Of all his troubled relationships, Jackson's most fraught might have been his connection with the African-American community. But no matter what opinions of him were before his passing, many lapsed admirers have re-embraced Jackson.
"There was a huge reservoir of good will among African-Americans for Michael Jackson," says Nelson George, author of the recently released "Thriller: The Musical Life of Michael Jackson." "Generations of kids grew up on his music, and they felt a powerful connection to him. I think a lot of people remained fans, even after all the controversy, but they just weren't open about it. His death unleashed a lot of positive energy and allowed people to be excited about him again."
George says that while many African-American musicians always held Jackson in high regard, opinions began to change around the time Jackson's face began to transform.
"People thought that it was about self-hatred," George says. "In terms of other allegations, there was a belief that he was being railroaded by the media, and the bigger issue was really more his transformation. People felt such a powerful connection to the man he'd been when he was younger and it was hard to see that shift."
BET president of music programming and specials Stephen Hill says Jackson's death put a number of rumors to rest, and that was a key part of his reacceptance. "The questions about his skin ailment were finally answered," he says. "And people again focused on the fact that Michael never stopped donating in a big way to black causes."
Hill says his channel is planning extensive programming around the anniversary of Jackson's passing. BET will air a special episode of its flagship video program, "106th & Park," devoted to playing Jackson's videos and talking to fans and celebrities. The channel is also considering re-airing last year's BET Awards and says it has "very special plans" for the 2010 awards, which will air at 8 p.m. June 27.
"Even though he was more of a tabloid figure in his later years, there is no denying he changed pop culture," Hill says. "And when he did, he brought black people along with him. Berry Gordy's obituary of him said it best--he made some mistakes and some bad choices, but at the end of the day, he really changed things."