Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

  • Born August 29 , 1958 · Gary, Indiana, USA
  • Died June 25 , 2009 · Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA (acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication and involuntary manslaughter)
  • Birth name Michael Joseph Jackson
  • The Gloved One
  • Wacko Jacko
  • King Of Pop
  • Smelly - called this by Quincy Jones because " Michael wouldn't say ‘funky.’ He’d say ‘smelly jelly.’"
  • Height 5′ 9″ (1.75 m)
  • Michael Joseph Jackson was born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana, and entertained audiences nearly his entire life. His father, Joe Jackson (no relation to Joe Jackson , also a musician), had been a guitarist, but was forced to give up his musical ambitions following his marriage to Michael's mother Katherine Jackson (née Katherine Esther Scruse). Together, they prodded their growing family's musical interests at home. By the early 1960s, the older boys Jackie, Tito and Jermaine had begun performing around the city; by 1964, Michael and Marlon had joined in. A musical prodigy, Michael's singing and dancing talents were amazingly mature, and he soon became the dominant voice and focus of the Jackson 5 . An opening act for such soul groups as the O-Jays and James Brown , it was Gladys Knight (not Diana Ross ) who officially brought the group to Berry Gordy 's attention, and by 1969, the boys were producing back-to-back chart-busting hits as Motown artists ("I Want You Back," "ABC," "Never Can Say Goodbye," "Got to Be There," etc.). As a product of the 1970s, the boys emerged as one of the most accomplished black pop / soul vocal groups in music history, successfully evolving from a group like The Temptations to a disco phenomenon. Solo success for Michael was inevitable, and by the 1980s, he had become infinitely more popular than his brotherly group. Record sales consistently orbited, culminating in the biggest-selling album of all time, "Thriller" in 1982. A TV natural, he ventured rather uneasily into films, such as playing the Scarecrow in The Wiz (1978) , but had much better luck with elaborate music videos. In the 1990s, the downside as an 1980s pop phenomenon began to rear itself. Michael grew terribly child-like and introverted by his peerless celebrity. A rather timorous, androgynous figure to begin with, his physical appearance began to change drastically, and his behavior grew alarmingly bizarre, making him a consistent target for scandal-making, despite his numerous charitable acts. Two brief marriages -- one to Elvis Presley 's daughter Lisa Marie Presley -- were forged and two children produced by his second wife during that time, but the purposes behind them appeared image-oriented. Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. His passion and artistry as a singer, dancer, writer and businessman were unparalleled, and it is these prodigious talents that will ultimately prevail over the extremely negative aspects of his troubled adult life. - IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / [email protected]
  • Spouses Debbie Rowe (November 15, 1996 - April 2000) (divorced, 2 children) Lisa Marie Presley (May 26, 1994 - August 20, 1996) (divorced)
  • Children Prince Michael Jackson Bigi Jackson Paris Jackson
  • Parents Joe Jackson Katherine Jackson
  • Relatives Jackie Jackson (Sibling) Tito Jackson (Sibling) Jermaine Jackson (Sibling) Marlon Jackson (Sibling) Randy Jackson (Sibling) Brandon Jackson (Sibling) La Toya Jackson (Sibling) Janet Jackson (Sibling) Rebbie Jackson (Sibling) Yashi Brown (Niece or Nephew) Austin Brown (Niece or Nephew) Siggy Jackson (Niece or Nephew) Jermaine Jackson II (Niece or Nephew) Jaafar Jackson (Niece or Nephew) Marlon Jackson Jr. (Niece or Nephew) Billie Bodega (Niece or Nephew) Brittany Jackson (Niece or Nephew) Taj Jackson (Niece or Nephew) TJ Jackson (Niece or Nephew) Jermajesty Jackson (Niece or Nephew) Donte Jackson (Niece or Nephew) Genevieve Jackson (Niece or Nephew) Taryll Jackson (Niece or Nephew) Eissa Al Mana (Niece or Nephew) Autumn Joy Jackson (Niece or Nephew) Stacee Brown (Niece or Nephew) Brandi Jackson (Niece or Nephew)
  • The Moonwalk
  • Single sequined white glove
  • He always wore white socks with black shoes
  • Often wore a black hat and a jacket with a ribbon around one sleeve
  • Lyrics reflecting his social concerns and hopes for a better world
  • At his peak, Jackson was reportedly worth around $1 Billion.
  • He claimed to have given $300 million to charity, more than any other celebrity apart from Oprah Winfrey .
  • His 1982 album "Thriller" is the biggest selling album of all time, with confirmed sales of over 51 million, and claimed sales of over 100 million copies worldwide. His 1987 album "BAD" is one of the biggest selling albums of all time, with over 20 million copies sold worldwide. His 1991 album "Dangerous" is one of the biggest selling albums of all time, with over 20 million copies sold worldwide.
  • He was the first artist to generate seven top ten hits (USA) on one album with "Thriller".
  • Following the week of his death, his album sales collectively spiked over 2000%.
  • I can't think of a better way to spread the message of world peace than by working with the NFL and being part of Super Bowl XXVII.
  • I don't like pop music.
  • I'll always be Peter Pan in my heart.
  • People think they know me, but they don't. Not really. Actually, I am one of the loneliest people on this earth. I cry sometimes, because it hurts. It does. To be honest, I guess you could say that it hurts to be me.
  • "Just because you read it in a magazine or see it on a TV screen doesn't make it factual. To buy it is to feed it." - about tabloid magazines.

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This Day In History : August 29

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Michael Jackson is born

michael jackson biography

Pop sensation Michael Jackson is born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana .

Jackson began performing with his four brothers in the pop group the Jackson 5 when he was a child. The group scored its first No. 1 single in 1969, with “I Want You Back.” By age 11, Jackson was appearing on TV, and by age 14 he had released his first solo album. A Jackson 5 TV cartoon series appeared in the early ’70s, and in 1976 the Jackson family, including sister Janet Jackson, launched a TV variety show called The Jacksons that ran for one season. Throughout the 70s, media attention focused on Michael, who piped vocals in his high voice for “ABC,” “I’ll Be There,” and many other Top 20 hits.

Jackson released several solo albums in the ’70s, but his great breakthrough came in 1979 with Off the Wall . He became the first solo artist to score four Top 10 hits from one album, including “She’s Out of My Life” and “Rock with You.” His next album, Thriller (1983), became the biggest selling album up to that time, selling some 45 million copies around the world. This time, he scored seven Top 10 singles, and the album won eight Grammies. Although his next album, Bad (1987), sold only about half as many copies as Thriller , it was still a tremendous best-seller. In 1991, Jackson signed an unprecedented $65 million record deal with Sony. That year, he released Dangerous .

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jackson developed a reputation as an eccentric recluse. He moved to a 2,700-acre ranch called Neverland, which he outfitted with wild animals and a Ferris wheel. He underwent a facelift and nose job and was rumored to have lightened his skin through chemical treatment, though he claimed his increasing pallor was due to a skin disease. In 1993, scandal broke when Jackson was publicly accused of child molestation and underwent investigation. The case settled out of court. In 1994, Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley; the couple later divorced. Jackson married Deborah Rowe in 1996, and the couple had two children, Prince and Paris, before divorcing in 1999.

On June 13, 2005, Jackson was acquitted of sexual molestation of a young boy, Gavin Arvizo, in criminal court. 

Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, in Los Angeles, California, just weeks before a planned concert tour billed as his “comeback.” He was 50 years old. 

A 2019 documentary, Leaving Neverland , raised two more credible allegations of sexual abuse from when Jackson was alive. Jackson's family and estate continue to deny the claims.

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Biography Online


Michael Jackson Biography

michael jackson biography

Despite achieving his goal to be a music performer, Michael’s childhood was far from happy. He was regularly beaten and threatened by his authoritarian father. This legacy of abuse left Michael scarred throughout his adult life.

Solo Career Michael Jackson


His second solo album, Thriller , launched Michael Jackson into a position as the most famous pop singer in the world. With little commercial advertising and promotion, Thriller rose to number one on album sales and remained at the number one spot for a total of 37 weeks. It gained one of many Guinness World Records for Michael Jackson, attaining 110 million global sales and 29 million sales in the US. Thriller included number one hits such as Beat It, Billie Jean .


Michael Jackson with the Reagans

In March 1983, Michael Jackson performed live on Motown 25, ‘Yesterday, today, forever’, – a TV special. He performed his distinctive and memorable dance move – the Moonwalk. In the dance routine, he effortlessly moves backwards with seemingly keeping one leg perfectly straight. His performance made him a global icon of not just music, but dance. Michael Jackson pioneered the importance of music video in promoting a pop artist. This iconic performance has been compared to the famous Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.


By the late 80s, there was an increasing number of stories speculating on Jackson’s personal life, health and physical appearance. Michael Jackson underwent numerous operations of plastic surgery to fix his nose and add a dimple in his chin. During the 1980s, his skin started to lighten; this was due to a rare skin pigment disease, but it didn’t stop a wave of speculative press stories that he was bleaching his skin colour. The press covered a range of speculative stories about Michael Jackson, including imaginary stories Michael had invented himself (such as sleeping in an oxygen tent to avoid the ageing process)

“I’ve been in the entertainment industry since I was six-years-old, and as Charles Dickens would say, “It’s been the best of times, the worst of times.” But I would not change my career… While some have made deliberate attempts to hurt me, I take it in stride because I have a loving family, a strong faith and wonderful friends and fans who have, and continue, to support me.”

—Michael Jackson

The press attention made Michael increasingly reclusive, spending much of his time in his ‘Never Land’ ranch.

Speaking on the Oprah Winfrey show, Jackson addressed the issue of skin colour change:

“OK, number one. There, as I know of, there is no such thing as skin bleaching…I have a skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of the skin, it’s something that I cannot help, OK? But, when people make up stories that I don’t want to be who I am, it hurts me…it’s a problem for me, I can’t control it.”

He married Lisa Marie Presley in 1994; it lasted two years though they remained friendly after the divorce. In 1996, he married Deborah Rowe in Sydney. Together they had two children. They divorced in 1999 and Rowe gave full custody of children to Jackson.

Allegations of child abuse were first raised in the 1980s and re-appeared in the 1990s. This led to the trial of The People v Jackson on 31 Jan 2005, in Sante Maria, California. After five months of high publicity, Jackson was acquitted. Though the experience left him physically weak and emotionally stressed. He departed America for the Persian Gulf Island of Bahrain.

“The minute I started breaking the all-time record in record sales—I broke Elvis’s records, I broke Beatles records—the minute it became the all-time best-selling album in the history of the Guinness Book of World Records, overnight they called me a freak. They called me a homosexual. They called me a child molester. They said I bleached my skin. They made everything to turn the public against me.”

– Remarks at National Action Network headquarters (9 July 2002)

Towards the end of his life, he was increasingly plagued by money troubles and ill health. He increasingly became dependent on a variety of drugs, which was said to have contributed to his ill health and premature death. Despite concerns over finance, he is said to have made career earnings of $500m and had assets in Sony/ATV Music Publishing catalogue worth over $300m alone.

“In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe”

– M. Jackson Quoted by CNN June 2009.

