Pop icon Michael Jackson has been dead exactly one year. But the controversy that surrounded his life isn’t over.
On the eve of the first anniversary of his death, Latoya Jackson loudly declared that her brother was murdered. Why? Because he had grown too rich, powerful, and posed a threat, she said. Latoya didn’t say who or whom exactly he posed the threat too. But then she didn’t have to. The charge that Jackson was the victim of foul play has been bandied about by Jackson family members, legions of fans, and hotly discussed and debated on blogs and websites since that fateful day one year ago.
The murder conspiracy theories are just the tip of the iceberg of ongoing Jackson controversies. On the eve of the first anniversary of his death, news reports were filled with rampant speculation and guesswork about Jackson’s financial woes, squabbles between his attorneys and former attorneys over who represents who and what in divvying up Jackson’s estate, and reports of more finger-pointing by Joe Jackson about Jackson’s death. This is no surprise. Jackson made news even when he didn’t do anything during his life.
Jackson’s infamous child molestation trial in 2005 for a time was the centerpiece of much of the chatter back and forth about his lifestyle. His eventual acquittal on all charges didn’t quiet the questions. Debate still rages over whether Jackson was an innocent victim of greedy, media hungry parents, or of his own eccentricities.
Then there was Jackson’s on again, off again, quirky, ambivalent relationship with African-Americans and his seemingly confused racial identity. For many blacks, Jackson was little more than a Casper-the-ghost-looking bleached skin, nose job, eye shade, straight hair and gyrating hips. An ambiguously black man who had made a ton of money and had been lauded, fawned over, and adored by whites. This was more than reason for some blacks to view him with a jaundiced eye.
WATCH ‘TODAY SHOW’ COVERAGE OF MICHAEL JACKSON:
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Jackson, for the most part, stayed above the fray. He always seemed to want much more, to be thought of as much more than an entertainer, a musician, and certainly not a polarizing figure. Jackson was much more. A year later, it’s worth remembering who exactly that person was. The first inkling that Jackson was more than just a pampered, oddball recluse came after the burn accident he suffered while filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984. Jackson quietly forked over the $1.5 million settlement he received from Pepsi to the burn center at Brothman Hospital in Southern California. He drew accolades in 1985 when he and Lionel Ritchie wrote “We Are the World” and performed the song as part of an all-star cast of singers and celebrities that raised millions for African charities.
Few knew then, and many still don’t, about Jackson’s charitable giving and the host of the peace and social justice related activities he was involved with. The list numbered more than fifty known charities and organizations that he gave to during the 1990s, both individually and through his expansively named Heal the World Foundation. The foundation was mired in a messy organizational and tax wrangle that briefly made headlines in 2002. Yet, there was virtually no press mention when Jackson jump-started the Foundation again in 2008 with a fresh wad of cash.
In the months and years after his 2005 child molestation trial debate raged over whether he was washed up, physically and mentally healthy, damaged goods, a financially strapped one time pop star who desperately wanted to snatch back a glimmer of his past glory or all of the above. Some just wondered whether he still had some of the trademark Jackson flare and talent left. Even that debate, though, seemed to pass Jackson by since he knew that his every word and act was still instant news, and that there were still hordes of fans who would heap dreamy eyed adulation on him.
The quest to secure a legacy as more than just the King of Pop says a lot about Jackson’s desire that the large, but often unseen and much neglected part of his life, his charitable work be known and remembered. That he be remembered as more than just a black man who made his living grabbing his crotch before millions. Or a man who’s later-life notoriety centered around his delight in surrounding himself with packs of children.
A year later, Jackson’s reported financial troubles, the murder-conspiracy allegations, the looming manslaughter trial Dr. Conrad Murray, and the occasional faint whispers about his alleged questionable child relations, still badly cloud the Jackson legacy.
There’s still the other Michael Jackson, though: The Jackson who unselfishly gave his money, time and name for humanitarian causes. A year after his death, this is undoubtedly the Jackson that he wanted the world to know and remember. It’s this Michael Jackson that we should remember too.