From King of Pop to Wacko Jacko: A Tragedy in Black & White

Michael Jackson’s life is a modern day tragedy. A star at 11, a teen idol as an adolescent and the King of Pop before he hit 30, Jackson spent what should have been the best years of his life confused, hounded and haunted, an Alice in Wonderland creature in a world of pop culture that […]

Last Updated: June 26, 2009 @ 1:28 AM

Michael Jackson’s life is a modern day tragedy.

A star at 11, a teen idol as an adolescent and the King of Pop before he hit 30, Jackson spent what should have been the best years of his life confused, hounded and haunted, an Alice in Wonderland creature in a world of pop culture that he helped to create.

We all must mourn twice today. First, the loss of a great musical and stage talent. But that person disappeared long ago.

Second, we mourn the arc of a life that should have been filled with the blessings of success as defined in our world: money, talent, fame and celebrity. But instead it descended into a hellish purgatory on earth — damned by public opinion and tortured by demons only he understood.

It was a life left in ruins. His death is a shock, and we can only expect the unexpected in the coroner’s report.

But it is not nearly as shocking as the events that led to an untimely demise we might have expected even sooner. 

A child prodigy. An adored adolescent. Then — pop star bizarre. Accusations of pedophilia. Million-dollar shopping sprees. A hyperbaric chamber.  Evian water piped into the tap on tour. A fake marriage (to Lisa Marie Presley) and sad surrogate parenting (with Debbie Rowe). Caucasian children who wore veils when in public, and two of whom were named — who would do this to a child? — Prince Michael.

The world will have a hard time writing Michael Jackson’s epitaph. We see him, frozen forever in time, electric on stage, sliding his inimitable way through "Thriller," a defining image in our collective memory.

We see him singing about black and white. We see him pleading for world peace. Making "We Are the World" a reality. Singing of brotherly love with his friend Diana Ross. Begging for a cure for AIDS with his pal Liz Taylor. Influencing music and fashion and dance for three generations of fans.

We made names for him: The Gloved One. He called himself the King of Pop. Or he was just plain Michael.

And we see him creating the fantasy childhood world at Neverland, where he entertained children dying of cancer.

Then we see him accused of molesting children — children he abused, or so it certainly seemed. But it got complicated; some were children who may well have used him for fame and fortune, for headlines and a book deal.

It was ugly. It felt dirty. We were learning, along the way, about the treacherous nature of celebrity in our modern age. He embodied the vice and helped it morph into an epidemic.

We found new names for him:  Wacko Jacko. My kids would ask: Mom, is Michael Jackson black or white? In "Three Kings," an Iraqi torturer asks U.S. soldier Mark Wahlberg: "Hey man, what happened to Michael Jackson’s face?"

And yet his fans stuck by him. There were always those waiting outside the courtroom who screamed his name like a prayer, a mantra. Who would never believe the worst.

Because, even with all the charges of molestation, Michael Jackson always somehow seemed harmless. He seemed like someone who needed our protection. And this much was true: He needed our love and approval. He lived for it, and the only place he ever got it was on stage.

That’s where he was preparing to return, to the one place he could find the love and adulation that never seemed to register anywhere else.

It seemed an impossible dream. And it was. A lost cause. We reported weeks ago that the Michael Jackson 50-city tour was an impossibility, a dream destination where the singer might once again find what always eluded him in the world.

He never found it. That is a tragedy.