Michael Jackson: 10 Moments That Defined the Man
Michael Jackson's death on Thursday at 50 brought a flurry of unforgettable moments to the mind of anyone who follows pop culture.
Jackson earned his iconic status on the country's cultural landscape through a series of positive and negative events that left indelible images:
The precocious 11-year-old with the Afro, dancing with the Jackson 5. The riveting performer moonwalking across the stage, wearing a single sequined glove and hat and loafers. The film star morphing into a monster in the "Thriller" video. The man riding the roller coaster rollercoaster at his Neverland Ranch in California with a passel of children. The parent who insisted that his children join him in wearing surgical masks when they ventured out into public.
Those who witnessed his rise from a '60s child prodigy to superstar solo act breaking ground on MTV may give him more leeway in their final assessment.
Younger pop-culture followers whose main exposure came from tabloid coverage of his failed marriages, numerous nose jobs and court battles over child-abuse accusations may see a different man.
Here are 10 major moments from the life of Jackson:
Michael as cartoon
On Sept. 11, 1971, an animated Jackson 5 series premiered on Saturday morning. Produced by Rankin/Bass of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" fame, the ABC show marked Michael's first appearance as a cartoon, with a theme song that was a medley of the group's their four chart-topping singles, all of which hit No. 1 in 1970.
Five days after the cartoon's premiere, the Jackson 5 starred in a TV special titled "Goin' Back to Indiana." They kicked things off with a spirited version of their first big hit, "I Want You Back," complete with a new verse written to cut to commercials. "We're coming back, don't go away now."
Guests included Bill Cosby, Bobby Darin, Tommy Smothers and Diana Ross.
'Billie Jean' hits MTV
The song itself was Jackson's finest hour as the King of Pop, from a hiccuping vocal defending the man against faulty paternity suits to the most insistent bass guitar groove of the decade.
But the video was where he really hit the mainstream, crashing through the Blacks-need-not-apply approach to programming at rockist MTV in 1983. It's one of pop's iconic videos.
Howard Kramer, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's curatorial director, recalls, "When 'Billie Jean' premiered, MTV was influential, but it did not have a huge saturation into American television markets. A lot of people still didn't have cable. And when they started showing that, not only was it interesting to see Michael Jackson, a black face, on MTV, but a rhythm-and-blues song and a video with high production values.
"That was the most extraordinary thing about it. It didn't look like just another castoff from a public-access channel. This had movie-quality production values."
His most iconic moment ever, hands down, was the introduction of the moonwalk during "Billie Jean" at "Motown 25," a TV special celebrating Motown's silver anniversary in 1983. But every second of Jackson's performance was as mesmerizing as that "don't blink or you'll miss it" backwards slide.
As the Hall of Fame's Kramer recalls, "Despite the fact that he's likely lip-syncing, he's entirely believable. And that's the most compelling thing about it. He's believable and the energy he gives off. Some people can try that, and it comes off as forced. He does it, and it comes off as purely energetic and sincere.
"And the moonwalk is three steps. It's literally two and a half seconds of a six-minute production, but like Elvis Presley with his second performance on 'The Milton Berle Show' where he does the bump-and-grind 'Hound Dog,' there's an iconography in that moment that is set into the broad consciousness of the public that everyone can then draw on."
This 14-minute video, directed by John Landis ("An American Werewolf in London," ''The Blues Brothers") in 1983, was more of a short film than a music video. After Jackson wraps up a date and warns co-star Ola Ray that he's "not like other guys," he transforms into both a werewolflike creature and a zombie. The creepy voice of horror-film star Vincent Price is heard at one point.
Alice Cooper, who was a close friend of Price, recalls: "Michael and I had Vincent Price in common. I used him first on 'Welcome to My Nightmare' in 1975, and Michael later used him on 'Thriller.' Michael (on video and on record) was easily as influential as James Brown, and that's saying a lot."
During the 1984 filming of a commercial for Pepsi in Los Angeles, pyrotechnics accidentally set Jackson's hair on fire. The singer was filming in front of a large Los Angeles crowd to simulate a concert, and he suffered second-degree burns on his scalp. He threatened to sue PepsiCo and later donated the $1.5 million out-of-court settlement to charity.
The ad, featuring "Billie Jean," eventually ran.
Super Bowl XXVII
Jackson delivered one of the most over-the-top performances in Super Bowl halftime history in Pasadena, Calif., in 1993.
Shooting up through the middle of the stage to start, Jackson then did what only he could do, standing motionless for what seemed like five minutes before breaking into rapid-fire dance steps and the song "Jam." He then stripped off his military-style coat to reveal his "Billie Jean" outfit, driving the crowd into a frenzy. He also sang "Black or White" as a huge banner with black and white hands shaking was unfurled on the field.
"Every aspect of Michael's performances in his heyday was just phenomenal — the music, the costumes, the stage," said Valley concert promoter Danny Zelisko of Live Nation Southwest in Arizona, who managed an opening act for several Jackson concerts in the '90s.
The baby and the balcony
The thought of Jackson as a father made a lot of people nervous. And he seemed to prove them right when he dangled his baby from the third-floor balcony of a Berlin hotel in 2002. He later admitted to having made a "terrible mistake" in a statement that went on to read, "I got caught up in the excitement of the moment. I would never intentionally endanger the lives of my children."
Jackson even made a show of a court appearance to face seven counts of child molestation in 2004. He pleaded not guilty in Santa Maria, Calif., then emerged from the Santa Barbara County courthouse. He climbed onto the roof of his SUV, clapped his hands, stomped his feet and blew kisses to a large crowd of fans. He later was acquitted by a jury.
Jackson looked sharp in March when he took the stage in London to announce plans for a series of concerts at the O2 arena.
Thousands of fans, egged on by an official Twitter page for the event, flocked to the arena to witness the press conference. As he often did during his career, the star kept his fans waiting, arriving 45 minutes late.
"This is it. ... This is the final curtain call," he told the crowd.