Tributes flow for soulful British pop idol George Michael, dead at 53

Madonna, Elton John and Paul McCartney paid tribute on Monday to British pop idol George Michael, who has died age 53 after a career of soulful ballads and dance songs that provided a soundtrack to much of the 1980s and 1990s.

Michael burst to stardom with "Wham!, one of the most successful pop duos ever, with singles like ""Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and ""Careless Whisper," before reinventing himself as a solo artist with sexually daring lyrics and multimillion-selling albums like "Faith" and "Listen Without Prejudice."

He passed away peacefully over Christmas, according to a statement from his publicist. British police said his death was "unexplained but not suspicious." His manager, Michael Lippman, said the singer had died of heart failure, according to the BBC.

"Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog (nickname). Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved," said former Wham! partner and school friend Andrew Ridgeley on Twitter. "Cleft with grief."

"Farewell My Friend. Another Great Artist leaves us," Madonna tweeted.

PHOTOS: Read all the celebs tributes to George Michael

41 PHOTOS
Stars react to George Michael's death
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Stars react to George Michael's death
I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend - the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. RIP… https://t.co/Pyeu7gb2QI
Paul on George Michael: https://t.co/t7vu2Hyjey https://t.co/ZBq0VsTatB
I would not be the artist I am if it wasn't for you. @GeorgeMichael
I've loved George Michael for as long as I can remember. He was an absolute inspiration. Always ahead of his time.
Before I sleep I wanted to send out my love to @GeorgeMichael and his family and friends. What a wonderful gift to the world he was. 🙏🏼💙
George Michael - Extras Xmas Special https://t.co/dmuLC88xcR via @DailymotionUK
I would not be the artist I am if it wasn't for you. @GeorgeMichael
George Michael was a kind and gentle soul. #Wham
So sad to hear of George Michael's passing, huge sympathy to friends and family. Particularly difficult time to lose someone. RIP.
George Michael RIP. Your music lifted our spirits. Your heart was pure. Sad. You will be missed.
A beautiful Christmas with my boys but so saddened by the passing of George Michael -and extraordinary talent - So missed RIP X
Finished the prime rib... now onto blasting George Michael and doing the dishes
George Michael Read: https://t.co/z669xGdjwM
I'm very sad about the news of my good friend George Michael. God bless you and may you rest in peace.
#Heartbroken Here's how George Michael impacted my life... https://t.co/C6oY6ekJ91 https://t.co/yFpJiuh4ed
So sorry to hear about George Michael's passing. Brilliant icon. "Kissing a Fool" one of my all time favs. Strength & light to his family.
"I have never and will never apologize for my sex life. Gay sex is natural, gay sex is good!" - George Michael
mine & mari's song of the day: JESUS TO A CHILD - GEORGE MICHAEL (R.I.P. GEORGIOS) https://t.co/A1UBaUjA4L
Song of the day...."Kissing A Fool" by George Michael. RIP George. Amazing singer and songwriter!!! https://t.co/0cgzPFcu7N
So Sad to hear of George Michael passing. I met him after his Earls Court Gig and he hosted us at his wonderful home in Highgate RIP❤️
So sad about George Michael. Truly one of the greatest songwriters.
Another fine musical talent gone--RIP, George Michael. Spent Christmas evening dancing around to "Before You Go-Go." Damn you, 2016.
Waking up to the sad news of George Michael's passing. An incredible talent taken far too soon. https://t.co/MuTlPxEDSk
Rip George Michael - What a singer, just watched him with queen "somebody to love " Vocals for days
When a baby first breathes When night sees sunrise When the whale hunts in the sea When man recognizes Freedom https://t.co/zSTUgCmXo7
Frank Sinatra's amazing letter to George Michael after the latter complained about fame. One for all stars to ponde… https://t.co/soQOiDkeQT
So sad to hear my Cypriot brother @GeorgeMichael has passed away. Will miss him & pray God will have mercy on him.… https://t.co/L2P4maiCSC
Deeply saddened by the news of the passing of George Michael. What an amazing artist we've lost... rest in peace.
" @maryjblige and @georgemichael ~ their remake of #steviewonder's AS says it all to me.." #georgemichael "ALWAYS!!… https://t.co/n6BIbQvxSs
If you're ever feeling pretty good about a piece of art you've just made, remember this. George Michael wrote careless whisper at 17. 17!!!
Farewell My Friend! 🙏🏻 Another Great Artist leaves us. 💔Can 2016 Fuck Off NOW? https://t.co/aEGIUNSJbt
This is insanely cool. George Michael & Queen rehearsing 'Somebody To Love' as Bowie looks on. Wow. https://t.co/4okLGWWpBc
I'm never gonna dance again Guilty feet have got no rhythm Though it's easy to pretend I know you're not a fool ~ George Michael
George Michael. Rest In Peace. Such heartbreaking news yet on a celebratory day. We are blasting your songs all night!
Rest in peace George Michael. Thanks for sharing your soul and talent with all of us, traveling… https://t.co/oTVB1IB3tk
So sad @GeorgeMichael What a talent & significant part of my generation's musical journey. May he find his "freedom." #ripfreedom
Gone too soon. Brilliant George Michael. RIP. https://t.co/9SNg6HT0ac
I've only witnessed true genius a few times in my life. One of those was watching George Michael lay down Feeling Good for #Elistone 1/2
Everything I know about singing I learned from listening to George Michael's perfect voice. My absolute favorite. RIP sweet man.
GEORGE MICHAEL FOREVER https://t.co/QcjKvpCpjw
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"George Michael's sweet soul music will live on even after his sudden death," said McCartney. "Having worked with him on a number of occasions his great talent always shone through and his self-deprecating sense of humor made the experience even more pleasurable."

