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The Last Word: Michael Jackson – The Day the Music Died

michael-jackson2

For many music fans, the death of an artist is cause for

brief conversation and a few songs in remembrance. Nothing more than a day or

two to honor the person and the music.

 

Only a select few command more. Elvis, Biggie, James Brown, Tupac,

and Aaliyah are prime examples, along with the newest icon to enter the pearly

gates, Michael Jackson.  No matter

what was said, whether you loved him or hated him, few could touch Michael

musically. So much so that you would be hard pressed to find a current

entertainer who has not been influenced or taken bits and pieces of his vocal

and dance style to enhance their own artistic pedigree.

 

In short, Michael Jackson was more than the King of Pop. He

was the blueprint, the epitome of what happens when you live, eat and breathe

what you are destined to become. All the while giving fans a reason to style

their hair with a jheri curl, sport a homemade glittery glove and try to

moonwalk as effortlessly as the man who brought it to the world.

 

And while I had some heat packed for this week’s Last Word,

it would have been a crime to not put all of that aside to take a walk down

memory lane to reminisce over one of the few people who earns the title of

legend.

 

August 29, 1958: Michael

Joseph Jackson enters the world as the seventh child of Joe and Katherine

Jackson. Flanked by talented brothers, Jermaine, Marlon, Tito, Jackie and

Randy, the little boy fronted the Jackson 5 as the group signed to Motown by

the time he hit age 10, five years after he began singing  professionally. A year later, he would

make his television debut after generating a healthy buzz performing on the

chitlin’ circuit at various venues and events.

 

The time at Motown was very kind to the Jackson 5 as the

collective churned out number one hits such as “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and

“I’ll Be There.” They were so popular they even spawned a cartoon series that

endeared them to young fans. Despite the success at Motown, the group parted

ways with the label in 1975, changed its name to the Jacksons and moved on to

Epic Records. And the hits kept coming in the form of “Shake Your Body (Down to

the Ground),” “Enjoy Yourself” and “Can You Feel It.”

 

The Jacksons era was a good one, but bigger things awaited

Michael as he branched out to establish himself as a solo artist. Laying the

foundation for the mega stardom was a turn as the Scarecrow in the film version

of The Wiz and his debut solo release, Off

the Wall. A classic album in its own right,

the release sold more than 7 million copies and spawned four top 10

hits, including “Rock with You” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” Not only

that, but it also marked the start of Jackson’s musical partnership with

legendary musician/producer Quincy Jones.

 

The alliance was a perfect match that reached its peak with

Michael’s second solo offering, Thriller.

Any talk of a sophomore slump was eclipsed as the album played like a greatest

hits compilation with classics such as “Billie Jean,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,”

“Beat It,” “PYT,” “Lady in My Life” and the title track. Thriller eventually went on to become the greatest selling

album of all time, a title it still holds to this day. Michael even swept the

Grammys in 1984 by capturing all eight of the awards he was nominated for.

 

And that was the tip of the iceberg. Michael’s superstar

status was cemented on March 25, 1983. The event was Motown 25: Yesterday,

Today, Forever, a star studded celebration of the iconic label. Although

Jacksons reunited on stage for a memorable medley, it was Michael who stole the

show with a solo performance of “Billie Jean” and the debut of his signature

dance move, the moonwalk.

 

Prior to entering the superstar stratosphere, Michael

managed to break the color barrier at MTV as he crossed over into the

mainstream with videos for “Beat It,” “Billie Jean” and “Thriller.” In the

‘80s, a Michael Jackson music video was an event. Even a 30-second commercial

was something to talk about as Michael starred in two spots for Pepsi. One

featuring a pre-Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Alphonso Ribeiro, the other, which resulted in the crooner’s hair catching fire

and a trip to the hospital with Michael waiving his gloved hand to fans as he’s

loaded into an ambulance.

 

Time magazine captured

the impact of Jackson in his heyday as it labeled him as a “Star of records,

radio, rock video. A one-man rescue team for the music business. A songwriter

who sets the beat for a decade. A dancer with the fanciest feet on the street.

A singer who cuts across all boundaries of taste and style and color too.”

 

All this and he finds the time to collaborate with an

all-star assembly of artists for “We Are the World” as well as Paul McCartney

(“The Girl is Mine,” “Say Say Say”) and Mick Jagger (“State of Shock). And

honestly, would you have given Rockwell the time of day if Michael didn’t do

the hook for “Somebody’s Watching Me?”

 

By the end of the ‘80s, it was safe to say that Michael’s

swagger was at a hundred, thousand, trillion. And he continued to build on that

with Thriller’s follow-up, Bad. Another classic stacked with hits (“Bad,” “The Way

You Make Me Feel,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Dirty Diana,” “Man in the Mirror”) that

became perfect vehicles to perform on the road as the singer broke records by

performing 123 concerts to a total audience of 4.4 million people. In all, the

outing made Michael a lot of money, $125 million to be exact.

 

Jackson had truly reached the top of the mountain. And with

great success comes great tribulation. Michael was no stranger to it, as he

became fodder for tabloids that were eager to publish stories about him

sleeping in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, buying the bones of the Elephant Man

as well as talk of him bleaching his skin, his sexuality and the plastic

surgery he’s had over the years.

