"This Is It" – The Tragedy of Michael

Just spent a couple of hours watching “This is It” in the company of a dozen middle-schoolers, plus a 2nd-grader munching popcorn at my elbow. It’s a compelling document on Michael’s astonishing talent. And says virtually nothing about his devolution, unless you count those many close-ups of his freakish, pixie-like nose. One of the many glue-ons he had, I think, given how thoroughly destructed his real nose was after so many radical plastic surgeries.

This is a worn topic, perhaps, but it occurred to me to post – for anyone who might have missed it – this essay I did for The Oregonian the day after Michael died.

Michael Jackson: A deluded king beset by silent courtiers

By Peter Ames Carlin, The Oregonian

June 27, 2009, 5:36AM
Michael Jackson in 2007.

Analysis

You could see it in his face.

In the shape of his ever-changing nose. In the lightening of his flesh. In the artificially etched brows and surgically dimpled chin. And particularly in the surgical masks and sunglasses he wore to shield the inner part that could not be altered with a scalpel.

He’d spent his life in the spotlight. And it was killing him.


Follow the jump for the rest….

The signs were everywhere. In the quasi-military garb he liked to wear. In the estate he turned into a personal amusement park and renamed Neverland. In the years when his most constant companion was a chimp named Bubbles. And when his enthusiasm for the company of children devolved into charges of sexual abuse (one of which ended in a not-guilty verdict; the other he settled out of court for the suspiciously large sum of $20 million).

Artist Jeff Koons’ wax sculpture of Michael Jackson and his chimp Bubbles sits on display in Versailles, France, in 2008.

What seemed evident was that the man had lost his grip on reality. But now he was far too successful, and thus powerful, for anyone to pull him back to Earth.

Is it even surprising that such a man would die at only 50? Or is it even more of a shock to realize he had made it that long?

Elvis Presley, the last pop singer to be called a king, ended his earthly reign at 42. Judy Garland, another child star who rose even higher as an adult, died at 47.

Overwhelming fame and success may seem like a glamorous job. But make no mistake: The tidal wave of acclaim comes with a deadly undertow.

For Michael Jackson, the deathly process began almost from the moment he was born.

The Jackson 5: Michael (front right), Marlon (front left), Tito (back left), Jackie and Jermaine (back right).

His father, Joseph Jackson, was a blue-collar worker and aspiring impresario who had already started drilling his older boys in the art of singing and dancing. When 5-year-old Michael revealed talents that far outstripped the others, he quickly became the focus of the act. He was only 11 when the Jackson 5 first appeared on national television, and it was only months before the family group had its first chart-topping hit.

Dozens more followed during the early 1970s, along with the requisite concert tours, TV appearances, Saturday morning cartoons and all the adulation that greets anyone who catapults into the upper reaches of celebrity.

All these idealized children were missing was anything resembling a normal childhood. As the group’s multifaceted linchpin, the pre-adolescent Jackson could only imagine what a real life might offer.

“I remember going to the recording studio, and there was a park across the street and I’d see all the children playing,” he recalled later. “I would cry because it made me sad that I would have to work instead.”

The Jackson brothers eventually wrested control of their careers from their father. But even as Michael struck out on his own, becoming the world’s most beloved pop performer, the shadow of his stolen innocence became an increasingly palpable presence.

Consider the amusement park he built in his backyard.

But then it was too late. “Thriller” had sold a gazillion copies. He anointed himself the King of Pop, and no one was tempted to argue the point, let alone talk him out of visiting the president of the United States accompanied by his chimp.

He had already started rebuilding his face, losing virtually every trace of his racial and family inheritance in favor of a kind of alabaster mask. While he would continue to make music through the ’90s and into the 21st century, and remained the object of much curiosity and adulation, it was impossible to see his face or his gaunt frame and often-fragile countenance and not sense the tragedy that was unfolding.

Michael Jackson and then-wife Lisa Marie Presley visit Versailles, near Paris, in 1994.

Nothing about him seemed remotely normal. Not his increasingly dark lyrics. Not the grandiose poses that came to resemble the iconography of a fascist dictator. Certainly not his fixation on small children and the charges that followed. Not his stuntlike marriage to Lisa Marie Presley. Nor the second marriage toDebbie Rowe, a nurse who bore his children, only to depart to places unknown, leaving her ex-husband with full custody of their offspring in exchange for who knew what percentage of his fortune.

The entertainment-media industrial complex relished it all, knowing full well that there would be at least as much juice in Jackson’s downfall as there had been in his glory years. So no matter how strange his life became, the voices that should have called him back to Earth remained silent.

It was the same silence that allowed Elvis Presley to gorge himself on food and pills. The same silence that surrounded a teenage Britney Spears when her much-publicized innocence gave way to insobriety, pregnancies, marriages and divorces. The same silence that accompanied the lightning rise and just as speedy emotional collapse of “Britain’s Got Talent” contestant Susan Boyle.

What all these stories have in common, along with the perpetually troubled if surprisingly resilient likes of Jackson pals Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor, is the toxic cocktail of personal dysfunction, widespread fame and corporate opportunity. As long as the machinery keeps churning, as long as the money rolls in, as long as the star continues to shine, no one will be motivated to ask questions.

Let alone supply the one answer they need the most: No.

Instead, silence. Right up until Jackson was dead, which was when stories began circulating that the singer had been given a large injection of the painkiller Demerol moments before he collapsed. A Jackson family attorney stormed out of the hospital seething about the “enablers” who had surrounded Michael. “If you think the case of Anna Nicole Smith was an abuse,” he told CNN, “it’s nothing in comparison.”

The hangers-on were only getting started. By the end of the afternoon someone had circulated, and sold to “Entertainment Tonight,” a macabre photograph of the stricken Jackson being hoisted into an ambulance. EXCLUSIVE LAST PHOTO, the show’s Web site boasted.

Jackson’s songs topped online sales charts all around the world by the end of the day, and among the morning headlines was talk of a vast store of unreleased music — 100 songs, it was rumored — now bound for posthumous release.

When the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll died in 1977, his manager, Col. Tom Parker, responded immediately: Nothing had changed. The Elvis business would continue.

Now Presley’s temporary son-in-law, the self-proclaimed King of Pop, has met the same fate. An early death, then an eternity of merchandise.

Speak Your Mind