Singer George Michael pleads guilty to drug offenses in UK, could face jail sentence

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

George Michael pleads guilty to drug offenses

LONDON — It was a slow-motion car crash — a handy metaphor for George Michael’s career.

The multimillion-selling singer was warned Tuesday that he may face jail time after driving his car into a London photo shop while under the influence of drugs.

It was the latest in a string of bizarre automotive and drug-related mishaps that have raised fears for Michael’s safety, but done little to dent the 47-year-old’s iconic status, which endures more than two decades after he released his best-selling records.

Michael was mobbed by several dozen photographers Tuesday as he arrived at London’s Highbury Corner Magistrates Court, where he admitted driving under the influence of drugs and possession of cannabis.

He was charged after plowing his Range Rover into a branch of Snappy Snaps in Hampstead, north London, in the wee hours of July 4. The dent in the wall is still visible, and someone has added one word of graffiti: Wham.

The car’s engine was still running when police arrived, but Michael had to be roused, police said. They described Michael as appearing “spaced out.”

“Mr. Michael looked at the officer with his eyes wide open and the officers could see his pupils were dilated,” said prosecutor Penny Fergusson. “They opened the door and could see he was dripping with sweat.”

Prosecutors said Michael acknowledged smoking marijuana and taking a prescription sedative.

The former Wham! lead singer, booked under his real name of Georgios Panayiotou, spoke only to confirm his identity and plead guilty to driving while unfit.

Judge Robin McPhee banned Michael from driving for six months, and warned he could face jail time when he is sentenced Sept. 14.

“It is a serious matter. Your driving was extremely poor and there was an accident,” McPhee said, adding that Michael has already had one conviction. “I make it clear all options in respect of sentencing remain open, including powers to imprison.”

Michael and cars have a checkered history. In February 2006, he was found slumped at the wheel of his car at London’s busy Hyde Park Corner. That April, he hit three parked cars while trying to maneuver out of a parking space, and admitted being “a terrible driver.”

In October 2006, he was found slumped over the wheel of his car, which was blocking an intersection. He pleaded guilty to driving while unfit through drugs and was sentenced to community service.

Last year, he was involved in a late-night crash with a truck outside London. Michael released a statement stressing he was “stone cold sober” at the time.

“The man could solve all his problems by getting a chauffeur,” said Neil McCormick, rock critic for the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Michael has an acknowledged fondness for marijuana, and also said in a 2007 television interview that he was addicted to prescription drugs. At the time, he blamed his erratic behavior to an attention-seeking and “self-destructive” impulse brought on by the death of his mother a decade earlier.

None of it has dented his status as a musical icon — and a survivor.

Michael gained mega-stardom in his early 20s as half of Wham! and went on to a successful solo career. His first solo album, 1987’s “Faith,” has sold 20 million copies.

His sexuality became public in 1998 when he was arrested for lewd conduct in a public toilet in Los Angeles after being spotted by a male undercover police officer.

Michael went on to release a single and video, “Outside,” that poked fun at his arrest.

His recent albums have not matched the sales of his early work, but his first tour in 15 years, in 2006, was a sellout.

At Tuesday’s court appearance, the public gallery was filled with fans who shouted out “you’re an inspiration” and “I love you” and asked for autographs as he left the courtroom.

McCormick said Michael’s legacy as an artist, and an influence on other musicians, is secure.

“It’s not only him who’s not going to sell as many records as he did in the 80s — nobody’s going to sell as many records as anybody did in the 80s,” McCormick said.

“He seems incredibly together. He has a sense of humor, he looks pretty healthy and he has a good idea of himself, what he means and what his life is in this post-superstar fame world that drives people mad.”

Associated Press Writer Robert Barr contributed to this report.

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