Michael Stipe

On this day in 1960, musician and film producer John Michael Stipe was born in Decatur, Georgia, into a family of Methodists. His father was in the U.S. Army and the family moved frequently. As a result he was a quiet child, preferring to spend time with his sisters more than with friends. He found his niche in high school, bonding with other students over his passion for punk rock.

After graduation he enrolled at the University of Georgia in Athens to study art and photography, where he met Peter Buck, Bill Berry and Mike Mills. They formed the band R.E.M. in 1980 and released their first album, “Murmur” in 1983. R.E.M. released albums throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Among their most successful was “Out of Time” (1991), which featured the single “Losing My Religion,” arguably the band’s most well-known song. Despite the title, it’s really not about religion, band members have said. Stipe described it as a song about unrequited love and as a “classic obsession song.” Others have said the phrase is a Southern expression meaning being at wit’s end or at the end of one’s rope. The band broke up amicably in 2011.

Stipe later has focused on film and art. In the late 1990s he started a film company, Single Cell Productions, which released “American Movie” (1999) and “Being John Malkovich” (1999). He has several credentials as a producer, including the irreverent 2004 movie “Saved!” about a  Christian high school girl who gets pregnant. The film presents sharp commentary on evangelical Christians and received a lot of backlash from the Religious Right, including Jerry Falwell, who criticized the movie without bothering to see it.

Stipe has also done solo recording work and in 2019 published Michael Stipe: Volume 1, an artful collection of 35 of his photographs whittled down from more than 37,000 in his collection.

He has had intimate relationships with men and women and identifies as “queer” more than gay, he has said. As of this writing in 2019, he lives in New York City with photographer Thomas Dozol.

PHOTO: Stipe at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. David Shankbone photo under CC 3.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation