Freddie Mercury loved music, flamboyant fashion, Liza Minnelli, and as the new Bohemian Rhapsody biopic attests, his cats. Though the Rami Malek film does not get into many specifics—there are only so many feline cutaways director Bryan Singer could presumably fit into the approximately two-hour run time—it teases how deeply Mercury felt about his furry friends, showing the singer-songwriter allotting each cat a separate bedroom in his London mansion. But Mercurys real-life devotion to his cats ran even deeper.
Mercurys girlfriend and great love Mary Austin reportedly first introduced the Queen front man to felines in the 70s, by purchasing a pair of cats—Tom and Jerry—for the couples home. While Mercury toured with Queen, Austin cared for the animals, and Mercury would call often to check in. According to Mercurys personal assistant Peter Freestone, “Hed get to a hotel, wed dial through, and he really would talk to his cats.” Writing in his memoir, Freddie Mercury, Freestone explained, “Mary would hold Tom and Jerry in turn up to the receiver to listen to Freddie talking. This continued throughout the years with succeeding feline occupants of his houses.”
Eventually, Mercury hosted a total of 10 cats—the rest named Tiffany, Dorothy, Delilah, Goliath, Lily, Miko, Oscar, and Romeo. “His cats were his family,” wrote Freestone, adding that Mercury made sure each cat had his or her own Christmas stocking filled with treats and toys.
“Freddie treated the cats like his own children,” explained Jim Hutton, Mercurys boyfriend of seven years, in his memoir Mercury and Me. “He would constantly fuss over them, and if any of them came to any harm when Freddie was away, heaven help us. During the day the cats had the run of the house and grounds, and at night one of us would round them up and bring them inside.”
Hutton recalled one alarming incident when Goliath disappeared from the property. “Freddie became frantic, and in deep despair he hurled a beautiful Japanese hibachi [grill] through the window of the guest bedroom.” When Goliath was found, “Freddie was over the moon. . . . For five minutes or more he pored his attention on the kitten, cuddling and stroking him. Then, like a mother, Freddie scolded the cat, shouting and screaming at tiny Goliath for leaving Garden Lodge. The dark ball of fur just sat there, listening calmly to Freddies outburst and purring loudly.”
In 1985, Mercury took his devotion to his cats to a new level—dedicating his solo album Mr. Bad Guy “to my cat Jerry—also Tom, Oscar, and Tiffany, and all the cat lovers across the universe—screw everybody else!” Jacky Smith, the longtime director of the Official Queen Fan Club, claimed that Mercurys fans would send him toys for the already spoiled animals, explaining, “They did get ordinary cat food at times, but mostly it was fresh chicken and fish prepared for them.” Photos of his beloved animals would also appear in her Queen newsletters.
Though he seemed to love all cats, Mercury did play favorites. Hutton described Delilah as being “the little princess” of their home—“the one hed pick up and stroke the most often. . . . Shed sleep at the foot of the bed, before slipping out for a nighttime prowl.” While in ill health, Mercury penned a song named for his preferred animal. The lyrics read, “You make me smile when Im just about to cry / You bring me hope, you make me laugh—and I like it / You get away with murder, so innocent / But when you throw a moody youre all claws and you bite / Thats alright!” Though his Queen bandmates did not like the song—Roger Taylor later admitted, “I hate Delilah. Thats just not me.”—they acquiesced, agreeing to put the track on Innuendo, the last Queen album released while Mercury was alive. According to Rolling Stone, May even “utilized a much-loathed talk box effect to make cat noises with his guitar.” Later, he recalled the moment of collaborative defeat in an interview with Guitar World: “Well, I suppose theres no other way I can make meow noises.”
“Delilah” was not Mercurys only cat tribute on Innuendo—the singer-songwriter posed for the album cover with a cat sitting on each of his shoulders, and another on the top of his head. And when Queen recorded the music video for the Innuendo track “These Are the Days of Our Lives,” Mercury did so wearing a vest custom-made for him and adorned with images of each of his cats.
Delilah provided Mercury with love and attention in his final months. Per Rolling Stone, “Mercury spent hours with watercolors trying to paint a portrait of the tortoiseshell Delilah—and when he was dying in 1991, one of his final actions was stroking her fur.”
In one of his final interviews, Mercury told journalist David Wigg that he had included in his will Austin and his cats—his greatest loves, revealing “Im leaving it all to Mary and the cats.”
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Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Julie MillerJulie Miller is a Senior Hollywood writer for Vanity Fairs website.