November 24, 1991 — Freddie Mercury dies

A true giant of popular music, and the possessor of one of the finest voices ever to grace a song, Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, died at the age of 45 after a protracted struggle with AIDS. An openly gay man, Mercury had contracted the disease some years earlier, being diagnosed in 1987, but chose to conceal his illness from all but his nearest and dearest, including the other three members of Queen, until relatively shortly before his death. This desire for privacy has unfortunately tainted his legacy somewhat, as he arguably could have done much to promote awareness of AIDS had he announced his infection sooner – although this would likely have taken a greater toll on his health and seen him die even sooner.

Mercury left behind him an incredible range of musical accomplishments, both as singer and songwriter. In particular, he wrote 10 of the 17 songs on Queen’s Greatest Hits volume one: “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Killer Queen”, “Somebody to Love”, “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”, “We Are the Champions”, “Bicycle Race”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Play the Game” – all of them still played frequently on radio to this day. He was also a consummate showman in concert, rivaled only by Bowie and Jagger in his ability to charm a crowd.

September 17, 1991 — Use Your Illusion I and II are released

Simultaneously released, Use Your Illusion was a double album sold as two separate albums, each of which featured a version of their song “Don’t Cry” with different lyrics. The two albums included some of Guns n Roses’ best known songs, including their cover of “Live and Let Die”, as well as originals like “You Could Be Mine”, “Civil War” and “November Rain”. The latter most of these being the most epic of all Guns n Roses songs, although not the longest. “November Rain” was the 4th single from the twin albums, and the 2nd most successful (after “You Could Be Mine”). In interviews, the band stated that they felt that this was their “Stairway to Heaven”. As bold as that claim was, it has been borne out by history.

The song remains a staple of classic rock radio stations everywhere, the clip regularly places among the most popular on MTV and other such music video stations, and naturally, it is a long-standing staple of Guns n Roses live performances.

July 19, 1991 — Mike Tyson rapes Desiree Washington

Mike Tyson’s career as a boxer was experiencing a brief setback in 1991. Injuries sustained during training had led him to pull out of a planned title challenge against Evander Holyfield, the Heavyweight Champion. We can’t know for sure what was in Tyson’s mind when he called Desiree Washington a little after 1:30 in the morning on July 19, and organised to come pick her up.

They were driven back to his hotel by Tyson’s chauffeur, and accounts vary as to what happened next. Washington claimed that Tyson raped her, Tyson claimed that they had consensual sex. The weight of evidence – and Tyson’s unlikable demeanour in the courtroom – led the jury to convict Tyson of the rape, and he served three years (of a six year sentence) in prison for the crime.

June 19, 1991 — Bushwick Bill accidentally shoots himself in the eye

While under the influence of both PCP and Everclear (the drink, not the band), Bill accidentally shot himself in the right eye during an argument with his girlfriend. He was rushed to hospital, and survived his injuries, but it was too later to save his eye. Bill later claimed that he “died and came back to life” in the course of these events, and credits it with giving him a spiritual awakening of sorts, although it was not until 2006 that he became a born again Christian.

March 3, 1991 — Rodney King is beaten by five members of the LAPD

Even for the LAPD, an organisation that has rarely covered itself in glory, the beating of Rodney King was a notable low.

The incident began when King, somewhat drunk and driving at illegally high speed, panicked when the police began to chase him, leading to a pursuit across Los Angeles. (King later testified that he had run because a conviction of driving under the influence would violate the terms of his parole.) When he was finally caught, the first five officers on the scene were Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano.

What happened next was captured on film by George Holliday, a local resident. (See it here.) King was tasered twice, and beaten with batons by Officers Wind, Briseno, and Powell, who hit him a total of 33 times, and kicked him 6 times too. King was hospitalized and later successfully sued the LAPD. The video went viral, becoming one of the most iconic images of the early Nineties. The Los Angeles district attorney charged officers Koon, Powell, Briseno and Wind with use of excessive force, but they were acquitted at their trial, leading to a week of rioting in LA and elsewhere.

If ever you find yourself in Los Angeles, don’t let the LAPD treat you like king.

January 17, 1991 — Operation Desert Storm commences

Operation Desert Storm began after the expiry of the deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. The first component of the operation was a series of airstrikes, with the first large scale deployment of so-called “smart bombs”. US Air Force planes launched from bases in Saudi Arabia and carriers in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea to strike at targets in Kuwait and Iraq.

The first priority was the neutralization of the Iraqi Air Force, a goal that was successfully completed on the first day of the war. After that, priority was given to military and communications targets. The ground assault began weeks later, after the coalition forces had established absolute aerial dominance – by the time the tanks were rolling, the war was almost already over.

Destroyed Iraqi T-54A or Type 59

As mentioned in:

Hand of Fools — The Cross

January 15, 1991 — The deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait expires

In response to Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the government of the USA – with full United Nations approval – announced January 15 as a deadline, before which Iraqi forces were required to return to their own nation. Formally stated in UN Resolution 678, on November 29, it allowed approximately seven weeks for the withdrawal to occur, a generous amount of time considering that the original invasion had taken a matter of days.

Hussein remained intransigent, and on January 12, the US Senate approved the use of military force if the deadline expired. The ensuing war was quick, decisive, and by the normal standards of such things, almost restrained in character.