotomy.
“I got streptococca-something...It’s a form of pneumonia and they spent three weeks keeping me alive basically,” Michael said of the doctors in the Austrian hospital where the singer has been receiving treatment since he fell ill last month.
“I‘m very weak but I feel amazing,” he said as he stood in front of a lit-up Christmas tree.
The 48-year-old former Wham! frontman, who went on to pursue a successful solo career, was taken ill in the Austrian capital and diagnosed with severe pneumonia last month.
“It was basically by far the worst month of my life but I‘m incredibly, incredibly fortunate to be here,” he said. “If I wasn’t spiritual enough before the last four, five weeks then I certainly am now.”
British press reports said that members of his family had travelled to be by his side at Vienna General Hospital, but Michael said he had played down reports of his illness during his hospital stay for the sake of his fans.
“I didn’t want to worry my fans too much and I‘m really sorry that I couldn’t contact them in any way before now but I was really not in any state to,” he said.
Michael had been in the middle of a European tour when he became ill and was forced to cancel a string of dates but, speaking for the first time since he fell ill, he promised to play to every fan who had bought a ticket.
He added that he also wanted to hold a special show for the Austrian doctors who treated him.
“I’ve spent the last 10 days since I woke up literally thanking people for saving my life, which is something I’ve never had to do before and never want to have to do again,” he said, choking back the tears.
Asked if the experience had changed his life, he said: “Absolutely. I‘m a new man.”
After joking that he hoped reporters had enjoyed their mince pies, Michael said he couldn’t speak any more because he was trying to get over the tracheotomy.
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, Michael burst on to the British pop scene in the early 80s as the lead singer of Wham!, which had a string of catchy hits including “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Last Christmas”.
He also found success as a solo artist with chart-toppers like “Careless Whisper” and “A Different Corner”, and it was only a matter of time before he struck out alone.
His rich vein continued with the 1987 No. 1 “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” in which he performed with Aretha Franklin, one of his favourite artists.
The same year he released “Faith”, an album which spawned a string of hit singles including “I Want Your Sex”, “Faith” and “Father Figure” and earned the singer a Grammy.
It was his best-selling album, although he did top charts around the world with subsequent releases, enjoyed estimated career sales of 100 million records and amassed a personal fortune of 90 million pounds ($141 million).
When he was not hitting the airwaves with his music, Michael’s personal life was regularly in the headlines, most notably in 1998 when he was arrested in California for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public toilet.
After the incident he spoke openly about his homosexuality, and courted controversy again by speaking out against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Michael told Reuters in a 2005 interview that he was withdrawing from public life, but the following year he launched his first tour in 15 years.
He had a string of run-ins with British police for possession of narcotics, and was given a jail sentence last year for driving under the influence of cannabis.
Michael opened what was to be his final tour in Prague in August. (Reporting by Michelle Martin, editing by Paul Casciato)