Michael Jackson August 29, 1958 to June 25, 2009
He was a child star, a singing and dancing sensation who won 13 Grammy Awards, sold more than 300 million records worldwide and was declared the Most Famous Person in the World in a 1997 survey. Michael Jackson’s sudden death on the afternoon of June 25, 2009 shocked the world. People hearing the news refused to believe it at first – the man who was known as the King of Pop was only 50, much too young to die.
But as details emerged, and his older brother Jermaine appeared at a news conference to verify the rumors – sadness set in. Vigils were set up at UCLA Medical Plaza where Michael’s lifeless body had been brought only hours earlier; at Neverland, even though he no longer owned the ranch; at his childhood home in Gary, Indiana; and at his rented home in Holmby Hills. They sang, held candles, waved signs and photos, and waited to hear what it was that took the pop star’s life.
Born in Gary, Indiana, Michael Jackson was the fifth of Joseph and Katherine Jackson’s nine children. When he was just five years old, he joined older brothers Tito, Jermaine, Jackie and Marlon to form the Jackson Five. Joseph, who’d been a guitarist before earning a living as a crane operator, was their manager. He pushed the boys, believing that emotional and physical abuse would make them work harder. Years later, during a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Michael talked of his traumatic childhood and how he’d suffered from loneliness due to his immense fame.
After the Jackson family relocated to Los Angeles in 1968, Diana Ross took the boys under her wing. Their first hit single, “I Want You Back,” reached No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in January 1970. More hits followed, including “ABC” and “I’ll Be There,” before Michael emerged as a solo artist at the age of 13 with the soulful ballad “Ben.”
Though their hits had been written by others, by 1978, Michael and his brothers wrote all of the tracks for their album Destiny. But again, it was Michael who blew everyone away with his solo album, Off the Wall in 1979, which featured hits such as “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough,” “Rock with You” and “She’s Out of My Life.”
At 18, Michael played the Scarecrow to Diana Ross’ Dorothy in The Wiz, a black musical version of The Wizard of Oz with all new songs.
His 1982 album, Thriller, became the world’s best-selling record of all time with over 50 million copies sold worldwide. Michael also created innovative music videos to go with the album’s songs and his “Billie Jean” video was the first by a black artist to air on MTV. Arguably the most famous person in the world in the early 1980s, he was crowned the King of Pop.
In 1994 Michael married the daughter of the King of Rock – Elvis Presley’s only child, Lisa-Marie. Neither had experienced normal childhoods, and they found they had a lot in common. But being in the media spotlight 24/7 proved to be too much for even Lisa-Marie, and they were divorced after 19 months.
His 1987 follow up to Thriller was Bad, another huge success for the pop star, which featured five No. 1 hits including the tracks “Man in the Mirror” and “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
It was around this time that Jackson’s fame began to overshadow his talent. Tabloids ran stories about him non-stop: about his Neverland ranch which had amusement park rides, his pet chimp, his friendships with young boys, his desire to buy the Elephant Man’s bones, and rumors that he slept in a special chamber to increase his life span.
His skin began to get whiter, which he explained was due to a skin disease called vitiligo, which lightens areas of skin when exposed to the sun. He’d had plastic surgery to make his nose smaller, but it soon became obvious that the surgery was an ongoing procedure—his nose continued to decrease while other areas of his face had also obviously been altered.
Michael’s 1991 release, Dangerous, featured the hit song “Black or White.” At around this time he began a friendship with child star Macaulay Culkin, who eventually became the godfather of Michael’s first two children. In 1993, a boy who’d been an overnight guest at Neverland claimed Michael had fondled him. Though a police search found no evidence to support the claim, and Jackson maintained his innocence, he eventually gave the boy’s family a monetary settlement a year later to avoid a lengthy court case and the relentless media circus that would have ensued.
Unfortunately, he was subject to the media circus that he’d tried to avoid several years later, when in 2004, another boy claimed he’d been molested by the superstar. The same boy had been seen in British journalist Martin Bashir’s controversial 2003 television documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, in which Jackson admitted that he let children sleep over at his ranch, sometimes even in his bed, claiming it was all innocent. The documentary showed Jackson to be an adult who’d never grown up, due to never having had a childhood. In it, he compared himself to Peter Pan and explained that was how his ranch got its name.
The court case and relentless, vicious media attention was as arduous as Jackson had feared, and the stress took a huge toll on him. One day he showed up late for court, too ill to even change from his pajamas. Though he was cleared of all charges in 2005, the damage was done and many people still insisted Jackson was a child molester, despite having been found innocent. Jackson never had children—other than his own—enjoy overnights at his house again.
By this time, Jackson had been married to nurse Debbie Rowe, with whom he had two children: Prince Michael Jackson (b. 1997) and Paris Michael Jackson (b. 1998). They divorced in 1999 and Rowe gave Jackson full custody. Jackson later had a third child, Prince Michael Jackson II (b. 2002), whose nickname was “Blanket.” The identity of his mother was never released.
Following the court case, Jackson was financially and emotionally drained. He eventually lost his Neverland Ranch and spent time with his children overseas. When he returned to America, he was seen in public wearing a full face mask, or in a wheelchair, looking very frail.
Seriously in debt, Jackson agreed to perform a series of 50 concerts with his brothers in London. The tickets for the first show in the series sold out in less than four hours. Michael was never to perform that show – on June 25, 2009, a 911 call was sent from his rented home in the Los Angeles area at 12:21 p.m. Pacific time. Paramedics arriving at the scene found Michael with no pulse and raced him by ambulance to a nearby hospital, but were unable to revive him. His brother, Jermaine Jackson, announced the sad news at a press conference just hours later, saying: “This is hard. My brother, the legendary King of Pop, passed away on Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 2:26 p.m. It is believed he passed away of cardiac arrest. However, the cause of his death is unknown until the results of the autopsy are known. Our family requests that the media please respect our privacy during this tough time and Allah be with you Michael always.”
Michael Jackson is survived by both parents and all of his siblings.