Michael Jackson performing on stage.
The Jackson 5
Michael Jackson in his infamous red leather jacket (1983).
Michael Jackson sporting a trendy afro (1974).
“The King is Dead; Long Live the King [of Pop]”
When an entertainer passes and the President of the United States comments and sends condolences to his family; when the Congress of the United States and the State Legislature recognize the occasion with a moment of silence; state governors and Members of Congress issue statements of condolences; and people from all over the world–Beijing, Chile, London, the Caribbean and America–are holding vigils and rallies, that is a no ordinary human being or entertainment icon, that is an entertainment juggernaut. That is Michael Jackson!
MICHAEL AND THE FAMILY
Michael Jackson has been in the public’s eye since he was about ten years old. As a child prodigy, he charmed his way into the hearts of millions as the leader singer, along with his brothers, as The Jackson 5. He had an unusual childhood; he grew up famous as a celebrity that even his mother, Katherine Jackson, admitted that he did not have a normal childhood. “When other children were playing,” she said, “he would be in the studio rehearsing.” And though the group consisted of young Michael and his four brothers, his mother never said that about his siblings. Obviously, she saw young Michael as superstar material early in his life.
Jackson was the seventh child born to Katherine and Joseph Jackson, a working class family in Gary, Indiana, in 1958. According to sources close to the family, Joseph Jackson, the patriarch, was a stern taskmaster who pushed his children to perfect their musical talents; he was determined to see them rise to much greater levels that he had in the world of entertainment. As a small time performer, Joseph Jackson had aborted his personal aspirations to concentrate on molding his children and polishing their act as a group. He put all his time, effort and energy towards that endeavor, and at times seemed obsessive.
THE JACKSON FIVE AND MOTOWN
Enter “The Jackson 5,” starring Michael and his four brothers, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Jackie. Prior to signing on with Motown, they played local gigs and had recorded one single that did not sell very well. Then they performed as opening acts for other singers such as Gladys Knight and the Pips, James Brown and Sam and Dave. Their big break came in 1968 when they were signed on with Motown Records label under the skilful direction of Berry Gordy, the founder and Chairman of Motown. The group was then introduced to the world by another one of Motown’s super stars, Diana Ross, leader singer of “The Supremes.” Their coming-out hit for the Motown label was “I Want You Back” which was on their first album, “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5.” That immediately hit the Billboard Chart at number one. They relocated to Los Angeles and from that point on, the Jackson 5 belted out a string of hits including “ABC,” “The Love You Saved,” “I’ll Be There” and “Never Can Say Goodbye” with young Michael as the lead vocalist. They were considered the first Black teen idols that appealed all races; others try to emulate them, but were not successful. Jackson debuted as a solo artist in 1971, still a member of the group which stayed at Motown until around 1976. They were invariably called The Jackson Brothers, The Jackson 5 and The Jacksons, and were one of the biggest musical phenomena of the 1970s. They even had a cartoon show named after them primarily for children that ran from 1971 to 1973.
MICHAEL, QUINCY and “THRILLER”
As a solo artist, Jackson outdid his brother Jermaine who stayed on at Motown as a solo artist. However, they both stayed with the group. After Motown, Jackson became the lead songwriter and the group’s name became “The Jacksons.” He collaborated with Ross in Berry Gordy’s “The Wiz” acting as the “Scarecrow” in and performing “Ease on Down the Road” in 1978. In addition to Jackson and Ross, that movie had a large assemblage of African Americans including Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Ted Ross and Nipsey Russell with musical greats such as Ashford and Simpson, Quincy Jones and Luther Vandross. During a routine dance rehearsal, he broke his nose which led to delicate (rhinoplasty) surgery which affected his breathing and haunted him the rest of his career.
But it was not until Jackson teamed up with Jones (the Maestro) in 1979 and they produced “Off the Wall” on Epic Records that entertainment experts say he made the perfect record. It garnered four top 10 hits in the U.S. Though it secured the highest royalty rate in the music industry–37% of the album profit–he reportedly was not satisfied and became determined to exceed “the perfect record.” Early in 1982, Jackson segued into a minor musical contribution for the movie, “E.T the Extra-Terrestrial,””Someone In the Dark” for which he won a Grammy for Best Children’s Album.
