Michael Jackson, the eccentric king of pop, brought a highly personal message of peace, love, and healing to Oxford University last night (March 6). Referring frequently and emotionally to his own unh

Michael Jackson, the eccentric king of pop, brought a highly personal message of peace, love, and healing to Oxford University last night (March 6). Referring frequently and emotionally to his own unhappy upbringing, the 42-year-old singer told students that society had robbed a young generation of its childhood.

"Tonight I come before you less as an icon of pop ... and more as an icon of a generation, a generation that no longer knows what it means to be children," he told 500 people who packed a hall.

Jackson arrived almost three hours late for his speech to the prestigious Oxford Union debating society -- delayed, organizers said, by trouble with a broken bone in his foot. He hobbled into the brick Victorian debating chamber on crutches and wearing a white-fringed black tunic, delighting hundreds of fans who'd waited for hours in a cold drizzle.

In his half-hour address to the Union -- which has in the past played host to Richard Nixon, Malcolm X, Mother Teresa, and O.J. Simpson -- a frail-looking Jackson recalled his childhood as the lead singer of the chart-topping Jackson Five. Breaking into tears as he spoke of his hard-driving father, Jackson said that despite his fame he had envied ordinary children for their suburban homes, shag carpeting, and games of Monopoly.

"The cheery 5-year-old who belted out 'Rockin Robin' and 'Ben' to adoring crowds was not indicative of the boy behind the smile," Jackson said. He said he longed for "a father who showed me love. And my father never did that."

The speech served as a launch for Heal The Kids -- a charity founded by Jackson, the flamboyant Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and spoon-bending psychic Uri Geller.

Jackson said an increasingly violent and materialistic society had produced a generation of unloved children "growing more distant from their parents, grandparents and other family members."

Heal The Kids aims to encourage parents to spend more time with their children, and urge children to respect and forgive their parents -- as Jackson said he had forgiven his own father.

Jackson has two children, Paris and Prince, by nurse Deborah Rowe, who filed for divorce in 1999. In 1993, he was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy and eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Several hundred ardent fans packed the narrow street outside the Union for hours before the star's arrival, chanting "Michael is coming to heal the children!"

"There is such love and peace is in his aura," said Dorothy Debuhr, one of a contingent of 300 from a German fan club. "He is the angel of love and peace, and the world should know that."

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