Michael Jackson died on 25 June 2009, at a rented mansion in the district of Los Angeles.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan . “Biography of Michael Jackson”, Oxford, UK.  www.biographyonline.net , 28th Jul 2010. Updated 11th February 2018.

Charity Work of Michael Jackson

  • Michael Jackson supported many charities. This included a burns charity in Culver City, California. This followed an incident where Michael Jackson was burnt in filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984.
  • He also supported HIV / AIDS charities at a time when it was still unfashionable.
  • In 1984, he received an award from President Ronald Reagan for his support of charities which help overcome alcohol and drug abuse.
  • From his 1984, Victory Tour he donated all funds (around $8million to charity)
  • In 1985, he also co-wrote the charity single “We are the World” with Lionel Richie. It sold over 30 million copies, and the proceeds were sent to the poor in the US and Africa.
  • He continued his charity work to the end of his life supporting charity concerts such as Aid for victims of Kosovo war.

The Essential Michael Jackson

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The Essential Michael Jackson at Amazon

The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson

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Michael Jackson

Michael Joseph Jackson was an American singer, songwriter, dancer, and one of the most influential and iconic pop music entertainers of all time. He was nicknamed the “King of Pop” by his close and long-time friend Elizabeth Taylor, a title that stuck after striking a chord with fans.      

Born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana, Michael Jackson was the eighth of ten children (one died shortly after birth) to Joseph (Joe) and Katherine Jackson. His father worked as a crane operator in a steel mill and his mother at a Sears department store. Music was a source of escape from their daily life and both parents were musical themselves. Joe played guitar in a local R&B group, which rehearsed in the family’s tiny house at 2300 Jackson Street (coincidentally named after the U.S. president). His mother sang and played clarinet and piano. Joe’s band rehearsals, combined with their lively stream of music in the home, had a big impact on the Jackson children from an early age.   

All eight of Michael Jackson’s siblings — Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Randy and Janet — made marks in the music industry. However, Michael’s talent was evident from a very young age and with his father’s encouragement, Michael started his career at the age of five. He joined his brothers’ musical group in the 1960s, which became The Jackson 5. 

Once Michael joined as lead singer and performer of The Jackson 5, they were on the fast track to fame and fortune. Michael’s voice, combined with his signature dance moves, entertained and thrilled audiences. His earliest musical influence was James Brown, known for his mesmerizing dance moves on stage. Brown personally taught Jackson how to drop the microphone and then catch it before it hit the stage. Michael also adopted the dance moves and dramatic postures of Sammy Davis Jr. and Jackie Wilson. Jackson admired the choreographic innovations of Gene Kelly and how Smokey Robinson wrote and produced his own material. 

The success of The Jackson 5, later renamed The Jacksons, drove Michael to be an illustrious artist. He started his solo artist career in 1971, but it wasn’t until 1979 when he teamed up with Quincy Jones to record his solo album “Off the Wall” that he earned entry into the level of influential R&B singer/songwriters. Now, “Off the Wall” is one of the greatest albums of all time and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008. Its release was the first time an album by a solo artist had ever struck four hits in the top 10 Billboard Hot 100 charts. The single “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” landed Michael his first Grammy Award for best male R&B vocal performance. The black-and-white style featured on the cover of “Off the Wall” helped brand his image that would lead to global fame. Michael used this same style for his breakthrough music videos, including “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Billie Jean,” and would later tap the iconic style for the entirety of his solo career.       

Reunited with Quincy Jones for his follow-up 1982 album, “Thriller,” Michael wanted to create the biggest selling pop album ever. Ever since he was young, he studied composition and was inspired to create “Thriller” like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite, where every song was a massive hit. He fulfilled his dream as “Thriller” launched him into superstardom. He won eight Grammy Awards for “Thriller,” including Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is the all-time best-selling album worldwide and was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. 

Michael Jackson is equally known for his innovative dance moves. One of Jackson's most iconic dance moves was performed on March 25, 1983 for Motown 25 where he first unveiled the "moonwalk" during the performance of “Billie Jean.” He learned it from Jeffrey Daniel who pioneered the dance move known previously as the backslide. It would be five years later, during the making of the music video “Smooth Criminal,” where a dance routine that paid homage to Fred Astaire in the 1953 film, The Band Wagon, highlighted his inventive spirit.  

For his live performances, Jackson wanted to create an anti-gravity illusion of leaning from the ankle at a 45-degree angle while keeping his body straight. Audiences were wowed by the “anti-gravity lean” dance move that is physically impossible, but made possible through his shoes. The shoes were designed with ankle supports and cutouts in the heels, that were temporarily attached to pegs rising from the stage at the appropriate moment. The effect was a seemingly impossible forward lean. The shoes were  patented  by Michael Jackson and his co-inventors on October 26, 1993. 

Patent: Anti-Gravity Shoes

Michael married Lisa Marie Presley in 1994, but they divorced in 1996. He then married Debbie Rowe with whom he had two children, Michael Joseph Jackson II (known as Prince Jackson) and Paris Jackson. They divorced in 1999 and Michael fathered a third child in 2002 known as Blanket Jackson. Michael’s groundbreaking creativity and stardom was shadowed by a controversial personal life. Jackson died of cardiac arrest at his home on June 25, 2009 at the age of 50. 

Michael Jackson sketch

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  • World Biography

Michael Jackson Biography

Born: August 29, 1958 Gary, Indiana African American entertainer, singer, and songwriter

Aperformer since the age of five, Michael Jackson is one of the most popular singers in history. His 1983 album, Thriller, sold forty million copies, making it the biggest seller of all time. Through his record albums and music videos he created an image imitated by his millions of fans.

Career planned in advance

Michael Joe Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana, on August 29, 1958, the fifth of Joe and Katherine Jackson's nine children. The house was always filled with music. Jackson's mother taught the children folk and religious songs, to which they sang along. Jackson's father, who worked at a steel plant, had always dreamed of becoming a successful musician. When this failed to happen, he decided to do whatever it took to make successes of his children. He tried to control his children's careers even after they were adults. The struggle for the control of the musical fortunes of the Jackson family was a constant source of conflict.

The Jackson boys soon formed a family band that became a success at amateur shows and talent contests throughout the Midwest. From the age of five Michael's amazing talent showed itself. His dancing and stage presence caused him to become the focus of the group. His older brother, Jackie, told Gerri Hershey in Rolling Stone, "It was sort of frightening. He was so young. I don't know where he got it. He just knew. "

Discovered by Motown

The Jacksons' fame and popularity soon began to spread. While performing at the Apollo Theater in New York City's Harlem neighborhood in 1968, Motown recording artist Gladys Knight (1944–) and pianist Billy Taylor discovered them. Later that year singer Diana Ross (1944–) became associated with the boys during a "Soul Weekend" in Gary. With Ross's support, the Jacksons signed a contract with Motown Records. Berry Gordy (1929–), the famous head of Motown, took control of the Jacksons' careers.

By 1970 the group, known as the Jackson Five, was topping the charts and riding a wave of popularity with such hits as "ABC," "The Love You Save," and "I'll Be There," each of which sold over one million copies. The group also appeared on several televised specials, and a Jackson Five cartoon series was created. Gordy quickly recognized Michael's appeal and released albums featuring him alone. These solo albums sold as well as those of the Jackson Five. The group managed to survive Michael's voice change and a bitter break with Motown Records in 1976, but as the Jackson family they continued to fight with each other and with their own father.

Michael Jackson. Reproduced by permission of Getty Images.

Unbelievable success

While working on The Wiz, Jackson met producer Quincy Jones (1933–). They worked together on Jackson's 1979 album Off the Wall, which sold ten million copies and earned critical praise. In 1982 Jackson and Jones again joined forces on the Thriller album. Thriller fully established Jackson as a solo performer, and his hit songs from the album—"Beat It," "Billie Jean," and "Thriller"—made him the major pop star of the early 1980s. The success of Thriller (with forty million copies sold, it remains one of the best-selling albums of all time) and the videos of its songs also helped Jackson break the color barrier imposed by radio stations and the powerful music video channel MTV. By 1983 Jackson was the single most popular entertainer in America.

In 1985 Jackson reunited with Quincy Jones for USA for Africa's "We Are the World," which raised funds for the poor in Africa. Jackson's next two albums, Bad (1987) and Dangerous (1991), were not as hugely successful as Thriller, but Jackson remained in the spotlight throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. In 1992 he founded "Heal the World" to aid children and the environment. In 1993 he was presented with the "Living Legend Award" at the Grammy Awards ceremony and with the Humanitarian (one who promotes human welfare) of the Year trophy at the Soul Train awards.

Rocked by scandal

Despite Jackson's popularity and good works, he became the subject of a major scandal (action that damages one's reputation). In 1993 a thirteen-year-old boy accused Jackson of sexually abusing him at the star's home. Jackson settled the case out of court while insisting he was innocent. The scandal cost Jackson his endorsement (paid public support of a company's products) contract with Pepsi and a film deal. His sexual preference was called into question, and his public image was severely damaged.

In 1995 Jackson was criticized following the release of his new album HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I. One of the songs on the album, "They Don't Care About Us," seemed to contain anti-Semitic (showing hatred toward Jewish people) lyrics (words). To avoid further criticism, Jackson changed the lyrics. He also wrote a letter of apology to Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, who had protested the lyrics.

Marriage and fatherhood

In 1994 Jackson shocked the world when he married Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of the late (deceased) rock legend Elvis Presley (1935–1977). Many felt that the marriage was an attempt to improve his public image. In August 1996 Jackson and Presley divorced. In November 1996 Jackson announced that he was to be a father. The child's mother was Debbie Rowe, a long-time friend of Jackson. They married later that month in Sydney, Australia. On February 13, 1997, their son, Prince Michael Jackson, Jr., was born in Los Angeles, California. The couple's second child, daughter Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, was born in 1998. Rowe filed for divorce from Jackson in October 1999.

Jackson and his brothers were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1997. Later that year another album, Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix, containing new versions of songs from HIStory along with five new songs, was released. The album received good reviews, and the world continued to be fascinated by the talent and career of Michael Jackson.

In 2000 Jackson's promoter sued him for $21.2 million for backing out of two planned concerts the previous New Year's Eve. In 2001 Jackson, while delivering a lecture at Oxford University in England to promote his Heal the Kids charity, described his unhappy childhood and proposed a "bill of rights" for children that would provide for the right to an education "without having to dodge bullets." Later that year Jackson was again elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this time as a solo performer. Jackson also released a new album, Invincible, in October 2001.

For More Information

Grant, Adrian. Michael Jackson: The Visual Documentary. New York: Omnibus Press, 1994.

Graves, Karen Marie. Michael Jackson. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2001.

Jackson, Michael. Moonwalk. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

Marsh, Dave. Trapped: Michael Jackson and the Crossover Dream. New York: Bantam, 1985.

Nicholson, Lois. Michael Jackson. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.

Wallner, Rosemary. Michael Jackson: Music's Living Legend. Edina, MN: Abdo & Daughters, 1991.

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A michael jackson timeline, michael jackson: full npr music archive, read and hear the archive of npr stories on michael jackson, photo timeline.

