The Day Freddie Mercury Performed His Last Queen Show
Freddie Mercury looked out at an adoring crowd of more than 120,000 people on Aug. 9, 1986 in Knebworth Park, England. Queen, had just finished its second encore, resulting in thunderous applause. “Goodnight and sweet dreams,” he said to a throng of fans.
They would be the last words uttered by Mercury during a Queen performance.
Queen was enjoying a glorious high. Their legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985 cemented Queen as one of rock’s greatest live acts. Next came 1986's Magic Tour, a 26-date trek that would take the group throughout Europe in support of the A Kind of Magic LP.
“At Knebworth … I somehow knew it was going to be the last show for all of us,” Queen’s longtime roadie Peter Hince said in his memoir, Queen Unseen: My Life with the Greatest Rock Band of the 20th Century. “I had no idea as to Fred’s health condition, but I just saw it as being the last show for me and for them.”
Mercury also seemed well aware of his growing age and declining health. During an argument with bassist John Deacon a week before the final show, Mercury reportedly said: “I’m not going to be doing this forever. This is probably my last time.” Though the band was used to outbursts from their emotional frontman, guitarist Brian May admitted this particular statement worried the group.
Watch Queen Perform 'Radio Ga Ga' at Knebworth
Status Quo, Big Country and Belouis Some were the supporting acts for the Knebworth show. Each band had earned a respectable fan base of its own, but it was clear the crowd assembled cared most passionately for the headliner. This fact was driven home as the audience erupted into cheers when Queen’s helicopter flew overhead and delivered the band backstage.
As the headlining set approached, the crowd began to stir. Their noise grew even louder when smoke began emanating from the stage. Amid a chorus of cheers, Queen appeared in the spotlight. The focal point was Mercury, with his regal attire much more extravagant than his peers'. The band began its set by immediately launching into a rousing rendition of “One Vision,” the 1985 single released after their Live Aid triumph.
From there, Queen proceeded to put together an emphatic performance, featuring many of their greatest hits. “Under Pressure,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and the operatic “Bohemian Rhapsody” were natural highlights, while the 1986 ballad “Who Wants to Live Forever” added something new to the band's repertoire.
All the while, Mercury delivered his trademark bombast. He memorably led the audience in a session of vocal exercises, singing “daaaaay-oh” to the crowd, much as he'd done at Live Aid.
Watch Queen Perform 'We Are the Champions' at Knebworth
The band closed their initial set with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” Queen's 1980 rockabilly chart-topper. After briefly disappearing, the group returned to the stage for an electrifying rendition of “Radio Ga Ga.”
The second and final encore brought the house down, as Queen let loose with powerful versions of “We Will Rock You,” “Friends Will Be Friends” and “We Are the Champions.” The last song was an emotional performance of “God Save the Queen,” their customary show closer.
Recordings from the Magic Tour were assembled into the Live Magic LP, which was released in December 1986. The live album was met with harsh criticism, due largely to the editing of songs.
Though they no longer toured, Queen and Mercury continued to record new music in the ensuing years, releasing The Miracle and Innuendo in 1989 and 1991, respectively. Mercury died on Nov. 24, 1991, however, after a long battle with AIDS.
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