Michael Joseph Jackson’s story was a quintessentially American tale of celebrity and excess that took him from musical boy wonder to global pop superstar to sad figure haunted by lawsuits, paparazzi and failed plastic surgery.
At the height of his career, Mr. Jackson was indisputably the biggest star in the world; he sold more than 750 million albums. He spent a lifetime surprising people, in his last years mainly because of a surreal personal life, lurid legal scandals, serial plastic surgeries and erratic public behavior that turned him — on his very best days — into the butt of late-night talk-show jokes and tabloid headlines.
Mr. Jackson died at age 50 in Los Angeles on June 25, 2009. His death itself became an enormous spectacle. On television and on the Internet, tens of millions of people worldwide watched a memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The cause of Mr. Jackson’s death was a mixture of the powerful anesthetic propofol and the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office.
Two days after Mr. Jackson’s death his personal doctor, Conrad Murray, told detectives that he had been using propofol nearly daily for the last two months to help Mr. Jackson sleep. But he said that he had been trying to wean Mr. Jackson off the drug and had tried sedatives instead. Dr. Murray was charged with involuntary manslaughter for providing him with propofol.
Guilty Verdict and Sentencing
On Nov. 7, Dr. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The jury deliberated less than nine hours. He could also lose his medical license.
On Nov. 29, Dr. Murray was sentenced to four years, the maximum he was facing. However, because of California’s chronically overcrowded prisons, it was unclear how much time he would actually spend behind bars. Dr. Murray was initially being sent to a county jail because of a state law aimed at easing overcrowding. Court observers said he was likely to spend two years there and then serve out the rest of the time under house arrest.
The trial focused on whether Dr. Murray abdicated his duty as a doctor, recklessly providing Mr. Jackson at home with a powerful sedative that is typically used in hospitals with extensive monitoring.
Judge Michael E. Pastor, before announcing the sentence, castigated Dr. Murray for his lack of remorse. “To hear Dr. Murray say it, Dr. Murray was a bystander,” the judge said. “Talk about blaming the victim. Not only is there not any remorse, there’s umbrage and outrage.”
The Jackson 5
Mr. Jackson was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958 and began performing professionally at age 5, joining his three older brothers in a group that their father, Joe, a steelworker, had organized the previous year. In 1968 the group, now five strong and known as the Jackson 5, was signed by Motown Records. As Mr. Jackson’s career began to take off, fans and entertainment industry veterans recognized something else about the pint-size musical dynamo that was unusual: He was in possession of an outsize, mesmerizing talent.
By 1969, Mr. Jackson had already spent years in talent shows and performing in seedy Midwestern clubs under the aegis of his dictatorial and ambitious father and Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. They were the singer’s twin mentors during his early career.
The Jackson 5 was an instant phenomenon. The group’s first four singles — “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There” — all reached No. 1 on the pop charts in 1970, a feat no group had accomplished before. And young Michael was unquestionably the center of attention: he handled virtually all the lead vocals, danced with energy and finesse, and displayed a degree of showmanship rare in a performer of any age. The Jackson brothers were soon a fixture on television variety shows and even briefly had their own Saturday morning cartoon series.
Mr. Jackson had his own recollections of those years. “When you’re a show-business child, you really don’t have the maturity to understand a great deal of what is going on around you. People make a lot of decisions concerning your life when you’re out of the room,” he wrote in “Moon Walk,” his 1988 autobiography. “Berry insisted on perfection and attention to detail. I’ll never forget his persistence. This was his genius. Then and later, I observed every moment of the sessions where Berry was present and never forgot what I learned. To this day, I use the same principles.”
In 1971 Mr. Jackson began recording under his own name, while also continuing to perform and record with his brothers. His recording of “Ben,” the title song from a movie about a boy and his homicidal pet rat, was a No. 1 hit in 1972.
The brothers (minus Michael’s older brother Jermaine, who was married to the daughter of Berry Gordy, Motown’s founder and chief executive) left Motown in 1975 and, rechristened the Jacksons, signed to Epic, a unit of CBS Records. The following year Michael made his movie debut as the Scarecrow in the screen version of the hit Broadway musical “The Wiz.” But movie stardom proved not to be his destiny.
Music stardom on an unprecedented level, however, was. Mr. Jackson’s first solo album for Epic, “Off the Wall,” yielded four No.1 singles and sold seven million copies, but it was a mere prologue to what came next. His follow-up, “Thriller,” released in 1982, became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age. The video for the album’s title track, directed by John Landis, was an elaborate horror-movie pastiche that was more of a mini-movie than a promotional clip and played a crucial role in making MTV a household name.
Seven of the nine tracks on “Thriller” were released as singles and reached the Top 10. The album spent two years on the Billboard album chart and sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. It also won eight Grammy Awards.
Such accomplishments would have been difficult for anyone to equal, much less surpass. Mr. Jackson’s next album, “Bad,” released in 1987, sold eight million copies and produced five No..1 singles and another state-of-the-art video, this one directed by Martin Scorsese. It was a huge hit by almost anyone else’s standards, but an inevitable letdown after “Thriller.”
Offstage, A Strange Life
It was at this point that Mr. Jackson’s bizarre private life began to overshadow his music. He would go on to release several more albums and, from time to time, to stage elaborate concert tours. And he would never be too far from the public eye. But it would never again be his music that kept him there.
Sales of his recordings through Sony’s music unit generated more than $300 million in royalties for Mr. Jackson since the early 1980s, according to three individuals with direct knowledge of the singer’s business affairs. Revenues from concerts and music publishing — including the creation of a venture with Sony that controls the Beatles catalog — as well as from endorsements, merchandising and music videos added, perhaps, $400 million more to that amount, these people believe. Subtracted were hefty costs like recording and production expenses, taxes and the like.