Follow a chronology of the singer's life, highlighted by breathtaking commercial success, intense public scrutiny and odd lifestyle choices:

Aug. 29, 1958: Michael Joseph Jackson is born to Katherine and Joe Jackson in Gary, Ind. His older siblings are Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, LaToya and Marlon. Later, brother Randy and sister Janet join the family. Katherine Jackson raises her children as Jehovah's Witnesses.

1962: Michael, Marlon, Jackie, Tito and Jermaine combine to form a band. At first, their father does not approve, but later changes his mind and manages the band. Jackson sings lead vocal on most of the songs.

1968: Motown signs The Jackson 5.

1969: The song "I Want You Back" jumps to the number-one singles spot. "ABC (1970)," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There" follow suit.

1971-1972: Jackson goes solo, and his singles "Got to Be There," "Rockin' Robin" and "I Wanna Be Where You Are" storm the charts — as does "Ben," a ballad about a pet rat featured in the horror movie Ben .

1978: Jackson makes his film debut as the Scarecrow in The Wiz , an urban retelling of the classic film The Wizard Of Oz . Diana Ross co-stars as Dorothy. Jackson is said to wear his makeup long after production hours.

1979: Jackson records Off The Wall , his first album as a solo artist. The singles "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You" both shoot to number-one hits.

1980: Jackson nabs his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance.

1982-1983: Jackson releases the album Thriller , and it tops the charts for 37 weeks. Seven singles dash into the top 10, including "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Thriller" and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." The extended video sequence on "Thriller" has Jackson morph into a werewolf. Jackson unveils his signature dance move, the moonwalk.

1984: Questions arise about Jackson's changing appearance, and some wonder if the singer has had plastic surgery. He builds a home on 2,700 acres in Central California, complete with its own amusement park rides, and calls it Neverland.

1985: Jackson and Lionel Richie pen "We Are The World," with the proceeds from sales of the single slated for hunger relief in Africa. Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper and other prominent artists lend their voices to the song. It sells a record seven million copies.

1987: Bad , Jackson's third album, hits the shelves. He embarks on a world tour.

1988: Doubleday publishes Jackson's autobiography, Moonwalk .

1990: Thriller goes platinum for the 21st time and the Guinness Book of World Records certifies it as the best-selling album ever. To date, it has sold 65 million copies.

1992: Jackson tells Oprah Winfrey he has vitiligo, a skin disorder that destroys melanin and, in severe cases, can leave a victim devoid of skin color. He also reveals that his father emotionally abused him as a child.

1993: Jackson is accused in civil court of molesting an 11-year-old boy. Police descend on Neverland and subject Jackson to a full body search. "It was the most humiliating ordeal of my life," he says in a televised statement in December.

1994: Jackson settles the molestation case out of court. The boy is paid more than $15 million, to be held in trust until he is an adult. The parents of the boy receive $1.5 million each.

May 26, 1994: Jackson and Lisa-Marie Presley tie the knot. The marriage will last less than two years.

1995: Sony releases HIStory: Past, Present and Future Book I . Janet Jackson performs a duet with her older brother on "Scream."

1996: Jarvis Cocker of the British band Pulp accosts Jackson in mid-act at the BRIT Awards. Jackson was surrounded by children and a rabbi performing "Earth Song." Cocker claims Jackson had attempted to imitate Christ.

1997: Jackson marries Debbie Rowe, a nurse. Rowe gives birth to a son, Prince Michael. Jackson is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1998: Rowe bears a girl, Paris Michael Katherine.

1999: Jackson and Rowe split.

2000: "Billie Jean," "Rock With You," "I Want You Back" and "Beat It" make Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest songs of all time.

2001: Sony releases Invincible, which is panned by critics and does not sell well. Jackson battles a $21-million civil suit by a German concert promoter who says the singer backed out of two concerts and pocketed an advance.

2002: Jackson lifts his newborn son, Prince Michael, over a hotel room terrace so fans can glimpse — and is roundly criticized for endangering his child. The identity of the child's mother is never revealed. Jackson says the child is the result of artificial insemination from a surrogate mother and his own sperm cells.

2003: Jackson is charged with seven counts of child sexual abuse and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent. All charges were made by the same boy, Gavin Arvizo, who was under 14 at the time of the alleged crime.

2005: Jackson is acquitted on all counts in the Arvizo case in the the People v. Jackson trial in Santa Maria, Calif.

2006: Financial troubles force closure on the main house on the Neverland Ranch. Jackson agrees to a Sony-backed refinancing deal. Jackson makes his first public appearance since the Arvizo trial to accept eight records from the Guinness World Records in London, including "Most Successful Entertainer of All Time." In late 2006, Jackson agrees to share joint custody of his first two children with ex-wife Debbie Rowe.

2007: Jackson and Sony buy Famous Music LLC from Viacom, which gives him rights to songs by Eminem, Shakira, Beck and others.

2008: Jackson issues Thriller 25 , celebrating 25 years of the iconic album. The reissue hits number one in eight countries and reached number two in the U.S. Sony releases King of Pop , a fan-curated compilation.

June 25, 2009: Jackson dies in Los Angeles at 50 after going into cardiac arrest.

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Triumph & Tragedy: The Life of Michael Jackson

By Mikal Gilmore

Mikal Gilmore

This story was originally published in the 2009 special edition dedicated to Michael Jackson .

He was, in the end, precisely what he claimed and struggled to be: the biggest star in the world. If there had been any doubt, it ended on the afternoon of June 25th, 2009, when the news broke that Michael Jackson had died of apparent cardiac arrest in Los Angeles at age 50. The outpouring of first shock, then grief, was the largest, most instantaneous of its kind the world had ever known, short of the events of September 11th, 2001. Though the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. affected history more, and the deaths of Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Kurt Cobain signified the end of epochs, no single death has ever moved so fast around the globe, or to the forefront of all news, as swiftly as Michael Jackson’s.

In the days that followed, news channels, TV specials, feature magazines and front pages tried to understand what happened. Not so much the events of Jackson’s death – though there was confusion surrounding that – but rather the nature of his life and legacy. He was a man with a complicated personality, a man with a history that was both glorious and notorious. He was not a man that anybody felt nothing about. The most affecting statement I heard came from a young black man, Egberto Willies, whose self-chronicled video statement aired on CNN: “I grew up,” Willies said, and paused a beat, “on Michael Jackson. I loved … Michael Jackson. I hated … Michael Jackson. I admired … Michael Jackson. I was ashamed … of Michael Jackson. I was sorry … for Michael Jackson. I was proud … of Michael Jackson.”

What immediately became obvious in all the coverage is that despite the dishonor that had come upon him, despite the worst kinds of allegations against him, despite his extravagances, his idiosyncratic fears, his perceived megalomania (or narcissism) and his prolonged abandonment of his art, the world still respected Michael Jackson for the music he made for more than four decades. No single artist – indeed, no movement or force – has eclipsed what Jackson accomplished in the first years of his adult solo career. Clearly, many other artists have given us great art, great outrage, great invention and great rejuvenation – but Michael Jackson changed the balance in the pop world in a way that nobody has since. He forced rock & roll and the mainstream press to acknowledge that the biggest pop star in the world could be young and black, and in doing so he broke down more barriers than anybody. But he is also among the best proofs in living memory of poet William Carlos Williams’ famous verse: “The pure products of America/go crazy.” American music has had fewer pure products than Michael Jackson.

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There is no story in popular music as providential yet as tragic as the story of Michael Jackson. Both destinies ran throughout his life, more or less from the beginning: While still a child, he became the central source of support for a large family and an incalculable asset to one of the most important record labels in history. Jackson benefited from all of that – he won fame and money, and developed a self-image that set him apart from almost everybody. He lived vast lives within himself – it’s where he brooded and transformed his resentments and desires into both blissful and fierce art. It’s also where he found his strengths, and where he kept his frailties until they became lethal foibles. Given his upbringing, you can see why he had to make that life within.

Michael’s father, Joe Jackson, was a crane operator during the 1950s, in Gary, Indiana – a place in which, according to Dave Marsh’s Trapped: Michael Jackson and the Crossover Dream , quotas were imposed on how many black workers were allowed to advance into skilled trades in the city’s mills. Black workers were paid less than the white workers, and also suffered much higher rates of fatal industry-related illnesses – but Joe Jackson held hopes that music would lift his life. Michael’s mother, Katherine Scruse, was from Alabama but was living in East Chicago, Indiana, when she met Joe. She had grown up hearing country & western music, and although she entertained her own dreams of singing and playing music, a bout of polio had left her with a permanent limp. Joe and Katherine were a young couple, married in 1949, and began a large family immediately. Their first child, Maureen (Rebbie), was born in 1950, followed by Sigmund (Jackie) in 1951, Toriano (Tito) in 1953, Jermaine in 1954, La Toya in 1956 and Marlon in 1957. Michael was born on August 29th, 1958, and Randy was born in 1961. Janet, the last born, wouldn’t arrive until 1966.

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Michael and his siblings heard music all the time. Joe had a strong inclination toward the rowdy electric urban blues that had developed in nearby Chicago, and also for early rock & roll. Along with his brothers, Joe formed a band, the Falcons, and made some modest extra income from playing bars and college dances around Gary. “They would do some of the great early rock & roll and blues songs by Chuck Berry, Little Richard … you name it,” Michael wrote in his 1988 autobiography, Moonwalk . “All those styles were amazing and each had an influence on … us, though we were too young to know it at the time.” 

The Jackson Five (L-R): Michael, Jermaine, Tito, Jackie and Marlon Jackson

When the Falcons folded, Joe retired his guitar to a bedroom closet, and he guarded it jealously, just as he did everything in his domain. Katherine, though, sometimes led her children in country-music singalongs, during which she taught them to harmonize. Tito, like his father, had a quick affinity for playing instruments, and one day after retrieving Joe’s guitar to practice with his brothers, he broke a string. As Michael later recalled, Joe whipped Tito for the infraction – “he let him have it” – then challenged his son to show him what he could play. As it turned out, Tito impressed his father. Maybe in those moments Joe Jackson saw a future hope blossom again. He bought Tito his own guitar and taught him some Ray Charles music, then he got Jermaine a bass. Soon he was working all his sons into an ensemble. Though Joe was at heart a blues man, he appreciated that contemporary R&B – Motown and soul – was the music that attracted his sons. Joe groomed Jermaine to be lead singer, but one day, Katherine saw Michael, just four at the time, singing along to a James Brown song, and Michael – in both his voice and moves – was already eclipsing his older brother. She told Joe, “I think we have another lead singer.” Katherine would later say that sometimes Michael’s precocious abilities frightened her – she probably saw that his childhood might give way to stardom – but she also recognized that there was something undeniable about his young voice, that it could communicate longings and experiences that no child could yet know. Michael was also a natural center of attention. He loved singing and dancing, and because he was so young – such an unexpected vehicle for a rousing, dead-on soulful expression – he became an obvious point of attention when he and his brothers performed. Little Michael Jackson was cute, but little Michael Jackson was also dynamite.

There is no story in popular music as providential yet as tragic as the story of Michael Jackson. 

