On Thursday, June 25, 2009, the death of Michael Jackson brought an end to a musical career marked with monster rock hits, huge concert performances, and fans that could be found in every corner of the world. When he was at his peak, he was pop music’s number one all-around performer and his music could be heard everywhere. 1982’s monster success, “Thriller,” Jackson’s second solo album, is the all time best selling album in any category.
Jackson made uncounted millions of dollars from his album sales and concert tours, and yet died leaving behind an estimated $400 million in debt. His most recent plan to was have one final comeback – after well over a decade marked with scandal, and some of the most bizarre behavior ever seen in a major celebrity.
First introduced to the public when just a very young boy in the late 1960s, Jackson became the lead singer of the Jackson 5, the singing group that he fronted with his four older brothers. After the Jacksons came on the national scene, they had major hits with “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” and “I’ll Be There,” all with Michael singing lead – even though he was the youngest of the group. The Jackson 5 are sometimes credited as being the first and most talented of the “boy bands” that later included the Osmonds, New Kids on the Block, and Boyz 2 Men.
Michael Joseph Jackson was the seventh of nine children. His father, Joseph, was a struggling steel worker with some experience in music and performing. Joe Jackson was determined to get his family out of the shadow of poverty and into the limelight. His boys, and especially Michael, would become the family’s meal ticket.
Michael’s mother, Katherine, was a Jehovah’s Witness and raised her children to be Witnesses. Michael grew up with two main influences: music and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious culture. His father was an abusive parent who was focused only on making sure that the boys became good musicians and successful entertainers. According to most of the Jackson children, their father physically and verbally abused them – and never “spared the rod” even after they became successful. The damage to young Michael, the family’s leading man, was particularly severe and likely scarred him psychologically for the rest of his life.
Like most Jehovah’s Witness children, playing with neighborhood kids, engaging in school sports, and planning for college were simply not part of the plan for Michael. Instead, Michael spent most of his spare time “knocking on doors, doing the Witnessing work.” Even after his success and early fame, Michael would continue to engage in door-to-door Witness work even during a tour, often wearing disguises or a “fat suit” to hide his identity. But even after his attempts to “go undercover,” his fans would still recognize him and engage him in chatter about his music career.
It has been reported from several sources that as Jackson’s music career and fame began to really take off, the elders in his local Kingdom Hall in Southern California began to pressure him to modify his music, his appearance, and even his performances. He was actually pressured into adding a disclaimer onto the video of “Thriller” to indicate that he did not believe in the things depicted during most of the dance sequences.
He apparently did what he could to satisfy the Kingdom Hall elders, and even toned down some of his act, at one point considered destroying the “Thriller” video and halting its distribution. No matter what he did, he was still in their gun sights. Jackson finally disassociated himself from the Witnesses in the late 1980s. In 2008, he formally converted to Islam, the religion of his brother, several of his friends, and some of his business associates.
How much damage can be blamed on Michael Jackson’s being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness can not be determined. If his experience was typical of so many other young people who were raised under the influence of the Watchtower’s strict anti-social rules and guidelines, then my guess is that the damage was measurable. He could not have been helped by that association – that’s for sure.
Possibly the most exciting performer of his generation, Jackson was known for his smooth backward-gliding moonwalk, his athletic, unique and sometimes scandalous crotch-grabbing dance moves. His singing was marked, even well into his adult years by his high-pitched soprano voice. He created his own style, often dressing with a single white glove, very tight pants, a military-style or marching band style jacket, and extremely dark aviator sunglasses. He was often seen wearing a surgical mask (and even photographed clothed in an Islamic woman’s burkha) – most likely to hide his most recent surgically altered appearance.
Jackson equaled the success of his predecessors Elvis Presley and the Beatles as the biggest popular music personalities of all time. He was further linked to those other pop idols because he was actually married for a short time to Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie, and he also managed to purchase the rights and ownership to the bulk of the Beatles’ musical catalog.
