Gone But Not Forgotten: Michael Jackson
August 29, 1958 - June 25, 2009
"The King of Pop" was unquestionably the biggest pop star of the '80s, and certainly one of the most popular recording artists of all time. In his prime, Michael Jackson was an unstoppable juggernaut, possessed of all the tools to dominate the charts: a distinctive voice, eye-popping dance moves, stunning musical versatility, and loads of sheer star power.
Michael Jackson was born in 1958 in Gary, Indiana - the eighth out of 6 brothers and 3 sisters. Father Joe was a former boxer and a steelworker who played guitar and mother Katherine was a clarinet and piano player who worked at Sears to help pay the bills. Both Jackson parents were tough disciplinarians on the children, possibly a little too tough, especially by today's standards.
Michael joined his brothers' band in 1964 along with Marlon, to form the Jackson 5. Michael's talents in singing and dancing brought a lot of attention to the band, and they started winning talent contests, touring on the "chitlin circuit" and performing as the opening act for soul groups like the O-Jays and James Brown. The group won a weekly amateur night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1967 and started recording songs for Steeltown Records. After opening for Gladys Knight, she brought the group to Berry Gordy's attention, and The Jackson 5 signed to Motown in 1969. When joining Motown, the Jackson 5 moved to Los Angeles and people starting noticing the group. Their first four Motown singles all reached at #1 on the Billboard charts, "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save," and I'll Be There."
As Michael Jackson turned from a child star to a teen idol, he started releasing solo material like Got to Be There, Ben, Music & Me and Forever, Michael. Michael continued performing and recording with The Jackson 5, and they stayed with Motown through 1975. After some financial and creative disputes, the group signed with Epic Records, part of CBS. At that time, Motown got the rights to the name Jackson 5 and they renamed themselves The Jacksons. The Jacksons released six more albums through 1984. Michael became the main songwriter of the group and wrote "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" as well as other hits.
In 1978, Michael Jackson took it to the screen where he played the Scarecrow in The Wiz alongside Diana Ross, Nipsey Russell and Ted Ross. While working on The Wiz, Michael met Quincy Jones and they worked together on Jackson's album, Off the Wall - which would prove to be a big success, selling over 20 million copies and hitting #3 on the Billboard charts. Off the Wall solidified Michael Jackson's solo performer status and featured songs by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. Jackson won his first solo Grammy - Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male for "Don't Stop til You Get Enough." Jackson also took home five AMAs as a result of Off the Wall. As a result of the strong performance of Off the Wall, Jackson was able to negotiate the highest royalty rate in the music industry at the time - 37% of wholesale profit.
After Off the Wall, Jackson collaborated with Freddie Mercury for two years, resulting in such songs as "State of Shock" which was shelved until its release in 1984 with Mick Jagger.
In 1982, Michael Jackson released his award winning and best-selling album (of all time worldwide, as well as at the time) Thriller. Thriller sat at the #1 spot of the Billboard Hot 200 for 37 and in the top 10 for 80 weeks straight. It also set a new record for having 7 songs in the top 10 at one time, including "Beat It," "Billie Jean," and "Wanna Be Startin' Something." It earned multiple Grammys such as Producer of the Year, Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance - Male and many American Music Awards as well. The title track, "Thriller" was released as a groundbreaking 14-minute long music video that set the bar going forward and is still a classic today. Jackson's live performances, especially of the moonwalk in Billie Jean with one white glove made an indelible impression on American youth and pop culture - people all over the country and world were copying the look and moves.
Jackson and the Jackson brothers signed a promo deal with Pepsi in 1983, and while shooting a commercial at a simulated concert, Michael's hair got caught on fire from a pyrotechnic display gone wrong. Michael suffered second degree burns and donated his court settlement to the Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, CA. In 1984, Michael joined his brothers for the Victory Tour with The Jacksons headlining and performed a lot of the Thriller material.