It’s clear that Joe Jackson was good at what he did. “He knew exactly what I had to do to become a professional,” Michael later said. “He taught me exactly how to hold a mike and make gestures to the crowd and how to handle an audience.” But by Joe’s own admission he was also unrelenting. “When I found out that my kids were interested in becoming entertainers, I really went to work with them,” he told Time in 1984. “I rehearsed them about three years before I turned them loose. That’s practically every day, for at least two or three hours. … They got a little upset about the whole thing in the beginning because the other kids were out having a good time. … Then I saw that after they became better, they enjoyed it more.” That isn’t always how Michael remembered it. “We’d perform for him, and he’d critique us,” he wrote in Moonwalk . “If you messed up, you got hit, sometimes with a belt, sometimes with a switch. … I’d get beaten for things that happened mostly outside rehearsal. Dad would make me so mad and hurt that I’d try to get back at him and get beaten all the more. I’d take a shoe and throw it at him, or I’d just fight back, swinging my fists. That’s why I got it more than all my brothers combined. I’d fight back, and my father would kill me, just tear me up.” Those moments – and probably many more – created a loss that Jackson never got over. He was essential to the family’s music making, but there was no other bond between father and son. Again, from Moonwalk : “One of the few things I regret most is never being able to have a real closeness with him. He built a shell around himself over the years, and once he stopped talking about our family business, he found it hard to relate to us. We’d all be together, and he’d just leave the room.”

Around 1964, Joe began entering the Jackson brothers in talent contests, many of which they handily won. A single they cut for the local Steeltown recording label, “Big Boy,” achieved local success. “At first I told myself they were just kids,” Joe said in 1971. “I soon realized they were very professional. There was nothing to wait for. The boys were ready for stage training, and I ran out of reasons to keep them from the school of hard knocks.” In 1966, he booked his sons into Gary’s black nightclubs, as well as some in Chicago. Many of the clubs served alcohol, and several featured strippers. “This is quite a life for a nine-year-old,” Katherine would remind her husband, but Joe was undaunted. “I used to stand in the wings of this one place in Chicago and watch a lady whose name was Mary Rose,” Michael recalled. “This girl would take off her clothes and her panties and throw them to the audience. The men would pick them up and sniff them and yell. My brothers and I would be watching all this, taking it in, and my father wouldn’t mind.” Sam Moore, of Sam and Dave, recalled Joe locking Michael – who was maybe 10 years old – in a dressing room while Joe went off on his own adventures. Michael sat alone for hours. He also later recalled having to go onstage even if he’d been sick in bed that day.

Michael Jackson of the R&B quintet 'Jackson 5' plays pool at home in 1972 in Los Angeles, California.

Michael and his brothers began to tour on what was still referred to as the “chitlin circuit” – a network of black venues throughout the U.S. (Joe made sure his sons kept their school studies up to date and maintained their grades at an acceptable level.) In these theaters and clubs, the Jacksons opened for numerous R&B artists, including the Temptations, Sam and Dave, Jackie Wilson, Jerry Butler, the O’Jays and Etta James, though no one was as important to Michael as James Brown. 

“I knew every step, every grunt, every spin and turn,” he recalled. “He would give a performance that would exhaust you, just wear you out emotionally. His whole physical presence, the fire coming out of his pores, would be phenomenal. You’d feel every bead of sweat on his face, and you’d know what he was going through….You couldn’t teach a person what I’ve learned just standing and watching.” 

The most famous site on these tours was the Apollo in New York, where the Jackson 5 won an Amateur Night show in 1967. Joe had invested everything he had in his sons’ success, though of course any real recognition or profit would be his success as well. While on the circuit, Joe had come to know Gladys Knight, who was enjoying a string of small successes with Motown, America’s pre-eminent black pop label. With the encouragement of both Knight and Motown R&B star Bobby Taylor, Joe took his sons to Detroit to audition for the label. In 1969, Motown moved the Jackson family to Los Angeles, set them up at the homes of Diana Ross and the label’s owner, Berry Gordy, and began grooming them. Michael remembered Gordy telling them, “I’m gonna make you the biggest thing in the world. … Your first record will be a number one, your second record will be a number one, and so will your third record. Three number-one records in a row.” 

In 1959, Gordy founded Tamla Records – which soon became known as Motown – in Detroit. By the time he signed the Jackson 5 , Motown had long enjoyed its status as the most important black-owned and -operated record label in America, spawning the successes of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, Mary Wells, the Four Tops, and Diana Ross and the Supremes, among others. In contrast to Stax and Atlantic, Motown’s soul wasn’t especially bluesy or gritty, nor was it a music that spoke explicitly to social matters or to the black struggle in the U.S. By its nature the label exemplified black achievement, but its music was calibrated for assimilation by the pop mainstream – which of course meant a white audience as much as a black one (the label’s early records bore the legend “The Sound of Young America”). At the time, rock music was increasingly becoming a medium for album-length works. By contrast, Motown maintained its identity as a factory that manufactured hit singles, despite groundbreaking albums by Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Gordy was looking for a singles-oriented group that would not only deliver hits for young people, but would also give them somebody to seize as their own, to identify with and to adore. The Jackson 5, Gordy said, would exemplify “bubblegum soul.”

The Jackson 5’s first three singles – “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “The Love You Save” – became Number One hits as Gordy had promised, and so did a fourth, “I’ll Be There.” The group was established as the breakout sensation of 1970. Fred Rice, who would create Jackson 5 merchandise for Motown, said, “I call ’em the black Beatles. … It’s unbelievable.” And he was right. The Jackson 5 defined the transition from 1960s soul to 1970s pop as much as Sly and the Family Stone did, and at a time when many Americans were uneasy about minority aspirations to power, the Jackson 5 conveyed an agreeable ideal of black pride, one that reflected kinship and aspiration rather than opposition. They represented a realization that the civil rights movement made possible, and that couldn’t have happened even five or six years earlier. Moreover, the Jackson 5 earned critical respectability. Reviewing “I Want You Back” in Rolling Stone , Jon Landau wrote , “The arrangement, energy and simple spacing of the rhythm all contribute to the record’s spellbinding impact.” And though they functioned as a group, there was no question who the Jackson 5’s true star was, and who they depended on. Michael’s voice also worked beyond conventional notions of male-soul vocals – even worked beyond gender. Cultural critic and musician Jason King, in an outstanding essay, recently wrote, “It is not an exaggeration to say that he was the most advanced popular singer of his age in the history of recorded music. His untrained tenor was uncanny. By all rights, he shouldn’t have had as much vocal authority as he did at such a young age.”

Fred Rice, who would create Jackson 5 merchandise for Motown, said, “I call ’em the black Beatles. … It’s unbelievable.”

For at least the first few years, Michael and his brothers seemed omnipresent and enjoyed universal praise. But soon they experienced some hard limitations. The music they were making wasn’t really of invention – they didn’t write or produce it – and after Michael was relegated to recording throwback fare like “Rockin’ Robin,” in 1972, he worried that the Jackson 5 would become an “oldies act” before he left adolescence. The Jackson 5 began pushing to produce themselves and to create their own sound. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye had demonstrated an ability to grow and change – and sell records – when given creative leeway, and with 1974’s “Dancing Machine,” the Jacksons proved they could thrive when they seized a funk groove. Motown, however, wouldn’t consider it. “They not only refused to grant our requests,” Michael said in Moonwalk , “they told us it was taboo to even mention that we wanted to do our own music.” Michael understood what this meant: Not only would Motown not let the Jackson 5 grow, they also wouldn’t let him grow. Michael bided his time, studying the producers he and his brothers worked with. “I was like a hawk preying in the night,” he said. “I’d watch everything. They didn’t get away with nothing without me seeing. I really wanted to get into it.”

Michael Jackson with Stevie Wonder

In 1975, Joe Jackson negotiated a new deal for his sons – this time with Epic Records, for a 500 percent royalty-rate increase. The contract also stipulated solo albums from the Jacksons (though the arrangement did not include Jermaine, who married Gordy’s daughter Hazel and stayed with Motown, creating a rift with the family that lasted for several years). Motown tried to block the deal, and in the end stopped the brothers from using the Jackson 5 name; the group would now be known as the Jacksons. Epic initially placed them with Philadelphia producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, but it wouldn’t be until 1978’s Destiny that the Jacksons finally seized control over their own music and recast their sound – sexy and smooth in the dance-floor hits “Blame It on the Boogie” and the momentous “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground),” and reflecting a new depth and emotional complexity in songs like “Push Me Away” and “Bless His Soul.”

Destiny , though, was merely a prelude: By the time the album was finished, Michael was ready to make crucial changes that would establish his ascendancy as a solo artist. He fired his father as his manager and in effect found himself a new father, producer Quincy Jones, whom Michael connected with while filming The Wiz (a reworking of The Wizard of Oz ). Jones was a respected jazz musician, bandleader, composer and arranger who had worked with Clifford Brown, Frank Sinatra, Lesley Gore, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon, and he had written the film scores for The Pawnbroker , In Cold Blood and In the Heat of the Night . Jackson liked the arranger’s ear for mixing complex hard beats with soft overlayers. “It was the first time that I fully wrote and produced my songs,” Jackson said later, “and I was looking for somebody who would give me that freedom, plus somebody who’s unlimited musically.” Specifically, Jackson said his solo album had to sound different than the Jacksons; he wanted a cleaner and funkier sound. The pairing proved as fortuitous as any collaboration in history. Jones brought an ethereal buoyancy to Jackson’s soft erotic fever on songs like “Rock With You” and “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” and in a stunning moment like “She’s Out of My Life,” Jones had the good sense to let nothing obscure the magnificent heartbreak in the singer’s voice. The resulting album, Off the Wall – which established Jackson as a mature artistic force in his own right – has the most unified feel of any of his works. It was also a massive hit, selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S. alone by 1985. 

Michael Jackson had in effect become one of the biggest black artists America had ever produced, and he expected Off the Wall to win top honors during the 1980 Grammy Awards ceremony. Instead, it received only one honor, for Best Male R&B vocal. The Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” won for Record of the Year, and Billy Joel’s 52nd Street won Album of the Year. Jackson was stunned and bitter. “My family thought I was going crazy because I was weeping so much about it,” he recalled. “I felt ignored and it hurt. I said to myself, ‘Wait until next time’ – they won’t be able to ignore the next album. … That experience lit a fire in my soul.” 

Jackson told Jones – and apparently others as well – that his next album wouldn’t simply be bigger than Off the Wall , it would be the biggest album ever. When Thriller was released in November 1982, it didn’t seem to have any overarching theme or even a cohesive style. Instead, it sounded like an assembly of singles – like a greatest-hits album, before the fact. But it became evident fast that this was exactly what Jackson intended Thriller to be: a brilliant collection of songs intended as hits, each one designed with mass crossover audiences in mind. Jackson put out “Billie Jean” for the dance crowd, “Beat It” for the white rockers, and then followed each crossover with crafty videos designed to enhance both his allure and his inaccessibility. Yet after hearing these songs find their natural life on radio, it was obvious that they were something more than exceptional highlights. They were a well-conceived body of passion, rhythm and structure that defined the sensibility – if not the inner life – of the artist behind them. These were instantly compelling songs about emotional and sexual claustrophobia, about hard-earned adulthood and about a newfound brand of resolution that worked as an arbiter between the artist’s fears and the inescapable fact of his fame. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ” had the sense of a vitalizing nightmare in its best lines (“You’re stuck in the middle/And the pain is thunder. … Still they hate you, you’re a vegetable. … They eat off you, you’re a vegetable”). “Billie Jean,” in the meantime, exposed the ways in which the interaction between the artist’s fame and the outside world might invoke soul-killing dishonor (“People always told me, be careful of what you do. … ‘Cause the lie becomes the truth,” Jackson sings, possibly thinking of a paternity charge from a while back). And “Beat It” was pure anger – a rousing depiction of violence as a male stance, as a social inheritance that might be overcome. In sum, Thriller’s parts added up to the most improbable kind of art – a work of personal revelation that was also a mass-market masterpiece. It’s an achievement that will likely never be topped.

