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Michael Jackson: A Gift Remembered and Lost

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I was twelve years old and standing in front of the television in my family’s living room watching the Ed Sullivan show the first time I saw the Jackson Five. I can recall the exact moment I saw Michael Jackson on stage and I can still hear in my mind's ear the words he sang. It was one of those defining moments.

It was Sunday night and I already had on my PJ’s, but I didn't want to go to bed yet. Here was this little boy dressed in colorful clothes dancing and singing with the brightest eyes and the strongest voice and he was singing directly to me! I danced along with him as he moved his hips, exuding a phenomenal amount of energy twirling and bouncing to the rhythm of the song “I Want You Back.” The name of the group might have been the Jackson Five but the little powerhouse I saw on that television screen in 1969 was the star, and the world knew it.

Michael Jackson would soon leave his older brothers to launch a solo career that would span four decades. The enormous volume of his body of work is astounding, with many firsts, highs and lows.

Born August 29, 1958, in Gary Indiana, Michael was the seventh child among six brothers and two sisters.

Along with four of his brothers Michael performed in their first talent show when he was just six years old; they easily walked off stage with their first prize. Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael, first called "The Jackson Five," signed with Motown records in the late 60’s as "The Jackson 5" and the boys shot into the world of entertainment like a rocket.

Jacksons five – I Want You Back.

Michael produced his first solo album in 1972; he had clearly outgrown his brothers. When he released his album Thriller in 1982, it rose to the top of the charts and remained there, with seven top ten singles, selling 27 million copies worldwide.

On NBC the following year Michael introduced his signature “moon walk” dance while singing “Billie Jean,” and probably every man, woman, and child on Earth tried to emulate that move; I know I did.

His lifetime achievement in the entertainment industry includes a total of 750 million record sales and thirteen Grammy awards; this makes Michael Jackson one of the most successful entertainers of all time.

In 1993 Michael was accused of sexually abusing a thirteen-year-old boy at his ranch in California that he had named “Neverland.” I suspect that Michael named his ranch after the story of Peter Pan in order to experience the childhood that he never had.

His life took a downhill turn after this incident. Although he settled financially with the boy's parents, I have often thought that they were motivated by lust for Michael’s money rather than Michael's supposed lust for their boy. Michael settled with the family of his accuser to the tune of $15 million.

Michael tried desperately to reinvent his image in 1994 when he married Elvis Presley’s daughter Lisa Marie. Unfortunately the marriage ended after just two years without children; imagine what an enormous gift a child with those genes could have possessed! Michael turned right around after his divorce from Lisa Marie to marry a woman named Debbie Rowe, and even though they had two children together they never lived together; this marriage also ended in divorce in 1999.

He fathered a total of three children, Prince Michael I, Paris Michael, and Prince Michael II.  The last was seen publicly once when Michael held him over a railing of a hotel balcony; this act afforded Michael more widespread criticism, and his motive for doing this has never been revealed.

In 2003 when the documentary Living with Michael was broadcast people were shocked to learn that Michael still had sleepovers for young boys at his “Neverland” ranch in California. I have to interject here and ask, If you had a child and believed Michael Jackson to be a pedophile, would you then let him sleep at the man’s house? It was not surprising to learn that he was once again being accused of molestation by the parents of one of these children. Michael endured a very publicly humiliating four-month trial in 2005 and was rightfully acquitted of all charges.

Michael sold his ranch after the trial and traveled abroad for the next four years; he has lived in Bahrain, Ireland, and France.

Michael Jackson was preparing to once again reinvent himself and return to the entertainment industry with a 50-concert stand at London’s O2 Arena. He was scheduled to debut in July and the tickets had sold out within hours of going on sale; sadly, these concerts would never happen for Michael Jackson.

I was 52 years old and standing in front of my kitchen stove when I heard the news. Michael Jackson died after being rushed to a Los Angeles area hospital, another defining moment for this fan.

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About Jeannie Danna

  • Good to see you back in the saddle again.

