Biography

jackson_bwjacket.jpgOccupation: Singer, songwriter.

Birthday: Born August 29, 1958

Birth place: Gary, Indiana

Birth Order: The 7th of 9 children.

 

Jackson and his brothers Jackie, Tito, Marlon, and Jermaine were assembled into a singing group when Michael was only five years old. Despite his extremely young age, he soon distinguished himself as a singer and dancer of prodigious ability.

 

No mere child prodigy, Michael had a gift for vocal phrasing that was not only well beyond his years, but would have been astonishing in a performer of any age. After winning several talent contests, the Jackson 5, as the group was called, signed a recording contract with the trailblazing soul label Motown and proceeded to rule the charts in the late 1960s and early ‘70s with such hits as "I Want You Back," "Stop, the Love You Save," "ABC," and "Dancing Machine." By 1972, Michael had begun releasing solo albums, and he sang the hit title song to the movie Ben.

Michael and the group (with the exception of brother Jermaine) left Motown in 1975, signing with Epic Records, which also gave Michael a solo deal. Two years later, he starred in the film version of the hit musical The Wiz, which also featured singer Diana Ross and comic Richard Pryor. Quincy Jones, who produced the soundtrack album, became one of Michael’s longtime friends and collaborators.

The year 1979 saw the release of Jackson’s extraordinarily successful album Off the Wall; this record included the hit singles "Rock With You" and "Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough" and eventually sold some 11 million copies. The singer had matured into a dynamic adult entertainer, but he also began to make his mark as a songwriter, crafting durable pop that synthesized rock and disco.

Jackson’s next album, Thriller, was a quantum leap for him both creatively and commercially. Produced by Jones, the recording spanned a number of pop genres—cannily enlisting rock guitar idol Eddie Van Halen to play a solo on "Beat It," for example, guaranteed access to listeners Jackson might not otherwise have reached—and fired a record-setting seven Top 10 singles up the charts, notably the title track, a duet with Paul McCartney titled “The Girl Is Mine,” the insinuating "Billie Jean," and the raucous "Beat It."

The state-of-the-art videos that accompanied these singles, meanwhile, coincided with the sudden dominance of Music Television (MTV), who at first refused to play videos by black artists.

Jackson’s distinctive "Moonwalk" and overall visual panache (combined with brilliant choreography and lavish special effects) won him an even vaster audience. Thriller went on to become the bestselling album of all time and garnered an unprecedented eight Grammy Awards; Jackson also snagged a Grammy for his participation in the E.T.: The Extraterrestrial soundtrack album.

Jackson was a crucial player in the all-star benefit project We Are the World, which sought to combat hunger in Africa. In addition to his epochal solo work, he continued working with his brothers as part of The Jacksons; their 1984 "Victory" tour was a landmark of the decade.

jackson_hatboots.jpgMichael Jackson ruled the 1980s. Though his next album, Bad performed less spectacularly than did Thriller, it was a colossal hit by any other standard. He also racked up both music industry awards and honors from the United Negro College Fund, the NAACP, and even the president of the United States. He had his occasional bad moments—his head was burned during the shooting of a commercial for Pepsi cola, for which he had a lucrative endorsement deal, and speculation abounded that he lightened his skin and had plastic surgery to make himself look more "white”—but by and large his image as the world’s most beloved entertainer was undimmed.

  In 1990, the performance rights organization BMI presented the first Michael Jackson award—to its namesake.

In early 1991, Michael’s sister and fellow pop star Janet Jackson announced that she had scored the biggest record deal in history early. One week later, Michael announced his new Sony contract, which made Janet’s look paltry by comparison. His 1991 release Dangerous, however, did not perform to media-set expectations.

Some controversy was generated by an unfounded rumor, later slapped down by Jackson, that he only granted his innovative "Black or White" video to MTV on the condition that the network refer to him as the "King of Pop."

A 1993 interview with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, an unusual step for the press-shy Jackson, helped boost sales. Over time, the album performed impressively; again, only the standards previously set by Jackson himself cast any doubt on its popularity. He was showered in laurels in 1993, including a Living Legend Award at the Grammys and the Humanitarian of the Year trophy at the Soul Train Awards.

He earned the scorn of some self-appointed moral guardians when one of his videos showed him smashing a car window and grabbing his crotch more flagrantly than usual; he excised the footage as soon as the eyebrows were raised.

