Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Michael Jackson, dead at 50: A complicated legacy

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UPDATE: Jim DeRogatis talks to Robert Siegel on NPR's "All Things Considered" here.

As the music world begins to assess the complicated legacy of the man who crowned himself the King of Pop, there is no denying that Michael Jackson's climb from humble beginnings amid the belching smokestacks of Gary, Ind., to the top of the charts and worldwide superstardom will rank beside those of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and the Beatles as one of the most extraordinary rags-to-riches stories ever.

Nor is it an exaggeration to say that Jackson, who died of a heart attack after being rushed to a hospital in Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon a little more than two months shy of his 51st birthday, made a more profound impact in the arenas of soul, R&B and dance-pop than any other singer or songwriter in history.

Sadly, these accomplishments also will forever be intertwined with one of the most tawdry and tragic public meltdowns that pop culture has ever witnessed, with long shadows cast by charges of child abuse, behavior that ranged from mildly eccentric to disturbingly bizarre and the star's inability to create worthwhile new music divorced from his personal turmoil throughout the last 18 years of his career.

In many ways, Jackson's biggest musical success turned out to be his biggest handicap, since its beyond-all-measures accomplishments were something he could never top.

Released on Nov. 30, 1982, the singer's sixth solo studio album "Thriller" became one of the bestselling discs of all time, with sales estimated as falling anywhere between 40 and 100 million copies worldwide. But despite the much-vaunted impact of its genre-blurring sounds on radio and the pop charts--it spawned six Top 10 singles, including the back-to-back No. 1 hits "Billie Jean" and "Beat It"--and the fact that its big-budget videos broke the unofficial color barrier at MTV, real fans never thought it his finest work.

That honor belongs to "Off the Wall," the 1979 album that actually pioneered the mix of funk, disco, pop, soul, jazz and rock polished for mainstream consumption on "Thriller." With songs such as "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" and "Rock with You," and collaborations with superstars such as Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, who clearly viewed the then 20-year-old star as a peer, "Off the Wall" is the album hardcore fans reach for, including celebrated acolytes such as Justin Timberlake and Usher.

For that matter, more moving than anything on "Thriller" is the 1972 ballad "Ben," another No. 1 hit and a song that Jackson, right at the start of his solo career, invested with so much emotion that it instantly transcended its origins as a love song to a killer rat from a B-grade horror film.

And, of course, there are the irrepressible, irresistible, unrelentingly upbeat songs of the Jackson Five, the family group that featured Michael and four of his eight siblings. Dismissed as bubblegum pop by some critics during their hit-making prime from 1969 through 1971, in retrospect, they stand as one of the most heartfelt and enduring acts that the legendary Motown Records ever produced. Michael's vocals in particular shine through, with the prepubescent star somehow singing in a voice wise and soulful beyond its years.

It's one of the great ironies of his career that Jackson's voice pitched higher and more closely evoked a young child the older he got--though this somehow fit his infamous Peter Pan-like obsession with childhood and refusing to grow old.

While some manifestations of this could be overlooked--the pet chimp, the amusement park on his Neverland ranch, the bones of the Elephant Man and the rest--others, like the disfiguring plastic surgery, could not. Nor could the disturbing facts that in 1995, he settled charges of having sexual relations with a 13-year-old boy by reportedly paying the child's family $20 million, and that a decade later, Jackson faced criminal charges for having sex with another minor.

The superstar was acquitted of those charges in 2005, but music industry experts remained divided over whether he could ever rebuild his career. His last two albums, "HIStory" (1995) and "Invincible" (2001) were commercial and critical failures, dominated by songs rife with paranoia and full of weird, messianic images. He hadn't toured the U.S. in two decades--his last Chicago shows were at the Rosemont Horizon in April 1988--and the first four of the much-hyped comeback gigs set for London's 02 Arena in July already had been postponed, with bookies in the U.K. laying odds that Jackson would cancel outright.

Now, the question of whether the King of Pop could ever have recovered all or some of his past glories will be just another of the many troubling mysteries always linked to his name.


Throughout his career, Michael Jackson's music often seemed to comment directly on the events and issues in his life, with the topics shifting from the challenges of growing up early in his career to chronic complaints of being persecuted toward the end. Here is a look at some revealing lyrics offering an intimate glimpse at the man behind the music.

* "With a Child's Heart" (1973): "With a child's heart/Go face the worries of the day/With a child's heart/Turn each problem into play/No need to worry no need to fear/Just being alive makes it all so very clear."

* "I Can't Help It" (1979): "Looking in my mirror/Took me by surprise/I can't help but see you/Running often through my mind/Helpless like a baby/Sensual disguise/I can't help but love you/It's getting better all the time."

* "Man in the Mirror" (1988): "I'm starting with the man in the mirror/I'm asking him to change his ways/And no message could have been any clearer/If you wanna make the world a better place/Take a look at yourself, and then make a change."

* "Tabloid Junkie" (1995): "It's slander/You say it's not a sword/But with your pen you torture men/You'd crucify the Lord."

* "Privacy" (2001): "Ain't the pictures enough/Why do you go through so much/To get the stories you need/So you can bury me?/You've got the people confused/You've got the stories confused/You try to get me to lose/The man I really am."

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This sucks!! So sad...


michael you are the king of the pop

Very sad, it just doesn't seem real that Michael Jackson is gone. Such a music legend, no one will ever compare to his musical talents.

Very sad, it just doesn't seem real that Michael Jackson is gone. Such a music legend, no one will ever compare to his musical talents.

My prayers are with the Jackson family as you mourn the passing of your baby brother and friend.
Shannon Valenza of Santa Rosa, Ca.

It is sad that the personal issues overshadowed his music. I don't know what happned between him and the children, but he was an artist I was waiting to make a comeback, and a great comeback. Him and a killer band. I felt sorry for him more than anything, unlike Phil.

This is shocking and sad, I will be breaking out Off The Wall tonight, and also Thriller and Bad, his trilogy with Quincy Jones. 3 killer albums. I hope you found peace Michael.

yo mike you're the best, you done know you arrive on earth and do your best, you gone 2 soon mi boss you rock everyone's world. just continue to do your thing after life

Thank you mike for your wonderful work

OMG!! Really
Run Little Kids u are free now...

eh doesn't surprise me....God knows what else he did or put into his body...

this is sad but he will always be the king of pop!...

I will miss you michael, they crucified jesus and now he sits in glory. Only God can judge you and now you can rest with the king of kings. They want to remember you for the bad because they can not recognize good until it's gone. This man was a humanitarian, but nobody remembers the good he has done. I feel like he was murdered because he was slandered, and even after proven innocent of the bull he was still banished. People get cosmetic surgery as a way of life these days yet they are not persecuted for it. A heart attack? That's stress, now everyone wants to say,"Oh, so sad". His life went down after he married the precious Elvis Presley daughter. That wasn't liked very much for a black man so, then he was accused of having sex with little boys. Everyone who ridiculed him will live in shame for the rest of their lives; especially his accusers. If they don't feel bad, then shame on them if they really lied and they have to stand before God and all and be put in the spot light in front of everyone. Thou Shalt Not Falsely accuse...Ten Commandments (but ya'll don't wanna here this ha?) and I know you won't print this either but I just wanted you to know that you need to love and stop hating. This is another example of how we treat people because of greed, prejudice, and hate. God bless your soul Mr.Jackson and may he have mercy on us, for we know not what we do.

Today is one of the most saddest day in music and dance, he was and is the King of Pop despite recent history.

He had a tragic life, of course he was gonna have a tragic death... did anyone actually think he was going to die peacefully?

De Venezuela,,, lamentamos la perdida del mas grande de la musica Pop, unico en su genero,,,una gran perdida,,su musica jamas sera olvidada,,su estilo ,,,su baile,,su imagen,,Grande Mickael!!!j

i'm very sad, Michael Jackson your the king, king of the POP, your unbeaten no body can go heyond wheare you reached in POP music.

Charles Bonsun

This is a sad day - I remember MJ back in the day...I wanted to marry him. I am truly sad and won't ever be the same. I love you Michael! You will be forever in my heart!

Oh Micheal I will miss you. I remember waking up on every Saturday morning just to watch your cartoon and I remember looking at your show with your family the Jackson 5. I would cry every time it went off that is how much I loved you and your family. I send my prayers to mom and pop Jackson I know that it is hard when you loose a child but the memories of Micheals will last forever for generations to come. Tell Jesus I said hello Micheal I know that are you dancing for him already.

mike was agreat perfomer and great person we will all miss him he well be with us in his songs R.I.P me god be with you

i don't know whats more sad the thought of him actually being dead or the fact that were all going have to accepted the fact that he's gone and never coming back and basically presend like nothing ever happend and go on with our lifes. my prayors are truly with michael family i know this is a very hard time just remeber his always here. i know this might not help the pain for right now but lateron you will come to realize he is in a better place. forevery and alwayz loved the "king of pop" Michael Joseph Jackson

god bless his soul

god bless his soul

i loves micheal jackson i am sad that he is gone

Its a sad day, I heard about this at work,. have to admit it caught me off guard...they say they come in Threes, and we lost 3 Icons this week.... very sad

you were the best Michael, you will be missed greatly.
you were the king of pop and there is no replacement.
rest in peace.........