Except, in a sense, Jackson did top it, and he did it within months after Thriller ’s release. It came during a May 16th, 1983, TV special celebrating Motown’s 25th anniversary. Jackson had just performed a medley of greatest hits with his brothers. It was exciting stuff, but for Michael it wasn’t enough. As his brothers said their goodbyes and left the stage, Michael remained. He seemed shy for a moment, trying to find words to say. “Yeah,” he almost whispered, “those were good old days. … I like those songs a lot. But especially—” and then he placed the microphone into the stand with a commanding look and said, “I like the new songs.” He swooped down, picked up a fedora, put it on his head with confidence, and vaulted into “Billie Jean.” This was one of Michael Jackson’s first public acts as a star outside and beyond the Jacksons, and it was startlingly clear that he was not only one of the most thrilling live performers in pop music, but that he was perhaps more capable of inspiring an audience’s imagination than any single pop artist since Elvis Presley. There are times when you know you are hearing or seeing something extraordinary, something that captures the hopes and dreams popular music might aspire to, and that might unite and inflame a new audience. That time came that night, on TV screens across the nation – the sight of a young man staking out his territory, and just starting to lay claim to his rightful pop legend. “Almost 50 million people saw that show,” Jackson wrote in Moonwalk . “After that, many things changed.”

He was right. That was the last truly blessed moment in Michael Jackson’s life. After that, everything became argument and recrimination. And in time, decay.

Before going into that area – where the story breaks in two – it’s probably worth asking, What kind of person was Michael Jackson at that time? What were his hopes and his problems? What did he want his music to say or accomplish? How did he relate to the audience who loved him, and how did he relate to himself? Up to this point, these questions haven’t really figured; Michael Jackson was an immensely talented young man – he seemed shy but ambitious, and he certainly seemed enigmatic. Nobody knew much about his beliefs or his sex life; he rarely gave interviews, but he also didn’t land himself in scandals. He did, however, describe himself as a lonely person – particularly around the time he made Off the Wall . Former Los Angeles Times music critic Robert Hilburn recently wrote of meeting Jackson in 1981 , when the singer was 23, that Jackson struck him as “one of the most fragile and lonely people I’ve ever met … almost abandoned. When I asked why he didn’t live on his own like his brothers, instead remaining at his parents’ house, he said, ‘Oh, no, I think I’d die on my own. I’d be so lonely. Even at home, I’m lonely. I sit in my room and sometimes cry. It is so hard to make friends, and there are some things you can’t talk to your parents or family about. I sometimes walk around the neighborhood at night, just hoping to find someone to talk to. But I just end up coming home.’ ” 

Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones at the Grammy Awards in 1984.

Jackson’s social uneasiness was probably formed by the wounds in his history; the children were insulated from others their age, and Jackson’s status as a lifelong star may have left him feeling not just cut off from most people, but also alien from them – as if his experience or his vocation made him extraordinary. “I hate to admit it,” he once said, “but I feel strange around everyday people.” Not exactly an unusual sentiment for some cloistered celebrities, especially former child stars. At the same time, it’s a statement full of signals: Jackson didn’t enjoy the sort of company that might guide him in positive ways. He probably never did, throughout his life. Maybe the most troubling passage in Moonwalk is when he talks about children in the entertainment world who eventually fell prey to drugs: “I can understand … considering the enormous stresses put upon them at a young age. It’s a difficult life.”

In any event, Michael Jackson seemed clearly reputable – eminent though not heroic, not yet messianic, and certainly not contemptible. Thriller placed seven singles in Billboard’s Top 10 and also became the biggest-selling album in history (presently around 50 million copies or more), and at the 1984 Grammy Awards, Jackson finally claimed his due, capturing eight awards, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Then, months later, it was announced that Michael would be setting out on a nationwide tour with the Jacksons. He hadn’t wanted to undertake the venture but felt obliged (“Those were slim shoulders on which to place such burdens,” he wrote of his lifelong family pressures). Clearly, his talents and aspirations went beyond the limitations that his family act imposed on him. By all rights, he should have been taking the stage alone at that point in his career.

Jackson’s aversion to the Victory Tour was apparent when he sat looking miserable at press conferences or when he had to denounce statements by his father that he interpreted as casting aspersions on the Jacksons’ management team of Ron Weisner and Freddy DeMann. “There was a time,” Joe said, “when I felt I needed white help in dealing with the corporate power structure at CBS. … And I thought [Weisner-DeMann] would be able to help.” Michael fired back furiously in a written comment to Billboard : “To hear him talk like that turns my stomach. I don’t know where he gets that from. I happen to be colorblind. I don’t hire color; I hire competence. … I am president of my organization and I have the final word on every decision. Racism is not my motto.” It was the end of any lingering business relationship between Michael and his father.

It was during this period that a backlash first set in against Jackson, though from the press more than from the public. Actually, it began before the tour, as it became apparent that Thriller was headed for unprecedented sales at a blinding rate. The mid-1980s was a time when many in the music press had misgivings about mass popularity – especially if it seemed to represent a homogenized or acquiescent culture. Michael Jackson, after all, wasn’t an artist with a message of sociopolitical revolution, nor did his lyrics reflect literary aspirations. To some then – and to some now – he represented little more than an ambition for personal fame. He wasn’t, it seemed, an artist who would accomplish for his audience what Elvis Presley and the Beatles accomplished for theirs: the sort of event or disruption that changed both youth culture and the world. In my mind, Michael Jackson, Presley and the Beatles all shared one virtue: They bound together millions of otherwise dissimilar people in not just a quirk of shared taste, but also a forceful, heartfelt consensus that spoke to common dreams and values.

But there was a trickier concern at play. The racial dimensions of Jackson’s image proved complex beyond any easy answers at that time, or even since. Some of that was attributable to charges that Jackson seemed willing to trade his former black constituency for an overwhelmingly white audience – otherwise how could he have achieved such staggering sales figures in the U.S.? But what probably inspired these race-related arguments most – the terrain where they all seemed to play out – was the topography of Jackson’s face. With the exception of later accusations about his sexual behavior, nothing inspired more argument or ridicule about Michael Jackson than that face.

In his childhood, Jackson had a sweet, dark-skinned countenance; many early Jackson 5 fans regarded him as the cutest of the brothers. J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness , has written, “[Michael] believed his skin…‘messed up my whole personality.’ He no longer looked at people as he talked to them. His playful personality changed and he became quieter and more serious. He thought he was ugly – his skin was too dark, he decided, and his nose too wide. It was no help that his insensitive father and brothers called him ‘Big Nose.’” Also, as Jackson became an adolescent, he was horribly self-conscious about acne. Hilburn recalled going through a stack of photos with Jackson one night and coming across a picture of him as a teenager: “‘Ohh, that’s horrible,’ [Jackson] said, recoiling from the picture.”

The face Jackson displayed on the cover of Thriller had changed; the skin tone seemed lighter and his nose thinner and straighter. In Moonwalk , Jackson claimed that much of the apparent renovation was due to a change in his diet; he admitted to altering his nose and his chin, but he denied he’d done anything to his skin. Still, the changes didn’t end there. Over the years, Jackson’s skin grew lighter and lighter, his nose tapered more and more and his cheekbones seemed to gain prominence. To some, this all became fair game for derision; to others, it seemed a grotesque mutilation – not just because it might have been an act of conceit, aimed to keep his face forever child-like, but more troublingly because some believed Jackson wanted to transform himself into a white person. Or an androgyne – somebody with both male and female traits. The film Three Kings has a famous scene where an Iraqi interrogator asks a captured American soldier, “What is the problem with Michael Jackson? Your country make him chop up his face. … Michael Jackson is pop king of sick fucking country.” The soldier replies, “It’s bullshit – he did it to himself,” and the Iraqi smacks him on the head with a clipboard. “It is so obvious. A black man make the skin white and the hair straight, and you know why? … Your sick fucking country make the black man hate hisself.” 

In 1985, James Baldwin wrote in an essay for Playboy , “The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good sense to know it and the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success. He will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael. All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; and blacks, especially males, in America, and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair… ”

Baldwin’s paragraph was sympathetic and unflinching, but it was also prescient. Michael Jackson certainly wanted to seize the ring twice: He wanted his next album to be bigger than Thriller , which was of course too much to ask. An associate of his told me in 1988, “Michael still wants the world to acknowledge him.” Maybe just as important, Jackson was also seeking vindication. He felt misjudged and maligned by much of the criticism heaped on him after the 1984 Victory Tour. He had long been taught, by both his father and Motown, that the press was a vindictive force when it came to entertainers, that it reveled in the rhythm of building a celebrity’s image, only to turn around and undermine that same person. In his case, Jackson wasn’t half wrong. Some of the scrutiny he received about his “freakishness” – his devotion to his animals as if they were his friends, his ongoing facial reconstruction, scornful charges that he slept in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to maintain his youthfulness – was judgmental, even moralistic. Worse, too much of it came from reporters and gossip columnists, even political commentators, who displayed little if any real appreciation for Jackson’s music and little respect for the sheer genius of his work.

At that time, Jackson’s art was still his best way of making a case for himself. In 1987, he released Bad , his much-anticipated successor to Thriller . If not as eventful and ingenious as Off the Wall and Thriller , Bad was as good as any album he ever made. It was taut and funky, it had snap and fever, it radiated rage and self-pity but also yearning for grace and transcendence – particularly in “Man in the Mirror,” a song about accepting social and political responsibility, and about the artist negotiating his way back into the world. Bad sold millions and launched five Number One singles, three more than Thriller , but because it couldn’t match the accomplishments of Thriller , it was viewed as a flop.

Michael Jackson performs during the Bad Tour in Rome, Italy in May 1988.

Jackson then staged his first solo tour later that year. On several nights, I saw him turn in inspiring performances that also served as timely reminders of a sometimes overlooked truth about him: Namely that whatever his eccentricities, Michael Jackson acquired his fame primarily because of his remarkably intuitive talents as a singer and dancer – talents that were genuine and matchless and not the constructions of mere ambition or hype. Though he had the lithe frame of Fred Astaire, the mad inventiveness of Gene Kelly, the sexy agony of Jackie Wilson, the rhythmic mastery of James Brown – or of Sammy Davis Jr., for that matter – nobody else moved like Michael Jackson. Certainly nobody else broke open their moment in one daring physical display like Jackson. He didn’t invent the moonwalk – that famous and impossible backward gliding movement from his Motown 25 performance of “Billie Jean” – but it didn’t matter. He had defined himself in that moment and dared anybody else to match it, and nobody ever did. During the Bad tour his moves were breathtaking, sometimes unexpected. In the opening parts of songs like “Bad” and “The Way You Make Me Feel,” he seemed self-conscious and strained pulling off the songs’ cartoonish notion of streetwise sexuality, and his overstated hip pops and crotch snatching came off as more forced than felt. And yet when the music revved up, all the artifice was instantly dispelled. Jackson became suddenly confident and pulled off startling, robotic hip-and-torso thrusts alongside slow-motion, sliding-mime moves that left the audience gasping. Watching those quirky moves, you realized that all that came from somewhere within. You realized Jackson’s exceptional talent could not be completely separable from his eccentricity.

