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June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson Dead At Age 50 - RIP Michael

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Thriller

Singer Michael Jackson died at the age of 50 this afternoon at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.  He was rushed there this afternoon in full cardiac arrest.  On a day when  actress Farrah Fawcett also died,it was nearly unbelievable when news reports and tweets on Twitter first proclaimed late this afternoon that the superstar might be dead.

Jermaine Jackson at around 9PM EST tearfully read the following statement outside the UCLA Medical Center:

My brother, the legendary King of Pop Michael Jackson passed away on Thursday, June 25th, 2009 at 2:26 PM.  It is believed he suffered cardiac arrest in his home.  However the cause of his death is unknown until results of the autopsy are known.  His personal physician who was with him at the time attempted to resuscitate my brother.  And, uh, as did the paramedics who transported him to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. 

Upon arriving at the hospital at approximately 1:14 PM a team of doctors including emergency physicians and cardiologists attempted to resuscitate him for a period of more than one hour.  And they were unsuccessful.

Our family requests that the media please respect our privacy during this tough time.  And, uh may Allah be with you Michael always.  Love you.

Michael Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana on August 29, 1958 to Joe and Katherine Jackson.  By the time he was six years old, he was singing with his five brothers and on the brink of discovery by Motown Record executives.  There's an old black and white audition video of a very young Michael imitating James Brown, fancy dance moves and all. (I'm working on getting a link for that, bear with me.)

Courtesy of Verite Parlant of the blog Whose Shoes Are These Anyway, you can see that video at the end of this post.

When Michael was ten, Motown signed the Jackson 5 and the group became an instant hit.  Songs like "ABC," "Stop The Love You Save," and "I'll Be There" were records every kid on my block was dancing to, though my grandmother insisted there was no dancing on the street, only in the house.

Around the same time, the Osmond Brothers were also hitting it big and as a black child growing up in Brooklyn, there was the black/white, Jackson/Osmond rivalry.  Michael Jackson was cuter, no Donny Osmond was cuter!

There were TV appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Sonny and Cher Show."  There were Saturday morning Jackson 5 cartoon shows:


As he got older, Michael Jackson broke out on his own with his 1979 Quincy Jones produced solo album, "Off The Wall."  It created a huge sensation for an audience that was growing up with him and for the next generation as well.

But no one could foresee the phenomena that would be "Thriller."

The album, which has sold 45 million copies worldwide, pushed Jackson's career into the stratosphere with songs like, "Beat It"  "Billie Jean" and "Thriller."  That was in 1982 and when in 1983, Michael debuted "Billie Jean" and the infamous moonwalk dance step on the 25th anniversary Motown TV special, it pushed his career and his fame to a level that was beyond superstardom.

In 1984 the Jacksons, including Michael did the Victory Tour which according to Wikipedia grossed 75 million dollars, at that time the most ever for any concert tour.

My cousins and I went to one of the concerts at Giants Stadium.  We were way up in the rafters but still thrilled to see Michael, Tito, Marlon, Jermaine and Jackie, so close.  One of my favorite songs from the tour and my favorite Jacksons video is "Can You Feel It?"

Jackson's cutting edge videos also forced the burgeoning MTV to play the videos of black people.  they'd been resisting because supposedly they were only going to play rock videos, but to the rest of us "rock" meant "only white."

Along comes the album "Thriller" with it's seven top ten single records and MTV could no longer ignore the first class videos Michael Jackson was producing to go along with them:  "Beat It," and "Thriller" being by far the most popular.

Jackson followed up "Thriller" with "Bad."  Though not as big as "Thriller" it was still a worldwide sensation and even more videos came to go with the songs.  One that showcases Jackson's dancing skills to perfection is "Smooth Criminal."

But all that talent and fame came at a very high cost.  Jackson eventually built the Neverland Ranch as his own sanctuary from the world.  He thought of himself as a modern day Peter Pan and decked out Neverland with an amusement park and a zoo.

In 1994 he married Lisa Marie Presley, someone who understood fame as the daughter of Elvis Presley, but that marriage lasted less than three years.    He then married Debbie Rowe who eventually became the mother of two of his three children, Michael and Paris. That lasted less than three years as well.  His third child Prince was born with the help of a surrogate mother.

It was during this time that all the Michael Jackson craziness seemed to develop.  As his fame got larger, his nose got thinner, his skin got lighter (Jackson said from the disease vitiligo, but many questioned that) and his popularity waned.   The rise of other types of music, like hip hop, seemed to signal the era of Michael Jackson was over.

Even that might have been okay except in 1993 a thirteen year old boy accused Jackson of sexual molestation while the child was on a visit to Neverland ranch.  Jackson denied the accusations and the case settled out of court.

Then in 2003 Jackson was arrested on charges of molesting a young cancer patient who came to visit his ranch.  The case dragged on for two years until Jackson was acquitted in 2005.

But after the molestation charges Jackson's reputation and career were irreparably damaged. He spent time in the country of Dubai and as the years passed his financial woes almost forced a foreclosure of Neverland and a sale of his possessions. Eventually, Jackson prevented the foreclosure and transferred the title of Neverland to new owners.

After years of financial woes Jackson was preparing a comeback concert tour in London.  The tickets for the 50 concerts sold in record time.   Just today Rolling Stone posted an article about the tour and how the four opening dates were postponed:

While Jackson has been rumored to be frequently absent from his Los Angeles rehearsals with choreographer and musical director Kenny Ortega, the technical complexity of the shows, as well as Jackson's perfectionism has been cited for the delayed starting dates. 

Now those concerts are no more. 

I tell you, I feel like a big part of my childhood has been shut away forever with Michael Jackson's death. 

And before I tell you why, let me first say that I believe that he was innocent of those molestation charges.  I believe he was stupid and naive to still have boys sleeping at his house after he was charged the first time, but deep down in my gut, I don't think he did it.  I couldn't say what I'm about to if I did.

Though I was often frustrated by his strange quirks, I loved Michael Jackson.  I think he was one of the most talented performers ever born.   It may not look like it now because over the years we've seen so many pale copies of the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson-like moves, but Michael Jackson was the original.  Like Madonna, I actually think his true talent was not so much his singing, but his dancing and his choreography.

I also think he became something that fame created and which any human being would have a tough time handling.   I think about Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and Diana.  The level of fame they faced was beyond anything that could ever be imagined. 

And those with fragile natures are hard pressed to handle something so crushing.  I think Michael was one of those people.  It makes me very sad.

When I heard the news I actually cried out I was so upset.  I mourn for the cute little kid with the big, big talent.  I mourn for the adult that he couldn't become.  And I mourn for that piece of my childhood that was sweet and safe and fun.

RIP Michael.

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