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Plagued with a troubled, controversial and complex private life (an oxymoron if ever there was one) which blighted his later work as well as public opinion, there’s no doubting the quite remarkable impact Michael Jackson has had on the world of music.
After a glittering career with his brothers Jackie, Marlon, Tito and Jermaine as part of The Jackson 5, worldwide hits I Want You Back, ABC and Ben catapulted the band, and Michael in particular, into the realms of superstardom at an early age.
After Off The Wall which gave us Grammy-award winning single Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough as well as Rock with You, his next album, Thriller, was nothing short of a global phenomenon which even today, 30+ years after its release still sells by the shedload.
It’s the biggest selling album of all time (c. 65m copies), it generated seven top 10 hits, it spawned new and exciting dance moves, it gave us the most famous and elaborate John Landis-directed video we’d ever seen (voiced by legendary horror actor Vincent Price) and it turned Jackson from a boy who started out with humble beginnings into a bona fide music legend.
One cannot underestimate the impact Thriller has had, both in music circles as an influence to later artists and also as a stand-alone piece of mass appeal art. Some argue that this is where he hit his song writing zenith and it’s hard to argue against that. We all know the words to Thriller, to Billie Jean and to Beat It and we’ve all tried, with varying degrees of success, to moonwalk.
His performances, both live and in videos, were electrifying and he was seen as an innovator and an unstoppable creative force who viewed the world through a child’s eyes.
Everyone wanted a piece of him. He signed lucrative endorsement deals, he wrote (with Lionel Richie) the We Are The World anthem and he was about as well-known as it was possible to be but with such fame and attention, something, it seemed, had to give.
He was becoming increasingly isolated. His physical appearance started to change, he was romantically unattached and aside from his collection of exotic animals and an unlikely friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, he was turning into an eccentric with the media dubbing him Wacko Jacko, a moniker he understandably hated.
That said, his musical output continued to be snapped up by his legions of adoring fans. 1987’s Bad (surprisingly outselling Thriller in the UK) offered a more hard-edged, contemporary feel and included singles The Way You Make Me Feel, Man in the Mirror, Dirty Diana and Smooth Criminal. Dangerous in 1991, the first album since Off the Wall not to be looked after by legendary producer Quincy Jones, delved more into the realms of hip-hop and R&B with singles like Jam, Black or White and Remember the Time.
From 1993, when the first allegations of child abuse surfaced, he was never the same and started on a downward spiral that sadly ended with his premature demise. He married Lisa-Marie Presley (reported as a publicity stunt to restore his image) and two years later married Debbie Rowe who bore him two children.
His actions were becoming increasingly bizarre (dangling his son over that balcony in Berlin as an example) and after his arrest in 2004, for which he was acquitted of all charges, his reputation was in tatters and he was financially ruined. He defaulted on loans and borrowed money and while he remained a personality of massive popularity, the media jumped up and down on him at every given opportunity.
He was a fragile shadow of his former self but announced a massive 50-date tour in the UK as a final curtain call. The shows sold out in four hours but no-one got to see him perform. He suffered cardiac arrest at his home and was pronounced dead in hospital on 25th June 2009.
The King of Pop lives on in our hearts. He almost singlehandedly transformed the world of pop music and he was unrivalled in terms of how important he was musically, as a passionate carer of humanitarian causes and as a truly iconic figure in popular culture.
Michael Jackson Trivia
He described his own voice on the early Jackson 5 records as ‘like Minnie Mouse’.
In 1985 he paid $47m for the publishing rights to The Beatles’ back catalogue. Ten years later, he sold a share of it to Sony for $95m!
The black armband he wore was to remind people of children suffering around the world.
In 1984 a French fan committed suicide because he couldn’t have surgery to look like Jackson.
Bizarrely, Macauley Culkin is godfather to two of his children.
Saint Vincent, an island in the Caribbean, once issued Michael Jackson stamps.
Michael Jackson’s favourite animated character was Pinocchio.
He won eight Grammy awards in 1984 – the most by a single artist in one year.
The video for Billie Jean was the first video on MTV by a black artist.
The only artists to have had more no.1 singles on the US Billboard charts are Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Mariah Carey.
He was once challenged to a dance-off by MC Hammer!
He loved The Three Stooges, Mexican food and Morph from X-Men!
Michael Jackson – Where Is He Now?
Michael Jackson suffered cardiac arrest at his rented home in Los Angeles and was pronounced dead by doctors at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on 25th June 2009. Understandably, there was an outpouring of grief the world over. His memorial service was broadcast globally and attracted an audience of over a billion people.