The tragic trajectory of a star who fell to earth

Michael Jackson enjoyed fame on an unprecedented scale, but he was unable to deal with it. David Hepworth, who has followed the highs and lows of his career, explains why

There is a theory that the personalities of stars remain frozen at the moment that they first become famous. Using this calculation, Michael Jackson never had time to develop one.

By the age of eight he knew he was going to spend the rest of his life using his extraordinary phrasing and piercing voice as the meal ticket for a large and dysfunctional family. He could never do "normal life".

When he married in 1994, it had to be to Lisa Marie Presley, the only person on Earth who had any clue about what his life was like. His personal friends were Elizabeth Taylor and Liza Minnelli, fellow showbiz kids, sentimental but also hard as nails. When he made his early TV appearances they tried to present him as a sweet little kid straight out of the playground, but the voice that sang "Who's Loving You" suggested someone who had already tasted the adult world.

Throughout his life, he was at his least convincing playing the innocent, whether fending off allegations of abuse or suggesting how we should achieve world peace.

There are three Michael Jacksons. The first is the round-faced imp who fronted the Jackson Five on miniature masterpieces of longing like "I Want You Back".

There's the snake-hipped dancer who re-engineered himself as an adult star in 1979 with Off The Wall, then repeated the trick 10 times over with Thriller in 1982, becoming by some distance the biggest pop star there has ever been, hitting spots white performers like Madonna and The Beatles couldn't. In the back country of Ethiopia a couple of years ago, I had to explain to educated Ethiopians who Elvis Presley was. I didn't have to do the same with Michael Jackson.

And finally there's the international fugitive from law, creditors and mockery, shuffling on and off planes, chest heaving with medals like a deposed Third World dictator, given the widest of berths by all the other superstars who'd once lined up to work with him.

The second of those three Jacksons invented what most people nowadays think of as pop. When he finished Thriller, the producer Quincy Jones suggested it needed a couple more tunes. Jackson went off and wrote "Beat It" and "Billie Jean", the record's two biggest hits. That's the measure of the hot streak he was on.

In the Jackson version of pop, the dancing is as important as the singing and the look is probably most important of all. Jackson was the first pop star of the television age. We are in the twilight of the pop video at the moment; this was an age that Michael Jackson ushered in and dominated, despite the reluctance of MTV to show clips of performers of colour.

I saw him perform at Madison Square Garden in 1988 during the high noon of his dominance. The show was kitsch, dazzling, rehearsed within an inch of its life and built for an MTV attention span. (Returning to the hotel, I shared a lift with his chimp, Bubbles. Neither of us batted an eyelid. This was obviously how the game was to be played from then on.)

The Bad tour set the template for so many shows that followed it. To the generation of Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Girls Aloud, Jackson is Elvis, the Beatles and James Brown combined, and 1982, the year of Thriller, their Year Zero.

All those kids lining up to audition for The X Factor and dreaming of the fame that will transform their lives, are Michael's people. All the kids who've grown up knowing that his image had been tarnished still love his music. In the run-up to his promised return at the O2, there had been rumours that he might find ways to minimise singing duties. He had begun rehearsing not with a band but with dancers. Nobody seemed to mind. They just wanted him to appear.

An old music business saying holds that most of its prominent figures are either poorer than you'd think or richer than you could possibly imagine. Michael Jackson was familiar with both conditions. At the height of his career in the late 80s, when he wrote most of his own material, controlled every aspect of his career, sold the most records and enjoyed the highest royalty rate, he must have earned more money than any sin- gle person has ever taken away from the music business. He bought ATV Music which controlled the Beatles' publishing, a move which embarrassed Paul McCartney, a relative pauper, as much as it galled him.

The fact that Jackson managed to fritter away the majority of the money he earned beggars belief. He could never make up what he had lost through a new record deal, not with the music business in such reduced circumstances and his value to sponsors diminished by his court appearances. Therefore the only route open to him was the hardest one, the concert stage.

Just as his hits were the biggest ones, his disasters weren't modest either. He never had the strong management figure that stars depend on to tell them something approaching the truth. There was something heavy-handed and needy about his demands, like his latter-day refusal to do anything unless he could be billed as "King of Pop", a title surely cooked up in a marketing meeting. Having his giant effigy towed down the Thames on a barge in 1995 was the kind of thing a smart handler would have vetoed.

Everything he did had to be the most extreme, the most expensive and the most likely to expose him to ridicule if it went wrong. A strong manager would have suggested that there were better ways to feel your way back into live work than a 50-night residency at a London venue. There was smart money on saying that the ridiculously ambitious run of physically demanding shows was never going to happen, that the postponement was going to turn into a cancellation, probably pursued by lawyers. It didn't turn out that way.

You don't have to be the most cynical observer of showbusiness to guess that just as sure as Elvis dead turned out to be worth more than Elvis alive, there will be lawyers already working on ensuring that Michael Jackson's afterlife is as profitable as his real one. It would come as no surprise to Michael.

The writer is a magazine publisher whose editorships include Smash Hits in the early 1980s

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears