Why Did Michael Jackson Go So Far to Alter His Appearance?

A look back at the mystery and motivation behind "King of Pop's" metamorphosis.

ByABC News
July 1, 2009, 6:56 PM

July 3, 2009 -- 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."