A star since the age of 12 when The Jackson Five registered four Number 1 hits in 1970, Michael Jackson parlayed his remarkable singing and dancing talents into megastardom, the likes of which few entertainers have ever known, and yet at the very height of his fame, allegations of child molestation severely damaged his career, sending the 'eccentric' performer into an even more reclusive posture than usual. The son of an abusive father who drove him and his brothers mercilessly to their success, he missed out on a normal childhood, forced not only to convey the composure of an adult in his little boy's body as the front man for the popular group but also to branch out simultaneously as a solo artist. Jackson was more than equal to the task as his stunning accomplishments attest, but what price did he pay for a lifetime in the spotlight? It is not so farfetched that his penchant for surrounding himself with children is an attempt to vicariously experience the joys of a childhood sacrificed at the altar of the recording industry
One of nine siblings, Jackson joined his four older brothers in the act his father was presenting at various clubs in the Chicago area. When they first auditioned for Berry Gordy's Motown label, he had not reached his tenth birthday, but he was already a seasoned professional, displaying some dazzling footwork on James Brown's 'I Got the Feeling' that would have made the Godfather of Soul proud. With Gordy's backing, The Jackson Five exploded into the national consciousness with 'I Want You Back', 'ABC', 'The Love You Save' and I'll Be There' all occupying the top spot on the chart before 1970 had run its course. Two years later, Michael enjoyed his first solo Number 1 hit with 'Ben', from his second album. Chafing at the artistic restraints applied by Gordy, the brothers left Motown for Epic, changed their name and brought out 'The Jacksons' (1976), containing Michael's first published song, 'Blues Away'. He made his feature debut in 'The Wiz' (1978) at age 20, contributing some brilliant dance work in his role as the Scarecrow.'
During the filming of 'The Wiz', Jackson renewed an old acquaintance with producer Quincy Jones, and their subsequent collaborations would earn him the title he still claims to this day, 'King of Pop'. They warmed up with 'Off the Wall' (1979) but really scored with their second effort, 'Thriller' (1982), featuring three No. 1 hits ('The Girl Is Mine', 'Billie Jean' and 'Beat It'). Winner of seven Grammy Awards, it remains the best-selling album in the history of the recording industry and was still selling well over a million copies a year in 1995, thirteen years after its release. In association with it, Jackson starred in John Landis' 'Thriller' video, considered the best music video ever made. A teaming with Paul McCartney led to another No. 1 single, 'Say, Say, Say' (1983), before he co-wrote (with Lionel Ritchie) 'We Are the World' (1985) in an effort to raise the world's consciousness about the plight of famine-stricken nations in Africa. Produced by Jones with an all-star cast, it won the Song of the Year Grammy for 1985.
Jackson starred in the 3-D fantasy short 'Captain Eo' (1986), a popular film with children shown at Disney's Epcot Center and Disneyland theme park, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by George Lucas. His last album with Jones, 'Bad' (1987), yielded an unprecedented five Number One hits, and, as was the case with 'Thriller', every track was memorable. He released one more successful album ('Dangerous' 1991) before excessive media attention regarding his alleged misconduct turned people against him. The heavily-hyped 'HIStory' (1995) sold poorly, failing to recoup its promotional expenses, and he released 'Blood on the Dance Floor' (1997) with little fanfare. Jackson debuted his controversial 'Ghosts' video (a narcissistic defense of himself) in selected U.S. cities on Halloween 1996 but quickly withdrew it (though it surfaced again at Cannes the following May). Despite the negative scrutiny, Jackson (along with his brothers) entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
Always charismatic, Jackson transformed himself during the 80s into an almost other-worldly icon, fond of wearing one glove, sparkling socks, thimbles on his fingers and military regalia, but the line between the performer and private man became blurred. Excessive cosmetic surgery to substantially alter his looks, public appearances wearing a surgical mask and a preference for animals and children over adults in his life earned him a reputation as a freak that two marriages--including a sort-lived, hard-to-comprehend union with Elvis Presley's daughter Lisa Marie (made even more unpalatable by their unconvincing lip-lock at an MTV awards ceremony) and another to one of his doctors' less-than-glamorous receptionist--and fatherhood have failed to dispel. To fully remove the tarnish from his crown, the King of Pop needs another hit, and if his excessive wealth has not totally estranged him from reality, then this perfection-obsessed artist will surely deliver the goods again. In the meantime, the gentle children's champion has his sights set on his own Majestic Kingdom, a proposed entertainment complex in Detroit, MI, that would include the Michael Jackson Thriller Theme Park, a hotel resort designed by the singer, a casino, botanical gardens, nightclubs and restaurants.
