celebrities rally for personal strife or illness,
such as Christopher Reeve for spinal injury or Bob
Dole for penile dysfunction. Michael Jackson does
the same, only his sickness is called "Michael
Jackson: the strange pain and suffering of being
The King of Pop."
is the celebrity we at once feel farthest from and
closest to—although he's an unfathomable weirdo—he's
so real, so flesh and blood, so fragilely human,
that it seems no matter how famous he gets anyone
could harm him.
February 10, 1993, ABC ran Oprah Winfrey's exclusive
interview with Michael. Ninety million people watched,
making it the fourth most-watched entertainment
show in history. Michael was riveting—he sang,
laughed, debunked and dodged, giving few real insights
but appearing to struggle himself to make sense
out of his life.
the show aired, Jay Leno joked, "You gotta
admit, Michael looked a little strange. The Elephant
Man called and he wanted to buy Michael's bones."
Radio host Howard Stern added, "Take away all
his money and he'd be in [a mental hospital]."
And Entertainment Weekly shrugged, "It's
impossible to deny the creepy subtext of a 34-year-old,
crotch-grabbing, 'Dangerous' guy who says he most
likes to hang out with 'animals and children'."
tender, earnest and friendly as Michael had come
off, he was still weirding the pants off America.
JACKO EMERGES FROM HYPERBARIC CHAMBER 5-YEARS-OLD
to interviewer J. Randy Taraborrelli, the Jackson
Five were once in a record store where so many fans
pushed against the window that it shattered inward.
One girl's throat was slit by the glass, but her
bleeding was ignored by the stampeding crowd. The
scene was similar at any airport, where thousands
of fans toppled barricades and attacked the young
performers. "There are a thousand hands grabbing
at you," Michael recalled in his 1988 memoir,
Moonwalk. "One girl is twisting your
wrist this way while another girl is pulling your
watch off. They grab your hair and pull it hard,
and it hurts like fire. I still wear the scars,
and I can remember in which city I got each of them."
Michael learned early that the "pain"
of being a celebrity made great theater. During
a 1979 "American Bandstand" performance
of "Blame it on the Boogie," the Jackson
Five staged a cop attempting to drag away the boogying
dancers. It's a trick Michael would repeat at the
1995 "MTV Video Music Awards," when a
supposed MTV official attempted to remove Michael's
guest guitarist Slash off the stage to—surprise—no
5-years-old, Michael became the lead singer of Joe
Jackson's mellifluous family. Before he graduated
grade school, Michael had four number one Motown
records and an entertainment attendance record of
18,675 at the L.A. Forum. By age 11, he had six
gold records and was on the cover of Rolling
Stone. Michael learned to perfect complex song
and dance routines while other kids his age learned
to perfect walking.
so, he grew up critiquing his own TV performances,
his costumes, his afro and his magazine pictorials.
Troubles as minor as acne drove him into a deep
depression. "I felt I didn't have anything
to be proud of and I didn't even want to go out,"
recalled Michael. And by a 1971 performance on the
"Flip Wilson Show," cute little 4 feet
10 inch Michael disappointed
fans by being gangly 5 feet 10 inch Michael, all
the while being forced to succumb his post-puberty
voice to his pre-puberty soprano.
Jackson Five never allowed Michael to be a little
boy and would now not allow him to become a man.
