Lenny Henry: Michael Jackson and me

The self-styled King of Pop turns 50 tomorrow. Lenny Henry offers a personal birthday greeting
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Dear Michael "King of Pop" Jackson, happy birthday!

You and I were born on the same day – 29 August 1958 – and as a result of that spectacular occurrence, I thought it would be cool to go back and contrast and compare just how similar our lives have been. So here we go!

August 1958, Michael Jackson is born in Gary, Indiana, USA; Lenworth George Henry is born in Dudley, West Midlands, UK.

For a moment, do you mind if we compare our birthplaces, Dudley and Gary?

Gary is the largest city in Lake County, Indiana. It is about 25 miles from Chicago, and borders Lake Michigan. It is known for its large steel mills, high crime rate and open-minded outlook.

Dudley is the capital of the Black Country, located 10 miles or so west of Birmingham. We've got a zoo, a canal, and a museum.

My parents moved there in the Fifties; the deciding conversation went like this: "I'm sick of all this sunshine and jerk chicken and great music – pack the dominoes, we're going to Dudley!"

By 1970, you, Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon and Tito had become the pop/soul juggernaut known as the Jackson 5. You made history when your first four hit singles shot to number one in the USA – "I Want You Back", "ABC", "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There". You were 12 at this point – 12, for God's sake! When I was 12, I was sticking straws up frogs' bums and blowing – we made our own entertainment in those days.

We leap like gazelles to 1979: you release Off the Wall, which sells 20 million copies worldwide and has four UK Top 10 singles... "Genius", as The Mighty Boosh would say.

I remember dancing my ass off to "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (honestly, Michael, it literally fell off in the middle of the dance floor!), while in Bournemouth with the Black and White Minstrels. I think it might have stopped me from jumping off a high building.

Jump to 1982: you release Thriller, which goes on to be the best-selling album of all time.

I was on Three of a Kind and occasionally appearing on Blankety Blank. There's no comparison, really, is there?

I remember being at Radio One when Dave Atkey (my producer) told me that he'd managed to get hold of a copy of the "Thriller" video. I watched it at least four times that day and vowed that I would do a parody of it for the first show in my new television series.

Geoff Posner, producer/director of The Lenny Henry Show, and Kim Fuller, our head writer, were in agreement that this was a good idea. So off we went, full-tilt into creative mode, trying to parody one of the most successful video clips of all time.

It was a gift, really – you had zombies; you were looking more alarming as yourself ("I'm not like other guys") than when you were the werewolf; the dance routine itself; the zombies body-popping; numerous rhymes for "Thriller" – I think Kim managed to get "Aston Villa", "I'm getting thinner / won't eat my dinner" crowbarred in there, too.

"Bad" came out in 1987 – you got Martin Scorsese to direct the video for you, and Wesley Snipes was in it! You wore black leather and still managed to look like a big Jessie (as my friend Rab Coltrane would say) – but, damn, you worked with Marty!

We parodied this video, too – our version was, of course, called "I'm Mad", because by this time your skin colour was akin to Edward Scissorhands' and you were doing all kinds of weird stuff, so we had lyrics like, "When I was young, I didn't like my face, so they moved my nose, to a different place," and "I'm mad, I'm mad – one sandwich short of a picnic!"

I've had my ups and downs in recent times, but nowhere near as calamitous as you, Michael. Bloody hell, what you've been through makes Chef! being cancelled seem like a walk down Dudley high street.

Your reputation took a real hammering, but that's the point, isn't it? When you reach the heights that you have, you become a target, fair game for anyone who wants to take a shot at you. It means you have to watch what you get up to, because everyone's watching.

It's going to be great when your kids get older, because they're going to want to know why they're called Paris Katherine, Prince Michael and Prince Michael II.

I'm sorry, dude, but you just can't name your children after a crap blonde socialite and a minor member of the British Royal Family (twice over) – it's not fair.

I'm signing off now; massive amounts of respect to the hip-hoppin', body-rockin', pop-lockin', soul-shockin' dancing and prancing. Take care of yourself, cos people love you, man. Peace and happy birthday, Mr "King of Pop".

Yours sincerely,

Lenny Henry CBE (also 50 today)

PS: You might also want to cease all leather trouser-wearing activities... it's just a suggestion.

Michael Jackson's new album, 'King of Pop', is out now on Sony BMG

Comments