For all his towering influence as a recording artist, Michael Jackson lives in the popular consciousness not only as a huge talent but as a shadowy figure of intense self-conflict, a man who spent his career in flight from his audience, the world, himself.
"Man in the Mirror" was more than a hit song for Jackson. It was a reflection of a bizarre and enthralling series of identities, all of them written -- and rewritten, and rewritten -- on the star's face. The question of what drove Jackson to so radically alter his appearance gradually came to rival, if not overshadow, his brilliance as a performer.
"He didn't want to be Michael Joseph Jackson," said J. Randy Taraborrelli, who has followed Jackson's career for three decades and wrote an unauthorized biography. "He just wanted to be something else. And he went about the business of doing that."
Indeed, there are no shortage of theories from plastic surgery experts and biographers like Taraborrelli about the possible nature and number of surgeries behind Jackson's changing appearance -- and the reasons they believe the star did it.
In the 1970s, as the youngest member of the Jackson 5, Michael was the cherub-faced wunderkind no audience could resist. But even before he began to alter his features, Jackson was wearing a mask, concealing a feeling of unbearable pressure to succeed, brother Jackie Jackson said in a 1993 interview.
"I used to go to Michael's room and I see on his wall he's writing, 'I will sell 20 million records' on his mirror," Jackie Jackson said.
Margo Jefferson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and the author of "On Michael Jackson," said, "I think he longed for some kind of peace of mind. ... He longed for what he could never possibly have back, which was some vision of a childhood. ... The little Michael Jackson, you know, who grew up struggling and suffering and ... thinking, 'I am worthless ... except when I can set this crowd going.' I think he wanted to flee that Michael Jackson completely."
It was after the unprecedented success of 1983's "Thriller" that Jackson's metamorphosis became far more than an artistic statement. In the video for the mega-hit, Jackson transforms from man to werewolf to man to zombie and back to man. It was as if he was using the story to preview the real-life drama of metamorphosis to come.
"I think he was obsessed with staying timeless, is what I think," Jefferson told ABC News' Cynthia McFadden in a recent interview. "It's as if he wanted to look like some, you know, being who has gone into some eternal realm of fame ... beyond life and death."
After the release of his fifth solo album, "Off the Wall" (1979), Jackson had an accident that would change him forever. He fell while dancing and broke his nose. It is believed that that's when he had his first plastic surgery.
In a 2002 interview with ABC News' Martin Bashir, Jackson denied that he had had plastic surgery beyond the nose job.
"I've had no plastic surgery on my face," Jackson said. "Just my nose. It helped me breathe better so I can hit higher notes."
Bashir was skeptical, asking if Jackson honestly was saying he'd only ever had one operation.
"Two," Jackson said. "As I can remember. ... Yeah. Just two."
Dr. Pamela Lipkin, a surgeon specializing in rhinoplasty, said it was unlikely the reshaped nose was better for singing.