Growing Up as Michael Jackson: Out of Hardship Came Success

Michael Jackson rocketed to the top despite a childhood of extremes.

June 26, 2009, 8:06 AM

June 26, 2009— -- Before "Thriller," before the moonwalk, before the devastating accusations, Michael Jackson was a little boy from a blue-collar town that seemed a million miles away from the spotlight that would define his life.

Jackson died Thursday at age 50 after suffering cardiac arrest at his California home. An autopsy is scheduled for today with the results due this afternoon.

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Jackson grew up in Gary, Ind., the seventh of nine children born to Joseph and Katherine Jackson.

While Katherine Jackson instilled a love of God and an appreciation of country music into her young son, it was Jackson's father Joseph, a guitar-playing steel worker, who was credited with creating the nation's first boy band in the form of the Jackson Five.

On stage, little Michael joined big brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon, and by age 8 he was singing lead vocals. Two years later, he was taking Motown by storm, prompting Rolling Stone " to call him a prodigy with "overwhelming musical gifts."

Jackson was 11 years old when the Jackson Five set a chart record when the group's first four singles peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The group's popularity even spawned a Jackson Five cartoon.

Despite the success and the fame, fear and loneliness lurked behind the smiles and awards.

From Band of Brothers to Solo Superstar

In a 1993 interview, Jackson told Oprah Winfrey that he had lost his childhood and endured abuse at the hands of his notoriously strong-willed father.

Jackson, who was twice married and the father of three children, admitted to Winfrey that Joseph Jackson had beat him and that it was difficult to get on stage after that.

The 1992 made-for-television movie "The Jacksons: An American Dream" gave a detailed portrait of life in the Jackson household, portraying Joseph Jackson as a harsh stage father who would rouse his children for impromptu rehearsals in the middle of the night, and Katherine Jackson as the long-suffering wife and mother who tried valiantly to keep the peace.

But Jackson continued on his skyrocket to superstardom with his 1979 album "Off the Wall."

By 1984, Jackson had officially left his brothers behind. Though little sister Janet Jackson racked up her own cache of awards and accolades, Michael Jackson remained the family's most popular and successful member.

In later years, there were reports of rifts within the Jackson family, but when his death was announced it was his big brother Jermaine Jackson who greeted reporters with tears in his eyes.

"May Allah be with you, Michael, always" Jermaine Jackson told the crowd. "Love you."