Pop legend Michael Jackson has died at the age of 50 in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, after a suspected case of cardiac arrest. Paramedics were called to the singer/actor’s residence at midday local time when he stopped breathing. When they arrived, he had no pulse, and the medical staff on the scene were unable to resuscitate him, according to various reports.
Jackson’s contribution to music is hard to accurately estimate. The prolific singer released ten solo albums during his career, stretching from Got To Be There in 1972 through to Invincible in 2001, as well as a host of compilations, singles, and other releases with his previous sibling act, The Jackson 5. His music video for the Thriller single broke new ground in the music industry, being more of a short film than the average promotional short, featuring Jackson as a zombie with a pack of ghouls and a tribute to werewolf films in the lengthy introduction. Thriller, incidentally, is the highest-selling album of all time, shifting over 65 million copies according to The Guinness Book Of World Records.
Jackson’s impact was not only in terms of his music, but it was also felt on a cultural level. The often provocative and controversial singer underwent a highly publicised treatment for the conditions of vitiligo and lupus that turned his skin from the medium-brown it was through his childhood and young adulthood, through to the pale tone that he was eventually associated with. Ever the darling of tabloids, papers claimed not only that he was bleaching his skin, but that he also slept in a hyperbaric chamber to slow the ageing process.
Perhaps his most famous trademark, the Moonwalk was first performed by Jackson on the Motown 25-year anniversary show, leading to a science-fiction film entitled Moonwalker, as well as numerous poor imitations at late nights in pubs all over the world. His dancing was legendary, Jackson was frequently cited as one of the most multi-talented performers of his generation, and his songs in support of causes such as AIDS and world hunger endeared him further to the public.
However, Jackson was constantly dogged by allegations of wrongdoing, perhaps exacerbated by his apparent lack of finesse in dealing with the media. On several occasions he claimed that he had bought the bones of the Elephant Man, an untruth that earned him the moniker of ‘Wacko Jacko’, a tabloid nickname that he would later come to despise. Other incidents such as showing off his newborn child to the media by hanging him off a balcony caused outrage, and there were several allegations of child abuse that were never proven – he settled with the Chandler family for $22 million outside of court. During the trial, he also became addicted to Valium, Xanax and Ativan, ostensibly to deal with the stress of the proceedings, and he lost an unhealthy amount of weight, something which undoubtedly led to the health problems that would plague him for the rest of his life and ultimately claim it. Further allegations of child abuse would follow in a highly publicised case involving Gavin Arvizo, however, the singer was acquitted on all counts. Seemingly following a pattern, Jackson became addicted to morphine and Demerol during this period, an addiction which he subsequently overcame.
Jackson was also plagued with financial problems during his later life – he was forced to sell his Neverland ranch and moved to the Gulf Of Arabia. The singer was scheduled to perform 50 comeback dates in the UK, something often commented on by the media as being a heavy toll on the body of an unwell 50 year old. Jackson had postponed several dates already that his PR flack insisted were unworkable because of logistical concerns, but inspired talk of further health problems, something that unfortunately seems to have been borne out by his passing.
Often misunderstood, often provocative, always reclusive despite his high profile and eternally shy to a world media he felt mistreated by and often didn’t know how to use properly, Jackson was a legendary figure in modern culture whether in music, film, activism or day-to-day life. He fathered three children during his life, and is survived by them, his parents, and eight siblings.