To day would have been Michael Jackson’s 63rd birthday. Though he died in 2009, there is no doubt that he left his mark on the world, good and bad. He was fascinating on stage, working tirelessly to create spectacular shows that built to a crescendo that caused fans to roar with surprise and delight. Jackson was dogged by serious allegations throughout his life, and he demonstrated evidence of psychological issues, but his modus operandi was to reinvent himself repeatedly, as often as he needed to.
Jackson was the seventh of nine kids, raised by an abusive father and a submissive mother. His father, Joe Jackson, suffered from deep-seated mental health problems and insecurities which he never addressed, probably because it would have required too much effort on his part. Joe beat his kids, including Michael, for insignificant reasons.
From an attachment perspective, Michael faced an uphill battle from the start. The theory says that if by age eight, an abused child fails to get proper psychological treatment, they run the risk of never repairing their damaged mental health.
Joe’s poor impulse control clearly caused Michael undue stress and anxiety, especially as he moved into his teenage years. Most teenagers get to try on different identities, discovering insights into who they are along the way, before settling into their more mature personality. Maybe if Michael had suffered episodic rather than chronic abuse, the singer might later have had a chance at psychological recovery. But his father’s abuse was personal and ongoing throughout Michael’s life.
Joe made fun of Michael’s full nose, a feature that is common among African-Americans. And, though clearly not a model himself, he teased Michael about his dark skin, making the horrible suggestion that there was no way Michael could be his son. The other Jackson brothers were not immune to Joe’s horrific, abusive parenting either. Despite this, Michael’s brothers teased him about his “big nose,” when they should have been creating a community, coming together to combat Joe’s abusive rants.
As they got older, the taunts became public. Jermaine Jackson, Michael’s older brother, wrote a song entitled Word to the Badd!!, in which he shamed Michael for all the things he felt Michael had done to hurt him. His sisters participated in the public airing of the family’s dirty laundry as well. In 1992, Michael’s older sister La Toya wrote a book entitled La Toya: Growing Up in the Jackson Family, in which she accused Jackson of inappropriate behavior with young boys.
Still, Michael, the ultimate humanitarian and model of forgiveness, wrote a song for Jermaine to record entitled Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming, and Michael joined him on the song. After La Toya degraded him in her book, Michael forgave and let her have a role in his videos for The Way You Make Me Feel and Say Say Say.
In 1978, Michael Jackson met music producer Quincy Jones, and the two worked together to change the face of American pop music. First came 1979’s Off the Wall. Then in 1982, they created the most excellent album of all time, Thriller. Among other record-breaking statistics, Thriller was the best-selling album of all time.
Following this massive success, in 1984, he joined his opportunist brothers for an album entitled Victory. When they toured to promote the CD, they grossed roughly $75 million in ticket sales. The Jackson siblings had troubled relationships, but Michael does seem to have tried to share his success with his family.
Undoubtedly, Michael’s brothers wore on him, and rightfully so. While he was having a massively successful solo career, they were constantly asking him to support their projects by appearing in them. In 1983 he appeared on the television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever with his brothers. But he did demand a solo performance, where he sang Billy Jean and sent fans into a tizzy by publicly moonwalking for the first time. He also joined his brothers in two TV commercials for Pepsi-Cola, even though it was reported that he did not drink Pepsi and had no interest in participating.
“And the man behind the commercial, the man who set the whole thing up, is Don King, the boxing impresario, and promoter of the Jacksons’ upcoming tour,” wrote Michael Goldberg and Christopher Connelly in their articleMichael Jackson: Trouble in Paradise? “Michael doesn’t want to do the tour. He does not trust Don King and would prefer to have nothing to do with King. So why is the most popular performer in the world burying his pride and independence to participate in this project? The answer is simple: He is doing it for his brothers, for Tito, Jackie, Marlon, Randy, and Jermaine.”
But nothing could completely repair their broken family. After Michael’s death, two of his siblings wrote books, while his brothers had a short-lived reality show; before Michael died, no one in Hollywood cared about the other Jacksons. And judging by their subpar singing and lackluster performances compared to Michael, we can see why they never captivated the music world.
In December of 1983, during the Victory tour, Michael told concertgoers this would be their last show, saddening his brothers and making the greedy Don King, who promoted the show, irate. King, in his childish way, cried that Jackson had done him wrong. “I told Michael…if you are poor, you are a poor negro – I used the N-word. If you are rich, you are a rich negro,” King reportedly told Michael. “If you are an intellectual, you are an intellectual negro. If you are a dancing and sliding and gliding nigger, I mean negro…”
In his life, Michael Jackson reportedly gave $300 million to charities such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, NAACP, UNICEF, and the Red Cross, to name a few. He helped write We Are the World, which raised over $63 million in money for humanitarian aid to Africa. But for all his goodness, no matter how much he wanted to combat the anguish caused by a lifetime of abuse, neither Jackson’s music nor his creative endeavors could save him.
When Thriller was released, 25-year-old Michael Jackson lived at home in his parents’ house, which is incomprehensible given that he was making millions from record sales and concert performances. But his erratic behaviors would only worsen over time. He behaved childishly, hanging around life-sized Walt Disney characters while carrying around a monkey named Bubbles. And by the time of his death, he had tattooed his lips pink, permanently inked his eyebrows, and had a dark tattoo around his hairline so that the wig he used to cover his receding hairline looked natural.
At one point, Michael was accused of 10 counts of child molestation. If he was found guilty, he would face 20 years in prison. In 1993, he settled out of court with a young boy who had accused him of sexual molestation, paying $20 million. The settlement made many think he looked guilty, but in Jackson’s defense, what normal parent would settle for money if their kid was molested?
Michael also suffered from longstanding drug addiction, encouraged by doctors who continued to prescribe pain medication and other drugs. When he died on June 25, 2009, the coroner’s report said that he had anesthetic propofol, anxiolytic, lorazepam, midazolam, diazepam, lidocaine, and ephedrine in his system.
Despite his challenges, Michael Jackson demonstrated tremendous psychological endurance, and time and time again, he reinvented himself, even after upsetting allegations and his strange public behavior caused the public to question their love for him. After his death, a documentary movie entitled This Is It was released, which gave fans a behind-the-scenes look into his preparations for the tour of the same name, which had been scheduled to start just a few days after his death. The film made $261.2 million in the USA alone at the box office.