"Either you loved him, you identified with him, you saw him as one of your own, as a black performer important to the black community, or you saw him as someone who basically, I don't want to use the term sellout, but ... as a creature and a creation of the white world."
But today, on his blog "The Hutchinson Report," the commentator suggested that Jackson's charitable side be his legacy.
"It is the Jackson that I want to and will always remember," he wrote. "This is the other Michael Jackson."
According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the star supported dozens of charities, including USA for Africa, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. In 2000, he was listed in the Guinness World Records for Most Charities Supported by a Pop Star -- 39.
He also donated $1.5 million in the settlement from Pepsi for injuries he sustained filming a commercial to the Burn Center at Brothman Hospital in Southern California.
In 1985, he wrote with Lionel Ritchie, "We Are the World," raising millions for famine relief in Africa.
But even Jackson's philanthropic work was scrutinized.
"It was the media attention that intrigued Michael when he first went to Africa at the request of Nelson Mandella," said biographer Brown. "I look at the footage, and Michael was totally separated from the people -- not like Mohammed Ali, who shook hands and talked with the natives."
Jackson's 1992 Heal the World Foundation not only raised money internationally but brought children to Neverland Ranch, which was besieged by police when child molestation charges were filed against the star.
And in 2006, critics pointed out that Jackson had not donated 100 percent of the proceeds of his charity songs, "We are the World" and "What More Can I Give." Jackson retained copyrights and took the royalties to the bank.
But close friend Dick Gregory, the comedian who fasted to protest child molestation charges against Jackson, said the star was childlike but generous.
"Your child sometimes embarrasses you," he told ABCNews.com. "But here is one of the wealthiest cats, and he wore cheap JC Penney shoes, white socks and pants too short. You never saw him with big rings and diamonds."
Gregory, now 76, said African-Americans have always been drawn to the pop star because of his talent.
"No black folks go to a concert because he's black -- he has to be good."
And even his critics came around when Jackson died.
"It's an outpouring as a human being," said Gregory. "Out of all the black folks we know, he hasn't gotten arrested. Out of all the things you can say about Michael and the weirdness, no one ever accused him of stealing."
Others say Jackson's career -- like his own identity transcended race.
When Jackson's music moved from its R&B roots to pop, culminating in the record-breaking 1982 "Thriller" album, another transformation was under way.
Jackson was the first black artist to get a video on the emerging MTV network, breaking down color barriers, according to African-American historians.
"I hate to make this analogy, but it's a most apt one," said Jelani Cobb, president of the history department at historically black Spelman College in Atlanta.