No one could have anticipated, however, the charges that rocked the entertainment world in 1993. A 13-year-old boy, identified only as a "friend" of the singer’s, asserted that Jackson had sexually abused him during his stay at Neverland.

 Jackson was on tour when the allegations by Jordan Chandler were made public, and he promptly brought the series of performances to a halt, claiming exhaustion and addiction to painkillers. After extensive legal wrangling and much mud-slinging from both the boy’s family and lawyers and Jackson’s defense team, Jackson opted to settle out of court for an estimated $20 million. Though he settled, Jackson denied any wrongdoing.

Despite investigation of a second boy who said he’d slept in the same bed with Jackson, later identified as Wade Robson —but alleged no improper behavior on the entertainer’s part—the Los Angeles District Attorney brought his investigation to a close in 1994.

Jackson’s attorney said this was due to lack of evidence, though others claimed it was the boy’s refusal to testify that weakened the case. Lack of evidence later won the debate as the public would later see in 2005.

James Rogan, who helped the co-author the law regarding “prior bad acts” (previously-made , proven or unproven allegations) later revealed that prosecutors could have continued a criminal case against Jackson without the testimony of Jordan Chandler if there were actual evidence.

During his appearance on a Dec 2004 episode of the now-defunct show “Crier Live”, Rogan

Meanwhile, longtime friends of Jackson’s had issued passionate statements in his defense. "I am mortified and disgusted by what has been reported with no evidence of anything untoward," fumed producer Bruce Swedien, as quoted in Rolling Stone. "Michael is one of the most decent people I’ve ever met in my life. These allegations are preposterous." Jackson’s own public statement expressed confidence that he would be fully exonerated. "I am grateful for the overwhelming support of my fans throughout the world," it concluded. "I love you all."

Yet the scandal devastated Jackson and heightened speculation that his career was over. He lost his Pepsi endorsement as well as a deal to develop several films in which he hoped to star. "They just pulled the plug when the scandal broke," noted director John Landis—who had helmed the epic "Thriller" video—to Entertainment Weekly. The rumor-mongering over the alleged molestation continued, as the media and industry insiders played the age-old game of trying to pin down Michael Jackson’s personal life.

In 1994, Jackson shocked the public again—in a very different way. He and Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of rock innovator and cultural icon Elvis Presley, were married in a secret ceremony in the Dominican Republic. The unexpected union was the cause of further speculation: had Jackson married to divert attention from his alleged homosexuality and/or pederasty? Was he hoping to save his career by establishing himself as a "normal" and adult man?  Any initial skepticism in many who didn’t already disdain Jackson seemed to subside as the marriage continued and lasted for almost two years.

Meanwhile, Michael Jackson returned to what he did best—making records. He commenced recording new tracks for an ambitious package that would include his greatest hits along with an album’s worth of new material. He gathered a number of hot songwriters and producers and even recorded a duet with his sister Janet.

Epic Records, the branch of Sony that handled his recordings, prepared for a massive media assault. Jackson and Lisa Marie appeared on a television interview with Diane Sawyer; the singer and his bride vehemently insisted that they had a sex life and planned to have children.

The interview earned astronomical ratings and helped prepare the way for the new album’s marketing blitz. This included the sudden appearance of building-high statues of the performer, one of which is pictured on the cover of the disc.

The marketing campaign for HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 (1995) was the biggest ever seen for an album; amid the hype, Jackson was trumpeting the message that he resented intrusions into his privacy. This turned out to be true.

When HIStory was released it met with mixed reviews. "It’s not where music is headed, it’s where music has been," complained radio station music director Bruce St. James, quoted in Newsweek. The public, despite the media bombast, seemed to disagree.

HIStory was the fastest selling album of his career. The double album counts as two cds – as with every other double album by any artist – and the album sales worldwide topped a whopping $30 million way back in the 1990s. Mind you, this was right after the 1993 scandal.

 The debut single, "Scream”—a raucous duet with Janet that was supported by a flashy science-fiction video—earned only a lukewarm reception from Jackson critics, who, some say, would have negatively criticized anything which didn’t sound like a carbon copy of Thriller.

Yet the record could scarcely be considered a failure, given that it was a double album and promised to issue singles for at least another year. One, the ballad "Childhood," also appeared on the soundtrack of the family film Free Willy 2, promising an even wider audience. "There will probably be nine singles," pronounced Epic executive David Glew to Billboard. "That puts us through two Christmases … I think this will be one of the biggest albums of all time, [but] we know it will take the full weight of this company."