In 1988, he was again nominated for key Grammy Awards including Album of the Year, but he was up against hard competition. Artists like U2 and Prince had fashioned the most ambitious and visionary music of their careers – music that reflected the state of pop and the world in enlivening ways. More to the point, in 1988 there was suspicion among many observers that Jackson’s season as pop’s favorite son had passed. He would win no Grammys that year. In the Rolling Stone Readers’ poll, Jackson placed first in six of the readers’ “worst of the year” categories (including “worst male singer”); in addition, The Village Voice Critics’ Poll failed to mention Jackson’s Bad in its selection of 1987’s 40 best albums. This was a startling turnaround from four years before, when Jackson and his work topped the same polls in both publications. 

Michael jackson never really regained momentum or ambition after the negative reaction to Bad . He had finally left the family home in Encino and built his own fortress estate known as Neverland, about 100 miles north of L.A., with an amusement park and train rides redolent of Disneyland. It became a place where he brought the world to him, or at least that part of the world he seemed to care about, which mainly included children – the people, he said, he felt most at home with, since part of him wanted to experience and share the childhood he felt his father and entertainment career had deprived him of. But it was also Michael’s appetite for the company of children that would create the most lamentable troubles in his life. In 1993, a story broke that Jackson was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy with whom he had kept frequent company. It was a terribly serious accusation, and given his fondness for the company of children, the charges seemed all too credible to some observers. The story played big in not just tabloid newspapers but in some mainstream media as well. No criminal charges were filed, but in 1994 Jackson settled the matter out of court (reportedly for something in the vicinity of $20 million), which struck many as a tacit admission to the allegations. Jackson, though, categorically denied the claim. He later told British journalist Martin Bashir that he simply wanted to put the issue behind him.

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The episode did enormous damage to Jackson’s image, and perhaps to his psychology as well. It was during that time that, according to some, he developed a dependency on medications that stayed with him through the rest of his life. (Jackson’s need for drugs may also have stemmed from pains attributable to various surgeries.) That same year he unexpectedly married Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of rock & roll’s most eminent pioneer, Elvis Presley. Some saw it as an effort to both rehabilitate and bolster his image by asserting a heterosexual authenticity, and by linking his name to even greater fame. The marriage lasted 18 months. Presley has never spoken negatively of Jackson, only affectionately, saying in the days after her ex-husband’s death that she left him only because she felt she couldn’t save him from himself. Jackson married again in 1996, this time to a nurse from his dermatologist’s office, Debbie Rowe. The couple had two children, son Prince Michael Jackson and daughter Paris Michael Katherine Jackson. Apparently, the children were the true objective of the marriage for Jackson; the couple divorced in 1999 and Rowe gave up custody of the children. (Rowe has admitted in the past that Jackson wasn’t the children’s biological father, but rather that they were conceived by artificial insemination.)

Through the course of all this, sadly, Jackson’s musical drive fell off, and the music that did emerge was only sporadically successful. His new music was often a testament of self-justification. In “Childhood,” a song from 1995’s HIStory: Past, Present and Future , he put forth his case for his otherness: “No one understands me/They view it as such strange eccentricities. … It’s been my fate to compensate/For the childhood I’ve never known/ Before you judge me, try hard to love me/ Look within your heart, then ask/Have you seen my childhood?” Two years later, still dismayed at how the media continued to judge him, Jackson lashed out in “Is It Scary,” a song from his 1997 remix album, Blood on the Dance Floor : “Am I the beast you visualized/And if you wanna see/Eccentric oddities/I’ll be grotesque before your eyes….So tell me….Am I scary for you?” His hurt and anger also began to come out more in his body over the years. Sometimes his expression looked terrified, his eyes peering over surgical masks or from behind the cover of a burqa. Other times he moved with an explosive fury, as in those moments at the end of his infamous but incredibly successful 1991 video for the song “Black or White.” Those movements seemed so different from the joyful ones of years before.

But despite good moments – and too many treacly and self-aggrandizing ones –  Michael Jackson’s 1990s music had no real presence in the ongoing current of popular culture. His final album, Invincible , from 2001, yielded a few adventurous tracks – Jackson was finally accommodating the stylistic and cultural innovations made by hip-hop and other urban music forms – but overall it wasn’t enough to live up to its title. This isn’t to say that Michael Jackson was no longer a huge star but rather that his legend had transmuted: He was now known for his excesses and bad choices. He lived in a castle; he contracted another baby, Prince Michael II (whose mother has never been identified); and he then recklessly dangled the baby over a balcony in Berlin. Sometimes you had to wonder whether Jackson had any real idea how his actions struck the world – which is perhaps OK, unless you expect the world to love you unconditionally.

Jackson’s most egregious lapse of judgment became evident in a notorious 2003 interview with Martin Bashir, in which the singer professed that he still shared his bed at Neverland with children who were not his own. During one point in the broadcast, Jackson sat holding the hand of a 13-year-old boy, a cancer survivor, and explained what he saw as the innocent and loving nature of that behavior. The public response was swift and hypercritical; many thought that despite the accusations he had faced in 1993, Jackson could still act as he wanted with impunity. The reaction was so devastating to Jackson that, according to some rumors, later that year he attempted a morphine overdose; at the very least, some observers declared Jackson had committed career suicide. The controversy became as serious as possible when the boy in the video accused Jackson of fondling him. This time, the matter went to trial. The horrible drama that Jackson had landed in was in keeping with the dominant themes of his life and art: his obsessions with stardom, mystery, hubris, fear and despoiled childhood. If the charges were true, one had to wonder what Jackson truly saw when he looked at the childhoods of others. Was he capable of disrespecting their innocence, just as his own was once ruined? But if the charges weren’t true, then one had to ask what measure of satisfaction could be won in his ruin?

Michael Jackson stands on top of his SUV as he acknowledges hundreds of fans gathered outside the Santa Maria Courthouse in January 2004.

The 2005 trial was the spectacle everybody expected it to be – a drama about justice and celebrity, sex and outrage, morality and race. Even though it dragged on, it was clear the prosecution didn’t have a case so much as it had umbrage. The trial was a farce – it’s dismaying the case ever made it to trial – and Jackson was acquitted on all charges. But the damage done seemed, in many ways, final. Jackson walked out of the courtroom that day a shaken, listless man. His finances were also coming undone; he had been spending ludicrous sums and he’d mismanaged his money – which took some doing, since he had made such a vast fortune. The biggest star in the world had fallen from the tallest height. He left the country and moved to Bahrain; he was only occasionally seen or heard from. Nobody knew whether he could recover his name, or even preserve his considerable music legacy, until earlier this year, when he announced an incredibly ambitious series of 50 concerts – which he described as the “final curtain call” – to take place at London’s O2 arena, beginning July 13th.

It’s hard to believe that Jackson, who was so proud of his public performances and so peerless at delivering them, would have committed himself to a project in which he might fail so tremendously. At the same time, it is not inconceivable that Michael Jackson could have been a man half-hungry and broken in the past few years. All that is certain is that on June 25th, in Los Angeles, Michael Jackson met the only sure redemption he might know, in the most famous unexpected and mysterious death in current history. That redemption didn’t come because he died, but because his death forced us to reconsider what his life added up to.

What killed Michael Jackson? His life-long pursuit of fame and vindication? No doubt, in part. He pushed too hard, wanted too much; he didn’t recognize limitations. In addition, the pain of achieving so much yet being derided and dismissed time and again had to be considerable. It’s also clear that all the hatred and judgment directed his way for his peculiarities and for his rumored sexual behavior had to debilitate his spirit, if not his body. That subject of child molestation will always, of course, be a crux concern about his life, one that, for many people, clearly – and understandably – trumps his art. We will likely never know what the truth was, which is one more awful aspect of the whole nightmare. The accusation will always stay attached to his name.

What, then, saved Michael Jackson – that is, after his death? At the least, his art and his accomplishments. When somebody makes as much great music as Jackson did, our collective pleasures are enriched and our history is made more intense and complex. In his ambitions, in his setbacks and most important, in his sounds, he embodied black music history in America. But he did more: The barriers he broke helped make the modern pop world a more inclusive scene than it once was before. That is, he staked out new territory. It is always a good thing to see somebody transforming the world of known possibilities. I remember, as a kid, watching Elvis Presley do it on the Dorsey brothers’ Stage Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember, as an adolescent, watching the Beatles open up whole new artistic and historic possibilities in their first U.S. appearances, live on Ed Sullivan. I remember, in my first year as a writer on the staff of Rolling Stone, watching the Sex Pistols crack old surfaces and yield a new future – even as they sang of “no future” onstage at San Francisco’s Winterland, during their last 1970s performance.

Still, I’ll never forget that night back in early 1983, when onstage in Pasadena, California, at the Motown 25th anniversary show, Michael Jackson gave his first public performance as a mature artist staking his own claim, vaulting into that astonishingly graceful, electrifying version of “Billie Jean.” Dancing, spinning, sending out impassioned, fierce glares at the overcome audience, Jackson did a powerful job of animating and mythologizing his own blend of mystery and sexuality. I’d never seen anything quite like it before. Maybe I never will again. Michael Jackson didn’t just grab the gold ring: He hooked it to a new bar and set it even higher, and nobody has yet snatched it with quite the same flair or results. 

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Michael Jackson Biography and Profile

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The Jackson 5 and Early Career

Michael Jackson is one of the most successful and influential pop recording artists of all time. Born in 1958, he began his career as a member of the Jackson 5 recording for Motown with four of his brothers. They hit #1 on the pop singles chart with "I Want You Back" in 1969. It was followed by three more consecutive #1 hits. They were the first recording artists to hit #1 on the pop singles chart with their first four chart hits. The group's popularity faded in the mid 1970's, but, after moving to the CBS record label and calling themselves simply the Jacksons, they consistently hit the charts in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Among their hits in that era were "Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)" and "Can You Feel It."

Michael Jackson Becomes an Adult Artist With Off the Wall

Michael Jackson hit #1 on the pop singles chart as a solo artist in 1972 serenading a rat with the title song from the movie Ben . He hit the top five with two other early singles. 1971's "Got To Be There" went to #4 and 1972's "Rockin' Robin" hit #2. Michael Jackson didn't near the top of the charts again until seven years later with the release of the album Off the Wall in 1979 produced by Quincy Jones. It was simultaneously a last gasp of disco and an R&B classic that ushered in the 80's. The album peaked at #3 on the album chart, sold over seven million copies and included four top 10 pop singles. The singles "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You" went all the way to #1 on the pop singles chart. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" won a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal.

