Revisiting Freddie Mercury’s Last Queen Show
On Aug. 9, 1986, Freddie Mercury looked out at an adoring crowd of more than 120,000 people. His band, Queen, had just finished its second encore, resulting in thunderous applause. “Goodnight and sweet dreams,” the singer said to his throngs of fans. They would be the last words uttered by Mercury during a Queen performance.
In 1986, the band was enjoying a glorious high. Their legendary performance at Live Aid the year before cemented Queen as one of rock’s greatest live acts. As fans demanded to see their idols in the flesh, the band conceptualized their Magic Tour. The 26-date trek would take the band throughout Europe, coinciding with the release of the A Kind of Magic LP. The final date of the tour would be an Aug. 9 performance in Knebworth Park, England.
“At Knebworth … I somehow knew it was going to be the last show for all of us,” Queen’s longtime roadie Peter Hince recalled in his autobiography. “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, the singer 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 tantrum worried the group.
Status Quo, Big Country and Belouis Some were the supporting acts for the Knebworth show. Though each band had earned a respectable fan base of its own, 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 the frontman’s 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 the 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.
Watch Queen Perform 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in 1986
All the while, Mercury delivered his trademark bombast. The frontman memorably led the audience in a session of vocal exercises, singing “daaaaay-oh” to the crowd, much like he had done at Live Aid.
The band closed their initial set with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” their 1980 rockabilly chart-topper. After briefly disappearing, the group returned to the stage for an electrifying rendition of “Radio Ga Ga.”
Watch Queen Perform 'Radio Ga Ga' in 1986
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 group’s last song was an emotional performance of “God Save the Queen,” their customary closing track.
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 albums The Miracle and Innuendo in 1989 and 1991, respectively. Mercury died on Nov. 24, 1991, after a long battle with AIDS.