LONDON-Tributes poured in from the music world Monday after British pop superstar George Michael , who rose to fame with the duo Wham! and a string of smash hits including “Last Christmas”, died aged 53. Michael died of apparent heart failure on Christmas Day at his home in Goring, a village on the River Thames in Oxfordshire, west of London, after an award-winning career spanning more than three decades.

Big names in entertainment like Elton John and Madonna hailed Michael’s talent and human qualities, while former Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley said he was “heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend”.

Michael was best known for his 1980s and 1990s hits “Last Christmas”, “Freedom”, “Careless Whisper”, “Faith”, “I Want Your Sex” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”. He won a string of awards including two Grammys and three Brits, but run-ins with the law over drugs and a series of bizarre incidents and health scares in his last years often overshadowed his music.

Many tributes referred to the spate of deaths of famous musicians in 2016, including rock legend David Bowie in January, funk icon Prince in April and soulful folk singer Leonard Cohen in November. “No, not George Michael as well. Another musical great leaves us this year. 2016 can just sod off,” Gary Lineker, football presenter and former England captain, said on Twitter. Police said they would be conducting a post-mortem examination and were treating the death as “unexplained but not suspicious”.

His manager Michael Lippman told Billboard magazine that the cause of the star’s death was heart failure.

“I’m devastated,” Lippman was quoted as saying, adding that he was told Michael had been found “in bed, lying peacefully”. Flowers were placed outside his home in Goring, and candles were left outside his London home - a large mansion in Highgate, in the north of the capital. Michael was due to release a documentary about his life in 2017 and producer and songwriter Naughty Boy, whose real name is Shahid Khan, was working with Michael on a new album for next year.

His last album “Symphonica” (2014) rose to number one in the charts. Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou to a Greek Cypriot father and English mother in north London in 1963. He met Ridgeley at high school and the pair went on to form Wham! in 1981.

With their good looks, perma-tans, highlighted hair and hedonistic image, the duo captured the go-getting spirit of the age and fast became one of Britain’s biggest pop acts. In 1985, Wham! became the first Western pop band to perform in China as the country was slowly beginning to open up to the outside world under reformist leader Deng Xiaoping. He notched up police cautions for cannabis and crack cocaine possession and in 2010 was sentenced to eight weeks in jail after crashing his car into a London shop while under the influence of cannabis and prescription medication. In 2011, he spent several weeks in hospital in Vienna after contracting pneumonia, later saying that he had been close to death. There were fresh concerns in 2013 when he had to be airlifted to hospital after falling out of his chauffeur-driven Range Rover as it travelled at high speed on a motorway. It was strangely muted when George Michael , as part of the British pop duo Wham!, took the stage at the Workers Gymnasium in Beijing in April 1985, recalled one of those who attended that now legendary first Western pop act in communist China.

Around 15,000 concert-goers watched Michael and bandmate Andrew Ridgeley sing hits such as “Careless Whisper” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” - as police grimly stared at them. “I’d never seen so many police in my life,” Mao Danqing, a now well-known Chinese writer who attended the concert told Reuters on Monday.  The security presence was so intimidating people were too timid to make any noise during the songs, Mao said. “When you see that many police you feel terrified. Everyone sat in separate sections and each section had police lined up in front, facing the crowd,” Mao said.

Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist with sometimes sexually provocative lyrics, died at his home in England. He was 53.

CHINA OPENING UP

China maintained strict controls on Western music and film in the 1980s, just a few years after adopting historic economic reforms in 1978 following the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. The music of Wham! and their contemporaries remained banned and authorities tightly controlling reports of the concert.

Mao received his ticket from his university - one of several that were given allocations of tickets for students studying literature.

“We were like blank pages back then. I’d never seen anything like this before in my life,” said Mao, who said he was seated behind students from North Korea.