By Shehtaz Huq
Red jacket, sequined glove, white socks. The black hat that got tossed into the screaming crowd. The moonwalk that singed the stage and won the world. Michael Jackson, right up there in the echelon of greats, jostling for shelf space with Elvis and The Beatles, passed away at the age of 50 on Thursday, June 25th 2009.
Radio waves and news stations flood with clips of his greats, snippets of 'Beat It' and 'Smooth Criminal' and 'Thriller.' Hollywood, shocked into silence, calls and Tweets and Facebooks and emails CNN and MSNBC and Fox News. Images of fans, crying, flooding the Hollywood Walk of Fame, converging at the famous Apollo Theater and on the grounds of UCLA Medical Center, cram the air waves. And his life unfolds, five decades of fascination and controversy and groundbreaking artistry.
Michael Jackson, the seventh of nine children, born to Joe and Katherine Jackson on August 29 1958 in Indiana. At five years old, taking the stage with four of his five brothers as the centrepiece of the Motown ensemble 'Jackson 5'. The pint-sized boy with the larger-than-life afro, belting out classics like 'ABC' and carving a niche for himself in entertainment, a niche that even in death he would not abandon.
And then, from child star to megastar, Jackson shakes the world with his first solo album 'Off The Wall.' The world reels from the young, magnetic Jackson and his matchless footwork, and the night clubs of the 80s ring out with Jackson's 'Don't Stop Till You Get Enough.' And then there is 'Thriller', the cultural phenomenon of 1982, going on to sell 50 million copies worldwide and reigning supreme as the number one selling album of all time. He breaks the colour barrier, long before Tiger Woods or Barack Obama, by having his classic 13 minute-long Thriller video aired on MTV, the first artist of colour to have this honour. He sweeps the Grammy's off its feet when 'Thriller' takes home 8 awards and tops pop and R&B charts all in one breath. The self-proclaimed King of Pop takes the world in the palm of his hand, yet even as his fame transcends anything that came before him his personal life grips the mind of the public. His fascination with young boys, his alleged desire to live to a 150 by sleeping in an oxygen chamber, and in 1993 his first child molestation case.
His face morphs with his personal crises, and as his sixteen-month marriage to Lisa Marie Presley ends and his second marriage of convenience with his dermatologist's assistant the greatest artist of the 20th century faces the brunt of public scrutiny. Alleged claims that he bought child custody rights of his two children from his second wife run rampant as Michael retreats to his 2700-acre Neverland ranch in California. Yet his career forges an uphill path. 'Thriller' is followed by 'Dangerous' and 'Bad', and the iconic Jackson and his iconic dance moves grip the world. His singles, though nowhere near the cult status of 'Thriller', top the Billboard Top 100 chart. Concerts, in Manila and Sydney and London, sell out in minutes as the world jostles to take him in.
And yet the world has a perverse fascination with Jackson, as much as for his artistry as his personal life. His ever-changing nose, now whittled to skeletal proportions, and his insistence to shroud himself and his children with surgical masks (and in one case, a burkha) routinely land him on less-than-desirable lists. When he dangles his nine month-old third child from a balcony in Berlin, the pop star is eclipsed by the unravelling of his personal life. His music career dwindles, too, and his fantasy retreat of Neverland becomes subject to more public gawking when in 2003 ABC's Martin Bashir's documentary revealed to the world that Jackson slept with young boys in his head. Jackson infamously defends himself by saying, 'That's the most loving thing to do, to share your bed with someone.' The tape is brought in as evidence in Jackson's 2005 child molestation trial, where the ever-pale Jackson is acquitted of all charges but mars his public image by showing up to court in pyjama bottoms and dancing on the roof of a car. After the trial Jackson, drowning in debt, flees his Neverland ranch and moves to Bahrain. Out of sight, out of mind, and when his comeback album 'Invincible' fails to make a mark Jackson decades in show business reach their twilight.
2009, and Jackson announces to the world his 50-concert comeback tour. Tickets sell out in a matter of five minutes, and though there are speculations friends and family say that Jackson is back on top, rehearsing six hours a day, personally picking out dancers. And then, at half past one on a Thursday afternoon Jackson's personal physician places a frantic 911 call that the King of Pop has gone into cardiac arrest. Medical personnel rush to his home in Los Angeles and try for the better part of two hours to resuscitate him, and while choppers buzz over the hospital compound and crowds gather on the street the hospital pronounces the singer dead at 2:36 PM.
The 24-hour news coverage is testament enough that the star made his mark on the world. The fan reaction is stupendous at best, with people all over the world doing their bit to pay homage to the greatest entertainer of this century. Digging out his albums, requesting his songs on TV shows and the radio, waving posters, leaving flowers. The world will reel from the loss of Michael Jackson.