Illness and death
In October 1986, the British press reported that Mercury had his blood tested for HIV/AIDS at a Harley Street clinic. A reporter for The Sun, Hugh Whittow, questioned Mercury about the story at Heathrow Airport as he was returning from a trip to Japan. Mercury denied he had a sexually transmitted disease. According to his partner Jim Hutton, Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS in late April 1987. Around that time, Mercury claimed in an interview to have tested negative for HIV. Despite the denials, the British press pursued the rampant rumours over the next few years, fuelled by Mercury's increasingly gaunt appearance, Queen's absence from touring, and reports from former lovers to various tabloid journals. By 1990, the rumours about Mercury's health were rife. At the 1990 Brit Awards held at the Dominion Theatre, London, on 18 February, a visibly frail Mercury made his final appearance on stage when he joined the rest of Queen to collect the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. Towards the end of his life, he was routinely stalked by photographers, while The Sun featured a series of articles claiming that he was ill; notably in an article from November 1990 that featured an image of a haggard-looking Mercury on the front page accompanied by the headline, "It's official – Freddie is seriously ill."
However, Mercury and his inner circle of colleagues and friends, whom he felt he could trust, continually denied the stories, even after one front-page article published on 29 April 1991, showed Mercury appearing very haggard in what was by then a rare public appearance. It has been suggested that he could have made a contribution to AIDS awareness by speaking earlier about his situation and his fight against the disease. Mercury kept his condition private to protect those closest to him, with Brian May confirming in a 1993 interview he had informed the band of his illness much earlier.