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|This article is about a person who has recently died. Some information, such as that pertaining to the circumstances of the person’s death and surrounding events, may change rapidly as more facts become known.|
For other persons named Michael Jackson, see Michael Jackson (disambiguation).
Michael Jackson in 1984
|Michael Joseph Jackson|
|August 29, 1958(1958-08-29)
|June 25, 2009 (aged 50)
Los Angeles, California,
|Pop, R&B, rock, soul|
|Singer, songwriter, record producer, arranger, dancer, choreographer, actor, author, businessman, financier|
|Vocals, multiple instruments, percussion|
|Motown, Epic, Sony|
|The Jackson 5/The Jacksons|
Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) was an American recording artist, entertainer, and businessman. The seventh child of the Jackson family, he debuted on the professional music scene at the age of 11 as a member of The Jackson 5 and began a solo career in 1971 while still a member of the group. Referred to as the “King of Pop” in subsequent years, five of his solo studio albums are among the world’s best-selling records: Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991) and HIStory (1995).
In the early 1980s, he became a dominant figure in popular music and the first African-American entertainer to amass a strong crossover following on MTV. The popularity of his music videos airing on MTV, such as “Beat It“, “Billie Jean” and Thriller—credited for transforming the music video into an art form and a promotional tool—helped bring the relatively new channel to fame. Videos such as “Black or White” and “Scream” made Jackson an enduring staple on MTV in the 1990s. With stage performances and music videos, Jackson popularized a number of physically complicated dance techniques, such as the robot and the moonwalk. His distinctive musical sound and vocal style influenced many hip hop, pop and contemporary R&B artists.
One of the few artists to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, his other achievements include multiple Guinness World Records—including one for “Most Successful Entertainer of All Time”—13 Grammy Awards, 13 number one singles in his solo career—more than any other male artist in the Hot 100 era—and the sales of over 750 million albums worldwide. Cited as one of the world’s most famous men, Jackson’s highly publicized personal life, coupled with his successful career, made him a part of popular culture for almost four decades.
Jackson died on June 25, 2009 at the age of 50.
1958–1975: Early life and The Jackson 5
See also: The Jackson 5
Michael Joseph Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana (an industrial suburb of Chicago, Illinois) to a working-class family on August 29, 1958. The son of Joseph Walter “Joe” and Katherine Esther (née Scruse), he was the seventh of nine children. His siblings are Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Randy and Janet. Joseph Jackson was a steel mill employee who often performed in an R&B band called The Falcons with his brother Luther. Jackson was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses by his devout mother.
From a young age Jackson was physically and mentally abused by his father, enduring incessant rehearsals, whippings and name-calling. Jackson’s abuse as a child affected him throughout his grown life. In one altercation—later recalled by Marlon Jackson—Joseph held Michael upside down by one leg and “pummeled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks”. Joseph would often trip up, or push the male children into walls. One night while Jackson was asleep, Joseph climbed into his room through the bedroom window. Wearing a fright mask, he entered the room screaming and shouting. Joseph said he wanted to teach his children not to leave the window open when they went to sleep. For years afterward, Jackson suffered nightmares about being kidnapped from his bedroom.
Jackson first spoke openly about his childhood abuse in a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey. He said that during his childhood he often cried from loneliness and would sometimes get sick or start to regurgitate upon seeing his father. In Jackson’s other high profile interview, Living with Michael Jackson (2003), the singer covered his face with his hand and began crying when talking about his childhood abuse. Jackson recalled that Joseph sat in a chair with a belt in his hand as he and his siblings rehearsed and that “if you didn’t do it the right way, he would tear you up, really get you.”
Jackson showed musical talent early in his life, performing in front of classmates and others during a Christmas recital at the age of five. In 1964, Jackson and Marlon joined the Jackson Brothers—a band formed by brothers Jackie, Tito and Jermaine—as backup musicians playing congas and tambourine, respectively. Jackson later began performing backup vocals and dancing; at the age of eight, he and Jermaine assumed lead vocals, and the group’s name was changed to The Jackson 5. The band toured the Midwest extensively from 1966 to 1968. The band frequently performed at a string of black clubs and venues collectively known as the “chitlin’ circuit“, where they often opened for stripteases and other adult acts. In 1966, they won a major local talent show with renditions of Motown hits and James Brown‘s “I Got You (I Feel Good)“, led by Michael.
