Friday, July 03, 2009

Rest In Peace, Michael

cover story

The king is dead. Long live the king!

"Music has been my outlet, my gift to all of the lovers in this world. Through it, my music, I know I will live forever." - Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009)

The speculation started with a web alert that said he had gone into cardiac arrest. Within an hour, it was all over the news. And then the worst was eventually confirmed by the (uncharacteristically cautious) major media outlets around the world: The King of Pop was dead. Michael Jackson was gone.

The Musician

'Everyone's taking control of me / Seems that the world's got a role for me'

If there was even a whiff of English music around you as a child, Michael Jackson must've been one of the first musicians you would have heard of. And for anyone who had even a cursory interest in music at any time during the last four decades, Michael's songs must've been hard to miss.

When the world first met him as the front-kid of The Jackson 5, there was little doubt that they were looking at one of the most talented child stars ever. For more than a decade, the singer released a host of successful albums both with his band and as a solo artist. Then in 1982, he released Thriller. The album went on to sell more than 109 million copies, becoming the best-selling album of all time, and redefining the music industry in the process.

With his distinctive voice and style, Michael was an unstoppable force at the peak of his career, selling millions of copies of each of his albums and dominating charts around the world. His success continued with Bad (1987), and then into the '90s with the release of Dangerous in 1991, but then his personal turmoil began to overshadow his work. He released two more studio albums – HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 (1995) and Invincible (2001) – but despite their success, the albums did not perform as well as expected. At the time of his death, Michael was only days away from embarking on a sold-out "final curtain call" tour. When the 50-concert This Is It tour had been announced earlier this year, many had expressed their doubts and thought it was never going to happen. No one had any idea, however, that the reason for its cancellation would be so heartbreaking, and would mark the end of not only the career but also the life of the world's most successful recording artist.

The Person

'I'm tired of bein' the victim of shame / They're throwin' me in a class with a bad name / I can't believe this is the land from which I came'

Before he was the most popular musician in the world, Michael Jackson was a "sad and lonely" child. He claimed that during his childhood, he was "physically and emotionally" abused by his father, and constantly drilled to perfect his performance. As he grew up, it was his peculiarities that became tabloid fodder. Surgeries, change of skin colour, the facemasks, the Neverland ranch. And then the charges, the trials, and the eventual acquittals. At times his life was so bizarre that we almost forgot what an amazing performer he was.

He married twice – first to Elvis Presley's daughter Lisa Marie Presley in 1994 (ended in divorce less than two years later), and then to dermatologist nurse Deborah Jeanne Rowe in 1996 (divorced in 1999) with whom he has two children: son Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., and daughter Paris Michael Katherine Jackson. His third child, Prince "Blanket" Michael Jackson II was born in 2002, but the identity of the mother has never been revealed. As those close to him have often noted, his children were everything to him.

Over his life, Michael raised and donated millions of dollars for various causes and supported a number of charities. In his later years, he became increasingly reclusive and reluctant to appear in public. And his legal troubles coupled with his lavish lifestyle were also taking a financial toll. At one stage, Michael was one of the wealthiest entertainers in the world, with a fortune of over $750 million. Yet, according to some estimates, he died nearly half a billion dollars in debt.

While some judged him because he was unusual, many still think that he was just someone who never had a childhood, and, as a result, rebelled against being an adult. But despite the fact that he suffered as a result of spending his entire life in the spotlight, he had no regrets with respect to his career: "I've been in the entertainment industry since I was six old," he told AP in 2007. "As Charles Dickens says, 'It's been the best of times, the worst of times.' But I would not change my career." After his death, Lisa Marie revealed that the singer had once told her he was afraid he would end up like her father. "The world is in shock," she wrote on her blog, "but somehow he knew exactly how his fate would be played out some day more than anyone else knew, and he was right."

The Icon

'Well they say the sky's the limit / And to me that's really true / But my friend you have seen nothin' / Just wait 'til I get through'

For nearly four decades, Michael Jackson had an unprecedented impact on the music industry. He was the first international superstar – his music transcended both race and borders. Classics like Thriller, Beat It, Bad, and Black or White set the tone for pop music. He became one of the best selling artists of all time as his music magnetised tens of millions of fans around the world. He inspired countless musicians, and transformed the industry through his music, style, performances, and showmanship. And the moonwalk…who can ever forget the moonwalk!

