by David Alston
On Thursday, June 25, 2009, the world received the shocking news that King of Pop Michael Jackson was on his death bed. By 2:26 that afternoon the much repeated international rumor had become a heartbreaking fact. Musical genius and King of Popular music Michael Joseph Jackson had died at the age of 50 in his Los Angeles home of cardiac arrest, or heart failure, on the eve of his first major tour in 16 years.
Jackson was found in his bedroom unconscious Thursday afternoon by his live-in personal cardiologist, Dr. Conrad Murray. It has been alleged that Dr. Murray tried to resuscitate the music legend with a lethal prescription shot when it was discovered that Jackson was not breathing and had no pulse.
Dr. Murray, an African American, who had an aide call for an emergency ambulance while he franticly tried to give Jackson CPR, can clearly be heard on the recently released 911 call shouting in the background, “They need to come NOW.” The call indicates that Jackson may have been dead or slipping away before the ambulance ever arrived at his Bel Air estate.
Sources close to Jackson reported that Dr. Murray was hired by Jackson, at a cost of $150,000 a month, when it was discovered the star had emphysema and a rare form of skin cancer, which was “draining his energy.” It is not clear what practice Dr. Murray came from, or if he was certified by the medical board to practice in California, but some reports indicate Murray was needed to keep Jackson in shape for the much anticipated “This Is It” concert tour set to kick off this month at London’s 02 Arena. Despite negative media attention regarding Michael’s health and financial issues, Jackson himself was said to be “eager to get back to my fans.”
Michael was said to be under a litany of pressure to perform and raise cash to help with his financial obligations. Jackson had already started auctioning off numerous personal items including the original glitter glove worn on 1983’s Motown 25 and the Neverland Ranch gates, when what had originally started out as 10 dates at famed Wembley Arena in London grew in demand to 50 cross country shows starting July 13, at the 02 Arena in Britain. The shows were expected to bring in well over $200 million if successful. It has also been reported that All Good Entertainment promoters filed a lawsuit against Jackson’s managers to push the star to tour the states first.
With a career spanning four decades, Michael Jackson became a mega superstar surpassing his peers to become one of the most popular and charismatic entertainers in music history. Michael captured the attention and hearts of music lovers around the world by utilizing a soaring vocal range and inventing mesmerizing dance moves unmatched by his competitors then and now.
The legacy Michael Jackson leaves cannot be understated. Along with his brothers Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Jackie, the original Jackson 5 would sign with Motown in 1969, thanks to the help of Gladys Knight and Bobby Taylor, and become one of only two groups ever to be personally managed by Motown founder Berry Gordy. With Gordy’s help they would produce four consecutive No. 1s: “I Want You Back,” ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There.” The Jackson 5 with Michael on lead would shatter the sound and color barrier in a way that had not been seen since the 1950s produced Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
For the first time in music history there were five gifted Black adolescent boys showcasing their natural looks and talent in all its glory without having it suppressed, ignored or dismissed by mainstream white America. With Michael’s first appearances on the Hollywood Palace and Ed Sullivan in 1969, the world witnessed a magic that would not be ignored. In essence he became a new ambassador for a generation of Americans of African descent who longed to achieve the success they had previously been denied based solely on the color of their skin.
Throughout his career Michael openly paid homage to those who had influenced and paved the way for his arrival. From Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, Fred Astaire, Diana Ross to his idol, James Brown, Jackson made it his mission to acknowledge their contribution to his craft by liberating himself from the stereotypical images placed upon him in a white controlled society.
When the Jackson 5 left Motown in 1975, it was Michael who asked Berry to allow his bothers to retain their name and be allowed to write songs. When the verdict was “No,” Michael said fine, “We’ll go elsewhere and be ‘The Jacksons’ because I built that name, not you.”
By the time Michael collaborated with Quincy Jones during the filming of “The Wiz,” neither of them knew their work together on Michael’s landmark 1979 “Off the Wall” album would send them into the stratosphere. “Off The Wall” would be Michael’s official declaration of independence.
The 10 songs on this album would become timeless masterpieces and spawn four Top 10 singles, including the No. 1s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” and “Rock With You.” This album would take Michael out of the bubble gum soul genre of music and establish him firmly next to peers like Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Rick James and Marvin Gaye as a bonafide singer songwriter.
With this album, Michael had reignited the emotional connection with old fans and introduced himself to new record buyers with a spark that had been missing in the past. Though industry big wigs treated him as just another “Black artist,” fans didn’t.
