Sunday, October 22, 2017
The Death of a Legend
By Darryl James (Columnist)
Published July 2, 2009

“I hear people say that he was miserable and that he didn’t have a childhood, but we didn’t know anything about that, because he was happy. He was vibrant. He was a kid who was always playing jokes and pranks.”

–Berry Gordy on Michael Jackson

It was 1969, when a then-eleven year old boy stunned the world with the kind of maturity in song delivery typically found in seasoned adult artists.

Initially, African-Americans were enamored with their little star, Michael Jackson, who had been leading his brothers in a group called The Jackson Five. But with “I Want You Back,” Michael showed so much star appeal that his appeal began to cross all lines-color, age and race. And his star began to singularly shine.

He gave of himself. So much so, that he had no idea what to keep. He tried to keep his private life private, but the public was unwilling to allow that. And when there were no real details, the hell away with him-the world made things up.

And of course things were made up, because, to this day, many of the rumors, the ugly unthinkable accusations, go unproven.

By the time he released his epic “Thriller” album, he crossed so many lines, he began to redefine the music industry, as well as the life and style of musical artists.

By 1983, it was clear that Michael Joseph Jackson had reached legend status and was now the King of Pop.

Professionally, he was beyond the top of his game-he was in a whole new game. He was a young man who had grown up with handlers and was now shaking them to control his own destiny.

But he did so without knowing his way and without any real guidance.

Personally, he was in trouble very early.

“Michael got off kilter,” said Berry Gordy to Tavis Smiley. “He got all the fame and fortune, but he was so strong and so powerful and there was no one to guide him. He had no rudders and everyone needs rudders.”

He had no childhood to speak of, which caused a severely stunted emotional growth.

And because he endured open, graphic and perhaps even depraved and deviant sexual exposure from fans first seeking his older brothers and then seeking him, he died in innocence while still a kid.

For Michal Jackson, as his star continued to rise, he had less of an opportunity to have a real life.

So how do you get to a normal life after living as a superhuman?

The answer, for nearly every superstar is…you don’t.

Michael Jackson, just as most superstars, lived his life “Off The Wall,” if you will. All of his bizarre escapades were public and fans as well as critics were free to give him his lump in life, deciding independently of knowing him whether he was a child molester or misunderstood abused child star.

And, like most superstars, Michael Jackson left his legacy on stage where his image was born and eventually died.

He also died a death for his family as people who never knew him and probably still don’t know where Gary, Indiana is stood convinced that they knew what he endured.

Already, people are resurrecting the rumors of Michael’s father beating the children in order to forge the group he had in mind when making the babies. People are calling Joe Jackson an evil man who abused Michael and who took away his childhood in exchange for monetary gain.

But let’s not pretend that no one knew what was going on in the Jackson home when the Jackson Five were still young. And since no one did anything, then everyone who gained and everyone who enjoyed the music were complicit in the making of the emotionally disturbed, developmentally arrested, immensely talented man known as Michael Joseph Jackson.

The world believes that Michael Jackson’s father abused and pimped his sons and did everything he could to take away young Michael’s childhood, even as Motown’s Founder Berry Gordy issues divergent memories.

“Michael dreamed and practiced while others were playing,” said Gordy. “He did that by choice. He had fun…(on)…those first three records. I hear people say that he was miserable and that he didn’t have a childhood, but we didn’t know anything about that, because he was happy. He was vibrant. He was a kid who was always playing jokes and pranks.”

And, yet, Joe Jackson, who lost pieces of himself as the only portions of him the public knew were torn apart and are being torn apart still as people decide that he has not and is not acting out his life in public as they believe he should.

During the red carpet entrance to the BET Awards, Joe Jackson was maligned for taking the opportunity to promote new artists he is working with. Are his actions any different from what he did with the Jackson Five? And, really, if the world loves his new artists, won’t his sins be forgiven?

After all, Director Roman Polanski admitted to the rape of an underage girl and then fled the country to avoid imprisonment. Yet, he received a standing ovation at the Academy Awards while in exile.

Isn’t that what we love?

Isn’t there something titillating about the freakish, hedonistic and/or downright debauched behavior of our artists that makes us pay attention while supporting the art they make?

Is Michael Jackson, who became a physical freak and an emotional train wreck any different?

Sadly, no.

People are saying that this is our Elvis, but Elvis wasn’t my Elvis. I just didn’t care when he died. However, there are some real parallels.

First, Elvis and Michael were both struggling with weight issues.

Elvis was a big fat man and the brunt of many jokes before he died.

Conversely, Michael was a tiny, tiny man and if his actual weight were known he would have also been the brunt of many jokes.

Second, both Elvis and Michael were plagued by substance abuse.

Elvis Presley’s heart stopped as a result of prescription drug abuse including codeine, valium, morphine and Demorol.

Michael Jackson’s heart stopped and he was never revived. The autopsy revealed that he had been injecting painkillers. A search of his rented home revealed an abuser’s prized collection of prescription drugs which were in many names outside of his own.

Third, both were known for their dance moves as much as their songs.

Elvis became famous for his pelvic gyrations that sent teen girls screaming and swooning into fits.

Michael became known his floating on air moonwalk, as much as for grabbing his crotch.

They both loved Lisa Marie Presley.

Elvis was her father and for a brief time, Michael was her husband.

And both Kings died with the majority of their money in other people’s pockets.

Finally, both Elvis and Michael were making attempts to wrestle with their height of fame by planning to rise to those heights again.

Of course, neither was successful at the final comeback.

People want to continue the discussion of his innocence or guilt, but he is a man never convicted, so let’s allow that discussion to rest in peace along with Michael.

People want to pretend that something extrahuman is occurring because so many famous people died in a short time, but why don’t they care when other humans die closely within each other?

Celebrities die. They are human and it is simply what humans do.

Some celebrities seem to die multiple deaths and Michael Jackson died a thousand times.

He died at age ten when he began to live an adult’s life on stages and in limousines, instead of on playgrounds and in go karts.

Michael Joseph Jackson died when he refused to become a grown man, instead choosing to recreate himself in the image of the child he never really was.

And he died when, heartbroken, people he imagined loved him came to tear pieces of his flesh in order that they may live and flourish, never caring if he lived or died.

And, finally, when his light, bright light of life was extinguished, Michael Joseph Jackson died a final time as his spirit abandoned his corporeal existence for another light and another existence.

No matter what you thought of him, he gave the world a great deal with his music and entertaining. None of us can stand in judgment of him any longer. At the end of the day, he was a troubled soul who suffered a damaged life because of what the public wanted from him. And now…he’s free…

Michael Joseph Jackson has died his final death.

Darryl James
is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.” He released his first mini-movie, “Crack,” and will soon release his first full-length documentary. View previous installments of this column at Reach James at

Categories: Opinion

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