And then, of course, there were his music videos. Michael revolutionised the concept of music videos, merging dance routines with special effects, and turning videos into an art form. Many grew up dancing to his music, trying to mimic the dance moves of Thriller and Beat It; more than 25 years after its release, Thriller remains the most successful (and most awesome) music video to-date. His videos propelled him into becoming "the first African-American entertainer to amass a strong crossover following on MTV", and he became well known for his brilliant high-budgeted "short films". Thriller was the most expensive video of its time, as were Bad and Scream – the latter, a duet with sister Janet, still holds the record for the most expensive video ever made. From the energy he put into his performances to the effort he put into his music and videos, Michael was in a class of his own. Safe to say that there never was and will never be an entertainer quite like him.

The Legacy

'Every day create your history / Every path you take you're leaving your legacy'

As the world came to grips with the reality of his demise, the very magnitude of Michael's fame started becoming apparent. As fans heard about his death, texting soared all over the world, seeing a record spike in some regions, people all over the world tried to search online for news on the pop legend and even Google News struggled to cope with the massive web-traffic; a number of sites even became unavailable at times. Sales of his albums immediately skyrocketed – the top ten charts almost looked like the MJ discography – and the video of his songs on YouTube saw millions of hits within a day. AOL called it a "seminal moment in Internet history"; "we've never seen anything like it in terms of scope or depth," they added. If any evidence was needed of his "most popular artist in the world" status, then the reaction to his death must've been proof enough.

Whatever the controversies around him, no one can deny that Michael Jackson had an influence across the music spectrum all over the world. From those who witnessed little Michael performing ABC with the Jackson 5, to the starry-eyed kids who discovered pop music by way of Dangerous, Michael provided the soundtrack to many childhoods and saw his music become interwoven with the lives of his fans. Any mention of MJ invariably brings back memories of the era when he reigned supreme; yet his music is in no way dated, and remains as popular today as it was when it was released. And now that he's gone, one can only hope that he will be remembered as a gifted artist, and that his awesome music, not his peculiarities, will become his legacy. We will miss his talent. And we hope that he can now find the peace that eluded him in life.

Michael Joseph Jackson
  • Born on August 29, 1958.
  • Son of Joseph Walter Jackson and Katherine Esther.
  • The seventh of nine children. His siblings are Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Randy and Janet.
  • Joined his brothers Jackie, Tito and Jermaine's band, the Jackson Brothers, in 1964, along with Marlon.
  • At the age of eight, he became the lead vocalist of The Jackson 5.
  • The band's first four singles – I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save, and I'll Be There – topped the charts in the US; other hits included Dancing Machine and I Am Love.
  • Released10 solo albums: Got to Be There (1972), Ben (1972), Music and Me (1973), Forever, Michael (1975), Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), HIStory (1995), Invincible (2001). His albums have sold over 750 million units worldwide.
  • The Bad World Tour (1987–1989), Dangerous World Tour (1992-1993), and HIStory World Tour (1996-1997) were each the highest grossing tours ever at the time; the HIStory tour is still the biggest tour ever in terms of international attendance.
  • His music and videos set numerous records. To name a few: Thriller remains the best selling album of all time; the video of Black or White, released in 1991, was aired simultaneously in 27 countries with an estimated audience of 500 million, the largest audience ever to view a music video; the video of Scream, his duet with sister Janet released in 1995, holds the record for the most expensive music video and reportedly cost over seven million U.S. dollars.
  • Won around 200 awards – more than any other artist in the history of music – including 19 Grammy Awards, 22 American Music Awards, and 12 World Music Awards. Was named the Artist Of The Century at the 2002 American Music Awards.
  • Purchased the rights to a music catalogue holding thousands of songs, including most of the songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney between 1963-1973, for $47.5 million.
  • Was diagnosed with vitiligo and lupus in the mid 1980s.
  • Was accused of child sexual abuse in 1993 and 2003; the first case was settled out of court, the second resulted in an acquittal on all counts; as a result of the allegations, his health declined, and he suffered from stress-related illnesses and drug dependency.
  • Was married twice: to Lisa Marie Presley from 1994 to 1996, and to Debbie Rowe from 1996 to 1999.
  • Leaves behind three children: 12-year-old Michael Joseph Jackson, 11-year-old Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, and seven-year-old Prince Michael Jackson II.
  • Was close friends with other former child stars, including Elizabeth Taylor and Macaulay Culkin.
  • Mentioned in the 2000 Guinness World Records for his support of 39 charities, more than any other entertainer or personality.
  • Passed away on the 25th of June 2009. Was taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles after a 911 call from his home after he suffered from cardiac arrest; was pronounced dead at around 2.26 p.m. local time.

– By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 3rd July, 2009

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