June 25, 2009
Michael Joseph Jackson died at age 50 in Los Angeles on June 25, 2009. He spent a lifetime surprising people, in recent years largely because of a surreal personal life, lurid legal scandals, serial plastic surgeries and erratic public behavior that have turned him -- on his very best days -- into the butt of late-night talk-show jokes and tabloid headlines. But when his career began to take off nearly four decades ago as a member of the pop group the Jackson 5, fans and entertainment industry veterans recognized something else about the pint-size musical dynamo that was unusual: He was in possession of an outsize, mesmerizing talent.
The introduction to his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entry seemed apt as a global audience followed reports of his hospitalization and then death:
"Michael Jackson is a singer, songwriter, dancer and celebrity icon with a vast catalog of hit records and countless awards to his credit. Beyond that, he has transfixed the world like few entertainers before or since. As a solo performer, he has enjoyed a level of superstardom previously known only to Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra."
John Rockwell, the music critic of The Times, cited Mr. Jackson's musical and cultural influence in a 1982 review of the album "Thriller," calling it "a wonderful pop record, the latest statement by one of the great singers in popular music today." But it was more than that, he contended: "It is as hopeful a sign as we have had yet that the destructive barriers that spring up regularly between white and black music -- and between whites and blacks -- in this culture may be breached once again. Most important of all, it is another signpost on the road to Michael Jackson's own artistic fulfillment."
Mr. Jackson was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958 and began performing professionally at age 5, joining his three older brothers in a group that their father, Joe, a steelworker, had organized the previous year. In 1968 the group, now five strong and known as the Jackson 5, was signed by Motown Records.
By 1969, Mr. Jackson had already spent years in talent shows and performing in seedy Midwestern clubs under the aegis of his dictatorial and ambitious father and Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. They were the singer's twin mentors during his early career.
The Jackson 5 was an instant phenomenon. The group's first four singles - "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There" - all reached No. 1 on the pop charts in 1970, a feat no group had accomplished before. And young Michael was unquestionably the center of attention: he handled virtually all the lead vocals, danced with energy and finesse, and displayed a degree of showmanship rare in a performer of any age. The Jackson brothers were soon a fixture on television variety shows and even briefly had their own Saturday morning cartoon series.
Mr. Jackson had his own recollections of those years. "When you're a show-business child, you really don't have the maturity to understand a great deal of what is going on around you. People make a lot of decisions concerning your life when you're out of the room," he wrote in "Moon Walk," his 1988 autobiography. "Berry insisted on perfection and attention to detail. I'll never forget his persistence. This was his genius. Then and later, I observed every moment of the sessions where Berry was present and never forgot what I learned. To this day, I use the same principles."
In 1971 Mr. Jackson began recording under his own name, while also continuing to perform and record with his brothers. His recording of "Ben," the title song from a movie about a boy and his homicidal pet rat, was a No. 1 hit in 1972.
The brothers (minus Michael's older brother Jermaine, who was married to the daughter of Berry Gordy, Motown's founder and chief executive) left Motown in 1975 and, rechristened the Jacksons, signed to Epic, a unit of CBS Records. The following year Michael made his movie debut as the Scarecrow in the screen version of the hit Broadway musical "The Wiz." But movie stardom proved not to be his destiny.
Music stardom on an unprecedented level, however, was. Mr. Jackson's first solo album for Epic, "Off the Wall," yielded four No..1 singles and sold seven million copies, but it was a mere prologue to what came next. His follow-up, "Thriller," released in 1982, became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age. The video for the album's title track, directed by John Landis, was an elaborate horror-movie pastiche that was more of a mini-movie than a promotional clip and played a crucial role in making MTV a household name.
Seven of the nine tracks on "Thriller" were released as singles and reached the Top 10. The album spent two years on the Billboard album chart and sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. It also won eight Grammy Awards.
Such accomplishments would have been difficult for anyone to equal, much less surpass. Mr. Jackson's next album, "Bad," released in 1987, sold eight million copies and produced five No..1 singles and another state-of-the-art video, this one directed by Martin Scorsese. It was a huge hit by almost anyone else's standards, but an inevitable letdown after "Thriller."