 

Through it all Jackson continued to churn out music,

releasing Dangerous in 1991. Instead of

Quincy Jones, it was Teddy Riley in the producer’s chair as he crafted beats

for classic Jackson material such as “Black or White” “Jam” “In the Closet” and

“Remember the Time.” The latter video featured an Egyptian setting with Eddie

Murphy as the ruler in charge and Michael wooing his queen, played by

supermodel Iman. Another classic video for the collection.

 

While Dangerous kept

Michael’s musical legacy intact, his personal life took a major hit as

accusations of child sexual abuse surfaced in 1993. That same year, Michael set

the record straight on his changing skin color as he told Oprah Winfrey the

condition was due to a skin disease called vitiligo. In addition, the crooner

revealed that he was abused by his father.

 

Michael’s child sex abuse ordeal, which included claims of

the entertainer engaging in kissing masturbation and oral sex with his accuser,

may have ended with a settlement, but it continued to linger with more

allegations in the years following.

 

Nevertheless, Michael kept it moving and married Lisa Marie

Pressley in 1994. The couple, who openly displayed their affection with a kiss

at the MTV Video Music Awards, amicably divorced less than two years later.

 

Musically, Michael persevered as he released his two-disc

greatest hits album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1. The release was notable for the classics as well as

new songs featuring the Notorious B.I.G. and Jackson’s sister Janet, who

appeared on their only collaboration, the hit single “Scream.” The album’s

other hit, the R. Kelly-penned “You Are Not Alone,” holds the Guinness World

record for the first song ever to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at

number one.

 

At this time, Michael finds love again. This time with

Debbie Rowe, a dermatologist nurse. The union would result in the birth of two

of Michael’s children, Prince Michael Jackson, Jr. and a daughter, Paris

Michael Katherine Jackson. A third child, Prince Michael Jackson II, was born

to a different mother in 2002.

 

A year before the arrival of the third child, Jackson

released Invincible, an album that spawned notable singles such as “You Rock My

World” (and it’s Jay-Z assisted remix) and “Butterflies,” which gave way to

another hip-hop collaboration courtesy of rap diva Eve. Despite the $30 million

put in to make the album, the release was considered a flop after selling 6

million copies worldwide.

 

As the years rolled on, talked increased about Michael

having financial problems. This coupled with allegations of child molestation

after the airing of a television documentary titled Living With Michael Jackson

further tainted Jackson’s clean-cut image. The damage done by the documentary

resulted in the singer being charged with seven counts of child sexual abuse as

well as two counts of administering an intoxicating agent in order to commit

the felony.

 

Two years after being charged, opening arguments kicked off

Jackson’s trial. Although Michael maintained his innocence, the stress of the

ordeal proved to be too much for him as he developed a dependency on morphine

and Demerol in addition to stress-related illnesses and severe weight loss.

Jackson attributed his painkiller addiction to the scalp reconstruction surgery

he received after his hair caught fire during the Pepsi commercial in 1984. On

June 13, 2005, Michael’s innocence was made official with his acquittal on all

counts. From there, the singer decided to find residence outside the country as

he relocated to Bahrain.

 

In recent years, Michael began to work on his return to

music. A series of concerts was planned at London’s O2 Arena, an event the

singer deemed as “the final curtain call.”

 

With preparing for the shows, talk came up about Michael’s

physical condition and whether he would be up to performing at the level fans

expect him to be at. Days later, reports stated that the singer had passed a

thorough physical and would be ready to perform.

 

2:26 p.m. PT June 25, 2009: Michael Joseph Jackson leaves this world after collapsing at his home.

Media sources report the vocalist was suffering from cardiac arrest as he was

rushed to UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. According to Jermaine Jackson, a

team of physicians attempted to resuscitate his brother for more than an hour.

Michael was unresponsive as he entered the hospital. An autopsy on the singer will

be performed on Friday (June 26).

 

And so the music dies. There will never be another

entertainer like Michael Jackson. Not in this lifetime. And while the odd

behavior and legal drama has overshadowed the talent at times, nothing negative

could be said about Michael’s heart.

 

The entertainer was known for his charitable contributions

as he was honored in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan for his support of

charities that helped people overcome alcohol and drug abuse. The “We Are the

World” single he co-wrote with Lionel Richie sold nearly 20 million copies

while providing millions of dollars that donated to famine relief.

 

In the ‘90s, Jackson further expanded his charitable reach

with his Heal the World Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing

medicine to children as well as fighting world hunger, homelessness, child exploitation

and abuse. In addition, Jackson spent energy bringing the issue of HIV/AIDS to

the forefront following the death of his friend Ryan White.

 

So it ends. Within 50 years, Michael Jackson lived, loved

and suffered. All while growing up in the pubic eye. He may be gone, but

Michael’s music and influence will carry on so long as the hits keep playing.

 

Rest in peace Mr. Jackson. You will be missed. More than you

know.

Michael Jackson: 1958 – 2009

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