American music superstar Michael Jackson died June 25 after suffering cardiac arrest at his home in Los Angeles. He was 50 years old. One of the most-recognized performers in the world, Jackson's blend of pop, rock and soul appealed to people of all races and cultures.
Michael Jackson's life was described as one of excess and loneliness. He was loved by millions of fans around the world, and had amassed a fortune, but he was often a prisoner of his own fame.
Born in Indiana
Born in Gary, Indiana, Michael Jackson was the seventh of nine children. He and his four older brothers showed early talents for playing music, singing and dancing, all of which was encouraged by their parents. At age five, Michael made his professional debut as lead singer with his brothers, known as The Jackson Five. The young boys became working performers, and had no time for any normal youthful pursuits or experiences. After a competition at New York City's famed Apollo Theater, the Jackson Five signed a recording contract with the prestigious Motown Records label. In their years together, from 1964 - 1981, they sold more than 100 million records. Michael once commented about that time in his life.
"When you grow up like I did, in front of 100 million people since the age of five, you're automatically different," Jackson noted. "My childhood was completely taken away from me. It was not a normal childhood; no normal pleasures of childhood. Those were exchanged for hard work, struggle and pain, and eventual material and professional success. But as an awful price, I cannot re-create that part of my life."
Solo albums led to more success
In his spotlight as the lead singer with his brothers, it seemed only natural that Michael Jackson would pursue a solo career. His debut solo album of 1972, Got To Be There, started a string of hits, and he eventually parted company with his brothers in 1981. Michael's reputation grew as a songwriter, dancer, choreographer and producer. Using innovative techniques and special effects, he created music videos that seemed more like mini-movies. Accompanying his landmark 1982 album Thriller, was a 13-minute film that was influenced by classic Hollywood horror movies. Thriller is still among the biggest-selling albums in history, with sales of more than 45 million worldwide.
At the 1983 Motown Records 25th Anniversary television special, Michael mesmerized the audience as he performed the hit song "Billie Jean," and debuted his now-famous "moon walk" dance steps. The show was seen by more than 50 million people around the world and was a major turning point in his career.
Michael's trademark attire was his glittering costumes and sequined white glove. In 1985, he helped organize the USA For Africa famine relief benefit and co-wrote "We Are The World," on which he was a featured performer. In 1986, as an investment, Michael purchased the publishing rights to hundreds of songs, including more than 200 titles by The Beatles.
Life of recluse
For all his fame and financial success, however, Michael Jackson lived the life of a recluse. He had several homes, including Neverland, a California mansion with its own zoo and amusement park. Michael often entertained children, and would always open his home for children's charity events. Journalists described him as living in a fantasy world of his own creation and commented that he was attempting to re-capture his own lost childhood. Many people believed Michael spent his whole life trying to find those lost years, surrounding himself with children, and approaching his life and work with a child-like innocence.
"When I create my music, I feel like an instrument of nature," Jackson explained. "I wonder what delight nature must feel when we open our hearts and express our God-given talents, the playfulness of life. And that's why I love children and learn so much from being around them. The magic, the wonder, the mystery and the innocence of a child's heart are the seeds of creativity that will heal the world. I really believe that."
Living Legend Grammy, child abuse accusations
In 1993, Jackson received the Grammy Living Legend Award. That same year, child abuse allegations threatened to ruin his career. Michael always denied the charges by the 13-year-old boy, citing that they were part of an extortion attempt. The child abuse case was settled out of court, with Michael paying a reported $22 million to the family of his accuser.
The scandal and strange behavior, including drastically-changing physical features resulting from plastic surgeries and skin bleaching, put his career and popularity in the U.S. into decline. In May 1994, Michael married Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of rock and roll icon, Elvis Presley. The couple parted amicably two years later.
In 1995, Michael Jackson released HIStory- Past Present & Future, Book 1, a collection of 15 new songs and 15 greatest hits. The album failed to meet sales expectations. Jackson's 2001 album, Invincible, also met with limited success, despite production costs of $30 million.
Jackson's 1996 HIStory World Tour was his biggest and also his last. The 82-date tour was seen by more than 4.5 million fans. That same year, he married former nurse Debbie Rowe. The couple had two children, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., and Paris Michael Katherine Jackson. Michael was given full custody rights to the children when he and Debbie divorced in 1999. Jackson fathered a third child, Prince Michael Jackson II, in 2002, reportedly through artificial insemination of an unidentified surrogate mother.
In 2003, Jackson again found himself in legal trouble when he faced a 14-count indictment alleging child molestation. Although he was acquitted of all charges, it further tarnished his image. He left the U.S. to live in Bahrain as a guest of that country's royal family. Jackson later returned to California.
Jackson began experiencing financial difficulties. In November 2008, he gave up his Neverland Ranch to avoid foreclosure.
Beloved by fans
Despite the decline in his popularity in the U.S., Michael Jackson remained loved by fans around the world. He was a two-time inductee into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame; once as a solo performer and also as a member of The Jackson Five. He was winner of 13 Grammy Awards, and a member of the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. He was scheduled to begin a 50-date series of sold-out concerts at London's O2 arena on July 13.
Michael Jackson, one of the most popular and successful entertainers of the 20th century, dead at 50.