Meanwhile, many fans who didn’t adore the new tracks would likely still invest in the package just to have Jackson’s classic hits in one place.

http://www.biography.com/images/common/spacer.gifAnother scandal erupted immediately, however; it involved the presence of apparently anti-Semitic lyrics on the song "They Don’t Care About Us." Steven Spielberg, superstar filmmaker and stalwart defender of Jackson during his earlier travails, publicly criticized the lyrics, as did many other individuals and groups.

Jackson announced that he harbored no prejudice toward anyone.

Jackson and Presley divorced amicably in 1996. Years later, Presley would make unsupported allegations that Jackson was “manipulative” and was a “freak”. Observers were skeptical because such attention-grabbing claims were timely precisely to coincide with the release Presley’s failed albums.

Later in 1996, Jackson announced that Deborah Rowe, an assistant to his dermatologist, was pregnant with his child. The couple married in Australia soon after his announcement, and Rowe subsequently gave birth to a son, Prince Michael Jackson Jr. A daughter, Paris Michael Katherine, was born in the spring of 1998.

Jackson and Rowe announced their intention to divorce in the fall of 1999. In 2002, under a veil of secrecy, a second son named Prince Michael II was added to the brood. The child’s mother remains unnamed.

In 1997, Jackson released Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix, a combination of some new and some remixed material.

His first new studio album in six years, titled Invincible, hit stores in October of 2001.

The album’s performance, often incorrectly referenced as “poor”, went multi-platinum by July 2002 despite being released in the middle of a very public fight between Jackson and his former record company.

Invincible had one video (featuring Jackson and comedian Chris Tucker) making fun of many of Jackson’s old videos. The album had no single releases, no sustained promotion campaign, and very little to no radio airplay on the pop charts. Despite that, it still sold 4 million copies worldwide by July 2002.

Jackson publicly criticized Sony Music, which he said failed to properly promote his work. Jackson went further, saying his treatment was indicative of black exploitation in the music industry and accused the former Sony CEO of being heard making racist statements. He enlisted the aid of controversial activist Al Sharpton to forge a campaign against the mistreatment.

Mottola was then unceremoniously replaced as the head of Sony Music after reports the Japanese owners were highly displeased at the pubic scandal.

In February 2003, Britain’s ITV network broadcast the first-ever documentary about the controversial King of Pop called Living with Michael Jackson. The documentary was fraught with controversy as Jackson claimed Bashir was dishonest and chopped the interviews up to make them as controversial as possible.

ABC purchased the rights to broadcast the interview to American audiences on 20/20, though Jackson claimed it to be "a gross distortion of the truth."

Bashir came under public scrutiny and ridicule from many media observers who questioned his integrity and the validity of the finished documentary.

mj_umbrsmall.jpg

 

 The public myth is the documentary led to allegations of abuse in 2003. Later, it became known that the latest family to accuse Jackson of abuse had already sought out civil attorneys; some even before they had actually met the entertainer.

In January 2004, Jackson pleaded not guilty to nine felony charges, which echoed but were entirely different than the charges brought against the pop star a decade earlier. These included seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent.

He was fully acquitted on all charges following a four month trial replete with less than credible witnesses, a logically impossible and shifting timeline, as well as multiple allegations of misconduct and vindictive prosecution.

Prosecutors were publicly accused of not being truthful to the court by some legal analysts after they claimed three children, now grown men, were victims when the three men had never made any allegations whatsoever against Jackson.  Those three, Macaulay Culkin, Brett Barnes and Wade Robson, testified for Jackson in court.

Even when beset by rumor and scandal, Michael Jackson has managed to translate adversity into greater fame. While many argue that his work has been uneven, his contribution to modern pop has been enormous.

With public compliments by everyone from Rihanna, Mary J Blige and Ne-yo, to Usher, Beyonce and Chris Brown, Jackson’s legacy of making music history is firmly intact.

Feb 2008 will see the release of Thriller remade by a plethora of today’s chart-topping stars.  Jackson is also scheduled to release a new project some time during the year, and is currently working with producers/artists Akon, will.i.am, T-Pain and others.

-Based on Biography.com’s flawed, sometimes inaccurate biography of Jackson