  • You know, I am struck by the outpouring of grief at the BET Awards last night. Take all the hyperbole away and look at the impact of Michael Jackson on American POP culture at the very least. This man opened doors for young black artists especially with the MTV generation. This kid from Gary, Indiana hit the world with a vengeance and none of us will ever be the same.

    Going through some of the videos from last night’s show this morning, all of it came back. Yes, boys and girls, at 50 years plus, I got taken back to a different time. To a world that had lost MLK and RFK. Back to a time of gas rationing and dependence on foreign oil. To a corrupt White House determined to hold on to power in the waning days of a Nixon Administration. And to the White House as Ronald Reagan paid tribute to Michael.

    All these years later, political problems remain, hardly changed. Yet something did change thanks to Michael Jackson. The days of rampant discrimination against Blacks in the entertainment industry are almost a complete thing of the past. Without Michael there would be no Sean Combs, Jamie Foxx or NeYo. And yes, without Michael, would there even have been a President Barack Obama.

    No, Mr. Jackson, I wasn’t a big fan but I respected your music. Today I realize that you were more than music and regretfully I never quite understood your impact until now. Your innocence lost was our culture’s gain and no one will ever give you due credit for that. Beyonce Knowles rendition of Ave Maria and In The Arms of an Angel was a fitting ‘tribute’ which brought me to tears, period.

    Take away the controversy. Take away the eccentricity and look at the impact. A little piece of all of us died with the King of Pop this past weekend. And in the weeks ahead the drama will unfold, fingers will be pointed and I have no doubt criminal charges sought. But all of this second guessing will never take away what Michael Jackson did for music but more importantly what he did for his Black community. In his death he is a hero for the cause. They’ll all speak with reverence about the memory of Michael Jackson. They won’t forget what he sacrificed personally and at such a great price. Many of these so-called mourners were the same who shunned him at the height of his personal problems. But all of that doesn’t matter today.

    Once I again I have to repeat it. His lost innocence, our culture’s gain. We owe him something. Thank you, Michael. Sleep well. You earned it.

  • Thanks Silas,

    That was a very thoughtful comment you made about Michael Jackson. I hope you can come back and see the video of The Jackson Five’s performance.It gives you a better sense of the young Michael. How much talent he possessed right from the beginning!

    I read another of your comments about Michael on another thread and I agree with you.

    Words of Silas- So, while you may not shed a tear for Michael Jackson please remember this. Unless you have been exploited or abused as a child. Unless you were thrust into adulthood far before your body transitioned. Unless you lived in a fishbowl before you even entered primary school. Unless you walked in those shoes, you really have no clue at the sacrifice this child made. If you won’t shed a tear for Michael, at least shed a tear for innocence lost. That, is what I mourn and readily shed a tear.

  • Chris I copied your words here….The facts are that there was no conviction. Nor was there any evidence in his one trial; there was a lot of testimony from a clearly unwell woman but not actually any credible evidence. Similarly, the court of public opinion has not convicted him at all, as the public reaction to his demise so clearly demonstrates.

    Chris makes a crystal clear point!

  • This comment appeared on another thread, and it was the insperation for this article so I brought it home with me…:)
    [I remember how little he was the first time I saw him on TV. Singing “oh baby give me one more chance…” with his little pantsuit on and dwarfed by his brothers. He never had a life of his own.
    The glaring eyes of the public where always there to judge and pry at his life and every move he made.

    I never believed he was guilty of anything bad with those kids…he was living a second-chance childhood with them..a childhood he never got to live…]

  • Kit O’Toole

    I remember the “Motown 25” performance as if it were yesterday. The day after, my friends and I were trying to moonwalk on the playground black top! When the “Thriller” video premiered, everyone was talking about it the next day. Everybody. I don’t think we’ll ever have an entertainer create such a stir as he did. For many of my generation, the “80s kids,” a piece of our childhood died last week. Thanks for your heartfelt article, Jeannie.

  • Arch Conservative

    And he was a pedophile.