Michael Jackson is dead!!?
Or did he ascend into heaven on a sequined, moonwalking unicorn?
That’s what you may think, judging by the breathless two weeks of wall-to-wall media coverage, the near-constant looping video montages on Entertainment Tonight and the thousands of mourners at Jackson’s very public memorial service Tuesday at Staples Center. (By Sunday night, there were more than 1.6 million online requests for the 8,750 available tickets.)
The King of Pop may have died June 25 of cardiac arrest, but Jacksonmania is very much alive and beating it with all manner of big, small, fat, skinny, young and old fans mimicking Michael’s moves for any yahoo with a TV camera.
And is there a more touching tribute than seeing a 300-pound, middle-aged Caucasian woman stuffed into a red pleather jacket, covered in zippers, trying her best to do the robot?
By an early age, Jackson established himself as one of the most talented performers of all time, and if “ABC” or “Wanna Be Startin‘ Somethin‘” don’t get your toes tapping, then you, my friend, have no rhythm. Zero. Zilch. Zippo. Seriously, Jebediah, you might as well become a Quaker.
His 1982 album Thriller remains the world’s best-selling album of all time. “Beat It,” “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” are widely credited for revolutionizing the way music videos are made, elevating them to an art form, or as close to an art form as anything on MTV can be considered.
And what’s probably the most amazing thing about Jackson: He made wearing one white glove seem cooler than that mascot for Hamburger Helper.
But for all his accomplishments, Michael Jackson was also a socially awkward, alienated freak, who bleached his skin and used plastic surgery to whittle his nose down until it looked like a caramel machiatto Barbie’s. Toward the end of his life, you couldn’t even watch Jackson on stage without wondering how he managed to breathe through that tiny thing or if he needed special instruments just to pick his nose.
Jackson named his surrogate kids Prince and Blanket and dangled one of them (either Blanket or Prince, who can tell?) out of a balcony window. At the time of his death, he was $400 million in debt, several of those millions spent on a criminal defense and hush money for his accusers because, oh yeah, Jackson may have also molested a boy here or there, just not that kid from Home Alone or that other one who played Webster. (We’re all pretty sure about that.)
And that’s not even HALF of the weird stuff Jackson did during his lifetime. Don’t forget his brief marriage to Elvis’ daughter, his Neverland Ranch dotted with Ferris wheels and llamas, Bubbles the Chimp, the hyperbaric oxygen chamber he allegedly slept in, his attempts to buy the skeletal remains of the Elephant Man, or the 134 minutes we’ll never get back after watching Jackson and Diana Ross in The Wiz. Seriously, what the hell was that about?
Despite the acclaim, Jackson was never a celebrity the rest of us could identify with. If someone told you to name one person in the world to have dinner with, you probably weren’t going to answer “Michael Jackson” because he’d insist on dining inside a hermetically sealed bubble, plus there’s no telling what—or who—might be on the menu.
Jackson was talented, sure. But he was also severely troubled and that’s what seems to be getting lost during all of these remembrances. Jackson lived a tragic life. He was a victim of his own fame and fortune and the selfish agendas of his family and managers. And it’s these circumstances that probably made Jackson reliant on the very drugs that helped end his life.
Shortly after his death, there were more than 49,000 Jackson-related items for sale on eBay. T-shirts, buttons, decals, posters, but one in particular caught my eye: “Thriller Doll In Box Never Opened!!” In a lot of ways, that’s what Michael Jackson was for us: A doll, an asexual plastic representation of an ideal, relegated to a box on a shelf with no real opportunity for genuine human kindness or interaction.
Keep it in mind next time you watch a Michael Jackson tribute.
Or just turn up “ABC” and sing along.
Contact Jeff Girod at email@example.com