Polarizing, controversial, but legendary, the King of Pop Michael Jackson was one of the greatest entertainers ever, and completely redefined pop culture. This biography showcases the moments and events that truly changed his life. Read on to know more in this Entertainism post.
Did You Know?
Michael Jackson has won 15 Grammy awards, including the Legend and the Lifetime Achievement Awards, and 26 American Music Awards. He also had 13 #1 singles in the US. The first two are still-intact records, while the latter is a record for male artists. Jackson is the most awarded musician in history, with more than 200 awards. He also holds the record of having supported 39 charities, with the Guinness Book of Records recognizing his extensive humanitarian work in 2000.
A child prodigy, Jackson, or MJ, as he is more commonly known, continued his progress into adulthood, going on to become a pop culture phenomenon and one of the most iconic dancers in living history. His songs are the stuff of legends, and his various dance moves are ingrained into pop culture. He is also known for his humanitarian efforts, but is, conversely, equally infamous for the various scandals in his life.
Let’s take a deeper look into this legend’s life.
Michael Joseph Jackson was born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana. The 8th of 10 children, Michael had his first tryst with music as a singer in the Jackson family band, Jackson 5, in 1964, at the tender age of five. Jackson 5 played at local nightclubs and also participated in competitions. Despite his young age, he soon carved a niche for himself as a singer and dancer of exceptional ability. Jackson 5 ruled the charts in the late ’60s and the early ’70s. After signing a contract with Motown, Jackson 5 had to shift their base to California. This was followed by chart busters like ‘I Want You Back,’, ‘Dancing Machine’, ‘The Love You Save’ and ‘I’ll Be There’ in 1970. Jackson 5 remained with Motown till 1975, while Jackson’s solo career started in 1972. In 1976, Jackson 5, now re-branded as the Jacksons, switched to Epic Records.
Jackson’s childhood was difficult, and had a heavy influence on his life. His father was a very strict disciplinarian, and though Michael later attributed his success to the strict singing practice conducted by his father, it also had a demoralizing effect on the budding entertainer’s mindset. He suffered from various psychological issues, including chronic and persistent sleep problems, due to his childhood.
Collaboration with Quincy Jones
Michael first met his future producer, Quincy Jones, on the sets of The Wiz, a musical version of The WIzard of Oz starring an all-African American cast. Despite his later success as a musician, Jackson was an actor in this film; he played Scarecrow.
Jones was influential in Jackson’s most famous release, Thriller, in 1982. This record-busting album is reputed to have sold more than 60 million copies, though certified sales only indicate about 42.4 million. It is the highest-selling album in music history, and established Michael as the King of Pop, a moniker that has now very much become his own. 7 singles from the album reached the top 10 in the Billboard Top 100 chart, which is a joint record. The music video of ‘Billie Jean’ is among the most watched music videos of all time, and received regular airtime, consolidating the reputation of the nascent MTV in the process. It was also one of the very first music videos by a black artist to receive such consistent airtime, and one of the first to become equally popular across the racial divide. His success, aided by the furious efforts of CBS Music directors to get MTV to broadcast a black artist’s song, paved the way for future African American artists to receive as much airtime as white artists.
Quincy Jones first collaborated with Michael in 1979 on the album Off the Wall, a legendary production in its own right. Selling more than 20 million copies, it is also one of the best-selling albums of all time. With the success of Off the Wall, Jackson was able to secure the highest royalty rate in the music world: a whopping 37% of the album’s profits, which later equated to almost USD 2 for each copy!
Five years after Thriller, Jackson released his final album with Jones, Bad, in 1987. It was hugely popular, reputedly selling more than 30 million copies. Though it didn’t outsell Thriller, it bested it in one important aspect: five singles from Bad reached the top spot in the Billboard Top 100, which was the first time this feat had been achieved by a single album. It also became the first album to reach the top spot in 25 countries. The Bad world tour, held from September 1988-January 1989, broke multiple records of attendance in various countries; the 570,000-strong people that watched him in Japan were almost three times the previous record in the country, and his seven sellout shows in Wembley Stadium London, totaling a crowd of 504,000 people, broke a Guinness World Record. In total, he performed 123 shows on this world tour, reaching out to 4.4 million people in the process.
One of the most famous images in the world, and the one most associated with Michael Jackson, is the fantastic ‘moonwalk’. It was first performed by him in public on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, a 1983 TV special commemorating the 25th year of the popular music production company, Motown Records.
Michael at first declined the invitation, due to his reluctance to rejoin his brothers for a mini-reunion of the Jacksons, but was persuaded by Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, on the condition that Michael be allotted a solo slot in addition to the group gig.
According to some, Jackson only practiced the moonwalk once at his home before brandishing it on air. The iconic movement, where the performer appears to slide backwards while apparently walking forward, was not created by Jackson, but spread like wildfire after it was popularized by one of the premier artists of the time. It was performed during the song ‘Billie Jean’, and became a staple in Jackson’s subsequent live performances. This performance rocketed Jackson onto new heights of fame. In the words of Berry Gordy himself,
From the first beat of Billie Jean, I was mesmerized, and when he did his iconic moonwalk, I was shocked, it was magic, Michael Jackson went into orbit, and never came down.
In 1985, Jackson co-wrote We Are The World with Lionel Richie, for humanitarian purposes primarily in Africa. The song became one of the bestselling singles of all time.
