The time has come. We’re going to talk about one of the most amazing, fantastic, talented and haunted people to live in the last one hundred years.
The King of Pop died my senior year of college. It was one of the best weeks of my life. Now, don’t get me wrong. I was sad to see him leave the world, but we definitely celebrated his life. Me and Casey went out for a week straight because the clubs played nothing but MJ’s music. It was amazing. I’ve never had so many DJs so willing to play “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “PYT”. It was heaven. We danced to “Thriller” in the parking lot of Pita Pit because they were playing his music THAT loud.
Of course we also busted out some pretty sweet dance moves indoors as well.
Moving on! It’s no secret that MJ had a pretty rough life, even with all that fame and fortune.
Childhood & Family
Michael was born in 1958 as the eighth of ten children in Gary, Indiana. His mother was a devout Jehovah’s Witness and housewife and his father worked in a steel mill. Early on, Jackson’s father assembled the boys into a musical group which toured the Midwest playing various clubs. Michael began his fledgling career playing the tambourine and singing back-up vocals for his older brothers, but eventually moved up to the front and joined his brother Jermaine singing lead vocals.
Slowly but surely, the boys gained popularity and eventually signed with Motown records. No doubt, the boys were talented and excelled in the music industry, but it was at a price. Both Joseph and Michael spoke about the physical and verbal abuse inflicted on the Jackson 5 during rehearsals. Joseph would sit in a chair with a belt, ominously waiting for one of his children to falter in their musical training. Michael has been candid about the terror this inflicted on his specifically, speaking about the beatings he earned for failing to meet his father’s demands. Michael also noted that this is the reason he became such a good performer. He knew the consequences if he did not succeed in music.
It has also been speculated that Joseph regularly berated Michael and his other children about their appearances, specifically their noses.
Early Adulthood & Solo Career
Michael continued to perform with his brothers, but it became increasingly obvious that he was a musical prodigy. He had a moderately successful first solo album, but it was his collaboration with Quincy Jones for Off the Wall which completely altered his career forever. Michael picked up several awards, including a few Grammys. He continued to rock the world by releasing (in my opinion) the best album ever, Thriller. I could tell you about how successful it was, but you already know. It completely solidified Michael’s career as a performer. I mean, the MOONWALK. Come on.
It was also around this time that Michael broke his nose while performing and struggled with breathing concerns. It would be the beginning of Michael’s lifelong draw to plastic surgery.
Pepsi & Everything After
Michael was at the top of his game making bucketloads of money and being praised for any artistic endeavor he undertook. While still riding the high from his success with Thriller, Michael had his accident filming a Pepsi commercial. He suffered horrendous burns to his face and scalp. Having some experience with plastic surgery because of his history with rhinoplasty, Michael underwent surgery to repair the damage to his body. The Pepsi incident is largely recognized as the beginning of Jackson’s downfall into obsessive plastic surgery and addiction to pain medications.
Even during this time, Michael continued to make amazing music. He released Bad and Dangerous. Two pretty decent albums, but nothing like the incredible success of Thriller. He also went through a fair amount of unrest over his Thriller video because of his status as a Jehovah’s Witness. He took a lot of flack from them and soon began to distance himself from his faith.
Jackson also released his first and only autobiography in 1988 called Moonwalk. It was one of the first times Jackson spoke about the abuse he suffered as a child and directly addressed his plastic surgery and skin discolorations. He attributed these changes to several different things including diet, hair, puberty, and stage lighting.
I think Neverland is when we all realized something might actually be amiss with Michael besides him just being a wee eccentric. He built up the California ranch, adding carnival rides, exotic animals, often inviting children to the ranch to visit. There were rumors about the gradual lightening of his skin as a result of vitiligo. People speculated he was bleaching his skin and he was undergoing intensive plastic surgery as he became paler and his face morphed into someone barely recognizable. Jackson also struggled often with period of extreme weightloss as he tried to achieve a “dancer’s body,” and it was suspected he was also facing the probability of being anorexic.
Good things also came out of Neverland, too. Jackson really threw himself into his charity work and began the Heal The World foundation, which is responsible for Jackson’s title as the most charitable artist of all time in the Guinness Book of World Records. He also had his second television interview since 1979 on Oprah when he spoke about his child abuse. He disclosed about his loneliness and tearful childhood as he was alienated from a normal upbringing as a result of being driven to perform incessantly.
Shortly after the Oprah interview, the first round of child abuse allegations started. While it became apparent the claims against Jackson were false, the artist was humiliated after a police raid of his home where he was strip-searched and had his genitals viewed to vindicate his accuser. It became increasingly obvious Jackson had not done anything wrong, but he still settled out-of-court with the boy’s family for $22 million. Sigh.
