He prefers to be recognized as the "King of Pop," but it seems that Michael Jackson will be remembered either as a misunderstood and unfairly maligned music legend or a child molester.
Jackson's arrest on child molestation allegations involving a 12-year-old boy — and the media spectacle surrounding his surrender and booking with California authorities — illustrate how tragic his life has become and how far his career has fallen. He has denied the allegations, calling them a "big lie," as he awaits formal charges and arraignment, scheduled for Jan. 9.
But his fall from a beloved entertainer who first rocketed to fame as a member of the The Jackson Five with his brothers and then moonwalked into legendary stardom with solo albums such as Thriller, Bad and Dangerous is undeniable.
A Life in the Spotlight
In his videos, Jackson, 45, has often portrayed himself as an adored international star swarmed and trailed by thousands of screaming fans. He first became a star as the lead singer of The Jackson Five, and grew into a teen idol. Jackson has never really known a life without music and celebrity.
Born Michael Joseph Jackson in Gary, Ind., in 1958, he is the fifth of nine children of Joe and Katherine Jackson. Both parents instilled a love of music early in their children's lives: Katherine taught them folk music while Joe, a budding guitarist, managed them and molded their musical work ethic. Michael was only 4 when he started singing with his older brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon and formed the original Jackson Five. (Younger brother Randy joined the group in 1976 when Jermaine left.)
The brothers were discovered by Motown singers Diana Ross and Gladys Knight and pianist Billy Taylor after a performance at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Motown Records founder Berry Gordy would soon sign them to a contract.
Gordy's investment paid off: The Jackson Five broke through to national stardom in 1969-70 with four consecutive hit songs. They were a group of five but energetic, dancing prepubescent Michael was the standout.
"I saw so much of myself in as a child in Michael," Ross told a reporter in 1970. "He was performing all the time. That's the way I was. He could be my son."
Moonwalking to Stardom — and ‘Weirdom’
While still a member of The Jackson Five, Jackson made his first solo album, Got to Be There, in 1972. He began to really define himself as a solo artist with the 1979 release of Off the Wall. However, he became an international phenomenon when Thriller — propelled by songs such as "Beat It" and "Billie Jean," as well as his unique "moonwalking" dance in music videos — sold 16 million copies worldwide in 1983. It is the second-greatest selling album of all time.
However, after Thriller, Jackson's physical appearance began to change drastically. The headlines didn't focus too much on it at the time, but when Jackson released Bad in 1987, he appeared to have much more feminine facial features. His complexion, once brown, was lightened. His once-flat nose was reshaped, his cheekbones were more defined and his hair — once a Jeri Curled Afro — was straightened.
Then his behavior appeared to become increasingly odd, with reports that he slept in a hyperbaric chamber and tried to buy the Elephant Man's bones. However, he was still recognized primarily for his talent and perhaps perceived as benevolently eccentric.
Ghosts of Scandal Past