Published November 19, 2003
NEW YORK – In the 10 years since Michael Jackson (search) first stood accused of child molestation, the superstar has managed to eke out two platinum albums, a handful of hits and some highly rated television specials.
Yet his fan base has shrunk, and he's been ridiculed and reviled by the general public for his bizarre appearance and behavior. His new single, "One More Chance," didn't even register on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Now his imminent arrest on another molestation allegation could be the final nail in the coffin of his career.
"I think Michael Jackson's career is not over -- it's still ongoing --but it's already been severely diminished," said Andy Pemberton, editor in chief of Blender magazine. "He appears from the outside a very disturbed individual."
"He has a huge fan base, especially in New York, and I'm very very curious to see what the audience is going to say," said Jeff Z., program director of New York City's WKTU. But "if the allegations are proven, we would probably take off all of Michael Jackson's songs."
Sean Ross, vice president of music and programming for Edison Media Research, says if Jackson is to recover, "he would have to make a great record, plus he would have to be at a label he was not at odds with, plus, it would probably take some restoring of his personal reputation."
On Tuesday, the same day Jackson's "Number Ones" greatest hits album came out, authorities in Santa Barbara County searched his Neverland ranch in connection with molestation allegations by a single underage accuser. On Wednesday, they announced an arrest warrant had been issued.
It comes a little over a decade after Jackson was forever tainted by allegations that he molested a 13-year-old boy. Jackson denied the accusations, and charges were never filed, but he reached a reported multimillion-dollar settlement with the child.
Yet in truth, his career had already begun to slide by then. His eccentric behavior in the late '80s and early '90s -- from sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber to wanting to buy the Elephant Man's bones -- had already caused fans from his "Thriller" heyday to abandon ship. Along with his continued plastic surgery and his skin tone change from dark to light (due to vitiligo, he says), he was garnering more attention for his freakish persona than his music.
In 1995, he made a comeback attempt with the double-disc set "HIStory." It sold more than two million copies, yet garnered only one major hit, "You Are Not Alone," and was considered a commercial disappointment. In addition, his quickie marriage to Lisa Marie Presley was perceived as a public relations ploy, and his continued friendships with children turned many fans away. Another quickie marriage to his nurse, Deborah Rowe, who bore him two of his three children before they divorced, also befuddled many.
Since then, Jackson has made so many missteps it's hard to keep count. Just over the past 18 months, he's drawn criticism for dangling his baby over a balcony (he apologized), keeping his children masked when they travel outdoors, and his goofy behavior in a courtroom during a lawsuit.
Closeups of his face -- seriously altered from plastic surgery -- draw gasps. Then there was Jackson's racism accusation against then-Sony Music Chief Tommy Mottola.
And in an ABC special earlier this year, Jackson told interviewer Martin Bashir that he was still sleeping in the same bed with children, although he denied there was anything sexual about it.
Still, Jackson has had success in the wake of his troubles that other stars would envy. He's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice (once as a member of the Jackson Five), received several honorary awards and garnered support from high-profile celebrity friends, many of whom feted him during his 30th anniversary concert special, which CBS aired to high ratings in 2001.
Only last month, he was given the Humanitarian Award at the 2003 Radio Awards.
His last album, 2001's "Invincible," sold approximately two million copies, which are considered great numbers for most artists, especially a performer whose career has spanned more than three decades. Jackson's albums, however, are much less profitable because he spends millions of dollars making them.
"One More Chance," the only new song on his "Number Ones" disc, was produced by R. Kelly, whose talent and career are flourishing despite child pornography charges stemming from an alleged encounter with an underage girl. But when "One More Chance" was released to radio last month, it barely got any play on pop stations and only moderate attention from urban radio.
Even WKTU, which Jeff Z. described as a huge supporter of Jackson's music, wasn't playing it. "My audience really hasn't looked for the new single," he said. "We were waiting to see how well it was going to do and what the perception of him out there really was."
With Jackson's arrest and possible trial, that perception might be beyond salvation.
"Everyone gets one chance," said Jeff Z., "and I think Michael has had his one chance."