BUBBLES USES ESP TO DRIVE JACKO INSANE!!!
from the domain of music executives, reporters,
lawyers, adults and even other Jackson family members,
there is a yellow-brick road. Follow it through
flowerbeds and grass so green it makes your eyes
hurt; idyllic sycamore trees embedded with hidden
speakers softly playing Disney
tunes; an impossibly quaint pond equipped with a
swan boat, canoe, and dinghy. Follow the yellow-brick
road through the zoo and its 200 animals, among
them, elephants, giraffes, buffalo, the famous chimp
Bubbles and even a zebra/donkey half-breed called
yellow-brick road does indeed lead to an Oz, a land
where adult responsibility is lost among the wide-eyed
awe of childhood. This Oz is called the Neverland
2,700-acre, $28 million mecca is run by 70 employees
and includes an Indian Village, a two-story fort,
an amusement park, a Ferris Wheel, a steam engine,
two floors of arcade games, a giant outdoor Jacuzzi
and rooms brimming with dolls and toy trains. The
$2 million Neverland Cinema is not only stocked
with every candy and snack imaginable (embossed
with the Neverland logo, of course), but also features
two glassed-in viewing rooms for bed-ridden children.
is where Michael entertains his young guests. But
as the widespread images of Peter Pan hint, this
is where he entertains himself as well. As Peter
Pan always said, in Neverland, you'll never grow
up. However, Michael is now 41.
been married twice, divorced twice, both due to
"irreconcilable differences." He has abandoned
his childhood fantasy of adopting 13 children of
different races; instead, he has two of his own,
Prince and Paris, with names that sound like the
royalty Michael often dresses as.
has quietly withstood decades of embarrassing tabloid
tales. He's been in rehab to battle an addiction
to prescription painkillers and has collapsed while
rehearsing for an HBO special. He's retracted suggestive
dance segments from videos (1991's "Black or
White") and anti-Semitic lyrics from songs
(the line "Jew me, sue me, everybody do me/kike
me, Kike me, don't you black or white me" from
1995's "They Don't Care About Us"). For
every child he helps live with his Heal the World
Foundation, Michael seems to die a little more.
He 's written open letters to magazines in which
he said he has "been bleeding for a long time"
and included a sketch in his HIStory album
(1995) of a lonely little black boy curled in a
corner with a microphone like an umbilical cord,
the caption reading: "Before you judge me,
try hard to love me, look within your heart and
ask, have you seen my childhood."
an interview several months ago, TV Guide
asked, "You said that if it weren't for your
desire to help the children of the world, you'd
throw in the towel and kill yourself. Do you really
feel that way?"
always have," responded Michael. "'Cause
I would have nothing to live for. Everything I create
is inspired by that kind of innocence." It's
almost inevitable Michael's chief nemesis has been
a child—a 13-year-old boy, with whom he traveled
to Disney World, and who accused him of molestation.
The event resulted in a media frenzy and an out-of-court
for a rumored $20 million. Recently, the father
of the boy claimed Michael violated their agreement
by talking publicly about the case, and is now demanding
an additional $60 million.
face, however, shows none of this pain. It is more
than youthful; it is without age. It is more than
black or Caucasian; it is without race. A result
of two decades of plastic surgery, it is an angelic
mask and almost eerie in its porcelain flawlessness.
Michael claims to
have had several nose jobs and a cleft put in his
chin, as well as suffering from the whitening effects
of the skin disorder vitiligo. The other distinct
changes—thin lips, cartoonish cheekbones,
straight, girlish hair—go unaccounted for.
used to joke about his skin. On the short-lived
1976 TV variety series The Jacksons, 17-year-old
Michael quipped, "We're the Jacksons. All of
you who were expecting the Osmonds, do not adjust
the color of your set."
it is no joke.
exact number of surgeries is irrelevant. What is
relevant is that Michael's appearance keeps changing;
and each new look is, for whatever reason, masterminded
by the King of Pop himself. On page 173 of Moonwalk,
Michael includes a 1979 photo from the Jackson's
which he has doodled on. If you look closely, you
can see Michael's pen could not resist reshaping
not only his hair and eyebrows, but his brother
Randy's as well.
1970 Ebony article refers to Jackie and Tito
teasing Michael as "big nose," "liver
lips," and "big head." Amid the trauma
of watching his own body and sexuality transform
on national TV, it would seem Michael took these
insults to heart. And to knife.