His next act became the greatest achievement in record history–“Thriller,” its songs and music video, also with the Epic Records label. Debuting in 1982,”Thriller” exceeded all expectations beyond everyone’s imagination; it also made the Guinness Book of Records since as the highest grossing record album in history with over 100 millions sold to date. (His untimely death in 2009 will very likely drive that number up dramatically).
In addition to the album and the musical video, “Thriller” spawned Jackson dolls and other novelties. His lawyer negotiated an unheard of $2 per album royalty. There were also significant changes made in the music industry relative to the mammoth record breaking genre caused by “Thriller.” Most remarkably was the impact the video had on Music Television (MTV) that prior to “Thriller,” excluded African Americans from its lineup of artists. Single-handedly, Jackson paved the way for a generation of African American artists to showcase their talent on MTV. He also was adamant that Black Entertainment Television (BET) got parallel rights along with MTV to show his videos.
THE MOONWALK AND BEYOND
His attachment to Motown, the label that ushered him [and his brothers] to stardom, was apparent when he performed at the Motown 25 in 1983. At the request of his mentor, Gordy, Jackson joined his brothers to honor Gordy, who said that he was not initially in favor of the tribute since “many of performers at the tribute had left Motown.” But that was the venue where Jackson would unveil his signature Moonwalk, a type of dance and glide step that Jackson mastered and made an integral part of his performance ever since. Misfortune seemed to follow him alongside his tremendous success. While filming a Pepsi commercial the following year, Jackson accidentally suffered second degree burns. It happened at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, in front of a packed house which included a heavy media presence. Jackson was rushed to Brotman Medical Center and eventually received a settlement from Pepsi. Afterwards, he showed his humanitarianism by donating the settlement to the medical center that subsequently named its burn facility the “Michael Jackson Burn Center.” The incident caused some lasting negative effects which necessitated more rhinoplasty surgery.
In 1984, Jackson went to the White House where President Ronald Reagan presented him an award for his financial support to charities working on behalf of alcoholism and drug abuse. That same year he won eight Grammy awards for “Thriller” and went on a national tour with his brothers headlined the Victory Tour with the Jacksons. Jackson donated his share of the proceeds ($5 million) to charity. His gifts to charity were becoming as legendary as his music and his toughness as a businessman were equal to his talent as a singer/songwriter/producer. Along with Lionel Ritchie, he wrote “We Are the World” and with an impressive array of talent including some of the biggest names in music history–Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, James Ingram, La Toya Jackson, Tito Jackson, Al Jarreau, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder and others. More than 20 million copies were sold; it was billed as United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa and all went for relief in Africa. The 1985-mammoth production was conducted by the Maestro and it demonstrated Jackson’s mass appeal among his peers.
Shortly after, Jackson did a movie which Francis Ford Coppola directed titled “Captain EO. It was a scientific, futuristic image of himself and to promote it, he was filmed sleeping in an oxygen, coffin-like, glass chamber and the tabloid made media mischief with the pictures and fabricated stories that some claimed were disseminated by Jackson himself. Then he bought a chimpanzee named Bubbles which he took almost everywhere with him. What really “sealed the deal” and generated the term “Wacko Jacko” was when he reportedly bought the bones of the Elephant Man, an Englishman who was born deformed and, like Jackson, bore the brunt of many fabricated stories that affected how they related to society.
His next album, “Bad” came five years after “Thriller” and though it was a commercial success, it was not as big. All his future albums dwarfed next to “Thriller,” his legendary masterpiece; he never duplicated its success either in international sales or music duration and content. The same year, Jackson’s autobiography, Moonwalk, came out and it sold about 200,000 copies. In it, Jackson wrote about his childhood experiences, his plastic surgery, his diet, hairstyle and what made him the man he was up to that point in his development.
In 1988, Jackson bought a sprawling ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley and named it “Neverland,” the fantasy island in the Peter Pan story. It became a tourist attraction and contained a zoo, a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, roller coaster and all the ingredients of an amusement park, and Jackson often hosted multitudes of children. Then negative stories began to circulate about his predisposition of not only being a benign lover of children, but also somewhat of a deranged individual. Other reports surfaced that he was a shy, “grown” child who created his own private amusement park to compensate for the childhood he had missed.
During the 1990s, Jackson public image “took a beating” as the rumors escalated into a legal entanglement and hired the late Johnnie Cochran to represent him in a case of allegations of child molestation. There were no criminal charges but a civil suit was filed against Jackson and it was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. It was reported to be in the millions. That left a stain but Jackson’s career remained intact. (The worst was yet to come).
