Like most people, I was a Michael Jackson fan, but unlike most, I shared a birthday with the late pop star. Michael was born on August 29, 1958, and twenty years to the date, I was born. I felt so connected to Michael that for years I was convinced that I was the Pretty Young Thang he was singing about, even though I was only six-years-old when the song debuted.
When I first heard the news of Michael’s passing, I thought I was being punk’d. Seriously. It didn’t matter that I’m not famous and that Ashton Kutcher has never heard of me. I was being punk’d, lied to, bamboozled. I was sure of it. After all, I was sitting in a talent agent’s office and the two people telling me the news were actors, so it was fairly easy for me to convince myself that they were playing a practical joke on me. Yes, I convinced myself that two strangers had conspired to trick me for no apparent reason. That felt more believable than the awful news they brought.
When my mother confirmed the news a few minutes later, I realized that I wasn’t the target of some new hidden camera show. I was the victim of something much worse—grief, for Michael’s death felt strangely personal.
I don’t know why it hit me so hard. Not sure why it took three weeks for me to feel that I was in fact living in reality, and not some poorly plotted reality show. Although fifty-years-old, Michael seemed to be on top of the world, more untouchable than Hammer, more indestructible than the Man of Steel himself. When he sang, I listened, when he danced, I marveled, and when he sang, “I’ll be there,” I believed that he would be—always.
He wasn’t just the King of Pop. He was the King of music, the consummate entertainer, a trailblazing performer who shattered records and raised the bar until he became the bar. He was Michael Jackson, known simply as “M.J.”
M.J.’s music was magical. It had a way of drowning out everything else, even if only for 3:53. When you were listening to M.J., all that mattered was the driving beat and the accompanying movement in your pelvis. You danced to Thriller alongside perfect strangers, declared that Billie Jean was not your lover, and grabbed your crotch like it was socially acceptable.
When you were dancing to Michael, you felt gooooood. You felt the music inside of your body, feeling that the only way to express it was to dance and sing at the top of your lungs. And it didn’t matter if you looked good or sounded good cause the person next to you was singing louder than you. When you were listening to Michael, all that mattered was the music, and it like it was right inside of you, where it was meant to be.
Michael was everything we longed to be. He was, first and foremost, a cultural revolutionary—influencing industries from music to fashion, individuals from Britney Spears to Russell Simmons, and cultures from Motown to Moscow. Who else could turn “Shamone” into a word and create a language composed entirely of screams and grunts that people worldwide recited?
Additionally, Michael possessed a raw talent that was awe-inspiring. While a boy, he sang his way into our hearts with his youthful, soulful voice. As a young man, he moon walked his way into our collective soul with his timeless lyrics and pulsating music. A full-grown man, he declared “I’m bad!” and we replied, “You know it!”
He was—simply put—the best. And who among us hasn’t wanted to be that?
But within his success laid his demise. Fame’s favorite son, he became fame’s prisoner—first enthralled by her, then held captive by her, and finally choked by her.
And while I claim to know neither the inner workings of Michael Jackson nor the world in which he inhabited, I believe that he died years before his physical death on June 25, 2009.
Perhaps his death began with his first plastic surgery.
Or maybe a part of him died the first time that he wore a disguise in public so that he could feel “normal.”
It’s possible that he died when he essentially created his own city, Neverland Ranch, where play was supreme and Michael attempted the impossible—to regain a lost childhood.
Some believe that a part of Michael died when he was accused of child molestation, which resulted in him vowing never to live in Neverland again.
Or perhaps his very public divorce from Lisa Marie Presley killed him?
One could argue that Michael died the first time that he took a prescription drug, whether he needed it or not.
What is for sure is that Michael’s death was unexpected, tragic, and mourned by the masses.
Michael overdosed on a life filled with excess: excessive fame, excessive money, and excessive access; he could buy any material thing that he wanted. But what he seemed to want the most—inner peace—seemed to evade him.
The various plastic surgeries didn’t bring it; neither did the million-dollar shopping sprees. Even the world that he built for himself didn’t provide the sense of security for which he seemed to be searching. He never got enough, so he never stopped. He died, still dancing, although his half-of-a-century-old frame couldn’t endure the intensity of another tour. We wanted more. He wanted to give us more. His finances suggested he needed to give us more. But he couldn’t.
Although the details of his death remain unclear, what is clear is that we never really understood Michael. Fame’s veil separated us.