When Freddie Mercury made his final on-camera appearance in the music video for “These Are the Days of Our Lives” in 1991, AIDS had left him gaunt and frail. The Queen frontman could barely walk because of open wounds on his foot, part of which would later be amputated. But as Austrian filmmaker Rudi Dolezal, who shot the video, recalls, he still insisted on doing his job.
“The band’s manager, Jim Beach, said I had to cut down the number of takes,” Dolezal tells The Post from his home in Miami. “But Freddie didn’t want special treatment. If you watch ‘These Are the Days of Our Lives,’ he’s doing it standing up even though he was in great pain, because he didn’t want to hold anyone up, or be difficult. To me, the way he managed his illness in working situations like that, made him an even bigger superstar.”
Mercury’s struggle with AIDS is left largely untouched by the Golden Globe-winning “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which charts the rise of Mercury and his Queen bandmates Roger Taylor (drums), John Deacon (bass) and Brian May (guitar). The biopic stands to earn more acclaim — especially for Rami Malek’s stirring lead performance — when the Oscar nominations are announced Tuesday. The movie ends with the band’s triumphant 1985 Live Aid performance at London’s Wembley Stadium, but for Dolezal that was when things truly got interesting.
“They wanted to capitalize on the show, so they asked me to do the video for their single ‘One Vision’ in 1985,” says Dolezal, now 60. “That was the first time they hired me. I ended up doing around 30 videos for the band and their solo projects.”
Dolezal first met the band when he was a young TV reporter in his native Vienna, during the mid-1970s. He diligently sent Queen his interview segments on the band, complete with his contact details, and became even closer with Mercury when the singer lived in Munich in the early ’80s. “Freddie was very happy in Munich because no one bothered him and, to be completely honest, he loved the gay scene there,” says Dolezal, whose 2000 BBC documentary, “Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story,” was nominated for a Grammy.
Eventually, Mercury moved back to London and settled with hairdresser Jim Hutton. In public, Mercury was flamboyant and larger-than-life, but in private, Dolezal remembers something very different. “He was the greatest housewife you can imagine,” he says. “Freddie invited me to his private functions often, and, at one dinner party, the guests included Rod Stewart and Elton John. I remember there was a lot of bitching about other artists, and about themselves. I think Rod came up with the idea of forming a group called Nose, Teeth & Hair, because Rod had a big nose, Elton had problems with his hair and Freddie had his teeth!”
On another occasion, Mercury’s hospitality went above and beyond the call of duty. “I was getting very friendly with one of Queen’s backing vocalists, and she and I decided to go somewhere — just the two of us. Freddie realized that and said ‘OK, you can use my guest bedroom,’ and went upstairs and put in new linen on the beds for us himself. As a host, he really took care of you.”
The partying grew less frequent once Mercury was diagnosed in 1987. As depicted in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” he told only his closest allies, insisting it was never to be discussed further. (Dolezal found out only after one of Mercury’s former partners, German actress Barbara Valentin, let it slip.) Instead, Mercury plowed on with his work, and Queen released “The Miracle” in 1989 and “Innuendo” in 1991. It was during the making of the latter in Montreux, Switzerland, that Dolezal says Mercury decided to cease his primitive AIDS treatment.
“The side effects were horrid,” says Dolezal. “The pills were so big you could hardly swallow [them], and you would be throwing up all the time.”
In his final weeks, Mercury was confined to the bedroom of his London house in the tony Kensington neighborhood, and it was apparently Dolezal’s work that kept him in high spirits. “I was told by one his assistants that Freddie watched my videos for ‘I’m Going Slightly Mad’ and ‘These Are the Days of Our Lives’ all the time,” recalls the director, growing tearful. Even when ill, he says, Mercury was enthusiastic: “He would say, ‘Play it again, play it again.’ ”
Mercury issued a statement confirming he had contracted AIDS and died just a day later on Nov. 24, 1991. He was 45.
Dolezal is currently writing a book titled “My Friend, Freddie” about his experiences (due out later this year) and plans to release unedited versions of his interviews with Mercury in a new film, “Freddie Mercury: In His Own Words.”
With so much of Mercury’s extraordinary life left uncovered, it opens the door to another “Bohemian Rhapsody” film, with Brian May telling Classic Rock magazine there “might” be a sequel.
“I think it would be a brilliant idea,” says Dolezal, who earned critical acclaim for his 2017 documentary on Whitney Houston “Can I Be Me,” co-directed by Nick Broomfield. “He had so many adventures, you could probably do four movies!”
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