On his life and death:
Geoff Boucher and Elaine Woo: Michael Jackson was fascinated by celebrity tragedy. He had a statue of Marilyn Monroe in his home and studied the sad Hollywood exile of Charlie Chaplin. He married the daughter of Elvis Presley.
Jackson met his own untimely death Thursday at age 50, and more than any of those past icons, he left a complicated legacy. As a child star, he was so talented he seemed lit from within; as a middle-aged man, he was viewed as something akin to a visiting alien who, like Tinkerbell, would cease to exist if the applause ever stopped.
Hank Stuever and Matt Schudel: … That particular weirdness eventually led Mr. Jackson back to court in the spring of 2005, after the boy accused the pop star of molesting him. Mr. Jackson’s fragility was never more pronounced than in that Santa Maria courthouse. Here at last was the daily, up-close look at a withered man in a mirror, under the courtroom’s fluorescent lights. He was always polite, and always sad. Mr. Jackson was acquitted and spent the rest of his days on the move, on jets and in hotels, dodging bankruptcy proceedings, as if he were on the run from not only what he was, but what the world made him.
Sean Daly: … Over the next decade, there was a sense among the general populace that it wasn’t cool to praise Jackson — at least not out loud. But I was at more than a few clubs where, when the clock struck midnight, that hip-thrusty beat of Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ would kick in, and people would smile and move and sing in the dark, willing to forgive — or at least forget — because it was irresistible, life-affirming even.
This brings us back to his legacy and its endurance. Jackson recently embarked on a comeback, or at least planned one. He sold out 50 shows in London’s giant O2 arena, and he sold that sucker out fast. His fans, a lot of fans, still cared — and this time, they cared out loud.
John McWhorter: The question, which he never even ventured an answer to, was why. Who was this personnage supposed to be? White? Gay? Perhaps we were to allow that he was just being “him.” But leaving unanswered just who that “him” was supposed to be was, most charitably interpreted, too far ahead of our times. It left him a faintly gruesome cipher.
Joe Gross: There will never, ever be anyone like Michael Jackson again.
Let’s start with the numbers, which are almost beyond comprehension.
Thirty-seven Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Twenty-nine U.S. Top 10 singles, 13 of them No. 1’s, nine of them platinum sellers, 16 gold.
Thirteen Grammy Awards and 750 million albums sold worldwide.
Owning a Michael Jackson record is a bit like having a phone or a stove.
From the archives:
Gerri Hirshey, 1983: Run this down next to the stats, the successes, and it doesn’t add up. He has been the featured player with the Jackson Five since grade school. In 1980, he stepped out of the Jacksons to record his own LP, Off the Wall, and it became the best-selling album of the year. Thriller, his new album, is Number Five on the charts. And the list of performers now working with him ? or wanting to ? includes Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones, Steven Spielberg, Diana Ross, Queen and Jane Fonda. On record, onstage, on TV and screen, Michael Jackson has no trouble stepping out. Nothing scares him, he says. But this….
“Do you like doing this?” Michael asks. There is a note of incredulity in his voice, as though he were asking the question of a coroner. He is slumped in a dining-room chair, looking down into the lower level of the living room. It is filled with statuary. There are some graceful, Greco-Roman type bronzes, as well as a few pieces from the suburban birdbath school. The figures are frozen around the sofa like some ghostly tea party.
Michael Goldberg: The seven dwarfs are singing. Their voices are floating out of speakers hidden among the trees and lush flora surrounding Michael Jackson’s mansion, in Neverland Valley — his 2700-acre, $22 million oasis in the Santa Ynez Valley, an hour north of Santa Barbara, California. “Michael’s very own Xanadu,” as his friend director John Landis puts it.
At Neverland Jackson has created a secluded and secure environment far from businessmen, attorneys, managers, music-television-channel VIPs and even members of his immediate family. Here he can stand in front of his house and the only sounds to hear are the birds in the oak and sycamore trees and, of course, the Seven Dwarfs. And if he chooses to gaze past the expansive lake that stretches out in front of his three-story Tudoresque country home, past the lush green lawns and neatly manicured flower beds, the bronze statues of young boys beating tambourines or playing toy accordions, he sees simply a peaceful hillside dotted with oaks.
Stuever, 2002: Stray thoughts, unfinished paragraphs and meandering ruminations on the frightening, fascinating and ultimately unsatisfying subject of Michael Jackson, 20 years after his album “Thriller” first began to climb up the pop charts.
1. Michael Jackson: He makes the Weekly World News seem true, every page of it.
2. Michael Jackson: The tawdriness involved with just looking at pictures of him, the leering and uncomfy feelings, the what now? of Michael Jackson. People will look anyhow. He is powder and synthetic hair and paint and so much frailty. Where the nose used to be, there is now an exposed piece of plastic that looks like part of a tiny, tiny ice cube tray, revealing the architecture of his proboscidean desire — the upturned nose of the pretty starlet. It has eroded away. If supercelebrity facilitates the creation of a family of those who adulate and those who are adulated (the other uneasy family Michael Jackson belongs to, aside from the one to which he was physically born), then he is like a relative we cannot help. We are LaToya to him. We seethe like Jermaine. We surpass him like Janet. He rejects us even as he needs us. There is the urge to intervene, to understand him as a celebrity, to contemplate his very success and failure and existence. But to do any of that, you have to first see him, on some level, as a human being. This is where it all goes wrong.
3. Michael Jackson: Dangling his shrouded baby from a hotel balcony! Stop that!
Who else? Post ’em.