In 1985, Jackson teamed up with Lionel Richie to write "We Are the World" to donate the profits for famine relief in US and Africa. "We Are the World" sold over 20 million copies and won four Grammys. In the late 1980s people started noticing Michael Jackson getting slimmer and paler, as well as more isolated. Stories about his life ran wild in the tabloids. When Jackson bought his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles, that may not have helped the gossip mill.
Through working with Paul McCartney, Jackson learned that McCartney made money from owning publishing rights to songs by other songwriters. Michael Jackson wanted to get into that game too, and started collecting publishing rights to songs. In 1985, Jackson purchased the rights to about 4,000 songs including many Lennon-McCartney songs recorded by the Beatles.
Michael continued to create new music, and released Bad in 1987. Bad had five #1 hits, including "Bad," "Man in the Mirror," "Dirty Diana" and "The Way You Make Me Feel." Bad won more Grammys and an Award of Achievement at the American Music Awards. The Bad tour followed and sold out most of the shows. It's estimated that he performed to a combined audience of 4.4 million people during the tour. Bad was the highest grossing tour of all time to date!
Jackson wrote his autobiography, Moonwalk, in 1988, which sold 200,000 copies. A movie, Moonwalker, accompanied its release. After the success of Bad, Michael purchased the land which would become Neverland Ranch, later equipped with zoo, carousel and Ferris wheel. Jackson also donated a lot of his earnings directly to charity, including profits from "Man in the Mirror."
Michael released Dangerous in 1991, which Teddy Riley helped produce. "Black or White" and "Remember the Time" led the album to 7x platinum sales. "Heal the World" followed and Jackson started the Heal the World Foundation in 1992, and sent money to children in war and poverty-stricken areas of the world. It also brought disadvantaged children to Neverland Ranch to enjoy the theme park rides. Michael Jackson also traveled to Africa to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and spoke to former President Bill Clinton asking to give more money for AIDS research.
Michael Jackson's 1993 Superbowl performance was the first time when the halftime performer had higher ratings than the actual game itself. 1993 was also the first official allegation of child sexual abuse against Jackson. An investigation and court trial led to no official indictment but Jackson settled with the family out of court. Later documents released by the LAPD and Dept. of Family Services found no evidence of abuse or sexual misconduct. During the investigation, Jackson was involved with Lisa Marie Presley, and married her in May 1994. Their marriage and relationship lasted a few years until they amicably divorced. In 1996, Jackson married Deborah Jeanne Rowe, and she gave birth to their first son, Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr. aka Prince Jackson, in February 1997. Paris Jackson was born a year later. Jackson and Rowe also divorced - in 1999. Jackson also had another child Prince Michael "Blanket" Jackson II.
Michael Jackson was arrested in 2003 for lewd conduct with a minor and other molestation incidents. A trial followed in 2005, as well as a media circus surrounding it. The jury found Jackson not guilty but his finances were in trouble and his reputation even worse. In 2006, Neverland Ranch closed and Jackson was reportedly having trouble making payments on loans. His loan defaulted in 2008 and many of his items were auctioned. It was around this time Jackson made plans for a comeback tour to help raise funds turn things around. His tour was set to begin on July 8, 2009 in London and tickets to the "This Is It" tour sold out quickly - over a million tickets sold out in under two hours. Sadly, we never got to see that comeback. Just a couple weeks before the tour was scheduled to begin, Jackson died of cardiac arrest as a result of an accidental overdose. Jackson's doctor, Dr. Conrad Murray, was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Over the course of his career, Michael Jackson has been honored with a BET Hall of Fame Award, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as both a solo artist and The Jackson Five), a Soul Train Career Achievement Award, Artist of the Century, the National Museum of Dance Hall of Fame, and a World Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. He is one of only three artists to sell over 100 million records as both a solo artist and as part of a band. Jackson has had 13 #1 singles and 10 platinum singles during his career, second only to Elvis Presley. He released 10 solo studio albums and 2 posthumous albums as well as dozens of singles. So far no one else has come close to earning the title, The King of Pop.