Meanwhile, Jackson began his courtship with Lisa Marie Presley. The two eloped in the Dominican Republic and by all accounts from Presley, it was a normal marriage. Many people speculated that it was a ploy to show Jackson as a normal guy without all the drama from the child abuse allegations. The two divorced after about two years of marriage and reunited and broke-up several times for about five years until Presley ended the affair.
During his next album, Jackson engaged in another marriage with the mother of his future children, Deborah Rowe. It was a peculiar pairing because the two had been longtime friends with no history of romance, but during the marriage Rowe was six-month pregnant with Jackson’s first child (Prince). Jackson’s mother encouraged the union. The couple divorced in 1999 and Jackson received full-custody of his two children, the second being Paris-Michael Katherine.
Jackson had a third child in 2002 named “Blanket”. He reported the child was the product of a surrogate mother and his own sperm created by artificial insemination. Shortly after, Jackson had his incident where he briefly draped baby Blanket over the railing of his hotel, receiving a ton of criticism in the media. He promptly apologized.
The last five years of Jackson’s life were filled with extreme strife and controversy. Jackson had a film crew follow him around, with the documentary airing in March 2003. The film was pretty unflattering and painted Jackson as a child molester, featuring his regular sleepovers he engaged in with young boys at Neverland. The Santa Barbara county attorney’s office launched a criminal investigation as soon as the film hit the air. Jackson was eventually acquitted on all counts, but it became pretty apparent he was losing touch with reality.
Jackson began to suffer incredible financial hardships and was hounded by debtors about the outstanding amount of money he owed on his Neverland Ranch property. As a result, Jackson nominated to go back on tour and announced his This Is It album and tour. He died three weeks before the starting date of a cardiac arrest.
The Case File
I wish – I WISH – Michael Jackson had been raised in a home where he was allowed the opportunity to be a child. While I can’t say what his contributions to the world of music would have been, I have faith his musical genius would have thrived regardless. While I love the Moonwalk, if it meant Michael getting a couple extra hours to play outside and being a little more of a sloppy dancer, I would have taken it. He didn’t have a childhood and the youth he had was terrifying. He was terrorized by his father, the man who was solely responsible for his development as an artist.
Imagine how conflicted he probably felt about his talents and achievements. These things weren’t earned by joyous practice and dedication, but instead by a father’s selfish drive to live vicariously through his children and find success he never achieved in his own career as a musician. I imagine Michael probably felt a lot of emotions about music and his role as a performer. I think about Michael getting beat for failing to perform a move to Joseph Jackson’s satisfaction. Then, I think about Michael finally accomplishing the move, but remembering the pain he felt for the rest of his life every time he endeavored to do that move/note/whatever.
On top of that, it’s incredibly common for children deprived of their adolescence and childhood to be arrested in their development. In addiction, we say “you stop growing when you start using,” which is entirely true. I have several men I work with who are in their 50s and you wouldn’t know their behavior from a 15 years old’s. Michael is the same. I am unsure when his addiction to sleep medications and body modification flourished, but he stopped growing. It was probably a matter of resiliency, childhood trauma, and substance abuse all swirling into a perfect storm. Even the strongest minded people can only take so much. At some point, Michael stopped trying to conquer his demons and he succumbed to them.
As far as the allegations of child abuse, I can’t say for certain one way or the other. Knowing Michael’s childlike behavior and his aversion to sexual contact with women, I’d venture to say he probably wasn’t sexually active with these children. He most likely wanted friendships with people he saw to be at his maturity level. He never had the opportunity to choose his own friends as a child and found an outlet in charity work with young children. Don’t get me wrong, his behavior was entirely peculiar and alarming, but also considering the heavy amounts of depressants he was on for sleep and other ailments, I doubt he could do anything with the boys if he wanted to, but again, I am no expert in that field. I can only guess.
Regardless, the man was an impressive study in duality. He was a fractured human being. I picture these opposing images of him – confident, stylish, singing about being Bad and Billie Jean, and just being totally awesome and cool. Then I picture this scared, lost, lonely guy alone in his wide mansion, looking to hold an adult’s hand and be given a nightlight. He was both of those people. In my own spirituality, I am content he is no longer with us. I imagine him somewhere, sitting in front of a TV on a Saturday morning, watching cartoons, eating pancakes, being told he is perfect just the way he is and if he wants to do something with his musical talent one day, then he can do so, but no one will make him. He gets to decide for himself.