HOSPITAL MASK HIDES HIDEOUS SURGERY BLUNDER!!!
disastrously, Michael's first nose job coincided
with his first hit solo album, 1979's Off the
Wall (his previous solo effort, 1975's Michael
Forever, topped out at 101 on the charts). With
his new album, Thriller (1982), came another
new nose, and along with the album's success, his
obsession with his own image intensified.
the $600,000 "Thriller" music video, Michael
demanded to go through a werewolf transformation,
even though it would be an uncomfortable—and
narratively an unnecessary—process. In the
video, Michael's identity is never certain; is he
a wolf, a zombie, a man or some other combination?
His full-length 1989 "Moonwalker" video
continues this confusion. At any given moment, Michael
is an adult, a child, a puppet, a rabbit, a car
or a giant robot. "The press has made me out
to be this monster," Michael would say in 1999,
forgetting he kicked-off all the shape shifting.
evidence: the racial/gender morphing of the "Black
or White" video; the morphing of Michael into
his sister Janet in "Scream" (an interesting
thing to do, considering that only two years earlier,
at the 1993 Grammy Awards, Michael used the opportunity
of being on-stage with Janet to rebuke a rumor by
saying, "Me and Janet really are two different
people"). By the time he sang "Have You
Seen My Childhood?" in 1995, you had to wonder
"Mike, have you seen your nose?" It had
almost washed into the white blur of his face.
Michael alters his physicality to avoid looking
like his father, who allegedly beat his children
severely. (In typical understatement, Michael only
writes, "My dad made a few mistakes along the
way.") Or perhaps he's simply attempting to
control his own image. As a Motown property, Michael
was told how to dress, how to talk, how to smile.
Michael loathed the 1976 "The Jacksons"
TV series, complaining, "We had to dress in
ridiculous outfits and perform stupid comedy routines
to canned laughter. One week you're Santa Claus,
the next week you're Prince Charming, another week
you're a rabbit." Or, in light of his constant
protests he missed his childhood, it may be Michael
fears he will age physically without getting to
live out those seminal childhood experiences vicariously.
"[As a child]," recalled Michael, "I'd
just stare at [other children] in wonder—I
couldn't imagine such freedom, such a carefree life—and
wish more than anything that I had that kind of
freedom, that I could walk away and be like them."
Michael's view of "traditional" childhood
is a clumsy one constructed of loud symbols, like
roller coasters and zoos. This is why Neverland
is really an unsettling place—when the children
go home, it has the haunting look of a ghost town,
an empty playpen. Neverland is a re-creation of
Disneyland, which Michael proclaims is his "favorite
place." He has tried to emulate Disneyland
by attempting to purchase the Tivoli theme park
in Denmark for $200 million as well as a theme park/casino
in Detroit called Majestic Kingdom.
anyone can tell you Disneyland is not childhood.
Childhood is as much fear, sadness and confusion
as it is happiness and innocence; it is as much
playing in the dirt alone as it is riding Magic
Mountain or The Pirates of the Caribbean.
message Michael wants us to take from children is
a noble one. In his 1993 acceptance speech for the
Grammy Legend award, Michael said, "What we
need to learn from children isn't childish. Being
with them connects us to the deeper wisdom of life
which is ever-present and only asks to be lived.
They know the solutions that lie waiting to be recognized
in our own hearts."
world of peace and joy may be delusional ("It's
a nice place Michael comes from," said Steven
Spielberg, "I wish we could all spend some
time [there]."), but it is undoubtedly sincere.
His Heal the World Foundation has given millions
of dollars to children's charities and hospitals,
sponsoring immunizations, earthquake relief and
airdropping food and medical supplies to Bosnia
and Sarajevo. In addition, his sympathy for burn
victims is real—when his hair caught fire
during a 1984 Pepsi commercial shoot, he was placed
in a room next to patients he had visited only weeks
course, Michael's beloved children posit no global
solutions per se, but they do live life without
pretension. Michael intently clings to this disregard
of adult trivialities and egotism.
desire to "heal the world" is a vague,
sweeping concern that is childlike simplicity. He
tosses around images of the Klu Klux Klan, Ghandi,
Chernobyl and Martin Luther King, Jr., too effortlessly.
