Marlon Jackson, left, speaks as Janet Jackson listens (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, Pool)
Everyone, including myself, was anticipating that Michael Jackson’s public memorial would be something of a star-studded circus. I’d envisioned a paparazzi-fest. I’d imagined crazed fans rushing to drape themselves over his casket. I’d had – honestly – nightmarish visions of Michael Jackson jumping out of the casket and moonwalking across the stage of the Staples Center.
There was nothing of the sort. Instead, what Michael Jackson fans all over the world were treated to was a surprisingly simple, touching, moving and inspiring tribute. We were reminded that Jackson was far more than just a figure who danced, sang and entertained the world. We were reminded, for the first time in a long time, that he was far more than just a source of speculation and ridicule. Most deeply felt was a profound sense of Michael Jackson’s humanity.
As performers including Jennifer Hudson, Stevie Wonder and John Mayer sang and played various Michael Jackson hits, one could not help but acknowledge the man’s musical greatness. However, we were reminded, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Michael was also, and more importantly, father, a son, a brother and a close friend.
Usher, whose music has been undeniably influenced by Jackson, held back tears. Brooke Shields, his ex girlfriend, faltered on many occasions while talking about the fun times she shared with him throughout his life. Speaking of his penchant for a good time, she said, “Michael loved to laugh, His heart would just burst out of him when he was laughing. It was the sweetest and purest laugh I have known.”
His brother Jermaine, who describes himself as Michael’s ‘voice’ and his ‘backbone’ sang ‘Smile’, Michael’s favorite song, with a sad crack in his voice and the worn face of someone deep in mourning. Stevie Wonder sang and played piano with a passion that was touching to even the hardest of hearts, while Reverend Sharpton fervently reminded his children that there was ‘nothing strange’ about their dad. He insisted, instead, that “It was strange what your daddy had to deal with!”
Finally, Jackson’s own daughter gave her final impassioned, and heartbreaking, words describing ‘Daddy’ as “the best father you can ever imagine.” Considering the allegations of child abuse that dogged Jackson in his later years and the questions about whether or not the children could possibly be his, we were left with a feeling that regardless of whether or not Jackson is the biological father of his children, they grew up with him and he was their dad, no different from any other adopted child.
Today we were given a glimpse of Michael Jackson in death that we rarely, if ever, saw during his life. The Jackson family and those who loved him were clearly determined not to let rumor and speculation define his legacy. To their credit, they were able to set a new, more compassionate, tone and re-shape the narrative about who Jackson really was. In doing so, they let us in on a Michael Jackson that was, for the most part, unknown to the outside world.
The type of life that Michael Jackson lived is far beyond the imagination of most of us. As such, the world has been able to project whatever they wanted upon him although there are certainly aspects of it that still seem odd. But there’s no doubt that many of us smiled at Magic Johnson’s tales of Michael eating KFC, even surprised to hear about Jackson eating such normal cuisine. Many of us laughed at Brooke Shields chiding him for wearing one glove. We enjoyed Smokey Robinson’s reminiscing about the 10 year old Michael singing Robinson’s songs better than he could, and at all of the other various tributes that were dedicated to Michael Joseph Jackson, the man who was, really, more like us than we realized. If only we’d been able to see more of the Michael Jackson that we saw today in the past few years, perhaps he would have been treated with more compassion and understanding.
Yes, Michael Jackson was a controversial character. Yes, he was a little boy in a man’s body. But he was also a philanthropist, a caring friend and adoring father. Perhaps today Michael Jackson will rest in peace, knowing that, once and for all, we know the world knows those things about him.