“Axl’s Sleeping”: Remember the Chaotic Lead-up to Axl Rose’s Jaw-Dropping Freddie Mercury Tribute With Elton John

The untimely death of Queen’s Freddie Mercury was heartbreaking, and the singer left many loved ones and fellow artists behind. Shortly after he passed in November of 1991, it made sense for so many of his beloved peers to stage the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, including the likes of Axl Rose and Elton John.

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The event took place on April 20, 1992 at Wembley Stadium in London. It united the remaining members of Queen with a number of huge names in music at the time, from Metallica to David Bowie to U2 to Def Leppard to Annie Lennox. The bill was really something to see.

But there was one incident during the benefit concert that made it even more infamous. And that would be the absolutely chaotic performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Queen was slated to perform a multi-artist performance with Elton John and Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose. Specifically, they were going to play the hit Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody” together.

It was controversial before it even started. Queen and even Elton John himself didn’t think it was going to happen. 

To start, putting Axl Rose on stage for a Freddie Mercury tribute concert didn’t make much sense. At the time, Rose was accused of homophobia due to the Guns N’ Roses track “One In a Million”. However, John defended him after the fact, saying “never in a million years did I think he was homophobic.”

Accusations of bigotry aside, the performance appeared destined to be a mess before it began. Allegedly, Rose never showed up to any of the rehearsals for the performance.

The Infamous “Bohemian Rhapsody” Incident

“I do remember being determined that we’d get Elton singing with Axl, which was great, because Axl never turned up for rehearsal,” Roger Taylor of Queen said in an interview. “It was really flying by the seat of our pants.”

Rose wasn’t really present in the hours before the massive performance, either. Instead, he opted to take a nice nap just hours before he was supposed to hit the stage.

“Axl was in the next room to us,” Joe Elliot of Def Leppard said of the incident in another interview. “Elton told us he knocked on his door and Axl’s big security guy said: ‘Axl’s sleeping.’ And Elton said: ‘Well I’m doing a duet with him in four hours!’ And the guy shrugged his shoulders and shut the door in Elton’s face. So Elton comes into our dressing room and says to us: ‘What the f***’s wrong with that guy?'”

It was chaos. But, the show must go on. John went on stage to perform the opening of the famous song. The accompanying visual and recording backing vocals of Mercury were really special, and the crowd was loving it. 

Then, Axl Roses comes hopping out of nowhere, fireworks exploding, Brian May’s guitar shredding away.

“So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?!” Rose screams.

It was an incredible crescendo that died down into John and Rose singing together… awkwardly. But, the performance is still remembered to this day for being both messy and jaw-dropping to behold. Freddie Mercury would’ve loved it, probably.

Photo via YouTube

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