In 1982, three years after Off the Wall , Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson collaborated once again and created Thriller , the bestselling album of all time. It was preceded by the single "The Girl Is Mine," a collaboration with Paul McCartney , which reached #2 on the pop singles chart. A month after the album hit stores, the second single "Billie Jean" was unleashed, and the masterpiece that is Thriller began to unfold. Ultimately, 28 million copies sold in the US and Thriller became the first album to launch seven singles into the pop top 10. "Bille Jean" and "Beat It" both hit #1 and the music video for "Beat It" tore down barriers for African-American artists at MTV. 

The music from Thriller generated a phenomenal eleven Grammy Award nominations. The album took home the award for Album of the Year and "Beat It" won Record of the Year. "Billie Jean" was named Best R&B Song.

It was almost five years after the release of Thriller before Michael Jackson's next album appeared in 1987. Bad was Michael Jackson's third album co-produced by Quincy Jones. The single "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" preceded the album and hit the top of the pop singles chart. Ultimately, Bad became the first album to include five #1 pop singles. That record stood until Katy Perry matched it with her Teenage Dream album in 2010-2011. Bad sold over eight million copies in the US. The #1 charting singles were "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," "Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Man In the Mirror," and "Dirty Diana." Music from Bad earned five Grammy Award nominations. The album was nominated for Album of the Year, and "Man In the Mirror" earned a Record of the Year nomination, but Bad won no awards.

By 1991, four years after the release of Bad , some critics wondered whether Michael Jackson was still relevant in the pop world. He signed a 15-year six album deal with Sony Music, and recorded Dangerous with new jack swing pioneer Teddy Riley and Bill Botrell as producers. The album was another major success selling seven million copies, topping the album chart, generating four top 10 singles and spending over two years on the album chart.

The release of the debut single "Black or White" was a worldwide television event. An estimated 500 million viewers watched the John Landis directed clip. The song was released to radio stations two days in advance and was added to playlists on 96% of Billboard's reporting pop radio stations on the first day of release. The music video for "Remember the Time" was a massive production as well directed by celebrated film director John Singleton. It included guest appearances from Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson, and Iman among others. "Black Or White" earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal.

Michael Jackson's Controversies

Michael Jackson's career and life had their fair share of controversies. In the mid 1980s he was the subject of widespread tabloid stories including tales of sleeping in an oxygen chamber to slow aging, bleaching his skin, and undergoing multiple rounds of plastic surgery. In the early 1990s Michael Jackson was accused of sexually abusing a child in a case ultimately closed for lack of evidence. In 2005 Jackson was put on trial for allegations of sexual molestation. He was acquitted on all counts.

Commercial Decline

In 1995 Michael Jackson released his first compilation album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 . It was a two-disc set and sold over three million copies in the US as well as earning a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. However, an all-new studio album did not appear until 2001. Invincible became the first significant commercial disappointment for Michael Jackson since the 1970s. It sold only two million copies and did not include any #1 hit singles. Only "You Rock My World" hit the top 10.

Top Michael Jackson Hits

  • 1979 - "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (One week at #1)
  • 1979 - "Rock With You" (Four weeks at #1)
  • 1983 - "Billie Jean" (Seven weeks at #1)
  • 1983 - "Beat It!" (Three weeks at #1)
  • 1983 - "Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney (Six weeks at #1)
  • 1987 - "Bad" (Two weeks at #1)
  • 1987 - "The Way You Make Me Feel" (One week at #1)
  • 1988 - "Man In the Mirror" (Two weeks at #1)
  • 1991 - "Black Or White" (Seven weeks at #1)
  • 1995 - "You Are Not Alone" (One week at #1)

More details about each song in Top 20 Michael Jackson Songs .

Top Michael Jackson Videos

  • 1979 - "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"
  • 1983 - "Beat It!"
  • 1983 - "Billie Jean"
  • 1984 - "Thriller"
  • 1987 - "Bad"
  • 1991 - "Black Or White"
  • 1992 - "Remember the Time"
  • 1995 - "Scream" with Janet Jackson
  • 1995 - "You Are Not Alone"
  • 1996 - "They Don't Care About Us"

More details about the videos, and a complete listing, in the Guide to Michael Jackson Videos .

Michael Jackson's Comeback Efforts

In 2008 Michael Jackson released Thriller 25, a 25th anniversary re-issue of his bestselling album Thriller that included re-recordings of some of the tracks by top contemporary pop stars including Fergie and Kanye West . It also included one new song "For All Time." Remixes of "The Girl Is Mine" and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" were released as singles. The latter climbed to #2 on the dance chart.

In March 2009 Michael Jackson announced that he would perform a series of concerts in London at the O2 arena over the summer. What was originally announced as 10 shows was later extended to 50 that were planned into the year 2010. Rehearsals commenced under the direction of choreographer Kenny Ortega.

Michael Jackson died unexpectedly June 25, 2009 at the age of 50 less than three weeks before the first London concert was scheduled to take place. A public memorial service included performances of his songs by a wide range of top recording artists. A feature film built around rehearsal footage from the planned concert tour titled Michael Jackson's This Is It was released in October 2009. A posthumous studio album titled was released in December 2010. Michael Jackson earned a posthumous Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal for the song "This Is It." In 2014 a second posthumous album with previous unreleased material titled Xscape appeared under the direction of L.A. Reid. It included the top 10 pop hit "Love Never Felt So Good." 

  • The 100 Best Pop Songs of 2001
  • Top 20 Michael Jackson Songs
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  • Madonna's 38 Top 10 Pop Songs
  • 75 Best Breakup Songs Of All Time
  • Michael Jackson's Classic 1979 'Off The Wall' Album
  • Michael Jackson's Top 10 Career Highlights
  • Michael Jackson Videos
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Michael Jackson

  • Occupation: Singer
  • Born: August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana
  • Died: June 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
  • Best known for: Thriller , the best-selling album in history
  • Nickname: King of Pop

Jackson at the White House

  • He was the best selling artist in the United States for 2009, the year of his death. Around 35 million of his albums were sold worldwide in the 12 months after he died.
  • He had two pet llamas on his ranch called Lola and Louis.
  • The album Thriller was number one on the Billboard Chart for 37 weeks.
  • He purchased the rights to the Beetles catalogue in 1985 for $47 million.
  • His skin doctor said that his skin tone changed because he had a disease called vitiligo.
  • He was burned when his hair caught fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial.
  • Listen to a recorded reading of this page:

Michael Jackson Age, Death, Wife, Children, Family, Biography, & More

Some lesser known facts about michael jackson.

  • Did Michale Jackson smoke?: Yes
  • Dis Michael Jackson drink alcohol?: Yes
  • Michael Jackson was an average student, was bad with spellings and grammar and was considered creative, shy and best dressed.
  • His father was strict and abused Michael Jackson physically (beating) and emotionally. Joe has admitted that he used to whip the children, taunted Michael for having a fat nose and hit them with a belt if they didn’t get it right during practice.
  • All the Jackson kids agree that whipping was common at the time and it set them straight and made them capable.
  • Although Michael agreed that his father’s strict discipline helped him succeed, he also explained that his insecurities about his looks, insomnia, nightmares, hyper-compliant behavior and his childlike adulthood are due to child maltreatment.
  • The costumes used in the video of Thriller were from Salvation Army .
  • He loved children, probably because he missed his own and the abuse he suffered as a child. The black band that he wore was a reminder of child abuse.
  • Beat it  made it to the studio because of the guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, which Eddie played for free.
  • He bought an Oscar! The Oscar that David O. Selznick won for the  Best Picture for Gone With the Wind in 1999.
  • He won eight Oscars in 1984.
  • Scream  has been the most expensive video costing $7,000,000.
  • He loved pets and had a python (Crusher), 2 llamas (Louis & Lola) and a chimpanzee (Bubbles).
  • Michael invented special boots that he used for his ‘leaning forward’ step in ‘Smooth Criminal’.  The  lean  step is patented by MJ.
  • He had a meeting in the twin towers the day 9/11 incident took place. He missed it because he overslept.
  • Macauley Culkin, the Home Alone  star is the godfather of two of his children.
  • The director of the video ‘Bad’ was the famous and creative Martin Scorcese.
  • Wikipedia, Twitter and AOL’s Instant Messenger crashed the afternoon MJ died.
  • He lived in an oxygen tent for long life and beauty.
  • He was literally a King! He was given a royal title by the people of Goban , a village in the Ivory Coast.
  • Michael Jackson made his debut with his brothers  Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Marlon, as Jackson 5.  Michael initially started singing with his elder brother before he started solo.
  • MJ’s  Thriller  was the first album that had five number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 list. Thriller is also the highest selling album of all times, selling over 65 million copies.
  • Michael Jackson named the dance move M oonwalk  that he had borrowed from the street dancers outside his hotel.
  • Guinness World Records crowned him as the  Most Successful Entertainer of All Time.
  • MJ has been inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . He is the only artist from Rock and Pop genre that has been inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame . He is an inductee of the Songwriter Hall Of Fame too.
  • Other than multiple entries in the Guinness World Records, Michael Jackson has 13 Grammys , a  Grammy Legend Award and a  Grammy Lifetime Award .
  • He has the highest number of American Music Awards  and number one Billboard Hot 100 (13 top positions). He also received the Artist of the Century  Award.
  • The King of Pop has sold over 400 million albums.
  • He had a top ten entry in the Billboard for five consecutive decades , making him the first person to achieve this milestone in 2014 with his song “Love Never Felt So Good”.
  • One considerable Guinness World Record that MJ holds is the record for supporting 39 charities. No one else has shown such humanitarian efforts.
  • Michael said that he has had only two plastic surgeries i.e. for his nose and chin. He claims both of them were for health reasons. His nose broke practicing a complex dance move, he explained. It is believed that he had several surgeries.
  • When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, MJ promised to release a song to raise charity. He worked on the project with other artists but the song never eventuated.
  • His bodyguard said that people tell the girls that they have a dog and MJ goes like, “I have a Zoo”. He did have a zoo at his Neverland Ranch  in addition to a theme park.
  • Michael Jackson was a book worm. He would spend thousands of dollars in just one visit to a book-store.
  • Once, he came across a second-hand book shop and bought it for $100,000 and had the books brought over to his home.
  • He had two secret affairs with girls from overseas and called them  Friend  and Flower . Nobody knew about them except his bodyguards.
  • MJ did not meet anyone from the family without an appointment except his mother. She would drop by anytime and he would welcome her, and his siblings would have to return even if they managed to clear the security at the gate.
  • MJ was always under the radar and would have his bodyguards to check the room he occupied in the hotels. He was bugged by the bugging. It wasn’t paranoia; his private conversation with his sister was recorded without his knowledge and sold to the media.
  • He had to make his kids wear masks in the public and also gave them code names to keep their identity hidden and secured.
  • Michael Jackson seemed to be really worried about his life as his bodyguards carried guns that could be enough to take down an FBI raid. They were armed with  semi-automatic Glock pistols, Teasers (1.2 million volts), MP5 (Fully automatic submachine guns), military style AR15s and 12-gauge automatic shotguns.  They had extended magazines and around 3000 rounds of ammunition.
  • He was invited to Bahrain by the Sheikh of Bahrain after his child abuse accusation in 2005.
  • Michael was a responsible father and had his children home-schooled and had a room dedicated for their schooling. The private tutor would start the classes sharp at 8 AM and the kids had to wear uniforms. He would keep a check with the teacher and help the children with the homework. He would quiz them to check what they have learned.
  • The King of Pop did his and kids’ laundry by himself.
  • MJ’s mother used to play clarinet and piano and wanted to be a country-western artist.
  • Also, his father was not estranged with music and played with The Falcons,  a local rhythm and blue band.
  • He was the first artist to sell one million downloads and that too after his death.
  • Michael Jackson’s voice ascends from high tenor to boy soprano.
  • It’s not a surprise that MJ has a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • Billy Jean  was the first video by a black guy that was aired on MTV.
  • Michael Jackson felt that he sounded like Minnie Mouse when he listened to his older music.
  • He was the godfather to  Lionel Ritchie’s daughter Nicole and Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb’s son Michael .
  • Thriller  stayed on the Billboard 200 for 122 weeks!
  • Michael Jackson cut off from all the sources from the media. No newspaper, no cable TV and no internet. He only read The Wall Street Journal because it would not have crazy stories about him.
  • After the police raided his Neverland Ranch, he could never go back and live there because it never felt like home again and he could not feel safe anymore. MJ and his children lived in hotels and rented homes. He never touched anything after the raid.
  • MJ was awarded two honorary degrees.  One was Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from United Negro College Fund and another was Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters  from  Fisk University.
  • Michael Jackson’s funeral was watched by 2.5 billion people worldwide.