It is clear that Michael Jackson never really grew up, but as he grew older he became a grotesque middle-aged man child. He also became a freakish looking character whose original natural medium African-American complexion was lightened to an almost deathly gray. In spite of his denials of excessive plastic surgery, his nose kept getting narrower and more tipped up; at one point, even the cartilage of his nose was showing through the skin. With his tattooed eyeliner, eyebrows and lips, he eventually began to look less like a handsome young man and more like an ailing Paula Abdul would on a really bad day.
Someone once commented that Jackson managed to turn himself from an attractive young African-American man, and ended up looking like a an ugly old white woman wearing too much makeup.
As he aged, his personal behavior also became more bizarre. He kept a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles as a close companion. He surrounded himself with unrelated children at his Neverland ranch (his storybook playground located on his ranch in Santa Barbara County), and often invited several of them to stay for “sleepovers” in his home and to spend the night in his personal bedroom. This and other eccentric behavior soon earned him the sobriquet of “Wacko Jacko.”
In 1993, he was accused of molesting a boy who often stayed at his home. Jackson denied any wrongdoing, but settled with the boy’s family for several million dollars. As a result, the family never filed any official criminal complaint against Jackson.
He was arrested and brought to trial in 2005 on charges that he molested a 13-year-old boy at his Neverland Ranch in 2003. Included were charges that he had offered children who stayed for the sleepovers alcohol, that he touched them in inappropriate ways, showed them pornography, and engaged in other strange and possibly criminal behavior.
Jackson was eventually found “not guilty” on all charges by a jury, but the evidence was pretty clear that what he had been doing was not appropriate behavior by any adult in the presence or control of children. The jury felt that the mother of the accuser was just trying to extort money from Jackson and was not really concerned about the welfare of her children.
However, the allegations that came out in that courthouse in Santa Maria practically destroyed his career and image. His popularity dropped like a rock, and he quickly found himself in serious financial trouble. It has been stated that Jackson was spending $3 million per month more than he earned during the last couple of years of his life.
When he passed, Jackson was in the process of making a comeback to try to restore his reputation and his fortune. Instead, he ran out of time. Now he will be known for what he was, and not for what he could have become. Would he have changed his life as a practicing Muslim and become less eccentric and self-destructive? It’s unlikely, but we’ll never know.
For that we should shed a tear for poor Michael and learn from his childhood experiences. Let’s never allow our own children to be forced to live under those same pressures and to have to face or deal with such destructive influences.
See our follow-up article on Michael Jackson: The Two Funerals of Michael Jackson
For another point of view about Michael Jackson’s life, I suggest that you read this interesting article by Randy Watters.
For more in depth information about Michael Jackson, his life, trials and tribulations, please consider the following books:
Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness (Paperback)
So much has how been said and written about the life and career of Michael Jackson that it has become almost impossible to disentangle the man from the myth. Recent revelations are only the latest installments of a saga that began decades ago. This book is the fruit of over 30 years of research and hundreds of exclusive interviews with a remarkable level of access to the very closest circles of the Jackson family – including Michael himself. Cutting through tabloid rumors, J. Randy Taraborrelli traces the real story behind the Michael Jackson we see and hear today, from his drilling as a child star through the blooming of his talent to his ever-changing personal appearance and bizarre publicity stunts. This major biography includes the behind-the-scenes story to many of the landmarks in Jackson’s life: his legal and commercial battles, his marriages to Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe, his passions and addictions, his children. Objective and revealing, (more…)
Michael Jackson Conspiracy (Hardcover)
He was the pop icon the media loved to hate. Tremendously wealthy, inarguably eccentric, and one of the most famous people in the world, Michael Jackson was the unenviable target of constant public humiliation. The media poked fun at his skin, his features, his sexuality, and his lifestyle.Here, seasoned crime reporter Aphrodite Jones condemns the media for perpetuating hateful rumors and innuendoes, recounting just the sordid details, and reporting only the most despicable accusations and grisly charges made against Michael Jackson during his criminal trial. They had built a highly profitable industry around the superstar’s “freaky life” and banked on his conviction. And, it turns out, they got it all wrong.In their efforts to make money and win ratings, the media missed the truth. It wasn’t until after the “not guilty” verdict that Jones had the insight and courage to admit her own unintentional role in the frenzy surrounding the shocking testimony, high drama, and (more…)