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Like the man himself, Freddie Mercury auction finds emotion and enthusiasm in fans

(SOUNDBITE OF QUEEN SONG, "BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY")

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The piano behind one of the most famous songs in the world has a new owner.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Yamaha baby grand that Freddie Mercury used to compose "Bohemian Rhapsody" and other Queen hits sold for more than $2 million at auction yesterday. The sale of more than 1,400 lots from Mercury's personal collection is taking place over several auctions this month. Bidders from all over the world have already raised paddles in person, online and over the phone.

SUMMERS: Gabriel Heaton is a director at Sotheby's in London, which is overseeing the sale, and he says the response has been overwhelming.

GABRIEL HEATON: This has been unprecedented in so many ways. I mean, just the sheer number of people, the extremely warm and deeply emotional response.

SUMMERS: He was particularly excited by artifacts showing Mercury's writing process, including a 15-page manuscript for "Bohemian Rhapsody's" lyrics that went for around $1.7 million.

HEATON: You can see the song go from these kind of scribbled notes to the near-finished song and then to see even the last minute - the little changes that he made that just perfected the song. It's - you know, it's really, really wonderful, actually.

SHAPIRO: Other bits of history on the auction block included drafts of lyrics from "Somebody To Love"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY TO LOVE")

QUEEN: (Singing) Each morning I get up I die a little.

SHAPIRO: ..."Don't Stop Me Now"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T STOP ME NOW")

QUEEN: (Singing) I'm burning through the sky, yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...And "Killer Queen."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KILLER QUEEN")

QUEEN: (Singing) Caviar and cigarettes, well-versed in etiquette...

SUMMERS: And then there are many of Mercury's memorable looks. A silver snake bracelet that Mercury wore in the "Bohemian Rhapsody" music video went for 100 times its asking price, and the red crown and cloak he wore to close out each show of Queen's last tour in 1986 went for over $800,000.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FREDDIE MERCURY: You've been a really special audience. Thank you very much. Goodnight. Sweet dreams. We love you.

SHAPIRO: Gabriel Heaton at Sotheby's says it's been an especially emotional auction.

HEATON: I've had to literally put my arms around a successful bidder today because they were so overwhelmed at having won a particular lot. I've been here nearly 20 years. I've never had to do that before.

SUMMERS: But some fans are sad to see Mercury's intimate possessions auctioned off. Queen guitarist Brian May is with them. He wrote on Instagram ahead of the sale that he couldn't look at his friend's belongings being, quote, "knocked down to the highest bidder and dispersed forever."

SHAPIRO: Heaton understands that take, too.

HEATON: There's always a bittersweet edge to any parting, of course, but these objects are not disappearing. They're entering the custody of new people. The love and the passion that these buyers feel for these objects is extraordinary.

SUMMERS: And those fans who do manage to snag a piece of Freddie Mercury, be it his graffiti-covered garden door, his Tiffany mustache comb, or even a pair of his chopsticks, truly must feel like...

SHAPIRO: You going to say it, Juana?

SUMMERS: I guess I have to. They must feel like champions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS")

QUEEN: (Singing) We are the champions, my friends.

SHAPIRO: Thank you for listening to Queen and to All THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.