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Michael Jackson Biography

Table of Contents

The Best Michael Jackson Biography. Michael Jackson was an American singer, dancer, and actor who became one of the most popular music artists in history. With his distinctive dance moves, distinctive voice, and distinctive personal style, he transformed popular culture. The King of Pop was the biggest-selling artist of all time, with a fortune estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.

Michael Jackson Childhood

The story of Michael Jackson begins with the discovery of his talent. When he was two years old, his mother, Katherine, noticed that he could sing and dance. She soon enrolled him in a dance school. From there, he was discovered by The Jackson family, who then took him in and raised him until he was 12 years old. At 12, Michael was a star, and soon became a member of the Jackson family act. He was the youngest member of the Jackson 5, and was their lead singer. As a child, he taught himself how to dance and sing. He was also a member of the Jackson Brothers, a group of children who sang and danced on stage. Michael Jackson was a talented singer, dancer, and musician. He was the youngest member of the Jackson 5 and lead singer of the group. As a child, he taught himself how to dance and sing. He also taught himself how to play the piano and the guitar. He was a member of the Jackson Brothers, a group of children who sang and danced on stage. The story of Michael Jackson begins with the discovery of his talent. When he was two years old, his mother, Katherine, noticed that he could sing and dance.


His Professional debut

He first recorded in 1971 with the Jackson 5 and released the single “I Want You Back”. In 1972, he signed a solo contract with Motown Records. In 1979, he made his film debut in The Wiz. In 1984, he became the first African American to be a solo star in a motion picture, starring in the film “Purple Rain”. In 1990, he was inducted as the first solo artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . In 2001, he released his final album, Invincible. In 2009, he was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. In 2011, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2014, he was inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame. In 2015, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2016, he was inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame. In 2017, he was inducted into the Soul Train Hall of Fame. In 2018, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2018, he was inducted


His Success

One of the most successful and influential entertainers in the world, Michael Jackson was a musical genius and a cultural icon. His success in music and dance was unparalleled, and his influence on the world of music is still felt today. Achieving success at an early age, Jackson began performing with his brothers at the age of five. He had an early career in music, but his first hit was not until 1971, when he released the song “ABC.” This song was a huge success, and he was soon famous enough to release his first album, “Off the Wall.” Jackson’s success continued to grow, and he released a string of hit albums, including “Thriller,” “Bad,” “Dangerous,” “History,” and “Invincible.”


He was also known for his unusual dance moves, which he started to perform in the early 1970s. Jackson also had a successful career in film, and he is known for starring in a string of blockbuster movies. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor in his role in “The Wiz,” and he also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “You Are not Alone.” Jackson was also a successful businessman, and

Michael Jackson died on June 25th, 2009. He died at the age of 50 and had been suffering from cardiac arrest for a week. Jackson had a history of drug abuse, which ultimately led to the fatal cardiac arrest. Jackson was found unresponsive in his home by his doctor and paramedics. Jackson was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was given CPR in the ambulance but unfortunately, it was too late. Jackson was the first African American to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was the recipient of many prestigious awards. He was also the most successful entertainer of all time.

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How Michael Jackson Changed Dance History

Michael Jackson Photo

One of the most widely known dance troupes using the style were the Electric Booglaoos and among their moves were stylized, almost cartoonish walks, including what was called at the time the “backslide,” according to performer Toni Basil, who is widely known for the song “Mickey” but was also part of a dance troupe The Lockers.

Jackson learned the moonwalk from friends

“In the street, it was old news. The Electric Booglaoos were doing it on Soul Train in the 1970s,” said Basil.

Jackson said in his memoir that he learned the move from some friends, and he worked on it in the studio. Because Jackson was such a meticulous dancer — with a capacity for extreme control but also quickness — he gave the moonwalk a slick perfection.

By doing the walk on the national television stage in 1983, Jackson was able to popularize the move in a way that groups like The Electric Booglaoos could not. As inventive and talented as dance groups at the time were, they lacked Jackson’s crossover appeal to a mainstream audience.

Michael Jackson Photo

Jackson made the dance move a phenomenon

Jackson’s fame cut across all demographics with the 1982 album Thriller , and “Billie Jean” was one of the top hits from it.

In his first outing with the move, he adapted the moonwalk into his choreography at carefully selected moments within a sequence of moves: There’s the moonwalk, followed by a spin and then his trademark toe-stand with its freeze-frame pose that makes the crowd go wild.

“Michael Jackson was really good at doing the robot style and isolations. So he incorporated that into the moonwalk,” said Jared Grimes, an entertainer and Broadway dancer.

Jackson made the move a national phenomenon – kids everywhere were imitating him. But the moment is a particular part of dance history because Jackson bridged the gap between West Coast street dance and the East Coast break dancers, who were part of the early days of hip-hop. The moonwalk fit perfectly into the physically demanding, almost gymnastic genre known for floor spins, fast footwork and named steps like the worm.

Even before the moonwalk, though, Jackson had changed the way that Americans interacted with dance. And the change came with the help of MTV, which launched in 1981.

With MTV came videos that gave performers a second, visual platform with which to represent their songs and themselves. Prior to Jackson’s “Thriller,” videos in which singers danced were rare.

His performances were well-rehearsed and highly artistic

Dancing onstage within live performance was one thing, but a video with the high production values of “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” or “Thriller” were well-rehearsed, highly choreographed artistic statements.

With the video for “Billie Jean,” Jackson established himself as a dancer-singer with his smooth, graceful walks, spins and poses as he moves through a desolate cityscape in a tuxedo.

“Beat It” and “Thriller,” though, feature him at the front of a triangular formation of backup dancers. The viewer sees Jackson’s perfection first, but it is buttressed by the eye-pleasing site of unison behind him. Whether they are gang members or zombies, the dancers behind him are just as important as Jackson, adding character and depth to the video.

Jackson is said to have insisted that his videos were called short films, and both “Beat It” and “Thriller” are absolutely that. But by the time the song “Smooth Criminal” came along in 1988, Jackson’s ability to tell a story in dance hit a high mark. Gangsters roam a nefarious underworld, and Jackson is the hero-kingpin whom the camera follows as smoothly as if he were Fred Astaire gliding through a ballroom.

The video also introduced a dance trick in which Jackson keeps his body straight but leans forward at about 45 degrees. The move was aided by patented shoes with bolts that lodged the heel into the floor.

In his dance videos, Jackson set the foundations for singers with strong dance abilities to follow for years. His style deeply influenced his sister Janet Jackson , as well as much later stars who relied on dance, from Britney Spears to Beyonce . His impact on dance history is just another reason why Jackson so richly deserves the title the King of Pop.

February 7, 1984 at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Natural History in New York City. This event is taking place 11 days after he suffered hair and scalp burns filming a Pepsi Cola commercial.

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Colman Domingo will play Joe Jackson in ‘Michael,’ the Michael Jackson biopic

Colman Domingo arrives at the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, at the Peacock Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Hannah Waddingham, left, and Colman Domingo present the Governors Award during the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, at the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Colman Domingo, fresh off his Oscar nomination , has joined the upcoming Michael Jackson biopic “Michael” to play the pop star’s domineering father, Joe Jackson.

Lionsgate announced Thursday that Domingo has been cast in Antoine Fuqua’s currently-in-production film. On Tuesday, Domingo was nominated for best actor by the Academy Awards for his performance as the civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in “Rustin.”

Joe Jackson, who died in 2018 , was the controversial patriarch of the musical family, launching the Jackson 5 and the solo careers of Michael and Janet. But he was also an alienating manager and abusive father whose children, later in life, distanced themselves from him.

Newcomer Jaafar Jackson, nephew to Michael Jackson, will play the King of Pop in the film produced by Graham King (“Bohemian Rhapsody”). The film is being made with involvement of the Michael Jackson estate.

“I’m excited to be a part of a film that explores both the complicated soul of the legendary Michael Jackson as well as his impact on music and culture as a global icon,” said Domingo in a statement. “Not only am I fortunate to have a rich, complex and flawed character to portray in Joe Jackson, but I also have a front row seat for Jaafar’s incredible transformation.”

“Michael” is scheduled to open in theaters in April next year.

michael jackson biography

Colman Domingo cast to portray Joe Jackson in upcoming Michael Jackson biopic

Hot off his Oscar nomination for "Rustin," Colman Domingo will play Joe Jackson in a Michael Jackson biopic coming out in 2025.

NEW YORK — Colman Domingo , fresh off his Oscar nomination, has joined the upcoming Michael Jackson biopic "Michael" to play the pop star's domineering father, Joe Jackson .

Lionsgate announced Thursday that the Emmy Award-winning actor has been cast in Antoine Fuqua's film, which started production this week . On Tuesday, Domingo was nominated for best actor by the Academy Awards for his performance as the civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in "Rustin."

Joe Jackson, who died in 2018 , was the controversial patriarch of the musical family, launching the Jackson 5 and the solo careers of Michael and Janet. But he was also an alienating manager and abusive father whose children, later in life, distanced themselves from him.

Newcomer Jaafar Jackson, nephew to Michael Jackson, will play the King of Pop in the film produced by Graham King ("Bohemian Rhapsody"). The film is being made with involvement of the Michael Jackson estate.

"I'm excited to be a part of a film that explores both the complicated soul of the legendary Michael Jackson as well as his impact on music and culture as a global icon," Domingo said in a statement. "Not only am I fortunate to have a rich, complex and flawed character to portray in Joe Jackson, but I also have a front row seat for Jaafar's incredible transformation."

When will the 'Michael' biopic come out?

"Michael" is scheduled to open in theaters worldwide on April 18, 2025.

The film "presents his triumphs and tragedies on an epic, cinematic scale — from his human side and personal struggles to his undeniable creative genius, captured by his most iconic performances," according to Lionsgate.

Latest on "Michael": Jaafar Jackson shows off iconic Michael Jackson dance move as he prepares to film


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