Michael Jackson (August 29, 1958-June 25, 2009) is one of the most famous superstars in the world. The “King of Pop” did not only shape the sound and the style of the 70s and 80s music, but also became an iconic figure for the popular culture of the 20th century. He is the artist behind Thriller, the best-selling album in history, was recognized by Guinness World Records as the “Most Successful Entertainer of All Time,” and the most awarded recording artist in the history of pop music. He was one of the biggest phenomena in the music industry of the century, following the steps of Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
Early life and music career
Michael Jackson started his musical career at a very young age. His father, Joe Jackson initially formed a band named Jackson Brothers with his children Jackie, Tito and Jermaine as musicians and Michael and Marlon on vocals. Being a musical prodigy with amazing singing and dancing talents, Michael became the band’s lead singer in 1965 – the year when the band was renamed as the Jackson 5.
The Jackson 5 performed at local shows, as opening act for artists, and at cocktail clubs before signing a contract with Steeltown Records in 1968 and eventually, with Motown in 1969. The group had chart-topping hits in 1969 with “I Want You Back” (#1 US, #2 UK), and in 1970 with “I’ll Be There” (#1 US, #4 UK), “ABC” (#1 US, #8 UK) and “The Love You Save” (#1 US, #7 UK). Their hits remained near the top for the next five years, and it served as a kick-start for Michael Jackson’s solo career.
In 1971, Jackson recorded four solo albums under Motown, while still with the Jackson 5. His hit singles featured his pure, childlike voice including “Got to Be There” (#4 US, #5 UK) and “Ben” (#1 US, #7 UK), plus a funky cover of “Rockin’ Robin” (#2 US, #3 UK).
Meanwhile, the Jackson 5 maintained a busy tour and recording schedules. They became very popular and even had their own self-titled cartoon show that ran from 1971 to 1972. However, the Jacksons began having conflicts with Motown, as the recording company refused to give them creative control over their material. In 1975, the group cut off its ties with Motown, but Jermaine remained with the label to pursue his solo career.
The Jackson 5 moved with Epic Records and renamed themselves as the Jacksons. Jermaine was replaced by their brother Randy. From 1976 to 1984, they continued to perform in international tours and released six more albums.
In 1978, Jackson became part of the musical film The Wiz as the Scarecrow, and then worked with its producer Quincy Jones for his fifth solo album Off the Wall in 1979. That year, he was just 21 years old and he sounded more mature. His disco and soul singles “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” (#1 US, #3 UK) and “Rock with You” (#1 US, #7 UK) turned it into a blockbuster. Jackson also earned numerous awards from the album. Despite its success, Jackson believed it was pigeonholed as an R&B record.
His next album Thriller (1982) generated seven Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hits and became the best-selling album in history. It earned Jackson seven more Grammy awards and eight American Music Awards. Out of it came his most famous records “Thriller” (#1 US), “Billie Jean” (#1 US, #1 UK) and “Beat It” (#1 US, #3 UK), as well as hit songs “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”(#5 US, #8 UK), “Human Nature,” (#7 US) and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” (#10 US, #11 UK).
Besides the album, Jackson also released a 14-minute music video for the Thriller’s title track in 1983. The zombie-themed video featured special effects and complex dance scenes. It became the standard of music videos on MTV and effectively smashed the network’s racial barriers, as it was previously hesitant to deviate from a rock-oriented music featuring white artists. The” Thriller” video boosted sales for the already successful record, and the track stayed on the No. 1 spot for 37 weeks. The music videos for “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” were phenomenal as well.
Jackson rocked the music business as he began selling records like a household staple. His influence from Thriller shaped many other artists and remained a part of popular culture even after decades. The “Thriller” music video itself was the only music video inducted to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
In 1983, Jackson reunited with his brothers to perform for Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever anniversary TV special. Wearing his black-sequined jacket and a golf-glove studded with rhinestones, he glided across the stage and did his to-be-famous signature dance move, the moonwalk, while performing “Billie Jean.”
Continued success, endorsements, charity work
Now a huge commercial success, Jackson signed a $5 million endorsement deal with Pepsi in 1983. However, while filming a commercial in 1984, he was badly injured as the pyrotechnics accidentally set his hair on fire. He suffered from second-degree burns to his scalp and face, and underwent treatment to hide the scars. It was believed that he also tried skin bleaching around that time, and had a nose job thereafter – as his complexion, nose and face became dramatically altered in the coming years.
Also in 1984, Jackson embarked on a Victory album tour with his brothers. A major hit from the album was “State of Shock” (#3 US), featuring Mick Jagger.
Jackson held humanitarian work, and a charity single he co-wrote with Lionel Richie entitled “We Are The World” was released in 1985 for USA for Africa. The song was recorded and released worldwide with proceeds going out to aid the poor in the United States and Africa. Big music stars such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson participated in the project also. It won four Grammys and became one of the best-selling singles of all time.
Jackson also made himself richer by buying rights to other people’s songs. In the early 1980s, he collaborated with Paul McCartney for some of his works and learned that McCartney was making millions a year by investing in publishing rights. By 1983, Jackson also began investing in the music publishing business, and in 1985 his purchase of ATV Music Publishing was finalized.
In 1988, Jackson issued his only autobiography Moonwalk and sold 200,000 copies. There, he exposed his childhood – how he was abused and maltreated by his father, but claimed that the strict discipline somehow helped him push himself to succeed.
The same year, Jackson also built his own fantasy retreat called the Neverland Ranch. As a shy person off-stage, he was never truly comfortable with his fame and all the media attention. He created the ranch to serve as his mansion where he could get away. The Neverland Ranch has a zoo, where he kept exotic pets like Bubbles the chimpanzee, and a private amusement park, which he sometimes opened up for children’s events. Many tabloid stories of his unusual behavior were observed in the ranch, wherein he was rumored to be sleeping in a special chamber to increase his life span and have brought the bones of Elephant Man.
The regal moniker “King of Pop” was given to Jackson due to his iconic success, as Elizabeth Taylor proclaimed him as “the true king of pop, rock and soul” when she presented him the Soul Train Heritage Award in 1989.
Jackson released another album, Dangerous, in 1991. The lead single “Black or White” (#1 US, #1 UK), was a success, but its music video caused an uproar due to its violent and sexually suggestive content. Meanwhile, it generated top 10 hits such as “Remember the Time” (#3 US, #3 UK) “In The Closet” (#1 US, #4 UK) and “Will You Be There” (#7 US, #9 UK).
His 1992 single from Dangerous, “Heal The World” (#27 US, #2 UK) became the name of his new charity, the Heal The World Foundation. It brought deprived children to his ranch to enjoy the theme park rides, and sent millions of dollars worldwide to support children threatened by poverty, war or disease.
Jackson’s popularity continued in the following years. In 1993, he performed at the halftime show of Super Bowl XXVII, which was the first Super Bowl that attracted more audiences due to the half-time performance than the game itself. That year, he also agreed to a rare interview with Oprah Winfrey, his second TV interview since 1979. He took up the opportunity to suppress rumors about him – he denied sleeping in a chamber and buying the bones of Elephant Man. He also explained that the change in his skin tone was a result of his disease called vitiligo, and also verbally opened up about the abuse he suffered during his childhood.
Controversies, marriages, career decline and death
During the 90s, allegations and controversies regarding his eccentric personality overshadowed his music. In 1993, Jackson was accused of sexual abuse by a 13-year-old boy. Jackson was known to have sleepovers with boys at his ranch, but this was the first charge filed in public. The police searched the ranch and it found no evidence, and Jackson settled out of court with the boy’s family in 1994. Other molestation allegations came out, but he maintained his innocence.
During that time, Jackson was dependent on Elvis Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie, for emotional support. In 1994, the couple married but the union was short-lived as they divorced in 1996. Some speculated that the marriage was a publicity ploy to prop up Jackson’s image after the allegations.
Jackson tried to reboot his career in 1995 with HIStory: Past, Present & Future, Book 1, an album with a mix of his hits and new material. It spawned hits such as “You Are Not Alone” (#1 US, #1 UK), and “Scream” (#5 US, #3 UK), which was a duet with his sister Janet Jackson. However, he faced another controversy with this album due to anti-Semitic derogatory terms heard in “They Don’t Care about Us” (#30 US, #4 UK).
In the middle of his HIStory World Tour, Jackson married his longtime friend and nurse, Deborah Jeanne Rowe in 1996. They had two children, but eventually divorced in 1999, with Jackson receiving full custody of the children. He had another baby in 2002 with an unknown surrogate mother.
Jackson’s subsequent albums Blood on the Dance Floor (1997) and Invincible (2001) sold well, but didn’t generate another hit single. He went on to perform in tours and charity concerts.
During 2002 to 2005, Jackson was under public criticism due to controversies, such as being disoriented on stage, dangling his own baby over a balcony and another sexual abuse allegation. He was acquitted in 2005. As his reputation was destroyed and his finances were in shambles, he retreated from the spotlight and moved to Bahrain.
After a few years, Jackson seemed ready for a return. In 2009, he was about to perform a series of concerts as his “final curtain call.” He planned to appear in London for his first live show for This Is It tour in July 8, 2009. Jackson, being a great music icon, saw all of the tickets to his tour sell out in just four hours.
Sadly, Michael Jackson did not experience the anticipated success of his comeback tour. On June 25, 2009, he fell unconscious in his Los Angeles home due to cardiac arrest, which was found to be caused by overdose of sedatives. He was rushed to the hospital in UCLA, but CPR attempts failed and he died later that morning. In 2015, his physician Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for his role in Jackson’s death.
News of Jackson’s death resulted to an outpouring of grief around the world. His memorial service was one of the most watched events in the history of streaming. Even after his death, Jackson continued to earn. According to Forbes, Jackson is the top-earning dead celebrity each year since his death. In 2016, his album Thriller was certified at 32x platinum, surpassing 32 million shipments.