Outside editorial: Jackson, a tragic figure

Posted: Friday, June 26, 2009

What felt the most shocking, as the first reports of Michael Jackson's death rolled out, was how expected the news was. Maybe not this day exactly, but if ever there were a Greek tragedy that seemed to be forming in the very first years of a man's life, this was it.

The adorable and preternaturally talented boy who could sing his heart out. The engaging cartoon that made the Jackson 5 a household presence Saturday mornings. The dancing skill that evoked praise from a marveling Fred Astaire.

Then came "Thriller." The album exploded on the music scene like a supernova, and the creepy/funky video changed the genre forever. But it also changed Jackson. He, too, burned white hot, and the flames revealed a dark side: the ambitious, and as Jackson described it, abusive father. The stunted childhood. The career so fully engulfed in glitz and money - and so removed from anything resembling normal life - that there was little opportunity for the singer to learn a few home truths: that we don't get everything the way we want, that we have to take responsibility, that sleeping in bed with young boys isn't OK, that dangling babies over balconies and draping their faces or breezing through expensive tchotchke shops pointing at the million-dollars' worth of goods we'll buy reflect an inability to reckon with what life is about.

We saw him dazzle with individuality and originality in "Thriller," then saw him wither away to the frail middle-age man who was dragged to court in his pajamas. Ultimately, there would be no comeback.

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