His next album, “Dangerous” was his eighth and it competed with the previous one in sales, hit singles and chart performances worldwide. In addition to making records in the studios, he was doing live concerts, television appearances and music videos. In 1992, to bolster his charitable work, he formed “Heal the World Foundation” to assist underprivileged children; it complemented his vision for the amusement park at his Neverland Ranch. Profits from his concerts, beginning with the “Dangerous” World Tour were directed to the foundation and he helped draw public attention to HIV/AIDS.
One of his most compelling performances was the show that he orchestrated during half-time at Super Bowl XXVII. Dressed in gold-trimmed, military outfit and sunglasses, Jackson was catapulted onto the stage as fireworks went off behind him. He threw away his sunglasses and belted out four songs: “Jam,” “Billie Jean,” “Black or White” and “Heal the World.” Media reports indicated that during half-time, their viewing numbers increased to 135 million, the first time in history and Jackson’s “Dangerous” album went off the chart.
Jackson visited several countries in Africa; he used his foundation to share some of its resources with underprivileged people the world over, including Africa. He formed an immediate kinship with the people whom he visited and was crowned “King Sani” by a tribal chief in the Ivory Coast. He began to visit the continent regularly and said, “I love Africa. I take my children on vacation there all the time. We go to Johannesburg; we go to Sun City. That’s the part of Africa that I want more people to see…The myth isn’t true. Africa’s a lovely place.”
(Jackson also performed separate duets with numerous artists. He had done another song with Ross, “A Brand New Day” (1979); with Paul McCartney, “Say Say Say” (1983); with Rockwell Gordy, “Somebody’s Watching Me” (1984); with Stevie Wonder, “Get It” (1988); with Eddie Murphy, “Whatzupwitu” (1992); with Will.I.Am , “The Girl Is Mine” (2008), as part of the 25th anniversary of “Thriller”).
TROUBLE IN PARADISE/”NEVERLAND”
In 1994, Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley. As expected, there rumors as to the “real” reason for the marriage besides love. It became fodder for the tabloids. Both of them claimed publicly that it was a bonafide marriage–one for the right reasons–they loved each other. One thing appeared certain, it was not for money; they were both financially well off. However, they divorced after two years and have reportedly remained friendly. Jackson re-married a nurse, Deborah Rowe with whom he had two children: Michael, Jr. (aka Prince) and Paris Katherine. After the children were born, they divorced and Rowe gave full custodial rights to Jackson reportedly for a huge sum. He also has a third child: Michael, II (aka Blanket); the mother is unknown to the public.
There were two memorable interviews that Jackson gave and they may have revealed more than he intended. One was conducted by Oprah Winfrey and the other in 2003, by Martin Bashir, who did an in-depth on the super star after having unrestricted access to him for eight months. When Bashir’s broadcast aired, questions began circulating about certain activities at Jackson’s ranch particularly his explanations about sleeping arrangements with children. Shortly afterwards, Jackson was arrested and booked on numerous felony counts of child sexual abuse and other criminal charges.
The case of the People of California vs Michael J. Jackson took place in Santa Barbara County, California and it drew worldwide attention. He went to trial approximately two years after being charged and the trial lasted about five months. Heading his defense team was an able attorney, Thomas Mesereau, Jr. And though Jackson was acquitted on all counts, the stain lingered on and he left the country after his acquittal.
Moving to Bahrain as a guest of Sheikh Abdullah, Jackson seemed to have divorced himself from much of his business. Reports of his financial worth were “taking a beating’ and he was not performing. His Neverland Ranch was up for sale and his debts seemed to be escalating by leaps and bounds. He returned to the U.S. at the end of 2006 to attend the funeral of James Brown and that placed him on a gradual comeback trail. He moved to Las Vegas and began to be seen ‘out and about.’ In 2007, he appeared at Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 66th birthday party in Beverly Hills, California mingling with the guests including, Gordy, Larry King, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Danny J. Bakewell, Sr.
Jackson relocated to Los Angeles and was planning a comeback; he had been scheduled to do a 50-concert performance and was focused heavily on his pre-concert rehearsals at the Staples Center. On June 25, he suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Bel-Air and was rushed to UCLA Hospital where he was pronounced dead. According to the news, there will be a public viewing at his beloved Neverland Ranch where he will be laid to rest.
The albums that Jackson has left are: