Michael Jackson 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This Friday marks one year since the passing of Michael Jackson. His legacy
remains highly controversial. There are fans who consider him the inspiration of
There are also critics who believe he was hopelessly weird,
with an unhealthy interest in children. In the middle are those who simply love
his music and miss his talent.
The truth about Michael as I knew and
understood him was something else entirely. He forever remained the
who yearned for a normal childhood but who was thrust reluctantly into a
spotlight that slowly became addictive. Immersed in a celebrity culture
with human corruption, he yearned to be innocent. Starved of affection,
his life looking for love, but ultimately settled for attention.
sycophants who indulged his every unhealthy whim, he longed to find an
environment. And trapped in a cocoon of fame, he craved to consecrate
celebrity to a cause larger than himself.
The tragedy of his life was his
failure to achieve these noble aims. Michael knew that God had given him
special gift, and with it the power to “heal the world, make it a better
He understood the responsibility of celebrity, and was devastated as his
slowly transformed into notoriety. He hated to be hated, and was crushed
chasm between what he saw as his sincere intentions to do good verses
perception of him as a shallow materialist.
ONCE, IN the midst of the 30
hours of recordings we did together for a book that would allow Michael
directly to the public, he revealed how defamatory his celebrity had
“You get tired and it just wears you down. You can’t go somewhere where
don’t manipulate what you do and say. That bothers me so much, and you
nothing like the person that they write about, nothing. To get called
that’s not nice. People think something is wrong with you because they
up. I am nothing like that. I am the opposite of that.”
Polite to a
fault, he was a soft and gentle soul who prided himself on being
other celebrities. Whereas they partied in nightclubs, Michael loved
around ordinary families. Where they put, as Michael said, needles in
arms, he was a vegetarian who wouldn’t be caught dead with a street
where they, as Michael maintained, engaged in tawdry relationships,
preferred the company of innocent kids.
What he could not see was that
overindulging in medication prescribed by a doctor was just as
street drugs and was driven by the same spiritual emptiness. He was also
oblivious to his own excess when it came to kids. It was one thing to
kindness and friendship to children, but another thing entirely to
into your bed.
I do not for a moment believe Michael was a pedophile.
Those who judge him as such forget that the only time he was charged he
acquitted, and it is time for the public to exonerate him as well. But
himself license to cross lines of basic propriety that brought him into
disrepute and soiled his message as to the purity and innocence adults
learn from children. For a man who spent his life trying to educate the
as to the wonders of childhood, this was a monumental failure, and he
The suspicion cast on him by a public whose love he had spent a lifetime
cultivating marked the principal sorrow of his life.
A YEAR after his
death, what most haunts me is the knowledge that Michael’s life could so
have been saved. What Michael needed was not painkillers but counseling,
numbing through drugs, but the awakening of an inner conscience. He
wise voice in his ear guiding him to a mastery of his demons. Any number
people could have rescued Michael.
Most of all, he craved the love and
validation of his father.
What emerges most strikingly in our recorded
conversations – conversations that Michael knew would be read by a wide
audience, perhaps including his parents – was the hurt he felt toward
on the one hand, and the extreme affection he harbored for him on the
Michael had many fans, but he played primarily to an audience of one.
while his life is sadly irretrievable, the lessons to be culled from it
Few were as eloquent in articulating the profound lessons parents could
from their children. Fewer still were more attuned to the lifelong
neglected children. I can still hear Michael’s daily admonishments to me
my children in the eye and tell them I loved them, and to never allow a
go by without reading them a bedtime story.
When first I learned of his
death, my immediate reaction, I am ashamed to say, was anger. You silly
thought. How could you? You knew your children, whom you adored,
you. You were the most devoted father. How could you orphan them? You
to whom God bequeathed such unequaled talent, just threw it away! Twelve
later the anger is gone, replaced by a deep sadness. He was an imperfect
but his striving to go beyond the caricature he had become and redeem
by visiting orphanages and hospitals was illuminating. The lyrics of his
spoke to the human yearning to mend the soul and become whole. He wished
music to inspire people to choose goodness.
A year after his untimely
passing, it is time to finally mourn Michael as a man. To remember him
not as an
entertainer, or to miss him as an international icon – an object without
feelings or pain – but as a struggling soul who tried to transform the
his broken childhood into an inspirational message to parents. It is
evaluate Michael’s life, not in the context of an idol who had money and
but as a man who searched for a home that was not a stage.
The writer is
The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His
Conversation and the just-published
A Guide to the Values-Filled