It was at this point that Mr. Jackson's bizarre private life began to overshadow his music. He would go on to release several more albums and, from time to time, to stage elaborate concert tours. And he would never be too far from the public eye. But it would never again be his music that kept him there.
Sales of his recordings through Sony's music unit generated more than $300 million in royalties for Mr. Jackson since the early 1980s, according to three individuals with direct knowledge of the singer's business affairs. Revenues from concerts and music publishing -- including the creation of a venture with Sony that controls the Beatles catalog -- as well as from endorsements, merchandising and music videos added, perhaps, $400 million more to that amount, these people believe. Subtracted were hefty costs like recording and production expenses, taxes and the like.
Those close to Mr. Jackson say that his finances had not deteriorated simply because he was a big spender. Until the early 1990s, they said, he paid relatively close attention to his accounting and kept an eye on the cash that flowed through his business and creative ventures. After that, they say, Mr. Jackson became overly enamored of something that ensnares wealthy people of all stripes: bad advice.
Mr. Jackson's pre-expense share of the "Thriller" bounty -- including the album, singles and a popular video -- surpassed $125 million, according to a former adviser who requested anonymity because of the confidential nature of Mr. Jackson's finances. Those who counseled him in the "Thriller" era credit the pop star with financial acumen and astute business judgment, evidenced by his $47.5 million purchase of the Beatles catalog in 1985 (a move that served to alienate him from Paul McCartney, the Beatles legend who imparted the financial wisdom of buying catalogs to Mr. Jackson during a casual chat, only to see Mr. Jackson then turn around and buy rights to many of Mr. McCartney's own songs). Acquaintances from that period say that he would occasionally borrow gas money, and he still lived in the Jackson family home in the suburban Encino section of Los Angeles.
It wasn't until the end of the 1980s that Mr. Jackson began to exhibit more baronial tendencies. In 1988, he made his $17 million purchase of property near Santa Ynez, Calif., that became Neverland.
At the same time, Mr. Jackson was redefining the concept of spectacle in pop music. He hired Martin Scorsese, the film director, to direct a video for "Bad," a clip that one adviser with direct knowledge of the production budget said cost more than $1 million. The same adviser said that Mr. Jackson netted "way north" of $35 million from a yearlong "Bad" tour that began in 1987, and that heading into the 1990s Mr. Jackson was in sound shape financially.
By the mid-90s, though, Mr. Jackson's finances were under strain. He retreated from working regularly after the release of "Dangerous" in 1991 and settled a child-molestation lawsuit for about $20 million. More significantly in terms of his finances, he had to sell Sony a 50 percent stake in the Beatles catalog in 1995 for more than $100 million, which one adviser said helped shore up the singer's wobbling accounts. Mr. Jackson wouldn't produce another studio album of completely new material until 2001.
In June 2005, he was acquitted today of all charges in connection with accusations that he molested a 13-year-old boy he had befriended as the youth was recovering from cancer in 2003. Mr. Jackson's complete acquittal ended a nearly four-month trial that featured 140 witnesses who painted clashing portraits of the 46-year-old international pop star as either pedophile or Peter Pan.
Along with the verdict, the jury gave a note for the judge to read out in court. In it, they said they felt "the weight of the world's eyes upon us all" and that they had "thoroughly and meticulously" studied all the evidence. The note concluded with a plea "we would like the public to allow us to return to our lives as anonymously as we came."
The case arose from the February 2003 broadcast of "Living with Michael Jackson," a British documentary in which Mr. Jackson admitted sharing his bed with young boys, calling it a loving act unrelated to sex. The boy who later became the accuser was shown holding hands with the singer and resting his head affectionately on his shoulder. He was described as a 13-year-old cancer patient whom Mr. Jackson had decided to help.
On March 5, 2009, Mr. Jackson announced that he would perform a series of concerts in London in the summer, in what he called a "final curtain call." Mr. Jackson, 50, revealed the details of the concerts at a news conference in London, where he said he would perform 10 shows at that city's O2 Arena, beginning July 8. "When I say this is it, I mean this is it," Mr. Jackson said. "I'll be performing the songs my fans want to hear."
The shows would have been Mr. Jackson's first major performances since 2001 and 2002, when he appeared at a pair of 30th anniversary celebrations and two benefit concerts; a brief appearance by Mr. Jackson at the World Music Awards in 2006 was booed by audience members.
