I remember when Michael Jackson first came onto the scene. He was a little boy, just a little bit bigger than me. He was the star of the Jackson Five, this incredible singing group of black brothers who could sing and perform like nobody’s business. I will never forget the beginning of their career because one of their earliest singles, ABC, became the first 45 (yep, what singles used to be released on back in the day) that I danced with a boy to.
I was scared out of my mind that day too many years ago to count. The sound of the music was different. The beat was nothing like the jazz my father used to play for my sisters and me. It was fresh. It was “hip”. It was news. And I was a little girl, around 8, as I recall. And I was at a birthday party for a boy who had a crush on me.
Amazingly, I got to tell Michael Jackson this story, my groupie story about his life, when I had the privilege of producing the photo shoot for his historic and final national magazine cover shoot for Ebony magazine back in 2007. Ever the gracious one, MJ served up a demure smile and accepted my story as, no doubt, he had accepted thousands of other memories over the years.
People loved. No, let me correct myself. People love Michael Jackson. The proof is in the sales. One year after his death and the uber-entertainer has earned $1 billion. And in a recession, no less.
Sadly, it would have meant so much to him to know that his fans, the people he cared about more than anything, actually still care about him even after his death.
After all, MJ definitely fell out of favor after the allegations followed by the oddest and nastiest unsuccessful trial that accused the self-proclaimed “greatest entertainer of all time,” of child molestation. There are plenty of behavioral defects for which the American public will forgive one. However, even the possibility of inappropriately sidling up to a child throws one off the bus, usually for good.
That didn’t happen with MJ, at least not all the way around. Perhaps this is true because Michael Jackson was and will remain one of the most mesmerizing entertainers the world has ever known. He had an uncanny knack starting back when he was a little boy to woo grown women and budding young girls into believing that he understood the nuances of romantic love better than anybody else. He had a stage presence that rivaled virtually every other who preceded him—or who succeeded him, for that matter.
Michael was precise in his execution. One wonders if that precision came as a result of his daddy, the taskmaster who prepared his children so intensely and effectively that they were able to lift the family out of near poverty and into international renown and wealth.
Whatever the case, we know that Michael Jackson was the catalyst for seismic change on the entertainment landscape of the 20th century. He redefined dance moves, thanks to his iconic moonwalk that he debuted at the Motown 25 televised celebration. He transformed the concept of the music video with “Billie Jean” and “Thriller,” both turning the industry on its heels and oddly breaking through the white walls of MTV programming in the process.
Michael Jackson was a trailblazer. And he was about to blaze a new one with a mega-tour guaranteed to keep tongues wagging and tickets selling when he succumbed to an overdose of a drug that should have never been in his system in the first place.
When he was about to make the effort to redeem himself, he went and died. Damn. Just two years earlier he had climbed out of seclusion—after a lot of coaxing—to do what would become his final photo shoot and interview for Ebony magazine. And, as creative director at the time, I was responsible for pulling the shoot off without a hitch.
After beaucoup bucks later and all kinds of dancing with his “people” we spent two glorious days with the King of Pop. And by all accounts then, he seemed on the upswing. He was happy. It was the 25th anniversary of Thriller and he legitimately had a lot to celebrate. At that point Thriller had sold a cool 104 million records worldwide. It seemed okay to come back into the light and to welcome a little shine.
The good news for me is that MJ chose to trust Ebony magazine as a safe haven to step back into the light. Made sense. After all, before any other pubs paid attention to Michael or his family, Ebony and Jet had featured their every move. He knew there was love there and he stuck his toe into the public eye once more. (He could be certain that this would be no nightmarish Nightline part two.)
Having worked with countless celebrities over the years I was struck by the generosity inherent in Michael Jackson. He was kind. What I remember most about his behavior is that he seemed to exude love, pure love. He brought his son Blanket along to the fitting the day before the shoot and that’s when we got to see firsthand that MJ was a conscientious and quietly attentive father. As I said then, he seemed like a good father. Like a regular good guy. Not the way he looked but, more important, by the way he behaved.
Who knew that he had so many private demons? I guess plenty of us suspected there was something going on deep inside. Why else would he have destroyed his beautiful face with a seeming addiction to plastic surgery? Who could have known that he was for sure addicted to painkillers (possibly triggered by his scalp-burning accident on a Pepsi commercial set back in the 80s) other than those closest to him, if them? Addicts are expert at covering up their dependency. Who knew that this seeming ball of love and light suffered equally powerful darkness that ultimately stole him away from this world?
What we do know is that Michael Jackson is gone. And he leaves three young children, two parents, a bevy of siblings and family, and a world of fans who are still scratching their heads.
So what about now, one year after Michael’s death? Is his image any brighter than it was before his death? What does his legacy mean today?
While there remain naysayers who cannot forget or forgive the idea that Michael Jackson may have molested little boys or at the very least had inappropriate relationships with them, it appears that there are more people who are serving up the same kind of love that MJ tried to give the world.
In one year his music via iTunes downloads, traditional album sales and movie ticket sales for This is It, the documentary of the making of his planned final tour, has made a staggering $1 billion. People obviously still are intrigued by Michael Jackson. Thanks to the memorial where we got to hear his daughter Paris speak of her love for her father, at least a glimmer of his humanity was restored. Indeed as I watched that memorial what I thought most is that it served as a baptism of sorts, as a bath in the purity that was Michael, that somehow neutralized and potentially eradicated for some the questions of his past.
His family is trying to find their footing without the catalyst for creativity that Michael surely was. His mom remains silent. His dad remains, well, Joe, outspoken, odd, weary yet strong. His brothers tried their hand at reality TV. And it was interesting to see Jermaine, Tito, Jackie and Marlon sometimes effectively and other times awkwardly show off their rusty wares—themselves and their pipes—to an audience thirsty for anything close to Michael himself. Imagine what it must be like to be Michael Jackson’s brothers? There’s only one Michael. No matter how talented these guys are, MJ had the shine. Heck, even his sisters—Janet included—pale in popularity compared to their brother even in death.
Never mind the fact that these people are still grieving the loss of their flesh and blood. Michael Jackson is dead. As Rev. Al said at his memorial, (and I paraphrase) to some he may have been an icon but to the family he was just that, their family. A year after an untimely loss of a loved one still stings for just about anybody. The Jackson family wound is not fully healed. Not nearly so.
In the midst of personal family pain and even personal fan pain worldwide, isn’t it ironic that people have awakened once again to their love and respect for MJ the artist?
As Marlon put voice to at Michael’s funeral, (again a paraphrase) too bad Michael didn’t get to taste the nectar of love that the world seems to be offering him right now.
I feel certain he would have been grateful. But as he told us at the 2007 photo shoot, he learned early on only to trust children. Not for any untoward reasons, but because he learned that singularly children tell the truth. Adults tend to go with the flow, or more accurately, with the crowd mentality.
If there’s a more profound gift that this creative genius may have to offer the world than his artistry which will never die, it may be the exposure his death brought to the world of concierge medicine. Yes, Michael was wrong to shop doctors in order to get the drugs his body had learned to crave, but worse, his world was and is filled with doctors at the ready to fill those scrips. Imagine if Michael Jackson ultimately ends up being the catalyst for reform in the medical industry? Who would’ve thunk that.