Last week, the world lost one of its most precious treasures. Michael Jackson, the greatest entertainer to ever walk the earth, died tragically from cardiac arrest. While much of the media coverage has focused on the most salacious aspects of his life, Jackson has undoubtedly left a legacy that is bigger, broader and brighter than the words of his detractors.
To call Michael Jackson a superstar would be an extravagant understatement. In his early days with the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson demonstrated a level of childhood virtuosity unseen since the days of Mozart. Although he was only 8-years-old, Jackson channeled luminaries like Sammy Davis, Stevie Wonder and Sam Cook with the effortless grace of a veteran performer. As he grew into adulthood, Jackson moved from child prodigy to world-historical figure, selling more records and garnering more fans than anyone in human history. More important than numbers or money, Michael Jackson was the embodiment of the African-American cultural tradition, a living testimony to the creative imaginations of our gods and our ancestors.
Michael Jackson's extraordinary success, however, was not purely self- serving. In pushing MTV to play his videos, Jackson opened the door for countless artists to be seen and heard on mainstream cable video networks. Decades later, Jackson's songs, music videos and dance routines continue to provide the artistic foundations for everyone from Justin Timberlake to Chris Brown. His trans-racial appeal enabled contemporary prominent blacks like Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama to enjoy universal appeal. On a more personal level, Michael Jackson was the first pretend boyfriend, imaginary brother and cultural hero of an entire generation of global citizens. In his best moments, Michael Jackson was quintessentially American, undeniably black and universally loved.
Because of Michael Jackson's death, the world has undoubtedly lost a great deal of joy. We can find solace, however, in knowing that death has likely relieved Jackson of a great deal of pain. The pain of spending an entire lifetime fighting to reclaim the childhood stolen away by childhood fame and parasitic parents. The pain of being a universal heartthrob who could never manage to see the beauty of his own black face. The pain of being a stranger to no one, yet never able to shake loneliness. While tragic, these ironies do not detract from Michael Jackson's legacy. To the contrary, they mark his humanity and spotlight his brilliance. For this, we give thanks.
Marc Lamont Hill is a Columbia University professor and FOX News Contributor.