I'm going to miss him a lot. Rest in peace . No matter what people said about him whe all loved his music and he touch all of our hearts . So sorry . Much love to you and your familay

well he wasnt exactly my generations music man... but he seemed like a creep to me... but his music was beautiful! I am only 13... my mom thought he was a wonderful artist!..... Micheal... Rest in Peace...

To the Jackson family, we're empathic for your loss. To the King of Pop, thanks for the many inspirational moments through song.We will greatly miss, but not forget you. We keep your family in our prayers.

Dude... hes a pedo... who cares about him at all? Not me...
I mean... i don't wish death... but hes old...

I loved this guy and his music will always miss him.

May the Lord receive his soul.

Here is the video of them caring out Michael Jackson in the Ambulance after he died

mikey i luv u

GOD!!! tell me it's not real...... It's so sudden! I can't believe it!!

is it rite that the news given today??

i'm sure that you will be the thirt person who every body knows afer Jesus and Buddha, everybody in this world feel sorrow...!!!! everybody will talk about you Micheal music and your distinctive style and dance...!!!!!

Charles Bonsun - Sri lanka (1996 Cricket world Champions)

its really sad and i cant believe that he is no more......i always thought him as a immortal figure.....may god rest his soul in his music and dance and will remain in my heart forever.....michael if you are listening....this is my tribute to you........:(

Rest In Peace Michael you will be extremly missed Im so sad! For all those people speaking negative of you, their judgement day is coming too!!
Love you

That's one less competitor!

I'm the one of his biggest fans. He is the super star for all time. We will Miss you Michael. See you in heaven

Its so sad that Micheal is gone, but we all must learn from this tragic hero. He lived a trgic life and ended up tragically. Nice songs though, he will be remembered for a long long time.

I think Michael will surely be with Jesus! Because he has not done any harm to the society. He was accused of personal guilty, but those who are involved share half of the guilt. That personal guilt of him was erased with money! Is'nt it?
There is one saying in Telugu that only bad people live long! So now we know what michael is!

I love michael, his songs, and still...


Another pedophile off the Earth. Let's protect the children

man i loved micheal jackson he was the best artist i ever heard of it is a hurt piece to hear that micheal jackson the king of pop is gone when i was little i used to always wtch all of his tapes his videos and everything my and my sister loved mj and he will never b 4 gotten in our lifes RIP micheal jackson u maybe gone but ur still here we no it

I can’t really believe you are dead Michael because I am looking at you on my Television right now, Oh so sad, I love you Michael and always will you rain in my mind. I must use this opportunity to say thank you very much for your song I love so much (CHILD HOOD)

It is like someone I knew very well, loved, wanted to be with, just left all. The "Invincible" is no more...

You will be truely missed may you rip

Despite my loss of faith of the years; I have come to realize The King of Pop did touch my music taste and influence. God Bless & Rest in Peace, Micheal.

the greatest dancer of all time... performers will come and go...but his class will be unmatched... god bless.

it's a sad news that mr Jackson is dead however,i am consoled with the knowledge that life does not end in the grave.therefore,Michael still lives on.

How different it would have been had his mirror not been like the ones in a funhouse. Sad than he couldn't look in the mirror & accept what he saw there.

Without moralizing, there are a lot of people out there right now who are striving for the degree of public attention that Micheal Jackson enjoyed virtually from cradle to (now very sadly) grave. Celebrity culture is really at a fevered pitch and I hope people realize how that sort of lifestyle can corrode your well being in just about every possible way.

People will always talk about the big years for the most pivotal musicians. Benny Goodman in 1938, Elvis in '56, The Beatles in '64, Nirvana in '91.

Micheal's run of music videos in 1984 was comparable to all that and in many ways surpassed those other artists. They say that when Nirvana hit it big it was the year punk broke because they represented every musician from the underground who had toiled anonymity. You can say the same for MJ in '84 because he became the first out and out R&B crossover megastar, attracting the scope and depth of audience that Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, and , Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Curtis Mayfield could only reach for at times.

He spent so much of his life though trying for more self-aggrandizement and then blaming everyone when the monster he kept feeding went out of control. Never completely trusting the talent which had produced Thriller and Off the Wall he looked to be loved in ways so huge and scary that his hardcore fans would probably freak everyone here out a great deal.

I don't miss the statue of Micheal Jackson. I miss they guy who could sing with an incredible voice and who was a perfectionist with his dance routines. And I'm sorry that Jackson and his handlers felt that was never good enough.

Good bye Michael, may you find your stolen childhood and be forever a happy joyous child.

He may have been a great musician but he was also a pedophile. The only difference between him and a low life pedophile from the street wasa his ability to buy he way out of trouble. He won't be able to buy his way out of this with God. May he rot in hell with all the other perverts and deviates.

Micheal, we are so close in age and I remember when you and your brothers first started. You will be missed. May the Lord comfort your family at this terrible loss.

I keep watching his old videos with my son . Just can't belive it.

I came here by following a link from notorious preacher Fred Phelps' site. I should be ashamed to admit I've been there, but I went there out of curiosity when I heard that these loonies are going to picket Jackson's funeral with their messages of hate. Despicable yes, but very predictable.

It's out of the gate, the new song about Michael Jackson, and his "bittersweet legacy," and will soon be available from the CD, Dr BLTributes at:

It's called

Good-bye Michael Jackson (Bittersweet Legacy)
words and music by Dr BLT © 2009

For psychological perspective on the life and music of Michael Jackson offered by the songwriter who doubles as a clinical psychologist, visit:

I can hardly believe it. I wonder what his legacy will evolve into. I found a thoughtful discussion at pandalous. It's here:

So what he has died what I resent is why so much about him? Farrah has also died but she is not getting much media attention as he is frankly I don't care to hear anything about him .

I heard that the Mayor of Gary, Indiana wants the Jackson family to bring Michaels remains to lie in state in Gary. I think that would be a wonderful memorial for his fans on the east coast. If you believe this is a good idea, post it to the family or Gary's Mayor..

I have a simple question for you. Do you have the will power to lie down in a bed with a child without having sex with that child? If so, why do you doubt that Michael Jackson could.

For you to go around, on the air and in print, and make 'professional' judgments that Jackson was an abuser without ANY proof says a lot more about you and your need for self-aggrandizement than it does about any aspect of Jackson's character.

You keep pointing to the settlement of some 20 million dollars to a child that Jackson had helped. This proves nothing. In the case that did go to trial (in which Jackson was found NOT guilty) he was also extremely worried he would be found guilty because of the extreme media coverage and bias. Given that the public often acts as sheep and adopts whatever opinion the media feeds them I don't think Jackson's fear of a conviction (even though he professes his innocence) is surprising.

I hold out hope that the person who received the settlement and the other person who's accusation resulted in Jackson's acquittal find the character to come forward some day and acknowledge they were pressured by their parents to extort Jackson. If that day ever comes I hope you will at least have the decency to denounce all your supercilious judgments. In the mean time maybe you would benefit from a little introspection about why you feel yourself so qualified to pass judgment based on innuendo and association. Currently you come across as a very small-minded, bigoted person attempting to puff up your own ego and importance.

David Gondek

Re: Michael Jackson "With A Child's Heart":

The song was originally recorded by Diana Ross for the Supremes album "I Hear A Symphony" but not released for several years until it was included in the album "Let the Sunshine In" (originally to have been titled "No Matter What Sign You Are"). It was several more years before Jackson recorded it.
Wayne Brasler
University of Chicago

Michael Jackson was a victim of circumstances. The poster boy for the racism, greed &

lust of the entertainment industry: the mirror of our modern day

He started out as an immensely talented black boy and died
looking like the Hollywood movie star he so admired: Elizabeth Taylor.
The media is not even touching on the role they played in this tragedy.

He is now at peace!

Aurora Flores
Bandleader & founder of Zon del Barrio

Mr. DeRogatis,

After reading your article posted on the Chicago Sun website, regarding Michael Jackson's death,I deem it as one of the most beautifully written articles I've read in a long time. Most people, including myself, look at the tragedy of what happened to Mr. Jackson in his later life as something which evidentially overpowered his legendary music, not to mention his rags to riches story. After reading your article, specifically the line in the third paragraph "Sadly...", I've been able to view Michael Jackson in a more positive light. Your article has helped me understand a little bit better just how much his music influenced people's lives internationally.

Thank you so much for enlightening me,

Sara Lamar

Here's a better mix of:

Goodbye Michael Jackson
(Bittersweet Legacy)
Dr BLT copyright 2009

But it still pales in comparison to my alternative country version of Billie Jean. That'll be out in a couple of weeks, but you'll be able to sample it, and get more psychological perspective on Michael Jackson within the next couple of days over at:

Will someone please tell me exactly when Michael Jackson self-appointed, self-proclaimed, self-anointed and self-professed himself as the King of Pop? With everything coming out of the woodworks, why hasn't anyone unearthed his making this statement in public or private? If he isn't the King of Pop, then who is - who qualifies? Furthermore, if we're gonna pay homage to someone, then let's give the dead some dignity and just quit jumping on every little tidbit being said regarding Michael Jackson because as sad and tragic as his death is, the media circus is worse.

Nobody gave a f--- about him months ago when it was said he was dying of a skin infection. Now everyone is kissing his ass and buying his albums. Where the f--- were all of you when he was on trial in 2005? Amazing how nobody cared about him till he dropped dead.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on June 25, 2009 7:25 PM.

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