Michael Jackson has died at his LA home following a cardiac arrest at the age of 50.
The news is so bolt-from-the-blue shocking that it is still hard to comprehend that the ‘King of pop’ is no longer with us. In just over a fortnight he was due to embark on 50 dates at London’s O2 Arena. Now this. What are we to make of Michael Jackson so soon after this news has broken?
The man contained multitudes, to paraphrase Walt Whitman. The most successful pop star of the last 30 years, a child star who dragged black music into the mainstream charts and attracted a huge white audience with his snappy blend of soul, funk and rock, and an artist who released some of the most perfect pops songs of the post-Beatles generation.
But Jackson also had a troubled personal life. The boy who never grew up was a child star by the age of 10, but later alluded to parental abuse at the hands of his driven father. This spilled over into his adult life, and Jackson’s music was increasingly overshadowed by his ever-changing appearance (rumours of numerous operations, only two ever confirmed, but the evidence of his changing skin colour was obvious to all), his short-lived marriages to his nurse and Lisa Presley, and a high-profile child abuse case all served to tarnish Jackson’s public profile.
The publicity surrounding Jackson’s recent announcement of a series of July shows at London’s 02 Arena was a testament to the singer’s continued presence as a media star. Lesser individuals would have been buried by the events that sullied Jackson’s later years, but the singer was still the major news story of 2009.
Ignore the tawdry details of his personal life and remember Michael Jackson the pop star. The man who recorded the bestselling album of all time (Thriller), collaborated with Quincy Jones on three of the best pop records ever made (Thriller, Off The Wall, Bad), and made history with the Jackson 5, the first pop group in history to have their first four singles top the US charts. He also pioneered rock video when he hired John Landis to direct a 16-minute film to promote Thriller’s title track, and in the process forced the influential MTV channel to begin promoting black artists.
Michael Jackson is dead, and the last great pop star of our generation is gone. We will never see his like again.