Michael Stipe (born January 4, 1960 in Decatur, Georgia) is the founding member, lead singer and creative head of the American rock band R.E.M. Stipe has become well-known (and occasionally parodied) for the "mumbling" style of his early career and for his complex, surreal lyrics, as well as his social and political activism. Stipe and the other members of R.E.M. have become godfathers of alternative rock and are perhaps the first such band to achieve mainstream success.
Stipe met Peter Buck, Bill Berry and Mike Mills in 1980 (see 1980 in music) while studying photography and painting at the University of Georgia. They formed R.E.M. that year and issued their debut single, "Radio Free Europe", on Hib-Tone. The song was a college radio success and the band signed to I.R.S. Records for the release of the Chronic Town EP one year later. Beginning with 1983's Murmur (see 1983 in music), R.E.M. released a series of critically acclaimed albums with a wide variety of mainstream success. A few hit singles and growing visibility as a social activist eventually made Stipe a star and also earned him a devoted fanbase. The late River Phoenix was among his friends, and 1994's Monster had the dedication "For River" in the liner notes. The late singer of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, was also one of his close friends. According to Stipe, they planned a collaboration project, but didn't manage to compose or record anything before Cobain died. He is also godfather of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain.
In 1998, Stipe published a collection called Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith and worked on Single Cell, a film production company which released several arthouse / indie movies (Velvet Goldmine, starring Ewan McGregor, as well as Being John Malkovich, American Movie in 1999, American Psycho in 2000 and Saved! in 2004). The company as a whole recently purchased the rights to Canadian author Douglas Coupland's All Families are Psychotic and is considering it as a film.
In a 2001 Newsweek interview Stipe described himself as a "queer artist". In previous interviews he has described himself as "an equal opportunity lech" and said he doesn't define himself as gay, straight or bisexual, but that he was attracted to and had relationships with both men and women . Stipe was once very close to fellow singer Natalie Merchant and has recorded a few songs with her, including one entitled "Photograph" which appeared on a pro-choice benefit album entitled Born to Choose.
He wrote haikus for a book published by Soft Skull Press called The Haiku Year.
In 2006, Stipe, in collaboration with Coldplay's Chris Martin, released a solo cover version of Joseph Arthur's "In the Sun" for the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. It reached number one on the Canadian Singles Chart.