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Second life: Freddie Mercury latest star reborn as avatar

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Freddie Mercury, the singer for Queen who died in 1991, is expected to return to the stage tonight.

The appearance will occur during a special performance of "We Will Rock You," a musical inspired by Queen's music and celebrating its 10th anniversary in London's West End theater district.

Queen guitarist Brian May says the effect is not exactly a hologram but "an optical illusion of sorts."

"People will come out saying, 'Did we actually see Freddie?'" May told the BBC.

This follows last month's appearance of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, who "performed" at the Coachella music festival as a hologram.

May remarked on that resurrection and sounded a bit miffed that it beat Mercury's to the punch.

"It's a little unfortunate they did that thing with Tupac as we've been trying to make Freddie appear on the stage for quite a while," he said. "[That technique] is something we've looked at ourselves but I think probably for a show that runs eight shows a week it's not really quite practical."

Just a couple of weeks ago, Queen's Roger Taylor said he wouldn't want to appear on stage with a digital re-creation of his old friend, telling Billboard magazine: "I don't think I want to. Were somebody [else] to use a hologram of Freddie, I would have no objection. ... It just doesn't sit too well with me. I don't want to appear with a hologram of my dear friend. It's the real one or no hologram for me. But I think it's an amazing effect when used properly -- obviously in darkness."

The "somebody else" appears to be the actors in "We Will Rock You."

May and Taylor will be performing Queen music this summer with hologram-like "American Idol" runner-up Adam Lambert front and center, in a handful of concerts booked thus far in Europe.

UPDATE: 1:40 p.m. Tuesday Brian May wasn't kidding about the question, "Did we actually see Freddie?" The question apparently after Monday's show was: "Did we see anything at all?"

Videos from the 10th anniversary performance show May joining the musical cast on stage for the "Bohemian Rhapsody" finale. At the very end, he seems to pause for the final "Any way the wind blows" -- but darned if I can see anything, holographic or otherwise, occurring on stage. Despite the Internet buzzing with news that the performance would occur on Monday, there are scant reports of it on Tuesday, save for a few dribbles like this that conclude, "It seems there's some dispute over whether the special effect happened or not."

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Just as a note of terminology - that wouldn't really count as an avatar. "construct" or "automaton" (or even "golem") would seem to be more accurate.

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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