If you are famous in America, you are what your obit says you are. Usually, it’s boiled down to some silly line you uttered in a commercial, your divorces or other legal problems. If you’re lucky, your accomplishments are great enough to make the lead paragraph.
I’m glad I’m not writing Michael Jackson’s obit.
I can’t think of a more conflicting legacy than that of Michael Jackson’s.
I flash back almost immediately to the memory of watching the Brady Bunch and Partridge Family in the late 60s and 70s like most every other white kid in this country, and then being absolutely knocked silly by the talents of Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five.
The dancing was unlike anything I ever saw, the music made you want to dance. And it didn’t matter what race you were, it was intoxicating.
I was a senior in high school when Off the Wall came out. Three years later, in 1982, came Thriller. And if you claimed not to play both until the grooves wore thin, you were lying. We crowded around the television to see the premiere of the video on a new network called MTV.
I remember watching Michael moonwalk on the Motown special in ’83 and I may as well have been watching the real moonwalk, surreal as it was.
He was in his prime, sexy, though no girlfriends in sight. Brooke Shields on his arm in one photo, Emmanuel Lewis in another. Then came the pet chimp Bubbles and the plastic surgery. He was sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber?
He was eccentric. He said he was abused as a child. He lived in an amusement park with llamas.
He was married to Lisa Marie. He wasn’t married.
The plastic surgery continued. You wanted him to dance more, but he mostly grabbed his crotch. Other artists came around, many copying his.
There was the child molestation suit, a settlement and then the documentary in which he brazenly talked about sharing his bed with children. He became a father, but didn’t seem interested in his kids having a mother. He named his two sons Prince, nicknamed one Blanket, then dangled the baby off a balcony in a clip that still makes me nervous to watch.
Was he a martyr or a criminal?
I was repulsed by him, didn’t know what to make of him, forgot about the music.
He was indeed a pop icon. And a troubled man.
The obits will say it all.