His editing pattern for the "Heal the World"
music video is almost insultingly blunt: skinhead,
child, gun, child, tank, Sudan, explosion, child.
The details of why there are, say, starving kids
in Ethiopia (where the proceeds of the Michael-penned
"We Are the World," the best-selling single
of all time, were sent) doesn't matter—it
couldbe infertile farmland or Martian attack. What
does matter is sending those poor children
love. Michael's oversimplified tear-jerking should
come off as cheap and manipulative, yet it doesn't;
he obviously believes in it with all his heart.
has never cared much for the news details. In Taraborrellis'
book Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness,
the author recounts his 1978 interview with a then
19-year-old Michael. He asked, "[Do you follow]
events?" Michael responded blankly.
you read the paper?"
shook his head no.
I like show business."
OF PRINCESS DI MAKES JACKO HER MOONWALKING SEX SLAVE!!!
persona can be split into several parts: feminine
shyness/masculine aggression; soft speech/commanding
singing voice; childlike actions off-stage/violent
show biz limelight is where Michael is allowed to
turn from a man-child into a man.
always a good dancer, it wasn't until May 16, 1983
that his moves shook America. That night, during
the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever
TV special, Michael's performance of "Billie
Jean" became a legend. The Michael Jackson
of our collective memory was there that night—white
socks, black fedora, sparkling glove and black sequined
blew viewers away—an estimated 50 million—many
of them strangers to his music. After the performance,
Fred Astaire rang Michael and said, "You're
a hell of a mover. Man, you really put them on their
asses last night. You're an angry dancer. I'm the
dance was angry. From the opening bass notes, Michael
kicked, slapped his knee, and spun his wrist, pirouetted,
buckled to one side, the other side, then kicked
out again and pretended to preen. His torso stood
in place while his feet sprung to their toes and
spun. His veins pulsed music and his tendons snapped
to the beat. In the gap between verses, where most
singers gasp for a breath, Michael did a double
kick, head turn, and spin, while his fingers and
hips shot off with military precision. "Sometimes
I don't even know what I'm doing," said Michael
about his dancing in 1970, and the same still held
true in 1983. Although surely rehearsed, it felt
like breathtaking, improvisational genius.
was the same story over on MTV, with "Beat
It." No one had ever grooved like that before.
Heck, no one had ever touched a pool table like
that before. The table not only seemed to be electrified,
but his own flesh as well.
1987, the video for "Bad" came out, and
it was no surprise to find out that Michael's body
made noises; it was, after all, Michael's
only instrument. SNAP!—he yanked his cuff.
WHOOSH!—he brushed his shoulder. Michael could
focus every iota of energy into one jabbing finger—POW!—while
his other hand clawed desperately to his shirt as
if to keep something, anything inside.
the King of Pale to release a song entitled "Black
or White" was, at this point, rather ballsy.
It was the first cut off of Dangerous, an
album whose videos found Michael grabbing his crotch
and humping the air a whole lot. If he was asserting
his masculinity, it didn't work—the masturbatory
way he fingered his crotch, moaned and pinched his
nipples anatomized his body as female. Still, the
dancing was powerful, and even a standard video
entry like "Keep it in the Closet"—starring
supermodel Naomi Campbell's white panties and co-starring
supermodel Naomi Campbell's big breasts—found
room to dangle an amazingly marionette—like
Michael in a dancing silhouette.
tried again to be manly with "You Are Not Alone,"
frolicking nude with then-wife Lisa Marie Presley.
But his face, his hairless, baby-fat body and his
outy belly button continued to be discomfiting.
