Teen heartthrobs who turned out to be gay

At the peak of their fame, these former teenage heartthrobs were the puppy loves of millions of girls around the world, but as they would reveal years, and sometimes decades, later, those romantic feelings were not mutual. Why did stars like Ricky Martin and George Michael stay closeted for so long? And what convinced them to bust out? Dust off your old editions of Tiger Beat and J-14 as we take a trip down memory lane.

Ricky Martin

Martin spent more than four years performing with the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo, starting at the young age of 13 in 1984. He became one of the rare crossover success stories when he dominated the U.S. charts as a solo artist with the 1999 hit, "Livin' La Vida Loca." Around that time, Martin dodged questions and rumors about his sexuality, most famously during an interview with Barbara Walters.

Finally, on March 29, 2010, Martin came out as a gay man in a letter published to his website. "To keep living as I did up until today would be to indirectly diminish the glow that my kids were born with," Martin said (via People), referring to his adopted twin boys. "These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn't even know existed." In a subsequent interview with Oprah Winfrey, Martin said he simply wasn't ready to answer questions about his sexuality at the peak of his fame. In fact, he said it actually drew him further away from telling the truth.

George Michael

In April 1998, George Michael, formerly one half of the British boy duo Wham!, was forced to address his sexuality publicly after he was arrested for allegedly committing lewd conduct in the bathroom of a Beverly Hills park. "I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I'm in a relationship with a man right now," Michael told CNN just days after his arrest. "I have not been in a relationship with a woman for almost 10 years." Later, he said: "I don't feel any shame [about my sexuality]. I feel stupid and I feel reckless and weak for having allowed my sexuality to be exposed this way. But I don't feel any shame whatsoever."

Speaking to the BBC (via People) in 2014, Michael said that coming out had negative impacts on his career. "The press seemed to take some delight that I previously had a 'straight audience,' and set about trying to destroy that," he said. "And I think some men were frustrated that their girlfriends wouldn't let go of the idea that George Michael just hadn't found the 'right girl' [yet]. Which is still what a lot of my extended family still think!"

Michael was found dead in his bed at home by longtime boyfriend Fadi Fawaz on Christmas Day 2017. According to the Daily Mail, a coroner ruled that the 53-year-old pop icon "died of  natural causes with a weakened heart and fatty liver."

Jonathan Knight

One of the toughest parts about being closeted in the spotlight is when your secret gets revealed by another celebrity. Just ask former New Kids on the Block singer Jonathan Knight, whose sexuality was accidentally revealed by another '80s icon, Tiffany, in a 2001 interview on Watch What Happens Live (via E! Online). Asked by host Andy Cohen if she ever dated a NKOTB member, she said, "The quiet one. The shy one. He became gay later."

Knight posted a response in a blog post on the New Kids on the Block website, in which he wrote (via the New York Daily News): "I have lived my life very openly and have never hidden the fact that I am gay!…If there ever has been any confusion about my sexuality, then you are someone that doesn't even know me!" He ended the post by saying he didn't feel the need to discuss his private life further. "My fellow band members don't discuss their private lives with their loved ones and I don't feel that just because I am gay, I should have to discuss mine!"

Lance Bass

Although he briefly dated and even took Boy Meets World star Danielle Fishel to her senior prom, 'N Sync member Lance Bass came out publicly in an exclusive People magazine cover story in 2006. "I'm not ashamed—that's the one thing I want to say," he told the magazine. "I don't think it's wrong, I'm not devastated going through this. I'm more liberated and happy than I've been my whole life. I'm just happy."

As for why he stayed quiet so long, Bass told People he worried the boy band would fall apart if he came out. "I knew that I was in this popular band and I had four other guys' careers in my hand, and I knew that if I ever acted on it or even said (that I was gay), it would overpower everything," he said. "I didn't know: Could that be the end of 'N Sync? So I had that weight on me of like, 'Wow, if I ever let anyone know, it's bad.' So I just never did."

Bass married boyfriend Michael Turchin in 2014.

Neil Patrick Harris

A few months after Bass came out, former Doogie Howser, M.D. star Neil Patrick Harris followed suit by finally addressing rampant rumors about his sexuality. "The public eye has always been kind to me, and until recently I have been able to live a pretty normal life. Now it seems there is speculation and interest in my private life and relationships," Harris told People. At the time, he was playing the wildly popular role of playboy Barney Stinson in the hit CBS sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. "I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love."

In 2014, Harris married actor David Burtka after 10 years of dating. They have two children.

Stephen Gately

Although they never made it big in the United States, Irish boy band Boyzone was adored by millions of fans in the U.K. Among its members was Stephen Gately, who in 1999, at age 23, came out as gay to British tabloid The Sun. "I think the time has come to be honest and tell everyone that I am gay," Gately said in a statement (via MTV News). "I owe it to all Boyzone fans. I'm not ashamed of coming out like this, my family and friends have known for a long time."

About 10 years after his announcement, Gately died of natural causes inside the apartment he shared with his partner, Andrew Coles, in Port Andratx, reported The Telegraph. He was 33.