Bohemian Rhapsody proved that there was more to Freddie Mercury than his multi-octave vocal range, natural flamboyance and ability to command an audience like no other. Indeed, the Oscar-nominated box office smash also showed the man behind the mustache, as it delved into several of his romantic affairs. And of course, some got more screen time than others.
Indeed, in real life the rock icon actually spent just as long with boyfriend Jim Hutton as he did with girlfriend Mary Austin. Not that you’d know it from the Queen biopic. In fact, the former was almost relegated to an afterthought as the vocalist’s heterosexual relationship took center stage.
And yet the six years that Mercury spent with Hutton were equally interesting, loving and, sadly, tragic. Indeed, the Irish-born hairdresser was the man who nursed the singer as the AIDS virus claimed his life. Here’s a look at the touching love story which has often and unfairly been overlooked.
Born in the Irish town of Carlow in 1949, Jim Hutton initially dedicated his life to religion before leaving his order of brothers for a career in hairdressing. He was serving as an apprentice at London’s Savoy Hotel when he hit the town at the capital city’s premier gay club, Heaven, in 1985. And it was there he first met eyes with one of the biggest rock stars on the planet.
Indeed, by this point, Freddie Mercury had already enjoyed a decade of success as the frontman of chart-toppers Queen. The charismatic singer co-founded the group with Roger Taylor and Brian May in the early 1970s. And thanks to tracks such as “We Are the Champions,” “Don’t Stop Me Now” and, of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the band quickly reached legendary status.
Mercury’s first words to Hutton weren’t exactly the stuff of romance. Indeed, after siding up to him at the nightclub’s bar and asking him if he wanted a drink, the singer inquired about the size of Hutton’s manhood. Apparently, this was how Mercury regularly approached any man who caught his eye.
Incredibly, this charming chat-up line didn’t have the desired effect. Indeed, in a 2006 interview with the Sunday Times, Hutton revealed that he actually turned down Mercury’s offer of a drink. He also admitted that he had no idea that he was speaking to a world-famous rock icon at the time.
Hutton and Mercury then bumped into each other again while out at another nightspot 18 months later. This time around, the hairdresser decided to accept the vocalist’s kind offer of a drink. And after hitting it off, the pair then embarked on what would become a dedicated six-year relationship.
Indeed, within twelve months of their second nightclub meeting, Hutton had decided to move in with Mercury at his south London mansion. The Irishman also worked as a handyman and gardener at the Georgian property known as Garden Lodge. However, he still kept his hairdresser position at the Savoy Hotel, too.
Hutton was also present at the Live Aid show which cemented Mercury’s status as one of the all-time rock greats. The hairdresser told the Sunday Times in 2006 that he was gobsmacked by what he saw. He said, “You could feel the effect his stage presence had on the crowd. Afterwards, Elton [John] came out and said, ‘Bastard, you’ve stolen it.’”
Of course, things weren’t always rosy between Mercury and Hutton. The latter revealed that the pair once had an almighty row after he spotted Mercury in the Heaven nightclub with another man. According to Hutton, the singer later claimed that he only engaged in such behavior to inspire a sense of jealousy.
Hutton then recalled another incident which caused tension between the couple. He said, “Then one day I saw him leaving his Kensington flat with another guy and we had an argument. I told him he had to make his mind up. And he said, ‘Okay,’ he wanted to be with me. Deep down I think that he wanted to be secure with someone who was down to earth and not impressed by who he was.”
Meanwhile, the pair appeared to settle into a life of domesticity as the 1980s progressed. Hutton told the Sunday Times that Mercury was nowhere near as flamboyant at home as he was on the stage. In fact, there were times when he could even be considered reserved. Hutton said, “He loved his cats. I’d get in from work. We’d lie together on the sofa. He would massage my feet and ask about my day.”
With same-sex marriage still very much illegal back in 1980s Britain, Hutton and Mercury weren’t ever able to officially declare themselves as husbands. But they reportedly referred to each other in such terms behind closed doors. And they also showed their commitment to their partnership by continually wearing wedding rings.
Of course, their relationship was dealt a tragic blow in 1987 when Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS. The Queen frontman subsequently assured Hutton that he would entirely understand if he wanted to jump ship. But the Irishman reportedly replied, according to the Daily Beast, “Don’t be stupid. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for the long haul.”
Furthermore, Hutton revealed Mercury’s determination to not to let his illness beat him. The hairdresser said, “His attitude was ‘life goes on.’ He took AZT and nearly every other drug available. The doctors came to the house to treat him.” In fact, Mercury often defied medical advice to continue with his career, filming the video for “Barcelona” against their wishes.
Despite his visible gauntness, Mercury continued to deny reports that he was dying from the AIDS virus. This stance drew criticism from some who believed that the singer’s high profile status could have helped to heighten awareness of the illness. However, Hutton revealed that Mercury felt that it wasn’t anyone else’s business.
In fact, Mercury also kept quiet about his sexuality throughout his career for the same reason. Hutton told the Sunday Times, “He might have worried about how coming out would have affected him professionally but he didn’t say that. We both thought our relationship– and being gay – was our business.”
Unfortunately, there came a time when it was clear to both Mercury and his nearest and dearest that the end was near. Hutton told the Sunday Times, “I noticed how skeletal he’d become only on the morning of his last birthday. Maybe I was in denial. But I think Freddie knew when it was the time to let go. He decided to come off his medication three weeks before he died.”
Meanwhile, Hutton helped to nurse the star as his condition deteriorated. Thankfully, several of Mercury’s close friends including his assistant Peter Freestone and his cook Joe Fanelli also assisted him. The Irishman told the Sunday Times that he shared his last conversation with the star just days before his death.
