The Life and Times of Michael Jackson

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Excerpts from an article written by David Smyth for the London Evening standard.

Despite a bizarre life, Jacko was the greatest star of his time

The death of Michael Jackson at the age of just 50 should perhaps come as no surprise.

In the quarter of a century since his crowning achievement Thriller, which remains to this day the best-selling album of all time, the self-styled King of Pop’s life had spiralled out of control. (…) Yet what should not be obscured by those years of madness is that Jackson was the greatest pop singer and dancer of his era, responsible for some of the most famous pop songs of the past 30 or so years.

Jackson changed the face of the music industry. The then-nascent MTV was given its kick-start thanks to the 1982 release of Thriller, which has sold 59 million copies to date, and was accompanied by some of the most lavish and brilliant pop videos of all time. Jackson quite simply electrified the world when he debuted his Moonwalk.

He was born in Gary, Indiana, on 29 August 1958, the fifth of mother Katherine’s nine children. Despite the size of her brood, she had already marked him out as special. “I don’t believe in reincarnation,” she once said, “But you know how babies move uncoordinated? He never moved that way. When he danced, it was like an older person.” (…)

Jackson was still only six when the group secured their first gigs, playing in strip clubs and burlesque palaces in their hometown. By 1968, they had recorded their first single through a local record label. The big break came when singer Gladys Knight spotted them at a performance in Harlem and recommended them to Berry Gordy, founder and president of Motown.

A year later, the Jackson 5 had moved to California, released their first album Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, and enjoyed their first number one hit single I Want You Back, with an 11-year-old Michael Jackson singing lead vocals. They never looked back. Other hits quickly followed including ABC and I’ll Be There, transforming Jackson, still not even a teenager, into a recognisable star who could no longer walk down a street without attracting attention. Soon, the Jackson 5 had their own television series, a morning cartoon show and licensed merchandise. (…)

By 1972, Jackson had recorded his first solo album, including the hits Rockin’ Robin and his first solo number one single Ben. He was still only 14, a teenager ridiculed by his overbearing father for his pug nose and acne — stinging criticism that would lead later to his obsession with plastic surgery to alter his appearance.

The turning point that transformed Jackson from a teen sensation to worldwide superstar and a pop icon, however, was his decision to quit Motown and team up instead with producer Quincy Jones. He had met Jones while playing the Scarecrow in his first film The Wiz, a modern adaptation of The Wizard Of Oz, in 1978. A year later, their first album together Off the Wall went on to sell 19 million copies worldwide. It includes such hits as Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough and Rock With You. Jackson, who had been around seemingly for ever, was still only 21.

In November 1982, he released Thriller, which remains the biggest-selling album of all time and the single body of work for which he will be best remembered. It was a stunning, crowning achievement, producing such hits as Thriller, Billie Jean and Beat It.


His appearance started to alter, subtly at first. His skin appeared a little paler, his nose a little more aquiline. His best friend was his pet chimpanzee named Bubbles, who would wear matching outfits to his owner, and he took to wearing a surgical mask in public. Jackson was paying the price of his fame.

In 1994, after years without a girlfriend in sight and amid speculation he was asexual, Jackson suddenly married Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis. (…) It was a short-lived marriage — 19 months — prompting speculation he had only done it to avert attention from the first of the child sex scandals that were to engulf him. The year before, a 13-year-old boy Jordan Chandler accused him of sexual molestation. Jackson settled with the boy’s family out of court for a reported $20 million.


In an attempt to resurrect his career, he was persuaded to let the British journalist Martin Bashir into Neverland Ranch. He still invited children to share his bedroom, he confided to Bashir.

“It’s not sexual. I tuck them in, have hot milk, give them cookies. It’s very charming, it’s very sweet,” he explained.

Not everybody thought so. The latest revelations led to Jackson being charged with seven counts of child abuse, and a trial that mesmerised both the media and fans. He was subsequently acquitted in 2005 after a five-month long trial that featured celebrity witnesses Jay Leno and Macaulay Culkin and increasingly bizarre appearances from Jackson who would turn up to court wearing pyjamas.

Since then, he lurched from one crisis to another, his debts piling up — they were said to run to $300 million — and his beloved Neverland ranch was threatened with seizure. It wasn’t surprising then that he had been coaxed out of retirement by the AEG executives for 50 comeback shows at the O2 Arena. Gripped by stagefright, addicted to painkillers, he had told friends he never wanted the comeback gigs but he needed them to pull himself out of debt.

The astonishing thing is that despite the ridicule, the claims of abuse and the doubts over his health, millions of people were clamouring to see his comeback. Michael Jackson remained even in his final days the King of Pop. And no matter the scandal, they couldn’t take that away from him.

Read the complete article here.

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