A musical gift overshadowed by private life

A musical gift overshadowed by private life


Eventually, however, his bizarre life-style and personal notoriety eclipsed his talent and his numerous achievements. Fame, from the age of 11, when he was lead singer of the first black boy band, the Jackson Five, had such a damaging effect that his life was permanently affected. A combination of dysfunctional family and invasive fame ate away at the essentially private singer, whose initially minor eccentricities escalated into grotesque changes to his appearance and lifestyle. Ultimately, it led to accusations of paedophilia and a criminal prosecution.

If ever there was an illustration of the adage that celebrity destroys what it touches, Jackson was it. Highly sensitive and impressionable, he was unsuited to fame — ironic, given that his became one of the most recognised faces in the world. Despite loving the razzle-dazzle of performance — even his off-duty wardrobe, with its epauletted jackets, looked like stagewear — he was crushed by the pressure of maintaining a cherubic public persona. He probably would have been happiest working behind the scenes, in the mode of his collaborator and mentor, Quincy Jones, producer of the 50m-selling Thriller.

Jackson's success deprived him of his childhood — at least, that was the stock explanation for his more outlandish behaviour. From the age of 10, he spent most of his time recording and touring, and consequently spent the rest of his life yearning for what he thought he had lost. As an adult he attempted to recreate the lost childhood, enabled by a fortune that was estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
He indulged himself by turning his California ranch Neverland into a funfair, complete with zoo, over which he presided, dressed in his toy-soldier gear. His closest friendships were with fellow ex-child star Elizabeth Taylor, a chimpanzee called Bubbles, who travelled with him till it grew too large and dangerous, and, ambiguously, with children.

Family history
He was born in Gary, Indiana, (within weeks, coincidentally, of his main 1980s rivals and fellow Midwesterners Madonna and Prince). He, his parents and eight siblings squeezed into a two-bedroom house on a street that was later renamed Jackson Boulevard in their honour. Coached by his father Joe, a steel-mill worker, Michael and older brothers Jermaine, Marlon, Jackie and Tito formed a singing group. Despite shyness that he never overcame, he was a natural singer and dancer, and took to the frontman role with relish. By the age of six, the young Jacksons were playing strip clubs and burlesque palaces — the only venues open to them in Gary.Joe was a disciplinarian who ruled the family with an iron rod. The brothers, who were brought up as Jehovah’s Witnesses, were not allowed to visit friends.

Marriage
In 1994, he married Elvis Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie, a union that lasted two years and excited a great deal of speculation. The year before, Jackson had been accused of sexually molesting a 13-year-old boy, tipping him into the worst crisis of his personal and professional life to that point. He eventually settled out of court, paying the boy millions in return for dropping the case, but his career never quite recovered.
His second marriage, to his dermatologist’s nurse, Debbie Rowe, in 1996, was equally perplexing to everyone but the couple themselves. They seemed to spend little time together, but Rowe produced his first two children, son Prince Michael and daughter Paris. They divorced in 1999. A third child, Prince Michael II, was born with the aid of a surrogate mother.

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