Michael Jackson's sudden death by cardiac arrest is less shocking than the slow, but steady demise of his soul, which turned him into a music machine fueled by addictions to drugs, money, possessions, fame and plastic surgery. As my friend and fellow journalist Josh Resnek has remarked, Jackson's body died at 50; the rest of him died much younger.
Jackson's life story is a cautionary tale about what happens when a child is deprived of his core self. That deprivation likely stemmed from what Jackson himself described as the physical and psychological brutality of his father Joe, who reportedly whipped him and verbally abused him and monetized his talents from age 10 through endless rehearsals and performances of The Jackson 5. Now Joe is planning a big, public funeral for his twice-dead son, keeping him on the stage even after he is gone from this earth.
Jackson's first, long, tortuous death was a gradual stopping of his metaphorical heart-the heart of a boy harnessed to a father's tyrannical plans to enslave him. It left him uncertain whether anything at all was authentic about him, whether there was anything whatsoever he could embrace as the truth.
He was forever ambivalent about his race, bleaching or otherwise altering his skin tone to appear Caucasian.
He was forever ambivalent about his facial structure, undergoing plastic surgeries until his nose seemed in danger of falling off his face, his chin became a caricature of the kind with a cleft he must have admired on other people's faces, and his jaw line became a haunting skeletal representation of just how dead he really was inside.
He seemed forever ambivalent about his gender, because he could not claim even that as his own, morphing from tough guy to girl in appearance and garb.
He seemed ambivalent about his age, living in an amusement park he built, with zoo animals on display. Could he have actually missed the fact that he was a caged animal himself, thrilling crowds with his exotic movements and appearance?
He may have been ambivalent or twisted about what pleased him sexually, given his habit of inviting young boys into his bed and his history of having paid out $20 million to settle a child sexual molestation suit.
He staged sham marriages and "fathered" children who appeared wearing carnival masks in public-all part of the show. He dangled his baby boy over a railing for his fans, in what may have been the starkest representation of how he felt his own life had ended shortly after birth.
The distance between a man's mind and his core self - his soul - is the breeding place for anxiety and depression. And Jackson apparently tried to contain those unwieldy emotions in the predictable ways - drugging himself by acquiring possessions and trying to shut up the long-dying person inside him with opiates and tranquilizers. Then the truth asserted itself in the final way it sometimes does. It stopped his heart suddenly, when, for all intents and purposes, it had not been beating (not for real) for decades.