The Jackson 5 recorded several songs, including “Big Boy“, for the local record label Steeltown in 1967 and signed with Motown Records in 1968. Rolling Stone magazine later described the young Michael as “a prodigy” with “overwhelming musical gifts”, noting that Michael “quickly emerged as the main draw and lead singer” after he began to dance and sing with his brothers. Though Michael sang with a “child’s piping voice, he danced like a grown-up hoofer and sang with the R&B/gospel inflections of Sam Cooke, James Brown, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder“. The group set a chart record when its first four singles (“I Want You Back“, “ABC“, “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There“) peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. During The Jackson 5’s early years, Motown’s public relations team claimed that Jackson was nine years old—two years younger than he actually was—to make him appear cuter and more accessible to the mainstream audience. Starting in 1972, Jackson released a total of four solo studio albums with Motown, among them Got to Be There and Ben. These were released as part of the Jackson 5 franchise, and produced successful singles such as “Got to Be There“, “Ben” and a remake of Bobby Day‘s “Rockin’ Robin“. The group’s sales began declining in 1973, and the band members chafed under Motown’s strict refusal to allow them creative control or input. Although the group scored several top 40 hits, including the top 5 disco single “Dancing Machine” and the top 20 hit “I Am Love“, the Jackson 5 left Motown in 1975.
1975–1981: Move to Epic and Off the Wall
The Jackson 5 signed a new contract with CBS Records in June 1975, joining the Philadelphia International Records division, later Epic Records. As a result of legal proceedings, the group was renamed The Jacksons. After the name change, the band continued to tour internationally, releasing six more albums between 1976 and 1984. From 1976 to 1984, Michael Jackson was the lead songwriter of the group, writing hits such as “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)“, “This Place Hotel” and “Can You Feel It“.
In 1978, Jackson starred as Scarecrow in the film musical The Wiz. The musical scores were arranged by Quincy Jones, who formed a partnership with Jackson during the film’s production and agreed to produce the singer’s next solo album Off the Wall. In 1979, Jackson broke his nose during a complex dance routine. His subsequent rhinoplasty surgery was not a complete success; he complained of breathing difficulties that would affect his career. He was referred to Dr. Steven Hoefflin, who performed Jackson’s second rhinoplasty and other subsequent operations.
Jones and Jackson jointly produced Off the Wall. Songwriters included Jackson, Heatwave’s Rod Temperton, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. Released in 1979, it was the first album to generate four US top 10 hits, including the chart-topping singles “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock with You“. Off the Wall reached number three on the Billboard 200 and has since been certified for 7 million shipments in the US and eventually sold over 20 million copies worldwide. In 1980, Jackson won three awards at the American Music Awards for his solo efforts: Favorite Soul/R&B Album, Favorite Male Soul/R&B Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Single for “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. That year, he also won Billboard Music Awards for Top Black Artist and Top Black Album and a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (for “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”). Despite its commercial success, Jackson felt Off the Wall should have made a much bigger impact, and was determined to exceed expectations with his next release. In 1980, Jackson secured the highest royalty rate in the music industry: 37% of wholesale album profit.
1982–1985: Thriller, Motown 25, We Are the World and business career
In 1982, Jackson contributed the song “Someone In the Dark” to the storybook for the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial; the record won a Grammy for Best Album for Children. That year Jackson issued his second Epic album, Thriller. The album remained in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 for 80 consecutive weeks and 37 of those weeks at the peak position. It was the first album to have seven Billboard Hot 100 top 10 singles, including “Billie Jean“, “Beat It” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’“. Thriller was certified for 28 million shipments by the RIAA, giving it Double Diamond status in the US. It is often cited as the best-selling album of all time, with worldwide sales between 47 million and 109 million copies.
Jackson’s attorney John Branca noted that Jackson had the highest royalty rate in the music industry at that point; approximately $2 for every album sold. He was also making record breaking profit from compact discs or the sale of The Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller; a documentary produced by Jackson and John Landis. Funded by MTV, the documentary sold over 350,000 copies in a few months of sale. The era saw the arrival of novelties like dolls modeled after Michael Jackson, that appeared in stores in May 1984 at a price of $12. Thriller retains a position in American culture. Biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli explains, “At some point, Thriller stopped selling like a leisure item—like a magazine, a toy, tickets to a hit movie—and started selling like a household staple.”