Jackson released the album 'Invincible' in 2001, which was, for all intents and purposes, a commercial flop. It was heavily promoted by Sony and cost a hefty 30 million to produce. The album spawned one moderate hit 'Butterflies,' which was remixed with rapper Eve, In 2002, Jackson accused Sony of racism and said the label failed to adequately promote his album. Sony was shocked, saying they spared no expense in touting 'Invincible''s release. The accusations only served to further solidify Jackson's reputation as 'out of touch' with reality.
The weirdness of Jackson's self-created and possibly sordid world definitively overwhelm both his prodigious talent and respected career in 2002 and 2003. The singer made headlines around the world after dangling his infant son Prince Michael II--with a blanket obscuring the child's face--over the balcony of his Berlin hotel room, prompting criticism of his unorthodox parenting skills and resurrecting the old allegations of child abuse. Although he admitted his behavior was a mistake, Jackson swiftle escalated his erratic reputation by shocking fans with his public appearance at a civil trial in Santa Maria, CA. Jackson arrived at the courthouse on crutches and with his nose looking as if it were suffering--indeed, caving in--from an overabundance of plastic surgery. Next, an interview by British journalist Martin Bashir--who was granted unprecedented access to Jackson's private world--aired on ABC's '20/20' newsmagazine and draws 27.1 million viewers, most of whom were shocked by the portrait of the singer's bizarre lifestyle. Jackson filed a complaint with TV watchdog groups and claims interview was edited to cast him in an unfavorable light, then backed out of much-promoted '60 Minutes' interview, instead offering his own privately crafted rebuttal to Bashir's report on the two-hour Fox special 'Michael Jackson, Take Two: The Interview They Wouldn't Show You.'
The furor died down for several months, but the flames were fanned again in November 2003, just as Jackson's greatest hits package 'Number Ones' was about to hit stores, Santa Barbara police descended on Neverland Ranch to investigate claims that the musician had molested a 12-year-old boy there. Amid a media furor, Jackson, who was filming a music video in Las Vegas, was required to surrender himself to authorities, prompting video images of the singer in handcuff. Booked on suspicion of child molestation and released on $3 million bail, he subsequently called the allegations as 'outrageous' and 'false' and hired celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos to defend him (Geragos was subsequently fired and replaced with Robert Blake's successful attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr.). In the wake of his arrest, CBS indefinitely postponed a prime-time Jackson network special that had been scheduled for Nov. 26; devoted fans staged candlelight vigils protesting his innocence; plans for finding a full-time performing home in Las Vegas evaporated; the Jackson family and celebrity friends such as Elizabeth Taylor publicly rushed to his defense; doubts about Jackson's accuser, who previously accused others, including own his father, of child abuse, began to surface; and Jackson's compilation album (with the ironically titled new single 'One More Chance') debuted to tepid sales in the U.S.--where his commercial luster had dimmed significantly over the years--but still managed to top other music charts in countries around the world where he was still considered a pop superstar. The stage was set for what promised to be the most sensational celebrity court case since the O.J. Simpson trial, and indeed a circus atmosphere prevailed: celebrities including Jay Leno. Chris Tucker and Macauley Culkin were called to testify; the not-so-lily-white past of the accuser's family was aired in court; Jackson was accused of providing his slepover guests with alcohol he allegedly called 'Jesus Juice' as well as pornography; and Jackson frequently made a spectacle of himself by wearing outrageous outfits into court and indulging in impromptu performances for the fans and looky-loos who gathered outside the courthouse for a glimpse of the pop star. Toward the end of the lengthy trial, however, Jackson appeared more and more haggard, and suffered from ill health. Despite all of th sideshow distractions, in June 2005 jurors in the child-molestation trial finding Jackson not guilty on all 10 counts against him, although some of the jurors said publicly their decision was based on reasonable doubt and that not all of them believed Jackson was entirely innocent. His attorneys vowed that Jackson would never again allow the children of others into his bed and make himself vulnerable to further accusations. Immediately on the heels of the verdict, the pop star was also reportedly offered a long term residency and $80 million to perform at the planned casino going up next to Trump International Hotel & Tower in Las Vegas.