Published June 25, 2009
Michael Joseph Jackson was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958. Michael was the fifth son born to steelworker Joe Jackson, who quickly started organizing his sons into a singing group he dubbed the Jackson 5.
From a young age, Michael’s childhood was fairly sheltered and rigid due to his mother’s strong religious faith and his father’s often strict discipline. By age 6, Michael was performing in his family’s group and already establishing himself as an exceptional entertainer.
In 1968, the Jackson 5 members signed to Motown and issued their first single in 1969, when Michael was only 11.
In 1970, the group had four No. 1 hits: "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I’ll Be There." This made the Jackson 5 the first pop group in history to have its first four singles reach No. 1.
In 1971, Michael released his first solo recording, "Got to Be There," which hit the top five. In 1972 his first solo single, "Ben," reached No. 1.
In 1975, Michael released his final album on the Motown label, and a year later he and his brothers (except for Jermaine) were signed to Epic as "The Jacksons."
In 1977, Michael won the part of the Scarecrow "The Wiz," all-black film retelling of "The Wizard of Oz." It was on the set that he met producer/composer Quincy Jones.
When Jackson’s contract with his father expired, he opted to embark on a solo career again (though he still remained a member of the Jacksons), and Jones became his producer. His first adult solo album was entitled "Off the Wall," and it produced four Top 10 singles and went platinum.
In 1982, "Thriller" was produced, making history. It sold 26 million copies in the United States, 60 million worldwide and stayed on the Billboard charts for 122 weeks.
In 1983, during Motown’s 28th anniversary special, Michael did the Moonwalk for the first time on television. Seven of the nine tracks on "Thriller" wound up in the Top 10.
Michael swept the Grammy Awards in 1984, taking home a record eight in one night. He also won the largest endorsement deal ever by becoming the spokesman for Pepsi. During filming for a Pepsi commercial in 1984, Michael’s scalp was badly burnt, requiring skin grafts.
In 1985, he co-wrote the famine-relief single "We Are the World," which became one of the fastest-selling singles ever.
That same year, Michael purchased the majority of shares in ATV Music Publishing Co., the organization which owned the rights to most of the Beatles’ songs.
It was around this time that strange rumors began to fly about Michael’s private life. After tabloids reported that Michael slept in a hyperbaric chamber in order to slow aging and that he had bought the skeleton of the Elephant Man (which he hadn’t), he was given the nickname "Wacko Jacko" by the media, which he hated.
Michael’s skin also started getting lighter and there were accusations that he was intentionally undergoing treatment to make himself whiter.
Soon Jackson reported to the media that he had a disorder called vitiligo, where pigment disappears from the skin, leaving white blotches and making sunlight exposure dangerous.
He also underwent some plastic surgery, though there were conflicting reports as to how much, and his face began to change noticeably.
It was at this time that Michael adopted his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles, and began to build a giant amusement park at Neverland Ranch, further fueling public perception of his eccentricity.
In 1987, Michael teamed with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola to star in the 3-D film "Captain EO." The film only lasted 17 minutes but cost millions and was shown in IMax theaters at Disney amusement parks for years.
Later that year Michael released "Bad," his follow-up to "Thriller." This was his last album produced with Quincy Jones. The album debuted at No. 1, was the first album to produce five No. 1 singles and sold 29 million copies.
Michael went on a world tour to support the album, and it became the highest-grossing tour of all time. Soon he was dubbed "The King of Pop."
Later in 1991, Michael released his next album, "Dangerous." It debuted at No. 1 and sold 29 million copies worldwide. Its lead single, "Black or White," caused controversy as the video had scenes considered violent and sexual (including Michael grabbing his crotch) and was banned from most music-television channels until several scenes were edited out.
In 1992, Michael founded the "Heal the World Foundation," a charity that brought underprivileged children to Neverland Ranch where Michael would spend time with them and allow them to spend the night.
This practice raised many eyebrows, especially when Jackson was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy who had become a regular Neverland guest. Jackson responded to the allegations publicly, maintaining his innocence. In 1994, he settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Later that year, Michael married the daughter of Elvis Presley, Lisa Marie. The union was publicly scrutinized and speculations arose as to whether the marriage was simply an attempt to improve Jackson’s image, though he maintained that they lived genuinely as man and wife; however, the marriage broke up after less than two years.
In 1995, Jackson tried to turn the focus back to his music, releasing "HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1." This was a two-CD set featuring his greatest hits and some new material, and it debuted at No. 1. The album’s lead single was "Scream," a duet with sister Janet Jackson, which won several Billboard Music Awards.
Michael then embarked on a world tour for the album, and while in Australia he married his dermatologist’s nurse, Debbie Jeanne Rowe, with whom he fathered a son named after himself (though he goes by the name "Prince" publicly) and a daughter, Paris Katherine.
Rowe and Jackson divorced in 1999, and Rowe told the media that Michael had wanted her to have the children as a "gift" to him.
In 2001, Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and had a huge concert at Madison Square Garden celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of his first solo album.
Later that year, he released the album "Invincible" on Sony Records and informed Sony Music head Tommy Mottola that he wasn’t going to renew his contract.
Then, Sony and Jackson got into a press battle, and Jackson publicly defamed Mottola, calling him "devilish" and racist, although many Sony artists came forward to defend Mottola.
In 2002, Jackson traveled to Berlin to accept the BAMBI award for his musical accomplishments. While in his hotel, fans swarmed outside and called to Jackson, clamoring to see his new baby, Prince Michael II.
Jackson then brought the baby to the balcony with a towel over his head (presumably to protect his identity), and held him over the railing to show the crowd. This incident was perceived by some to be child endangerment, and while Jackson apologized the next day, it helped to further fuel the public image that Jackson was having problems.
In 2003 journalist Martin Bashir filmed a highly touted documentary based on extensive interviews with Michael entitled "Living With Michael Jackson." The documentary was shown internationally and depicted some controversial scenes, including Michael holding hands with a 13-year-old cancer victim and admitting to non-sexually sharing his bed with children.
Jackson was angry and thought the film was inaccurate, so he fought back and released his own documentary, which included scenes cut from Bashir’s that showed Michael’s full explanations for some of his past behavior.
Later that year, Michael and Sony released a compilation of his hits, "Number Ones." It sold more than 6 million copies worldwide.
While Michael was on the set, the police raided Neverland Ranch issuing an arrest warrant for charges of child molestation by the same boy who appeared in Bashir’s documentary.
A trial took place in 2005, and Jackson was acquitted of all charges. After his acquittal, Michael relocated to the Gulf Island of Bahrain, where he has reportedly been spending his time writing new music.
In 2004, a man filed a lawsuit against Michael, alleging he had been molested 20 years earlier but had repressed the memory until 2003. However, a judge eventually dismissed the lawsuit.
Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009 in a Los Angeles hospital, just weeks before he was scheduled to perform several comeback concerts in London.
1979 Off the Wall
1997 Blood on the Dance Floor