Michael was a creature that was, in many ways, still
a child. As he had shown with several videos, his
idea of toughness was laughable. In "Bad"
he was horribly overdressed for the ghetto, wearing
studded black leather with seemingly dozens of zippers
and buckles. "There's one buckle no one will
ever detect," wrote a viewer in the Los
Angles Times, "and it's located at the
back of his head."
Sophia Loren has said of Michael, "It was love
at first sight." This comment is entirely safe,
for Michael is to be "adored," not "lusted
after." During the Thriller years, it
wasn't another woman that played the annoying "third
wheel" during Michael's dates with Brooke Shields
or Tatum O'Neal. It was tiny, 12-year-old actor
Emmanuel Lewis, who Michael toted around on his
hip like an infant.
when Lisa Marie answered the question of whether
she was having sex with her husband with a "Yes,
yes, yes!" during a 1995 Prime-Time Live
interview, it sent chills down our spines. Michael
and sex seems somehow wrong, for he is, and has
always been, our child. He might've grown up with
the Jacksons some of the time, but he grew up with
us—on our TV's and radios—all of the
didn't help that, when Michael was young, he was
surrounded by his brothers' and father's sexual
indiscretions. Although Michael is maddeningly vague
on this topic, he does write that "Jermaine
and I would be sleeping, exhausted after a show,
and my father would bring a bunch of girls into
the room; we'd wake up and they'd be standing there,
looking at us, giggling." This seems to coincide
with Joe's alleged affairs and the undoubted romances
of the other brothers, some of which allegedly continued
post-1975, after which all four brothers had been
his autobiography Moonwalk, Michael recounts
an early stage routine orchestrated by Joe that
had him scurrying under tables, looking up women's
skirts for laughs. No sexual threat was evident—it
was just little Michael. For Michael, however, it
was surely a confusing, "child-sleeping-in-the-grown-up-bed"
point-of-view of sex. In an otherwise unspecific
autobiography, Michael makes two very specific statements
that practically beg to be deconstructed. He recalls
watching a stripper peel away all of her clothes,
only to find She was a He. "I was blown away,"
writes Michael. Thirty pages later, he calls Diana
Ross "my mother, my lover, and my sister all
combined in one amazing person."
unaffected prose has no hidden subtext; everything
is on the surface. Whether Michael knows it or not,
it is through these simple, confused comments that
he cries out for sympathy the loudest.
idea of him staying a child is laughable, but the
idea of him becoming an adult is distasteful to
us. This is because we know so little about him.
His interviews are frugal and his autobiography
useless. No wonder since 1978's Oz update The
Wiz and 1986's Disney attraction Captain
EO (which, at 17 minutes and $20 million is,
minute-by-minute, the most expensive film ever made),
Michael was attached to star in numerous films,
including Peter Pan and The Phantom of
the Opera, before finally committing to the
title role in next year's The Nightmare of Edgar
Allen Poe. Michael hasn't the accessible humor
or humanity of other music superstars, such as Springsteen,
Dylan or Elvis, and the extreme close-up of a 30-foot
movie screen tends to conjure up exactly such intimacy
between actor and audience.
USES OWN FROZEN BLOOD TO REVIVE ELEPHANT MAN!!!
album sales are down. From beneath the behemoth
of the best-selling album of all time, Thriller,
and the first album to have six number one singles,
Bad, has limped Dangerous and HIStory, both disappointing musically and financially—HIStory has sold only 14 million albums, even less than 1979's
Off the Wall.
albums should be for all races, all tastes in music,"
Michael has said. And in a 1995 statement in the
New York Times: "I am the voice of everyone.