Hutton told the British newspaper, “It was 6 a.m. He wanted to look at his paintings. ‘How am I going to get downstairs?’ he asked. ‘I’ll carry you,’ I said. But he made his own way, holding on to the banister. I kept in front to make sure he didn’t fall.”
“I brought a chair to the door, sat him in it, and flicked on the spotlights, which lit each picture,” Hutton continued. “He said, ‘Oh they’re wonderful.’ I carried him upstairs to bed. He said, ‘I never realized you were as strong as you are.’” The Irishman then went on to describe the very day that Mercury passed away.
Hutton said, “He was dosed on morphine and in Neverland. He wet himself. I knew that if he woke up and saw that there’d be blue murder so we changed his underwear and while I was putting his boxers on I knew he’d gone. I went into my bedroom and stopped a carriage clock Freddie had given to me: the time was 12 minutes to seven.”
Just 24 hours before his death, Mercury apparently wrote a statement in which he declared his AIDS illness. However, Hutton believes that the star’s manager Jim Beach was responsible for the official note. The hairdresser claimed that Mercury was in no fit state to pen such a revelation and that he prided himself on keeping his private life to himself.
Mercury left Hutton nearly $1 million in his will, which the Irishman spent on homes in both London’s Shepherd’s Bush and his Irish homeland. The hairdresser had apparently wanted to remain in the Garden Lodge mansion he’d shared with Mercury for several years. However, the Queen frontman had actually left the property to his former girlfriend Mary Austin, who allegedly wasted little time in kicking Hutton out.
Mercury had started dating Austin in the early 1970s just as Queen’s career was beginning to take off. The pair lived together in the London district of West Kensington for many years before the singer informed her of his bisexuality in 1976. Mercury subsequently moved out and later bought Austin a nearby home of her own.
Indeed, although their romantic relationship ended, the pair continued to enjoy a close friendship up until Mercury’s death in 1991. In fact, the singer regularly claimed that Austin was the only true friend he’d ever had. He also penned several tracks inspired by her, including “Love of My Life.”
Mercury further explained how much Austin meant to him in a 1985 interview with People magazine. He said, “All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary [Austin], but it’s simply impossible. The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that’s enough for me.”
Austin was undoubtedly a major part of Mercury’s eventful life. But some viewers of 2018 Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody felt that the star’s relationship with her took too much precedence over his relationship with Hutton. Empire’s Olly Richards wrote, “There are some poor, strange choices when deciding where to focus, not least committing so much time to his relationship with Mary Austin and virtually none to any happy gay relationship, romantic or otherwise.”
Vox’s Aja Romano was even more scathing. The critic wrote, “Bohemian Rhapsody is a movie that consciously tries to position a gay man at its center while strategically disengaging with the ‘gay’ part as much as it can.” Romano went on to criticize the movie for “flitting briefly over his emotional and sexual experiences and fixating on his platonic relationship with an ex-girlfriend instead.”
Bohemian Rhapsody also faced accusations of taking artistic license with several real life events. Instead of showing Hutton and Mercury’s first encounter at gay nightclub Heaven, it sees them meeting at a party where the former is working as a server. And unlike the film purports, Mercury wasn’t introduced to Austin on the exact same evening that Queen became a band.
Meanwhile, many also objected to the way in which the movie handled Mercury’s HIV diagnosis. In the film, the frontman informs the rest of his Queen bandmates about his illness shortly before Live Aid in 1985. But in reality, he only learned he had the virus himself a year later at the earliest and he only told May, Taylor and Deacon about it in 1989.
The timeline and events may have been fudged a little. But Hutton’s sympathetic depiction certainly was true to life according to the man who played him. Indeed, Aaron McCusker told the Belfast Telegraph in 2019, “Anyone interviewed about him, anything I’ve read about the people who knew him personally, nobody had a bad thing to say about him.”
McCusker, who’s also appeared in the likes of Shameless, Dexter and Fortitude, also believes that Hutton’s relationship with Mercury was undoubtedly the real thing. The actor added, “He really calmed [Mercury] down – he was a really good influence on him. He wasn’t with him for the fame and fortune. It was genuine love.”
Sadly, Hutton also found out that he, too, had the HIV virus when he was first tested for the illness in 1990. And the Irishman didn’t inform Mercury about his diagnosis until 12 months later. However, unlike the Queen frontman, Hutton went on to live with the condition for another two decades.
Three years on from Mercury’s death, Hutton penned a book about his relationship with the late rock icon. Mercury and Me also featured a whole host of candid and previously unpublished photographs of the pair. “To ease the pain,” was the reason that Hutton gave when asked about why he decided to write the memoir.
In 1995 Hutton was sitting at home during the Christmas holidays when he heard the sound of the carriage clock that Mercury had given to him. The hairdresser took this as a “sign it was time to move on.” He subsequently began a course of drugs to control his HIV illness and relocated to his Irish homeland.
There, Hutton began working alongside his brother as an odd-job man and carpenter. He told the Sunday Times that he’d had a few short-term relationships since Mercury’s death. And there was also a longer-term lover who struggled being with a man who’d once been so heavily involved with a rock god.
When asked what he remembered most about Mercury, Hutton replied, “His impish smile when you’d give him a gift. He would be as happy with 60 roses as 60 Picassos. His face really would light up. One Christmas I created a mountain-scene trainset. [Queen’s] Roger Taylor and Brian May came over and all three of them played with it, three big hairy kids.”
Sadly, just four years after his interview with the Sunday Times, Hutton passed away on New Year’s Day just a few days short of turning 61. But contrary to early reports, AIDS wasn’t responsible for the Irishman’s death. Indeed, Hutton actually lost his life due to complications from lung cancer.