Jackson didn’t relent his pursuit of musical innovation and success, with his album Dangerous selling more than 20 million certified copies. The album contained one of Jackson’s most famous songs, Black or White. This album was notable as the first Jackson album to feature a rapper, as well as one of the pioneering works in the new jack swing genre.
The Dangerous world tour, starting in June 1992 and ending 17 months later in November 1993, drew 3.5 million listeners in 70 concerts. HBO bagged the broadcast rights of the world tour for USD 20 million―a still-intact record.
In January 1993, Jackson also performed at the halftime show at Super Bowl XXVII. His performance, where he sang four songs, was the first halftime show to have more viewers than the match in progress!
HIStory: Past, Present and Future, released in 1995, went straight to the number one slot in several countries. It contained a compilation of MJ’s hit singles, and also featured the lavishly made science-fiction video ‘Scream’. The second single, ‘You Are Not Alone’, surpassed the success of ‘Scream’ by becoming the first ever song to debut at the top spot in the Billboard Top 100. ‘Earth Song’, the third single released from this album, reached the top position and became MJ’s most successful single in the UK. ‘Earth Song’ gave a strong message to the viewers, as it addressed issues related to the environment and poverty. This album was reissued in 2001 as Greatest Hits: HIStory Volume I along with a second installment, HIStory Continues, and became the best-selling double album in history, with more than 20 million copies sold. The HIStory world tour, conducted between September 1996 and October 1997, included 82 concerts for a total audience of 4.5 million.
By Jackson’s astronomical standards, his only original album in the 2000s, Invincible, was not extremely popular. Having said that, it still managed to sell 13 million copies, in spite of being released at a time of a general slump in the music industry, without an accompanying world tour, and with very little promotion.
Got to Be There (1972)
Music & Me (1973)
Forever, Michael (1975)
Off the Wall (1979)
HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I (1995)
Due to his fame, Michael Jackson’s life was always under the microscope. His complicated personality and various long-standing psychological issues meant that he was never far from a controversy. He faced multiple child sexual abuse allegations, as well as general rumors about his mental health. His close association with his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles, in particular, spawned worldwide mocking and parody.
Despite his success and influential role as a black musician, Jackson faced widespread rumors that he had repeatedly bleached his skin in order to achieve a lighter complexion―an action that was criticized roundly. He stated that he had vitiligo, an idiopathic condition that brings about a lighter skin, but can also be caused due to chemical bleaching of the skin.
He also underwent two rhinoplasty operations in order to make his nose successively thinner. One of the procedures did not pan out as hoped, and he suffered from breathing issues as a result.
Around the time of the release of Thriller, Jackson suffered from anorexia nervosa, and lost a considerable amount of weight in order to gain a “dancer’s body”.
Child Sexual Abuse Allegations
Michael faced allegations of child sexual abuse twice in his life. The first time was in 1993, when 13-year-old Jordan Chandler accused him of sexual abuse at Michael’s estate, Neverland. Despite conflicting evidence and doubts over Jordan’s father’s intentions in pursuing the case (there was some evidence which hinted that the boy’s father was primarily interested in blackmailing Jackson, rather than fighting for justice for his son), the case was settled out of court by Michael’s insurance company, without having notified him.
Following the depiction of certain encounters in Martin Bashir’s controversial documentary Living with Michael Jackson, Jackson was arrested on charges of child molestation. He was acquitted on all counts on June 13, 2005, and subsequently relocated to Bahrain as a guest of Sheikh Abdulla, son of the King of Bahrain. Jackson, asserting his innocence, later claimed that Bashir had deliberately portrayed him in a negative light.
Despite the absence of a conviction in either of the cases, Jackson’s reputation has been considerably tarnished by these allegations.
Marriages and Children
Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of ‘The King’ Elvis Presley, in 1994. Their acquaintance went back to 1975, but they got close after the renewal of their friendship due to Michael’s ongoing struggles with the child abuse allegations. Presley, who believed steadfastly in Michael’s innocence, married him secretly in 1994.
The marriage, claimed by tabloids to have been a publicity stunt (in spite of the initial secrecy about it) to help Michael’s image as a good-natured family man, lasted less than two years, though Presley later stated that they had reconnected and broken up several times in the next few years.
Jackson married Deborah Rowe, his dermatologist’s nurse, in 1996, during the early stages of the HIStory world tour. She was about six months pregnant at the time, and gave birth to Jackson’s first child, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., on February 13, 1997. Their second child, Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson, was born on April 3, 1998. Jackson and Rowe divorced in 1999, with Jackson getting full custody of their children.
Jackson had a third child from a surrogate mother on February 21, 2002. He was named Prince Michael Jackson II. He became the center of a controversy in his early days, when Jackson held him aloft in his room’s balcony in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin, in order to allow the gathered public to see him better. The baby dangled beyond the railing, an action which invited widespread criticism for Michael, who later apologized profusely.
This great entertainer died a controversial and mysterious death on his bed in a rented mansion in Los Angeles, on June 25, 2009. The news of his death caused a huge upsurge in internet usage, causing several prominent websites, including Google, Wikipedia, and Twitter, to crash due to user overload.
His death was mysterious, with suspicions of homicide, a drug-induced accidental death or suicide, or some malice on the part of his personal physician, who prescribed his daily medication. The physician was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and completed a two-year sentence in 2013.
Michael Jackson’s contribution to the world of pop and dance are irreplaceable and irrevocable. This legend’s music has a strong hold on all the music lovers over the globe. It is, therefore, not a surprise that we have his records playing in clubs even today, and wannabes still trying to perfect the moonwalk.