Michael Jackson

Occupation: Actor, Musician, Songwriter
Date of Birth: August 29, 1958
Place of Birth: Gary, Ind., USA
Sign: Sun in Virgo, Moon in Pisces
Relations: Siblings: Janet, LaToya, Tito, Randy, Marlon, Jermaine, Jackie, Rebbie; wife (separated): Debbie Rowe; ex-wife: Lisa Marie Presley; kids: Prince Michael Jackson Jr., Paris Michael Katherine Jackson (both with Rowe)


MICHAEL JACKSON shot to stardom at an age when most children are still mastering the art of tying their shoelaces. In the ensuing 30 years, the entertainer scaled astonishing commercial and critical heights  the best-selling album of all time, music videos that pioneered the medium, hit singles across the charts, and praise as a musical genius. In many ways, however, the King of Pop has been victimized by his success. Professionally speaking, Jackson's recent multi-million-selling album releases look like flops in comparison to the spectacular achievements of his early career, and for millions of fans, nothing he does will ever hold a candle to his past work. Personally speaking, Jackson seems haunted by both the childhood he never had and by an ingrained, insatiable desire to please.

Born the seventh in a family of nine children in Gary, Indiana, Jackson was launched into show business when his father, a steel-mill worker by trade, assembled a singing group called the Jackson Five with 5-year-old Michael and his four older brothers. Initially, Joseph included Michael in the lineup as a novelty, but it became immediately obvious that his wee son had prodigious musical abilities: his voice possessed a maturity belied by his young years, and his crowd-charming charisma superseded that of most seasoned entertainers. Buoyed by the young prodigy's talents, the Jackson Five moved quickly from local talent contests to a recording contract with Motown. The group generated six top-five singles between 1969 and 1971  including "I Want You Back" and "ABC"  and would remain a hit-making machine throughout the '70s.

As if the pressure of fronting a chart-topping band weren't enough for the adolescent, Jackson was soon tapped by Motown to do solo recordings. The label was assured it had a superstar in the making, when, in 1971, Jackson's first on-his-own single, "I'll Be There," hit No. 4 on the charts. In addition to his work with his brothers, Jackson recorded more hit solo singles  including "Rockin' Robin" and "Ben"  and solo albums for Motown; in 1976, he and the Jackson Five signed with Epic. During the late '70s, Jackson made a brief foray into film, starring opposite Diana Ross in The Wiz (1978), an African-American update of The Wizard of Oz. The project was unexceptional, save for the fact that it introduced Jackson to legendary producer Quincy Jones, who arranged and conducted the film's score.

Jones and Jackson collaborated on the singer's next solo project, Off the Wall (1979), an album that transformed the child star into an adult superstar. Propelled by such No. 1 hits as "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You," the disc sold ten million copies and was barraged with critical praise for its barrier-busting blend of soul and rock and its good-time boogie vibe. (Rolling Stone's notoriously hard-to-please critic, David Marsh, proclaimed Off the Wall "a masterpiece of modern record making.") It seemed impossible that the ever-blossoming artist could top himself, but that's exactly what he did with the 1982 release of a little record he called Thriller.

As history notes, the Jones-produced Thriller sold upwards of 40 million copies (more than any album before or since) and received critical kudos and an unprecedented eight Grammy awards. The album charted a record six top-ten singles, beginning in November 1982 with the Paul McCartney duet, "The Girl Is Mine," and ending a whopping 16 months later with the title track. Jackson sustained Thriller's momentum with the help of music videos, which were gaining prominence thanks to the newborn MTV network. Jackson's brilliant song-and-dance videos for "Billie Jean," "Beat It," and "Thriller" not only helped pioneer the medium (and break MTV's color barrier, for that matter), but they drew praise from such esteemed hoofers as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Jackson hit a professional zenith in the summer of 1984, when he reteamed with his brothers (then recording as the Jacksons) for the aptly titled Victory tour.

Though Jackson's next albums, Bad (1987) and Dangerous (1991), both topped the charts and sold millions, somehow, the excitement had ebbed. The tide of public favor took a noticeable turn against the artist following the release of the video for the Dangerous single "Black and White," which debuted to much publicity and breathless anticipation in 1992. Audiences recoiled from the video's violent coda, which featured Jackson grabbing his crotch and smashing a car with a hammer. The lyrics, "It don't matter if you're black or white," struck an ironic chord, considering that the singer was obviously becoming ever more Caucasian-looking, thanks to plastic surgery and gobs of make-up. His rapidly altering appearance wasn't the only thing giving folks pause: perception of the once unimpeachable entertainer shifted from a judgment of forgivable eccentricity to one of downright weirdness as more stories of his odd habits (like the fact that he kept a coffin, white mannequins, and a shrine to Elizabeth Taylor in his private quarters) and predilections (like the fact that he was hanging out almost exclusively with children) became common knowledge.

In 1993, Jackson consented to a rare interview with Oprah Winfrey. A huge prime-time audience tuned in to hear Jackson discuss his evolving appearance (which he attributed to a skin pigmentation deficiency and "only two" plastic surgery procedures), his romantic life (he named Brooke Shields as a girlfriend), and his Peter Pan-like existence at his Neverland ranch and amusement park near Los Angeles. The interview succeeded in making Jackson seem human, but intense scrutiny of his life didn't let up in the slightest. Late that year, his media spotlight shone more glaringly than ever after a 13-year-old boy accused Jackson of sexually abusing him during a sleepover at Neverland. The allegations  which he categorically denied  proved devastating to Jackson, who had always prided himself on his compassion for children. The singer suspended his touring schedule, lost a promotional contract with Pepsi, and incurred irreparable damage to his once-pristine reputation. Jackson settled with the boy's family out of court for an estimated $20 million; the criminal investigation into the matter was dropped in 1994.

Jackson turned a dramatic personal corner in May 1994, when he married Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis's daughter, in a secret ceremony in the Dominican Republic. Many saw this surprise move as a blatant P.R. bid to repair a poor image; others found it touching and only fitting that modern music's most prominent families be united in holy matrimony. Jackson subsequently released an ambitious double album of past hits and new songs called HIStory (1995). It received mixed reviews  praise for the oldies, pans for the new tracks  and sales were disappointing by Jacksonian standards, despite a publicity blitz that went way over the top. The campaign included a prime-time interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News, during which Jackson and Presley insisted that their marriage was real . . . and that they really did do the nasty. All that good lovin' aside, the union lasted but a scant 18 months.

However, another marriage was in the cards for Jackson. In November 1996, Jackson announced that his friend Deborah Rowe (an assistant to his dermatologist) was carrying his child. The couple denied all tabloid reports that Jackson was merely renting Rowe's womb and that she was artificially inseminated. As proof of their love, Jackson and Rowe were married in Australia not long after the pregnancy became public knowledge. Three months later, Rowe gave birth to Prince Michael Jackson Jr. Daughter Paris Michael Katherine was born in the spring of 1998. The couple announced their mutual decision to divorce in fall 1999.

Jackson's latest album, the part-new, part-remix Blood on the Dance Floor, suggests that the King of Pop is still hung up on his '80s glory days.

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