Michael was highly regarded by fellow musicians as a singer and songwriter - in addition to pop phenomenon - and was a 2017 nominee for the Songwriters Hall of Fame, but he was troubled for years by substance abuse and a topsy turvy private life.

With flowing blond hair and handsome smile, Michael won legions of fans as a teenage pin-up in the early 1980s before going solo with "Faith" in 1987, among the more than 100 million albums he sold with Wham! and under his own name.

While still in Wham!, Michael became the first Western pop act to perform in communist China, in 1985.

He was publicly outed as a homosexual when he was arrested in 1998 for "engaging in a lewd act" in a public restroom in Beverly Hills, California. But he parlayed that tabloid tale into a successful revamp of his career with the hit single "Outside," accompanied by a video featuring LA police officers which showcased his sense of humor.

On Monday, fans laid flowers and candles at his homes in London and Oxfordshire.

"I have grown up with him - he was a songbook to the good times, the bad times. And he's brought me here today just to say thank you, George, for the music," said Kavita, a fan outside his home in London's affluent Highgate district.

Michael's friend and fellow musician Elton John, with whom he collaborated, said: "I have lost a beloved friend - the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans."

RELATED: A look back on George Michael through the years:

17 PHOTOS
George Michael through the years
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George Michael through the years
UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 01: LYCEUM Photo of George MICHAEL and WHAM!, George Michael (Photo by Pete Cronin/Redferns)
Wham 1985 George Michael and Andrew Ridgely (Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage)
Wham Concert In London, Britain - 1985, George Michael And Andrew Ridgeley (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)
CHINA - 1985/04/07: Young children sporting 'Mao' jackets and caps gape at George Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley, of the pop group Wham who are visiting the Great Wall as they promote the first-ever gig by a Western pop band in communist China. Wham played a concert at Beijing's People's Stadium, thereby becoming a milestone not only in pop but also in Chinese history, even if most Chinese hadn't a clue who they were and even fewer actually got to see them in action.. (Photo by Peter Charlesworth/LightRocket via Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 27: George Michael of Wham! performs on stage at the National Exhibition Centre, on February 27th, 1985 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Peter Still/Redferns)
Pop star George Michael attends the British Record Industry Awards, aka the BRIT Awards, at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on February 11, 1985. (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
British singer-songwriter George Michael of Wham!, during the pop duo's 1985 world tour, January 1985.'The Big Tour' took in the UK, Japan, Australia, China and the US. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
George Michael of Wham!, portrait, Sydney, Australia, January 1985. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of George MICHAEL (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns)
Michael Lipman, Tommy Mottola, George Michael and Rob Kahane (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of George MICHAEL (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns)
George Michael Attends A Gianni Versace Book Launch Party At His Store In London'S Bond Street. . (Photo by Antony Jones/Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - AUGUST 03: Singer George Michael performs at the Bank Atlantic Center on August 3, 2008 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Logan Fazio/Getty Images)
British singer George Michael performs on stage during a charity gala for the benefit of Sidaction, at the Opera Garnier in Paris, on September 9, 2012. Sidaction is a charity event which aims to collect money for the struggle against AIDS virus. AFP PHOTO MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)
British singer George Michael performs during the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the Olympic stadium in London on August 12, 2012. Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Olympic Games. AFP PHOTO/LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages)
FILE PHOTO British singer George Michael poses for photographers before a news conference at the Royal Opera House in central London May 11, 2011. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo
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Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963 in London to a Greek Cypriot family in a flat above a north London launderette. He played music on the London underground train system before finding global fame with Wham!.

Michael's death comes at the end of a year that has seen the passing of several popular music giants, including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Rick Parfitt, the guitarist of British rock group Status Quo, died on Saturday at 68. (Writing by Elisabeth O'Leary; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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