Those close to Mr. Jackson say that his finances had not deteriorated simply because he was a big spender. Until the early 1990s, they said, he paid relatively close attention to his accounting and kept an eye on the cash that flowed through his business and creative ventures. After that, they say, Mr. Jackson became overly enamored of something that ensnares wealthy people of all stripes: bad advice.
Mr. Jackson’s pre-expense share of the “Thriller” bounty — including the album, singles and a popular video — surpassed $125 million, according to a former adviser who requested anonymity because of the confidential nature of Mr. Jackson’s finances. Those who counseled him in the “Thriller” era credit the pop star with financial acumen and astute business judgment, evidenced by his $47.5 million purchase of the Beatles catalog in 1985 (a move that served to alienate him from Paul McCartney, the Beatles legend who imparted the financial wisdom of buying catalogs to Mr. Jackson during a casual chat, only to see Mr. Jackson then turn around and buy rights to many of Mr. McCartney’s own songs). Acquaintances from that period say that he would occasionally borrow gas money, and he still lived in the Jackson family home in the suburban Encino section of Los Angeles.
It wasn’t until the end of the 1980s that Mr. Jackson began to exhibit more baronial tendencies. In 1988, he made his $17 million purchase of property near Santa Ynez, Calif., that became Neverland.
At the same time, Mr. Jackson was redefining the concept of spectacle in pop music. He hired Martin Scorsese, the film director, to direct a video for “Bad,” a clip that one adviser with direct knowledge of the production budget said cost more than $1 million. The same adviser said that Mr. Jackson netted “way north” of $35 million from a yearlong “Bad” tour that began in 1987, and that heading into the 1990s Mr. Jackson was in sound shape financially.
By the mid-90s, though, Mr. Jackson’s finances were under strain. He retreated from working regularly after the release of “Dangerous” in 1991 and settled a child-molestation lawsuit for about $20 million. More significantly in terms of his finances, he had to sell Sony a 50 percent stake in the Beatles catalog in 1995 for more than $100 million, which one adviser said helped shore up the singer’s wobbling accounts. Mr. Jackson wouldn’t produce another studio album of completely new material until 2001.
Sexual Abuse Trial
In June 2005, he was acquitted of all charges in connection with accusations that he molested a 13-year-old boy he had befriended as the youth was recovering from cancer in 2003. Mr. Jackson’s complete acquittal ended a nearly four-month trial that featured 140 witnesses who painted clashing portraits of the 46-year-old international pop star as either pedophile or Peter Pan.
Along with the verdict, the jury gave a note for the judge to read out in court. In it, they said they felt “the weight of the world’s eyes upon us all” and that they had “thoroughly and meticulously” studied all the evidence. The note concluded with a plea “we would like the public to allow us to return to our lives as anonymously as we came.”
The case arose from the February 2003 broadcast of “Living with Michael Jackson,” a British documentary in which Mr. Jackson admitted sharing his bed with young boys, calling it a loving act unrelated to sex. The boy who later became the accuser was shown holding hands with the singer and resting his head affectionately on his shoulder. He was described as a 13-year-old cancer patient whom Mr. Jackson had decided to help.
Death and Aftermath
On March 5, 2009, Mr. Jackson announced that he would perform a series of concerts in London in the summer, in what he called a “final curtain call.” Mr. Jackson, 50, revealed the details of the concerts at a news conference in London, where he said he would perform 10 shows at that city’s O2 Arena, beginning July 8. “When I say this is it, I mean this is it,” Mr. Jackson said. “I’ll be performing the songs my fans want to hear.”
The shows would have been Mr. Jackson’s first major performances since 2001 and 2002, when he appeared at a pair of 30th anniversary celebrations and two benefit concerts; a brief appearance by Mr. Jackson at the World Music Awards in 2006 was booed by some audience members.
On June 25, Mr. Jackson was found unconscious in his home. Mr. Jackson arrived at the U.C.L.A. Medical Center in cardiac arrest and was declared dead a short time later.
According to the court documents unsealed on Aug. 24, 2009, Dr. Murray told investigators that he had administered an intravenous drip of 50 milligrams of propofol, a powerful anesthetic, to Mr. Jackson nightly for six weeks before the singer’s death to help him sleep. Dr. Murray also administered lorazepam, an anti-anxiety drug that can be addictive, and midazolam, a muscle relaxant, to treat Mr. Jackson’s insomnia.
A mixture of propofol and lorazepam killed Michael Jackson, according to a statement made by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office on Aug. 28. It said the manner of death was a homicide.
Dr. Murray said he tried to resuscitate Mr. Jackson and administered flumazenil, a drug to reverse the effects of the sedatives in his system. Dr. Murray did not immediately call paramedics to the home.
Media outlets treated the weeks following Mr. Jackson’s death as an expansive public funeral for the pop star, culminating in a service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Nielsen Media Research said that the 18 channels that simulcast the service had a combined average of 31 million at-home viewers during the nearly three-hour event. The service drew a bigger TV crowd than the funerals for two former presidents, Ronald Reagan in 2004 and Gerald Ford in early 2007.
Mr. Jackson’s memorial also attracted millions of online viewers. Citing internal data, CNN.com said it served 4.4 million live video streams during the service; MSNBC.com said it counted 3.1 million.Yahoo reported 5 million total streams.
On Sept. 3, Mr. Jackson was entombed in the heavily guarded Forest Lawn cemetery, several miles north of downtown Los Angeles. About 200 people, including Elizabeth Taylor, Lisa Marie Presley, Macaulay Culkin, and Quincy Jones, attended the private funeral.