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Michael Jackson, from talented child to premature old man: the fall from grace of the biggest pop phenomenon of the 20th century
Michael Jackson lived to be fifty years old. He died fifteen years ago. He would have turned 65 today. He went to sleep on the night of June 25, 2009, a prisoner of anxiety to be again and hostage to the drugs that made him rest, and he never woke up again. Michael Jackson wanted to do fifty concerts and break all the records: the story of an attempt to return to the top.
The end was abrupt, but despite being fifty years old, no one who knew the story of his life, and especially his last years, could say that it was premature. Michael Jackson got so far from reality that he finally came out of it . His life was an irrepressible descent. As if he had entered quicksand: at first they seem harmless, just a stop in the road, but the sinking becomes inexorable and progressive. Every second the situation worsens. In view of the whole world. A world that did not want to see it, that did not want to realize it.
Michael Jackson was born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana, an industrial city in the Chicago metropolitan area, into a large family: he was the eighth of ten children . When he died on June 25, 2009, he was one of the most popular personalities on the planet. In the hospital emergency room, everyone knew who the newly dead patient was.
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Any of them would have been able to fill out the personal information required by the death certificate without searching for their personal documents. Such was the size of his fame. However, if the same corpse had belonged to another person, it would not have been easy for doctors to answer basic questions about the patient such as gender, race or age.
On that stretcher were the remains of the biggest pop phenomenon of the 20th century . Another corpse like that of Elvis Presley (the king of rock) devastated, grotesque, devastated by fame, pressure, madness and excesses. Jackson was very skinny, with hair implants that lacerated his scalp, with a black, shapeless hole where his nose should have been, without the prosthesis he used to wear, the cartilage was impressive.
The night before he passed away had been a great night. The uncertainty of several months (even years) seemed to clear up. He had been able to do it. He had overcome the ghosts of him, he felt powerful again. Michael Jackson could sing, he could dance .
Those present, a privileged few, were dazzled. Michael Jackson was back. That rehearsal of more than three hours with the complete review of the repertoire, with a wardrobe fitting and the final effects came out almost perfect. The crew couldn’t believe that who was on stage was the same weak and skittish person who a week ago had been confused, having trouble retaining the lyrics of his own songs.
Michael Jackson left the Staple Center, the rented rehearsal venue, happy but exhausted. It was the early hours of the morning. At his house, she begged Conrad Murray, his private doctor, to give him Propofol, the drug he used to put into his body every night to put himself to sleep. The doctor refused. He had been trying to break her habit for a couple of days. Propofol is not just another drug. It is a powerful anesthetic used to put patients to sleep during surgeries.
Jackson ingested various sleeping pills and painkillers. The list of what he took that night is overwhelming: Valium, Lorazepam, Versed, Ativan. Several of each of them.
As the hours passed, the drugs varied, the dose was increased, but nothing worked and he was still awake. Already in the morning, his pleas were heard by Dr. Murray. He injected her with Propofol. Jackson managed to fall asleep. After a few minutes, when the doctor re-entered the room of his only patient, he realized that the body on the bed was no longer breathing . Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, had died.
Murray must have foreseen, at that moment, the catastrophe that would befall him. He tried, in vain, to resuscitate Jackson. He did the resuscitation maneuvers despite the fact that his hopes were nil. Someone called 911 and paramedics entered the mansion.
Although he had no cardiac activity, he was not pronounced dead. Nobody wanted to accept reality. At the clinic, resuscitation attempts continued for almost an hour. If he had been another patient, resignation would have come sooner. They were 83 frantic and unnecessary minutes. Michael Jackson had lived to be fifty years old .
The last attempt to return, to return to the top ended before it began. There were still three weeks to go before the start of his series of fifty concerts at London’s O2 Arena, in which he planned to break all known records. He had been waiting for this moment for many years.
The scandals, the very serious judicial accusations , the monstrous and incomprehensible debts (it is said that they amounted to 500 million dollars), the bad artistic decisions had made Jackson lose his place of relevance in the world of music.
The initial offer was to appear in twenty consecutive shows. Jackson accepted but put a condition. The shows were to be 31, ten more than Prince had done in the same stadium. Again the rancid wrongdoing, the old rivalry of the eighties. But as soon as the tickets went on sale, the expectation exceeded all calculations. Jackson agreed to do fifty shows but put two conditions.
He detailed how he wanted it to be the London mansion in which he would stay and to organize a special event so that the Guinness Book of Records would give him recognition for the number of submissions.
Once the contract was signed, Michael Jackson called old acquaintances. To those who had directed and managed his shows in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The casting of dancers summoned more than five thousand applicants. They planned to spend twelve million dollars in the pre-production and rehearsal stage. By the end of June 2009, by the time Jackson died, the producers had invested more than double: $25 million.
Beyond the money, the advance tickets, Kenny Ortega and the rest of the professionals, beyond the special effects and the state-of-the-art stage, something else was missing, the essential thing. It remained to be known if Michael Jackson was physically and emotionally prepared for such an undertaking . The answer, at this point, is not necessary.