Highlights from the Archives
A Star Idolized and Haunted, Michael Jackson Dies at 50
By BROOKS BARNES
Michael Jackson, 50, who went from boy wonder to global pop superstar to sad figure haunted by lawsuits, paparazzi and failed plastic surgery, died Thursday in a Los Angeles hospital.
June 26, 2009artsNewsTricky Steps From Boy to Superstar
By JON PARELES
An unsurpassed entertainer, a superstar and a recluse, Michael Jackson built his stardom on paradox.
June 26, 2009artsAn Appraisal Michael Jackson at 25: A Musical Phenomenon
By JON PARELES
In the world of pop music, there is Michael Jackson and there is everybody else. Earlier this week the singer-dancer-songwriter received 12 Grammy nominations. No one has ever received so many nominations, a reflection of the popularity of a performer who has stirred the kind of worldwide enthusiasm that recalls the Beatlemania of the 1960's.
The Sequined Glove That Mesmerized the World
By GUY TREBAY
Michael Jackson's prodigious musical talents were matched by a genius for deploying the symbolic language of fashion in an age dominated by visual mediums.
June 28, 2009A Web Site Scooped Other Media on the News
By BRIAN STELTER
TMZ, a celebrity news Web site, reported Michael Jackson’s death well ahead of traditional news outlets, which hesitated to follow suit.
June 27, 2009Jackson Estate Has Piles of Assets but Loads of Debt
By TIM ARANGO and BEN SISARIO
Michael Jackson’s business life, like his public life, was a perplexing mass of contradictions, and his personal finances, at least in recent years, were perpetually in tatters.
June 27, 2009Michael Jackson
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
Michael Jackson expected us to be caught up in the excitement the music caused in him. And we were.
June 27, 2009Medication Is a Focus of Jackson Inquiry
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
A car belonging to Mr. Jackson’s physician was seized “because it may contain medications or other evidence.”
June 27, 2009Jackson’s Health a Subject of Confusion
By PAM BELLUCK
Michael Jackson had a long and intricate history of health problems, according to people who knew him, but separating rumor from reality is difficult.
June 27, 2009His Moves Expressed as Much as His Music
By ALASTAIR MACAULAY
Michael Jackson will be remembered as a great and widely imitated mover. Other things about him will be remembered too, but it is amazing how many of them are apparent in his dancing.
June 27, 2009Jackson Was Beacon of Hope for His Declining Hometown
By SUSAN SAULNY
People in Gary, Ind., are proud that their hometown produced Michael Jackson, a little boy born on the lowly west side who, at the height of his career, was the brightest star in the world.
June 27, 2009In Any Format, News of Loss Resonates
By SUSAN DOMINUS
People divided by years and technology can agree that the King of Pop was one of a kind.
June 27, 2009Around the World, Shock and Grief Over Jackson’s Death
By SHARON OTTERMAN
The extent of the reaction to Michael Jackson’s sudden death underscored how far his influence had spread.
June 27, 2009A Path to Superstardom Paved With Video Hits
By MIKE HALE
As MTV raided its back catalog of Michael Jackson videos, it generously slipped in a few other clips.
June 27, 2009Looks Like a Blockbuster, but It Could Be a Bust
By WILLIAM C. RHODEN
A fading superstar has joined the N.B.A.’s most valuable player. What happens if they don’t win a championship for the Cavaliers?
June 26, 2009In Los Angeles, a Gathering of Jackson Fans and the Curious
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD and FRANCESCA SEGRÈ
Most people at the hospital where Michael Jackson was treated came seeking a connection with an icon or simply celebrated, sang and played his music.
June 26, 2009Sale of Michael Jackson’s Property Canceled
By BEN SISARIO
After a collection of Michael Jackson’s memorabilia went on view for a public auction, the auctioneer and Mr. Jackson announced that they had agreed to cancel the sale and return the property to him.
April 15, 2009Shuttering Neverland: Michael Jackson’s Effects Go to Auction
By BEN SISARIO
Items belonging to Michael Jackson are part of an auction so large that it has been installed in a former department store in Beverly Hills.
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