Gil Friesen, president of A&M Records, said “the whole industry has a stake in this success”. Thriller raised the importance of albums, but multiple hits also changed notions about the number of singles to release. Time magazine explained that “the fallout from Thriller has given the [music] business its best years since the heady days of 1978, when it had an estimated total domestic revenue of $4.1 billion”. Time summed up Thriller’s impact as a “restoration of confidence” for an industry bordering on “the ruins of punk and the chic regions of synthesizer pop”. The publication described Jackson’s influence at that point as “Star of records, radio, rock video. A one-man rescue team for the music business. A songwriter who sets the beat for a decade. A dancer with the fanciest feet on the street. A singer who cuts across all boundaries of taste and style and color too”. The New York Times called him a “musical phenomenon”, saying that “in the world of pop music, there is Michael Jackson and there is everybody else”. According to the The Washington Post, Thriller paved the way for other acts such as Prince.
On March 25, 1983, Jackson performed live on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever television special, both with The Jackson 5 and on his own singing “Billie Jean”. Debuting his signature dance move—the moonwalk—his performances during the event were seen by 47 million viewers during its initial airing, and drew comparisons to Elvis Presley‘s and the The Beatles‘ appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. The New York Times said, “The moonwalk that he made famous is an apt metaphor for his dance style. How does he do it? As a technician, he is a great illusionist, a genuine mime. His ability to keep one leg straight as he glides while the other bends and seems to walk requires perfect timing”.
Jackson at the White House South Portico with President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan, 1984
Jackson suffered a setback on January 27, 1984. While filming a Pepsi Cola commercial at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Jackson suffered second degree burns to his scalp after pyrotechnics accidentally set his hair on fire. Happening in front of a full house of fans during a simulated concert, the incident was the subject of heavy media scrutiny and elicited an outpouring of sympathy. PepsiCo settled a lawsuit out of court, and Jackson gave his $1.5 million settlement to the “Michael Jackson Burn Center” which was a piece of new technology to help people with severe burns. Jackson had his third rhinoplasty shortly afterward and grew self conscious about his appearance.
On May 14, 1984, Jackson was invited to the White House to receive an award presented by American President Ronald Reagan. The award was given for Jackson’s support of charities that helped people overcome alcohol and drug abuse. Jackson won eight awards during the 1984 Grammy Awards. Unlike later albums, Thriller did not have an official tour to promote it, but the 1984 Victory Tour, headlined by The Jacksons, showcased much of Jackson’s new solo material to more than two million Americans. He donated his $5 million share from the Victory Tour to charity.
Jackson co-wrote the charity single “We Are the World” with Lionel Richie, which was released worldwide to aid the poor in Africa and the US. He was one of 39 music celebrities who performed on the record. The single became one of the best-selling singles of all time, with nearly 20 million copies sold and millions of dollars donated to famine relief.
While working with Paul McCartney on the two hit singles “The Girl Is Mine” and “Say Say Say“, the pair became friendly, occasionally visiting one another. In one discussion, McCartney told Jackson about the millions of dollars he had made from music catalogs; he was earning approximately $40 million a year from other people’s songs. Jackson then began a business career buying, selling and distributing publishing rights to music from numerous artists. Shortly afterward, Northern Songs—a music catalog holding thousands of songs, including The Beatles’ back catalog—was put up for sale.
Jackson took immediate interest in the catalog but was warned that he would face strong competition. Excited, he skipped around saying, “I don’t care. I want those songs. Get me those songs Branca [his attorney]”. Branca then contacted the attorney of McCartney, who clarified that his client was not interested in bidding; “It’s too pricey”. After Jackson had started negotiations, McCartney changed his mind and tried to persuade Yoko Ono to join him in a joint bid, she declined, so he pulled out. Jackson eventually beat the rest of the competition in negotiations that lasted 10 months, purchasing the catalog for $47.5 million. When McCartney found out he said, “I think it’s dodgy to do things like that. To be someone’s friend and then buy the rug they’re standing on”. Reacting to that statement, biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli observed that McCartney made millions of dollars from the music of other people. He had more money than Jackson at that point so could have made a substantial bid for his own music and would not have suffered financial difficulties from Jackson owning the catalog.