The death of Michael Jackson brings to a sudden end the life of a performer who captivated pop audiences with the Jackson 5 and matured into a performer of electric charisma and unprecedented crossover appeal, before living out his final years as a virtual recluse.
Jackson died June 25 after reportedly being found unconscious in his Bel Air, Calif., home. Paramedics rushed the 50-year-old icon to UCLA Medical Center, where he was declared dead. Jackson was in Los Angeles rehearsing for a 50-date run of concerts at London’s O2 Arena that was to begin July 13.
Born Aug. 29, 1958, in Gary, Ind., Jackson was the seventh of nine children born to Katherine and Joseph Jackson. Along with older siblings Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon, Jackson first rose to fame as the pint-sized lead singer of the Jackson 5. Formed in 1964 and signed to Motown in 1968, the group quickly scored four back-to-back No. 1 pop and R&B hits, beginning with its 1969 debut single, “I Want You Back.” That was followed by “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There.”
Jackson’s expressive tenor, electric dancing and natural charisma soon made him the group’s popular focal point, so much so that he began moonlighting as a solo artist early in the group’s tenure at Motown. He recorded four solo albums for the label, scoring his first top five pop/R&B hit with “Got to Be There” in 1971. One measure of Jackson’s unique talent was his ability to turn a song about a rat, “Ben,” into another top five smash.
In 1976, the Jackson 5 left Motown in a quest for more artistic freedom, signing with Epic Records and rechristening themselves the Jacksons. The group remained with that label until 1984, scoring seven top 40 hits during that time, including “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” and “State of Shock.”
It was during this time that Jackson began to come into his own as a creative force. Teaming with legendary producer Quincy Jones, Jackson released his first solo album for Epic, “Off the Wall,” in 1979. It was a pivotal step in Jackson’s evolution into “the King of Pop.” But it was on his second solo album, the 1983 mega-hit “Thriller,” when Jackson left his contemporaries in the dust. The album earned the singer a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984. His 1983 performance of “Billie Jean” on the “Motown 25” TV special became an iconic moment when he introduced his James Brown-inspired moonwalk to a national audience.
Beyond music, Jackson showed his humanitarian side on the 1985 benefit song “We Are the World,” which he co-wrote with Lionel Richie. Proceeds from the song were donated to the charity USA for Africa.
Although Jackson never again approached the sales stratosphere of “Thriller,” the follow-up albums “Bad” and “Dangerous” reached No. 1 on the pop chart in 1987 and 1991, respectively. So did the 1995 compilation of hits and new material, “HIStory: Past, Present and Future-Book 1.” In the years since, Jackson’s star lost some of its luster in the wake of child molestation charges (he was exonerated in a trial), two divorces and financial problems. Even so, there’s no denying Jackson’s enduring influence. He set a new standard for video aesthetics and stage productions, and his music continues to be sampled by hip-hop artists.
At the time of Jackson’s death, he was reported to be working on a new album with contemporary songwriter/producers like Akon, RedOne and others anxious to work with the legendary talent.
Jackson reportedly had numerous health woes, including severe back problems, which plagued him during his 2005 trial. His weight dropped to about 105 pounds in 2005, according to some sources.
In late 2008, Jackson biographer Ian Halperin claimed the pop star suffers from Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a potentially fatal genetic illness, as well as emphysema and gastrointestinal bleeding. Halperin also told various sources that Jackson could barely speak and was 95% blind in his left eye.
Jackson and his representatives at the time vigorously denied these claims. In the run-up to his planned 2009 series of concerts in London, rumors surfaced that Jackson was suffering from skin cancer, a claim denied by the concert promoter AEG Live. “He’s as healthy as he can be-no health problems whatsoever,” AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips told CNN. Phillips also said Jackson had passed a stringent physical exam before signing a deal to perform the concerts.