Review of the Year 2009: Michael Jackson

Off the wall, even in death

Few things, amid the madness and sensationalism that marked Michael Jackson's extraordinary life and still-mysterious death, were so grimly appropriate as the manner in which the world marked his passing. On 7 July, his body was carried in its solid-gold coffin to a sports arena in downtown Los Angeles, where an 8,000-strong crowd, plus a global TV audience estimated at one billion people, bore witness to popular music's equivalent of a royal funeral.

The memorial service, 12 days after Jackson's sudden death, was at times genuinely moving. It showcased the soaring talent that touched the world, taking him from the rust belt of Indiana to global super-stardom. It demonstrated how he had bridged the gap between black soul and white pop music, selling 750m records, and releasing, in the shape of Thriller, the best-selling record ever. But it also a provided a reminder of the circumstances that contributed, over the final quarter-century of his pantomime existence, to his endlessly sad decline.

Jackson's was a cautionary tale. As a child star in a 1970s family troupe called the Jackson Five, he'd learned how to sing and dance with an improbable poise that few men, or women, will ever match. As a young adult, he'd popularised the moonwalk, and became one of the most gifted songwriters, lyricists and producers of his generation. But the enduring tragedy of his too-short life, borne out in the extravagant headlines that continue to fill newspapers, was that private shortcomings would eventually end up consuming his public genius.

You could see as much in the running order that morning. One speaker was the actress Brooke Shields, a former girlfriend, who failed to mention, in her tearful tribute, that she'd last seen the singer 18 years previously and, like most of his nearest and dearest, had since been cut off. Another was the Reverend Al Sharpton, who boldly claimed there was "nothing strange" about this notorious eccentric who once made friends with a chimpanzee. In the audience, overshadowing the singer in death as he had through life, sat Joe, the abusive father who had already used the tragedy to plug a business venture.

It was, in other words, a bizarre and troubling event that summed up a performer whose life had too much razzle-dazzle, and too little substance. Yet there were times, during gospel songs, show-stopping performances from Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder, and an affecting moment when his daughter Paris spoke of "the best father you could ever imagine", when you could for a moment peer behind the mask and glimpse the haunting reach of his old possibilities.

History will record that Michael Joseph Jackson died in the summer of 2009 as he prepared for an unlikely comeback tour. He'd managed, in his 50 years, to achieve a level of combined celebrity and notoriety that may never be matched.

For a time, in the 1980s, he was the world's most brilliant performer: an energetic genius, who churned out hit after hit, and built, a few hours' drive from Los Angeles, a gaudy Hearstian home called Neverland. In death, he proved himself still capable of stopping daily life in its tracks.

History will also show that, some time around his 30th birthday, cracks had started to appear in Jackson's character. His appearance began changing; youthful good looks gave way to a bewildered caricature. He had failed to make any real friends and instead accumulated an impenetrable circle of mercenary advisors. "Michael is one of the most talented people I've ever known," his lawyer John Branca later concluded. "At the same time, he's made some of the worst choices in advisors in the history of music."

Over recent years, there'd been money problems. There had been uncomfortable questions about his relationships with children, which, despite his sensational acquittal when he was tried for paedophilia in 2005, he never managed to shake off. For most of his final decade, following a disastrous appearance in a documentary by Martin Bashir, Jackson withdrew into in Howard Hughes-like isolation.

A welter of confusion and mystery swirled after his sudden death at around noon on 25 June, from a cardiac arrest that followed a sleepless night in which he'd been given a cocktail of dangerous prescription drugs. The world looked for someone to blame. People criticised AEG, the concert promoters who twisted his arm into agreeing, after years in which he'd been largely seen in wheelchairs, to return to stage. They raised eyebrows at Conrad Murray, the doctor with money problems who is likely to face criminal charges in connection with what a coroner has officially ruled a homicide.

In print, on the airwaves and online, a cottage industry of revelation sprang up, with news sources competing to out-bid each other with tales of Jackson's needle-marked body, and gaunt physique. Dubious old associates came out of the woodwork to deliver paid punditry. At some point, the website TMZ became an indispensable source of reliable information.

The public, meanwhile, fell back in love with Jackson's music, causing his net worth to soar, for the first time in years. Prisoners in the Philippines became a YouTube sensation, performing "Thriller". His surviving family began bickering over a billion-dollar estate.

Now, of course, Jackson has been buried. A tribute film, This is It, is fading into obscurity. The LA court system will spend 2010 poring over the gory details of his death, and wrangling over the will continues. But aside from lawyers, it's difficult to find any winners in the troubling tale of Michael Jackson. When he passed away, news anchors spoke of a king being dead; the sad truth was that he'd never really been allowed to live.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable