Michael Jackson

Michael Joseph Jackson spent a lifetime surprising people, in recent years largely because of a surreal personal life, lurid legal scandals, serial plastic surgeries and erratic public behavior that have turned him -- on his very best days -- into the butt of late-night talk-show jokes and tabloid headlines. But when his career began to take off nearly four decades ago as a member of the pop group the Jackson 5, fans and entertainment industry veterans recognized something else about the pint-size musical dynamo that was unusual: He was in possession of an outsize, mesmerizing talent.

The introduction to his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entry seemed apt as a global audience followed reports of his hospitalization and then death:"Michael Jackson is a singer, songwriter, dancer and celebrity icon with a vast catalog of hit records and countless awards to his credit. Beyond that, he has transfixed the world like few entertainers before or since. As a solo performer, he has enjoyed a level of superstardom previously known only to Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra."





Mr. Jackson was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958 and began performing professionally at age 5, joining his three older brothers in a group that their father, Joe, a steelworker, had organized the previous year. In 1968 the group, now five strong and known as the Jackson 5, was signed by Motown Records.
By 1969, Mr. Jackson had already spent years in talent shows and performing in seedy Midwestern clubs under the aegis of his dictatorial and ambitious father and Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. They were the singer's twin mentors during his early career.


The Jackson 5 was an instant phenomenon. The group's first four singles - "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There" - all reached No. 1 on the pop charts in 1970, a feat no group had accomplished before. And young Michael was unquestionably the center of attention: he handled virtually all the lead vocals, danced with energy and finesse, and displayed a degree of showmanship rare in a performer of any age. The Jackson brothers were soon a fixture on television variety shows and even briefly had their own Saturday morning cartoon series.


Mr. Jackson had his own recollections of those years. "When you're a show-business child, you really don't have the maturity to understand a great deal of what is going on around you. People make a lot of decisions concerning your life when you're out of the room," he wrote in "Moon Walk," his 1988 autobiography. "Berry insisted on perfection and attention to detail. I'll never forget his persistence. This was his genius. Then and later, I observed every moment of the sessions where Berry was present and never forgot what I learned. To this day, I use the same principles."

In 1971 Mr. Jackson began recording under his own name,
while also continuing to perform and record with his brothers.
His recording of "Ben," the title song from a movie about a
boy and his homicidal pet rat, was a No. 1 hit in 1972.
The brothers (minus Michael's older brother Jermaine, who was married to the daughter of Berry Gordy, Motown's founder and chief executive) left Motown in 1975 and, rechristened the Jacksons, signed to Epic, a unit of CBS Records. The following year Michael made his movie debut as the Scarecrow in the screen version of the hit Broadway musical "The Wiz." But movie stardom proved not to be his destiny.

Music stardom on an unprecedented level, however, was. Mr. Jackson's first solo album for Epic, "Off the Wall," yielded four No..1 singles and sold seven million copies, but it was a mere prologue to what came next. His follow-up, "Thriller," released in 1982, became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age. The video for the album's title track, directed by John Landis, was an elaborate horror-movie pastiche that was more of a mini-movie than a promotional clip and played a crucial role in making MTV a household name.

Seven of the nine tracks on "Thriller" were released as singles and reached the Top 10. The album spent two years on the Billboard album chart and sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. It also won eight Grammy Awards. Such accomplishments would have been difficult for anyone to equal, much less surpass. Mr. Jackson's next album, "Bad," released in 1987, sold eight million copies and produced five No..1 singles and another state-of-the-art video, this one directed by Martin Scorsese. It was a huge hit by almost anyone else's standards, but an inevitable letdown after "Thriller."
It was at this point that Mr. Jackson's bizarre private life began to overshadow his music. He would go on to release several more albums and, from time to time, to stage elaborate concert tours. And he would never be too far from the public eye. But it would never again be his music that kept him there.

Sales of his recordings through Sony's music unit generated more than $300 million in royalties for Mr. Jackson since the early 1980s, according to three individuals with direct knowledge of the singer's business affairs. Revenues from concerts and music publishing -- including the creation of a venture with Sony that controls the Beatles catalog -- as well as from endorsements, merchandising and music videos added, perhaps, $400 million more to that amount, these people believe. Subtracted were hefty costs like recording and production expenses, taxes and the like.
Mr. Jackson's pre-expense share of the "Thriller" bounty -- including the album, singles and a popular video -- surpassed $125 million, according to a former adviser who requested anonymity because of the confidential nature of Mr. Jackson's finances. Those who counseled him in the "Thriller" era credit the pop star with financial acumen and astute business judgment, evidenced by his $47.5 million purchase of the Beatles catalog in 1985 (a move that served to alienate him from Paul McCartney, the Beatles legend who imparted the financial wisdom of buying catalogs to Mr. Jackson during a casual chat, only to see Mr. Jackson then turn around and buy rights to many of Mr. McCartney's own songs). Acquaintances from that period say that he would occasionally borrow gas money, and he still lived in the Jackson family home in the suburban Encino section of Los Angeles. It wasn't until the end of the 1980s that Mr. Jackson began to exhibit more baronial tendencies. In 1988, he made his $17 million purchase of property near Santa Ynez, Calif., that became Neverland.

At the same time, Mr. Jackson was redefining the concept of spectacle in pop music. He hired Martin Scorsese, the film director, to direct a video for "Bad," a clip that one adviser with direct knowledge of the production budget said cost more than $1 million. The same adviser said that Mr. Jackson netted "way north" of $35 million from a yearlong "Bad" tour that began in 1987, and that heading into the 1990s Mr. Jackson was in sound shape financially. By the mid-90s, though, Mr. Jackson's finances were under strain. He retreated from working regularly after the release of "Dangerous" in 1991 and settled a child-molestation lawsuit for about $20 million. More significantly in terms of his finances, he had to sell Sony a 50 percent stake in the Beatles catalog in 1995 for more than $100 million, which one adviser said helped shore up the singer's wobbling accounts. Mr. Jackson wouldn't produce another studio album of completely new material until 2001.


In June 2005, he was acquitted today of all charges in connection with accusations that he molested a 13-year-old boy he had befriended as the youth was recovering from cancer in 2003. Mr. Jackson's complete acquittal ended a nearly four-month trial that featured 140 witnesses who painted clashing portraits of the 46-year-old international pop star as either pedophile or Peter Pan.Along with the verdict, the jury gave a note for the judge to read out in court. In it, they said they felt "the weight of the world's eyes upon us all" and that they had "thoroughly and meticulously" studied all the evidence. The note concluded with a plea "we would like the public to allow us to return to our lives as anonymously as we came."The case arose from the February 2003 broadcast of "Living with Michael Jackson," a British documentary in which Mr. Jackson admitted sharing his bed with young boys, calling it a loving act unrelated to sex. The boy who later became the accuser was shown holding hands with the singer and resting his head affectionately on his shoulder. He was described as a 13-year-old cancer patient whom Mr. Jackson had decided to help.

On March 5, 2009, Mr. Jackson announced that he would perform a series of concerts in London in the summer, in what he called a "final curtain call." Mr. Jackson, 50, revealed the details of the concerts at a news conference in London, where he said he would perform 10 shows at that city's O2 Arena, beginning July 8. "When I say this is it, I mean this is it," Mr. Jackson said. "I'll be performing the songs my fans want to hear."



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