ghost of Christmas past

About that time Elton John got a Xmas gift from pal Freddie Mercury, a month after Freddie’s death

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As friends celebrate World Aids Day and pay tribute to the friends they lost, a story has resurfaced about longtime activist Sir Elton John and Queen singer Freddie Mercury, who died of the disease.

In his 2013 memoir Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS, John wrote about the life-shattering loss of Mercury to AIDS. He also revealed how, that Christmas, Mercury had one final trick up his sleeve.

“I’d seen what the disease had done to so many of my other friends,” John wrote. “I knew exactly what it was going to do to Freddie. As did he. He knew death, agonizing death, was coming.”

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Freddie Mercury passed on November 24, 1991. A month later, a still-grieving Elton John tried his best to celebrate Christmas when a friend arrived on his doorstep, gift in hand. Wrapped in a pillowcase, Elton found a painting by Henry Scott Tuke, an impressionist known for his erotic pictures of men. Elton had long collected Tuke’s work.

With the gift, Elton also found a note. “Dear Sharon, I thought you’d like this. Love, Melina,” it read. “Happy Christmas.”

“Sharon” and “Melina” were the drag names Elton and Freddie had adopted for one another. They used them as terms of affection. In a final act of generosity, Mercury had sent Elton a Christmas gift, knowing he probably wouldn’t live long enough to present it himself.

“Here was this beautiful man, dying from AIDS, and in his final days, he had somehow managed to find me a lovely Christmas present,” Elton recalled. “I was overcome, 44-years-old at the time, crying like a child.”

Pass the Kleenex.

30 years after the death of Freddie Mercury, Elton John still refers to him as a life-changing friend. Mercury’s death (and likely too many more friends’ deaths) left a powerful impression on Elton, who has since devoted his time, wealth and fame to raising funds and awareness around HIV/AIDS. He founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992 and began hosting an AIDS charity Oscar party every year. To date, it’s estimated that he has raised well over $600 million to combat the disease.