By now Jackson was starting to distance himself from his brothers when it became clear they didn’t have the vision to grow in other directions as he did. I remember reading interviews in Jet and Right On! in the early 1980s when it was obvious Jackson wanted to branch out. It was also clear he felt obligated to his brothers and father, Joseph Jackson, who had “discovered” him and placed him on the road to success, but Jackson knew he would never reach those heights unless he broke away from a cycle that was killing him emotionally and artistically.
It should be noted the beginnings of Jackson’s inner turmoil started around this time, for he would have to fight to get his next solo project recorded, released and promoted correctly, as well as fight to keep the Jacksons as a group a competitive commodity. With producer Quincy Jones again at the helm of 1982’s monster hit, “Thriller,” Jackson and Jones consciously set out to force the entertainment industry to take notice of the musical genius of Michael Jackson. It seems to have worked, for the album made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, which named “Thriller,” with over 40 million units sold, the best selling album of all time.
Black culture as created by African Americans has always been pop culture – how boring would America be if it weren’t for the influences of Black people! – but Michael Jackson made being Black in America acceptable during a time when prime time television refused to show Blacks unless they looked like “Good Times” rejects, and MTV only played videos by artists that looked like Rod Stewart.
Michael and Prince were the first Black artists to break that social barrier and make a new generation of children proud to be Black. Despite this major coup, MTV had to be threatened with non-service of other videos before they would play Jackson.
Michael didn’t just moonwalk his way into our hearts, he wrote about social issues of the day: From his duet with sister Janet titled “Scream” comes: “Tired of injustice/ tired of the schemes/ I’m kinda disgusted/ so what does it mean?/ Kicking me down,/ I got to get up/ … (Janet) You’re sellin out souls but/ I care about mine/ I’ve got to get stronger/ And I won’t give up the fight … Oh my God, can’t believe what I saw/ As I turned on the TV this evening/ I was disgusted by all the injustice/ All the injustice/ (Michael) All the injustice/ (News Man) ‘A man has been brutally beaten to death by/ Police after being wrongly identified as a/ robbery suspect. The man was/ an 18-year-old Black male.’/
(Michael) With such collusions, don’t it make you wanna scream.” And the classic “Money,” where he states, “Anything for money/ lie for you/ die for you/ even sell my soul to the devil.”
He wrote meaningful songs that sometimes got lost in the politics that I personally feel were set up to destroy his legacy and contribution to entertainment industry as a whole, for we finally had a Black man accomplishing what no other person had ever done. This is the man who wrote, “I’m here to remind you they don’t really care about us,” during his infamous 1993 child abuse court case.
Some reports have stated that Michael was too frail and weak to complete his massive upcoming tour. Some claims have the star weighing only 112 pounds at the time of his death, which is what he weighed in 1984. Some reports even have him strung out on the prescription drug Demoral, which he sings about on 1997’s “Morphine,” a track featured on the “Blood on the Dance Floor” CD. Jackson must have had one of the fastest autopsies in history, leaving absolutely no chance for a Walt Disney-style later day save!?
Love him or hate him, we will never again see a star with the power, presence and magnitude of Michael Jackson; he managed to accomplish in his lifetime what very few individuals have been allowed to do. Jackson put his mind, body and soul into his work, capturing the spirit of music like a heartbeat.
He wore his feelings on his sleeve, showing his extreme distress regarding the state of the world and the plight of his brothers and sisters. He was a passionate entertainer and charity giver. Michael was so loved by fans he became part of the American vocabulary. If you were caught performing certain dance moves, people would say, “Hey, you’re doing the Michael Jackson.”
If you ever want to know anything about Michael Jackson, all you have to do is listen to his music, for he left you a play by play description of what was truly going on in his life. Just listen to “Unbreakable” from his last studio project, “Invincible”: “You try to stop me, but it won’t do a thing/ No matter what you do, I’m still gonna be here/ Through all your lies and silly games I’m a still remain the same/ I’m unbreakable.”
Plans to put Jackson’s body on display for a public viewing this Friday at Neverland Ranch have been canceled as the family seeks a more accessible venue. Katherine Jackson has been named executor of Michael’s estate and guardian of his three children, who were home at the time of his death. The children are to remain with Mrs. Jackson per his request according to Jackson’s will.
David Alston, former entertainment editor of the Bay View, and his Mahogany Archives can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.