I am the skinhead, I am the Jew, I am the black
man,I am the white man." His hideous misconception
of music's place is an extension of his own racial
homogenization—when you try to be every one,
you become no one.
backlash, which began around 1988, was severe. Michael
came in first in several categories of Rolling
Stone's "Worst of 1988" list and then
he lost all four of his Grammy nominations. By the
time the release of 1995's HIStory album—a
double album of greatest hits and new tracks—approached,
Michael had fully realized a new perception of himself,
one that was truly larger than life.
was hyped with a four-minute teaser video. This
extravagant production begins with a colossal army
goose-stepping through a European city in crisp,
tan uniforms, waving red flags and sporting red-and-black
insignias. Military music pounds. Crowds swell at
the sidelines, screaming and crying. The implication
seems to be these men represent Nazis.
then, their leader is revealed to be Michael, marching
right up front. When peasant workers break free
to touch Michael, they are immediately swallowed
by soldiers. Suddenly, it is night, and a tarp-covered,
skyscraper-sized structure looms over the poor nation
as choppers spray spotlights across it. Brainwashed
fans scream, salute with one arm and light candles
with religious zeal. Signs proclaiming "King
of Pop," a title Michael disavowed to Oprah
only two years earlier, are everywhere, emphasizing
the word "King." Finally, the tarp drops,
and it is, of course, a gargantuan, bronze statue
of Michael, fists clenched defiantly, his star insignia
prominent, yet his face still somehow child-like
video is a highly disturbing piece of work. His
bloated sense of importance is not only chilling,
it is threatening. Suddenly, Michael's perfect world
of Oz/Neverland is forced to be compared with an
Aryan Nation, one that substitutes children for
Hitler's master race. The implications of this,
naturally, are horrifying—what happens when
someone grows too old for Neverland? Are they cast
aside, or merely grafted a new, ageless face that
erases all of their adult sins?
evidence: the video for "Liberian Girl"
features a cast of over 30 superstars, everyone
from Jackie Collins to John Travolta to David Copperfield,
all waiting for Michael to show up to shoot a music
video. At the end, Michael swoops down on a camera
crane, grinning—he's been filming the whole
thing. The message is clear: it takes 30 superstars
to equal one Michael.
the video for HIStory's "They Don't
Care About Us" (directed, oddly, by Spike Lee,
an artist much more grounded in reality), Michael
cavorts with a Brazilian percussion orchestra of
over 250 children. He steals a security guard's
baton and makes fun of the guard, aligning himself,
as always, with children—if "they don't
care about us," then, by extension, Michael
these guards are just like the guards in the Nazi-tinged
"HIStory" teaser, again assisting Michael
with overzealous fans. Michael has apparently decided
both fans and authorities are necessary, and for
him to fully function as "The King of Pop"
for his audience/children, he must remain untouchable,
lest he lose his magical aura. Since Michael would
never intentionally do something to harm us, he
must think we want/need him to maintain this megalomaniac
image. For, in his child-centric universe, the "good"
are always weak, and we therefore need his omnipotent
protection from the powerful and the "bad."
1996, Michael was dressing like Jesus onstage and
pretending to heal legions of "homeless children."
then, it seemed Michael had given in to his strange
media disease, and decided it essential to his survival.
extensive liner notes he leaves us with in the HIStory feature rather forced "Mike's a great guy" testimonials from
the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie O and Steven
Spielberg; classified ad-style "thank yous"
to everyone from Diana Ross to Shaquille O'Neal
to Thomas Edison; an exhaustive, five-page account
of the over 250 awards (music, humanitarian, or
otherwise) accumulated by Michael; finally, almost
20 pages of full-color photos. These photos are
of untouchable solitude, proving Michael still knows
celebrity pain is great theater: Michael, alone,
yet surrounded by dozens of guards in riot gear.
Michael, alone, yet crowded by thousands of fans.
Michael, alone, yet encircled by a million stage
lights. Also, Michael accepting awards from presidents
and kissing babies, always adorned in sparkling
regalia like a strange diplomat from the mysterious
country of Neverland.
Jackson did not fall in love with his image. Instead,
his image—so huge, so powerful, and so ultimately
unbearable—finally overtook him.