Deon Estus, bassist for Wham! and George Michael, dies aged 65

Deon Estus
(Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Wham! and George Michael bassist Deon Estus has died, aged 65. Estus left an indelible mark on popular music, playing on Wham! albums Fantastic and Make It Big, before becoming one of pop's most in-demand bass players.

Once Wham! split in 1986, Estus followed George Michael into his solo career, laying down bass guitar on Faith and Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1. Besides being a talented bassist, Estus also sang, produced, played drums and keyboard. 

In 1989, he released a solo album, Spell, on which Estus collaborated once more with Michael who sang on the number five hit Heaven Help Me. Estus toured with Michael, opening his shows, but even as Spell placed him in the spotlight, it was as a sideman and session player that Estus really made a name for himself.

Estus was born in Detroit on 4 July 1956. After learning bass guitar under the great James Jamerson, he got his break playing in Brainstorm, scoring a 1979 hit with the mid-tempo disco-funk of Popcorn.

Playing with the likes of Paul Jackson Jr - who himself would go on to enjoy a similarly successful career as a sideman to the likes of Luther Vandross and Dionne Warwick – was the perfect grounding for an effervescent pop sound that launched George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley into mega-stardom.

Listening to Wham! hits, much of the musical information was being carried by Estus's basslines; the syncopation he learned from Jamerson - “the man who brought syncopation to the bass“ - and a melodic sensibility that made their sound so irresistible.

Estus arrived in London in the early '80s via Belgium and Ireland. Speaking to the Observer-Reporter in 1989, Estus credited travelling with broadening his range of inspirations, and said that his time playing in Dublin taught him a lot.

“When I first worked there I’d listen to these local bands,” he said. “The harmonies were really tricky. I was listening to this rhythm and thought this was the closest to black music I’d heard. I learned a great deal from it.”

His appreciation of different styles allowed him to fit in with any company. In 1985, Estus played with likes of Simple Minds' Mel Gaynor on Elton John's Ice On Fire, and collaborated with the likes of Tina Turner and Annie Lennox. He was reunited with Andrew Ridgeley in 1990, guesting on Ridgeley's solo album, Son Of Albert.

Today, Ridgeley took to Twitter to pay pay tribute to Estus, describing him as a “lavishly gifted bass guitarist, a charismatic and impish character and a rock of the WHAM! rhythm section.”

“He lives large in the memory,” wrote Ridgeley. “He radiated warmth, humour and life’s illuminating light, my heartfelt commiserations go out to his family.”

Writing on Twitter, Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet said Estus was a “brilliant talent” who helped defined the sound of 80s pop with his playing.

Estus died on 11 October, and was announced via his official Twitter page. No cause of death has been revealed.

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.