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 weeks 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
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
Ill 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 Dont Stop Til You Get Enough. Not only
that, but it also marked the start of Jacksons musical partnership with
legendary musician/producer Quincy Jones.
The alliance was a perfect match that reached its peak with
Michaels 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. Michaels 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 hes
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 didnt do
the hook for Somebodys Watching Me?
By the end of the 80s, it was safe to say that Michaels
swagger was at a hundred, thousand, trillion. And he continued to build on that
with Thrillers 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 hes 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 producers 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
Michaels 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.
Michaels 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 Jacksons sister Janet, who
appeared on their only collaboration, the hit single Scream. The albums
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
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 Michaels 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 its 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 Jacksons 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
Two years after being charged, opening arguments kicked off
Jacksons 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, Michaels 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 Londons O2 Arena, an event the
singer deemed as the final curtain call.
With preparing for the shows, talk came up about Michaels
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 Michaels 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
Michaels 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
Michael Jackson: 1958 – 2009