“A measure of any society is the way it treats its young… Raising children – providing them with food, security, love and education – should never be seen as an act of altruism.” Pat Lancaster
He’s really gone… and now all we can do is hesitantly flash back to a kaleidoscope of memories. We are left with memories that book the innocence of “ABC” to the idealism of “We are the World” and the introspection of “Man in the Mirror”. Looking back, we can’t help but realize that he has always been with us… and somehow we thought he always would. Losing him is like returning to our old neighborhood and discovering that our favorite places are gone. We struggle to get our minds around this; but ultimately we recognize that this is a vacancy that can never be filled.
For many of us, including loyal fans, we could not have dreamed that there was such a deep reservoir of love for him all over the world. Over the past 13 years, he’s become perpetual tabloid fodder…more superfreak than superstar. “Wacko Jacko”, suspected child molester, financially distressed Peter Pan, outcast are just some of the labels the media has given him over the last 20 years. The more charitable observers viewed him at best as a lost, tormented soul, in dire need of therapeutic intervention.
Bubbles the chimp, self-mutilation, Neverland Ranch, Elephant Man’s bones, and his hyperbaric oxygen chamber are just some of the bizarre behaviors associated with him. Many of the stories were blatant fabrications; however, Michael’s publicist sometimes chose not to refute them because they kept people talking.
Of course, dangling his child from a hotel window and sleeping with children certainly contributed to the idea that he had become immortal. Somehow none of this controversy matters now. All of the media’s concerted efforts to reduce him to a sideshow freak have failed spectacularly when we examine the facts. London’s O2 concerts give us an idea of the ferocious loyalty of its fans. 800,000 tickets sold out in 5 hours, almost double the sales of his 1988 hay day performances. The Staple Center Memorial site reports that he has received half a billion hits. Amazon reported that 60% of all CD sales were from fans buying something with his name on it. Barnes and Nobles even sold out of its CDs, DVDs and books.
Even China, a country known for rejecting American excesses, gave him full page coverage on the country’s largest website, Sina.com. Predictably – Japanese media paid massive attention to the death of ‘Michael-san’, as did CNN in Asia. The three largest cable news networks – CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC – averaged 8.2 million primetime viewers, a figure nearly double the normal viewership. The BBC reported an increase in viewership, second only to the night Barack Obama was elected president. The response from the Russian, South American, Canadian, Australian and African media was equally massive.
It’s been 13 years since Michael has toured and many wondered if he could really deliver something close to a smooth moonwalk or the youthful energy of his “Thriller” or “Bad” performances, or could this just be being another setback, tailor-made for tabloid consumption. Even the promoters admitted to being anxious, but couldn’t resist the possibilities and profitability of a Michael Jackson revival. The press expressed serious doubts that at the age of 50 he would be able to perform the grueling 50-date O2 concert. However, video footage of his last days showed that he was ready to give the world another thriller.
You couldn’t help wondering if this comeback story was more about overly optimistic promoters trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together. Stories of him with skin cancer and a host of other chronic health issues have always endured. He reportedly began to descend into prescription drug addiction shortly after his hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984. The 1993 child molestation allegations eventually pushed him over the edge. Those close to the singer stated that he had about 10 plastic surgery procedures in 1990, leading some mental health experts to state that Michael suffered from a body dysmorphic disorder. This is a mental illness that causes a person to feel physically repulsed. In 1993, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, he shared that he had vitiligo. In December 2008, Michael Jackson biographer Ian Halperin stated that he suffered from alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, a potentially fatal genetic disease, as well as emphysema and gastrointestinal bleeding. His management strongly denied this. However, we all wondered as images of him in a wheelchair and his zombie-like look during his latest molestation trial circulated.
Despite all the speculation about his mental/physical health, he passed his physical travel insurance “with flying colors,” said Randy Phillips, CEO of AEG Live. The photographer Kevin Mazur who had followed Michael for the past 30 years and documented rehearsals for the tour book said: “Michael was back – that’s all I could say: ‘Everyone close to Michael, from his choreographer to the producers of the show, agrees on this. He looked energized and ready to give the performance that would take him back to his former glory and perhaps beyond. His O2 concert series would begin in July and would be followed by a world tour.
True to form… MJ’s death cannot be neatly explained. It looks like the King of Pop will remain the King of Tabloid long after he’s buried. He has now undergone two autopsies and the cause of death is still inconclusive. Toxicology reports to be submitted within 3 to 4 weeks may shed some light on the cause of death. Police reportedly removed the powerful drug Propofol, marketed under the brand name Diprivan, from his Holmby Hills rented residence. How this drug came into his possession will surely be pursued by the LA Police Department and the DEA.
His personal physician Dr. Murray and a host of other physicians/facilitators will no doubt continue to be investigated, even though the Los Angeles Police Department says there is no evidence of foul play at this time. Dr. Murray, a 56-year-old cardiologist with a practice in Las Vegas and a clinic in Houston, has lived in numerous homes in several states over the past decade. His ex-partner, also a physician in Houston, was imprisoned for fairly lavishly handing out prescription drugs. According to public records, Dr. Murray filed for personal bankruptcy in California in 1992 and has five tax lawsuits against him for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Health Grades, a health care rating agency, indicates that he is not certified by the board in his two specialties, internal medicine and cardiology. While certification is not required to practice a specialty, it is recommended and indicates a high level of training and expertise. We have to wonder why someone of Michael’s stature would hire someone with less than impeccable credentials.
As we ponder the global appeal of this unique pop star and try to understand the media frenzy and global outburst of emotion surrounding his passing, we have to wonder why we’re so transfixed. What is the core of this phenomenon? This man-child, as Paul McCartney so aptly describes him, who for a moment turned all world events upside down, including wars, the swine flu, the world’s economic collapse and Kim Jong-il’s nuclear ambitions.
Why did the world stop for this pop star? His shy effeminate demeanor, surgically disfigured face, and endless tales of bizarre behavior don’t fit the Mr. Clean image that creators of idols usually have. He was never classically “commercial”. He certainly didn’t fit the hardcore rocker or hip-hop image, because despite the phenomenal sales of the album “Bad” he was much more fun than “bad” when he released this album. In fact, portraying Michael as evil or intimidating is perfect material for a Saturday Night Live skit.
Everyone close to Michael, from Deepak Chopra to his manager, can all agree that his adult years have been very troubled and he only seemed to find peace and satisfaction when he stepped up and got a “fix” from his admiring fans. Interestingly, despite his painful memories of his father’s abuse, he said no when asked if he would give everything back to have a normal childhood.
Michael’s refusal to “grow up” – his childish idealism may ultimately be the key to his universal appeal. Our adult world is one where 963 million people around the world suffer from hunger and wars cause incalculable suffering and depletion of valuable resources. Every day, a child dies every five seconds from hunger-related causes. In the past decade, about 2 million children have died in armed conflict. This is the world of so-called competent adults.
When we examine the life and contributions of Michael Jackson, we must conclude that he was much more than a song and dance man. His consistent and some say naive messages of love and unity may be why the world is reeling at the loss of this gentle soul. Of course, the media never extensively reported that he gave generously to 39 charities around the world. Unsurprisingly, much of the primary mission of these charities has been the welfare of children.
As we begin to understand Michael’s universal appeal, it becomes clear that this self-proclaimed King of Pop was unique, grand and timeless enough to truly deserve this accolade. His magical performances took us away from the relentless banality/brutality of the REAL world… and allowed us to escape to a musical Never Neverland. For this we are eternally grateful… and we will all enjoy his rich musical legacy forever and ever.