Larger than Life in Death
Every so often there’s a superstar in our midst who’s so deeply paradoxical and polarizing that they generate nearly equal parts of admiration and disgust.
Such was the case with Michael Jackson, the self-proclaimed King of Pop who died unexpectedly at the age of 50.
He was larger than life – a pop-culture icon and brilliant entertainer on par with Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and countless others who never had a chance to grow old in the public eye. His body of work speaks for itself. There’s no question he was a genius in music and dance. Sadly, he only felt comfortable on the stage performing in front of thousands of crazed fans or in the company of children, which is where his life took a disturbing and bizarre turn down a dark tunnel from which he never escaped.
There were stories of abuse he allegedly suffered as a child under an iron-fisted rule by his father, Joe, followed by a series of cosmetic surgeries that transformed a once dashing African-American boy into a disfigured man-child with Caucasian features whose child-molestation accusations, short-lived marriages, financial ruin and legal problems left him frail and reclusive. This
dark side made Michael the object of both public curiosity and ridicule.
I was transfixed by the Jackson Five’s songs as a youth and felt a kinship to Michael because we were nearly the same age. It was shocking to see such a little boy with a big voice singing and performing with passion and maturity that were well beyond his years. His music played a prominent part on the soundtrack of my life. “I’ll be There” is one of my all-time favorite songs – one I love so much that I went out and bought a spectacular cover of that tune by Mariah Carey from her MTV Unplugged performance, even though I wasn’t much into her music at the time.
But I’ll never forget when he moonwalked his way into our hearts on March 25, 1983 during a rendition of “Billie Jean” for a TV special celebrating Motown’s first 25 years, which some have said unofficially marked his transition from child star to an adult sensation. His performance was jaw-dropping. I never saw anything like it and thought he was gliding across the stage with the help of a hidden prop – not the power of his feet.
Just five days before his death, “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” immediately lured me onto the dance floor at a friend’s birthday party. I thought to myself afterward, ‘wow… what an amazing piece of music. In spite of all his troubles, this guy really knew how to write, sing and perform some unbelievable songs.’
Say what you will about Michael Jackson now that he’s gone. He was never convicted of child molestation, though he settled out of court the first time such charges became public and was acquitted following a legal circus on a second try to put him behind bars. The circumstantial evidence was damning, and for all I know, he could very well have been the monster that was portrayed by the prosecution in his trial. But at the end of the day, I wasn’t 100% sure what happened. It seemed there was enough reasonable doubt between his impassioned plea of innocence and childlike qualities that made many of us wonder whether he was simply guilty of naivete, poor judgment, asexuality or all of the above,
Love him or despise him, apparently, there’s no shortage of others who were as deeply moved by Michael Jackson’s talent as me.
What happened online around the time rumors were rampant across the Internet appears to have been unprecedented. Soon after TMZ broke the scoop, several “outages” were reported on the gossip Web site – a pattern that also occurred with Perez Hilton’s blog, Twitter and the Los Angeles Times, which was the first mainstream media outlet to confirm his death.
And there’s much more to report. Nearly 500 edits were made to Jackson’s Wikipedia profile in less than 24 hours, while CNN reported a fivefold rise in traffic involving an astounding 20 million page views within an hour of the news pulsing across cyberspace. AOL’s instant messenger service, which was down for about 40 minutes, issued a provocative statement which read: “Today was a seminal moment in Internet history. We’ve never seen anything like it in terms of scope or depth.”
The King of Pop was planning a comeback and rehearsed the night before his death for 50 London concerts that were to kick off July 13. It’s a shame we’ll never get to see and hear what he had up his infamous white-gloved sleeve, but at least we’re left with a lasting legacy of pure musical genius that will continue to brighten our lives.