Despite what is shown in the excellent film This is it (a record of the rehearsals in Los Angeles of these shows), Jackson’s condition was bad. His mental instability and his physical weakness caused him to wonder every day if the shows would ever take place. The director Kenny Ortega achieved a postponement: the premiere planned for July 8 was moved to the 13th.
But Jackson was absent from rehearsals, and when he did go, he seemed scattered, weak and confused. Several of the dancers heard him lament out loud: “ Why do I have to go through this? Why I can not choose? ”. Some days he would get lost in the middle of his own songs or seem not to recognize his musicians.
On June 22, after a week of absences, Ortega had a meeting with the singer at his home, in which Dr. Murray also participated. Jackson listened to his complaints without saying anything. But from the next day his attitude changed. He went to rehearsals and was seen to be active, lively and agile.
On June 24, before the three hours of rehearsal, he spent another three hours discussing issues of set design, 3D effects and some musical arrangements. The explanation for such a change in attitude is found in Propofol. Or in the absence of him. That night Jackson and Murray agreed to stop their intake of him. Specialists maintain that recovery is fast and that the effects can be seen immediately.
Jackson’s addiction to prescription drugs had been going on for years. There are those who go back to the mid-eighties and the famous accident during the filming of the Pepsi video in which his hair caught fire and his scalp and neck were badly burned.
The truth is that in 2005 a pharmacy filed a legal claim against him for a debt that exceeded one hundred thousand dollars in medicines. Someone claimed that at that time Jackson was taking up to forty Xanax pills a night to be able to -try- to sleep. That his death was caused by an excessive cocktail of these medicines is something that should not be surprising.
Dr. Murray was sentenced by a court to four years in prison for accidental manslaughter . He charged Jackson (in those months, the producers actually paid his salary: a demand from the star) $125,000 per month to act as personal doctor and be available 24 hours a day. An old custom of the stars, a modus operandi: getting doctors well below their means who, greedy for money, dazzled by fame, put aside the Hippocratic oath.
These stars, so inaccessible, are suddenly extraordinarily permeable to crooks, incompetents, and freeloaders (Michael Jackson from 2000 onwards did business with inconceivable characters). Dr. Murray’s greatest virtue was the facility he had to say yes to Michael Jackson . And, naturally, the laxity to prescribe the drugs that the musician requested.
The hours that followed his death were hectic. Doctor Murray escaped and it took several days to be found . The singer’s children -Prince, Paris Bigi- who had been taken to the hospital in a car that was following the ambulance, were left in the care of some of their uncles. The journalistic phones were installed at the door of his residence and the hospital.
Fans all over the world mourned the idol of him. Police searched Jackson’s room for two huge bags full of medication. And, it is even said, that an hour after the announcement of his death, La Toya Jackson, one of the sisters, entered Michael’s mansion in search of the cash that the singer had scattered in the different rooms.
Michael Jackson’s first television appearances continue to dazzle, more than fifty years away. An 11-year-old boy with an enormous talent. In one of the shows with Ed Sullivan, Michael, the youngest of the Jackson 5 , presents a song. Colorful clothes, afro curlers, huge smile.
At one point he gets stuck, looks at the other four, there is something artificial in that speech: he is a boy acting big. But when the music starts playing, the miracle happens. We were all captivated by that voice, that fluidity, that grace to dance, the naturalness of the talent. Something ancient. A supernatural ability. A gift. Genius.
Then, the Rolling Stone Magazine took him to the cover for the first time. The title that was intended to be a joke, read from a distance, is disturbing. “Why is this 11-year-old boy awake at bedtime?”
His precocity undoubtedly influenced what followed. That happy 11-year-old boy, with a defined race, with a wide nose, round and smiling face, mutated, crossed by success and excessive fame, into that premature and fragile, perverse and grotesque old man , who months before his death was walked in wheelchairs, extremely thin, with a chinstrap and who was noticed incoherent at every public appearance.
As he became the best-selling artist of his time, Jackson was transformed. The people who had accompanied him in his career to Thriller were no more. His eccentricities turned into something more dangerous . First there were the surgeries. That young man with a natural sympathy became the plastic man, without features (and literally without a nose).
Then his expenses, the economic problems; also the mistakes in the career, the desperate, sterile search to surpass Thriller , going after the public’s taste (although what today are perceived as not so successful records sold thirty million copies, such as Bad and Dangerous ); then the false marriages, the designed children; and, of course, aberrant crimes, child abuse.
In a world of megalomaniacs like show business, he was the king of megalomaniacs. Everything in his life was excess. He related to people, things, and activities almost exclusively in a pathological way . And everything related to Michael Jackson, everything that was not his music, exuded an air of irremediable, irreparable sadness. The King of Pop and the king of desolation. A few days ago, photos of his room on the day of his death circulated. Dozens of bottles of surgical anesthetic, thousands of sedative and analgesic tablets, photos of children and a strange doll with macabre airs. A hard but adjusted summary of his last times From him.
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Michael Jackson’s 14-minute short film “Thriller” revolutionized the music video genre forever. Hailed as the greatest music video of all time by MTV, VH1, Rolling Stone and others, “Thriller,” directed by John Landis, is also the only music video selected to be included in the Library of Congress’ prestigious National Film Registry.