Freddie Mercury’s Zoroastrianism inspired him to follow his dreams

 Taryn Smee
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(Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns)

The legendary musician known as Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) in 1946. The Bulsara family are part of the Zoroastrian faith and Mercury was raised within this tradition.

His father was a civil servant for the British Empire, so the family lived in India during the young Freddie’s formative years.

Mercury attended boarding school in India and it was during this time that he learned piano, fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll, got the nickname Freddie and formed his first band.

At the age of 17, Mercury and family moved to England during a time of political upheaval in Zanzibar.

It was while living in England that he decided to pursue music over everything else, a decision that would lead to the creation of one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Zoroastrianism is the oldest monotheistic religion in the world and its prophet Zarathustra was the first to introduce to theology the concepts of heaven and hell, and the struggle between good and evil.

Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the Persian Empire and as the Empire spread, so did the teachings of Zarathustra. In fact, Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all influenced by the ideas of this old religion.

Although these days Zoroastrianism is seen as a minor religion, its teachings have inspired many scholars and artists throughout the centuries, including Freddie Mercury.

Mercury may not have actively practiced Zoroastrianism, but it certainly played a role in his determination and outlook on life.

His sister, Kashmira Cooke, discussed this in an interview in 2014: “I think what [Freddie’s] Zoroastrian faith gave him was to work hard, to persevere, and to follow your dreams.”

The religion is also known for its motto ‘Good thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.’ It teaches sharing, generosity and kindness as part of its doctrine and Mercury was known to be all of those things.

He was an extravagant spender, not just on material goods and parties, but he also privately gave large sums of money to charities and was known to lavish gifts on friends and to help those close to him.

Some critics during Mercury’s lifetime accused him of ignoring his heritage. Looking back on the debate, it seems that there may have been a misunderstanding of what it means to be Persian.

In response to those critics, Mercury is famously quoted as saying “I’ll always walk around like a Persian popinjay and no one’s going to stop me, honey!”.

Indeed, Mercury was intensely proud of his ancestry, but he wasn’t a devoutly religious person. His mother, Jer Bulsara, is quoted in the Telegraph as saying, “Freddie was a Parsee and he was proud of that, but he wasn’t particularly religious.”

Freddie Mercury died of complications due to AIDS on November 24, 1991 at the age of 45. The funeral was a private affair attended by family and close friends. The ceremony was presided over by two Zoroastrian priests and Mercury was cremated in accordance with modern Zoroastrian tradition.

Read another story from us: “Bohemian Rhapsody” – The Long Road to Freddie Mercury Hitting the Big Screen

In the 20 years since his death, Freddie Mercury has become a legend with continued devotion from fans all over the world. Of his continued fame, his mother said in an interview with the Telegraph “I am proud for everything that comes up for my boy. The whole world seems to know him. They know who Freddie Mercury is. My boy was a genius.”


They were of similar backgrounds: both British but neither a fair-skinned Anglo-Saxon. Mercury was of Persian descent, born Farrokh Bulsara on the island of Zanzibar in 1947. Michael, the son of a Greek Cypriot immigrant and an English dancer, was born in London in 1963 and named Giorgios Panayiotou. In his teen years, Michael was a busker in the London Underground, and Queen’s “39” was one of his standards.


Freddie Mercury did not actively practice Zoroastrianism for most of his life. But he did still connect with his faith. He once remarked to an interviewer “I’ll always walk around like a Persian popinjay and no one’s gonna stop me, honey!” Zoroastrian priests did his funeral ceremonies. Some rock music historians have linked his operatic themes of Bohemian Rhapsody to the religious themes of Zoroastrianism. Freddie Mercury’s sister Kashimira told reporters that “I think what [Freddie’s] Zoroastrian faith gave him was to work hard, to persevere, and to follow your dreams.”

Yes, you should start dressing like Freddie Mercury

I’ll always walk around like a Persian popinjay,” the never-modest Freddie Mercury once exclaimed. “And no one’s gonna stop me, honey!” And indeed, no one did — or could — until Aids tragically claimed his life in 1991. If it wasn’t fabulous, it had no place in Freddie’s book, whether as a toothy Parsi schoolboy or as the most exuberant rock’n’roll frontman to have ever walked the earth. Sure, his four-octave vocal range could make even Bob Plant hide in shame behind his curls, but, for Freddie, singing was but one part of the grand performance he called “life”, and such a stage called, only naturally, for the most exquisite taste in fashion.

[…..]As much as we love the sight of a bare-chested moustachioed man singing falsetto in a vest, we’re suckers for Freddie’s look of the early Seventies. His floral-themed jacket here looks as if snagged from a Persian fresco, he’s still got that luscious mane and his belt-and-trouser combo evokes images of the Lizard King. And, although something down below looks like it wants to break free, we’re thankful Freddie hasn’t pulled a Jim Morrison on us here.

He used to say he was Persian

One of Freddie’s best friends in his adult life was the singer and West End star Peter Straker, but even to him, Freddie rarely talked about his childhood. ‘I have a feeling he didn’t go into his childhood too much because he went to school in India and he didn’t want to be considered Indian,” suggests Straker. “Now it would matter, but at that time it was different. He used to say he was Persian. He liked the idea of being Persian, which I think is much more exotic whether you’re a rock and roll star or a wrestler.”

(Somebody to Love: The Life, Death and Legacy of Freddie Mercury By Matt Richards, Mark Langthorne, page 17)