I must be getting old. As I browse my daily newspaper, my eye is often caught by the obituary section. There I’m partial to those large memorial boxes featuring a photo of the deceased as well as a long description of his or her earthly accomplishments, lovingly written by survivors. On June 25, I was stopped in my tracks by something unexpected. There was no photo, just the reproduction of a scrawled signature. Above it were the words “In Memoriam.” And below the signature I saw a name and some dates: Michael Joseph Jackson, August 29,1958 – June 25, 2009.
Yes, it’s been five years since Michael Jackson left the building. Conrad Murray, the cardiologist who administered to Jackson—as a sleep aid—the powerful anesthetic that shortened his life, is now out of jail, having served two years of a four-sentence. (Fortunately for the rest of us, his medical license has been revoked, and I’ve read he plans to embark on a singing career.) But as I understand it, Jackson’s tangled financial holdings are still being sorted out. A good friend of mine, an attorney for one of Jackson’s own attorneys (don’t ask!) has said this is the most complicated, most fascinating case he’s ever encountered.
I have no idea who put together the memorial tribute. But it’s highly emotional, and seems the work of a friend or family member, not a business associate. Here are some excerpts:
“The Creator blessed him with never-before-seen musical talent.”
“He had a lifelong dedication to his profession which never allowed him to form a traditional family of his own.”
“He lived to see unprecedented success and basked in the admiration of millions. By the same audience, he was unjustly persecuted under unfounded cruel allegations which broke his spirit.”
“Human neglect and carelessness forced his body into an early rest and his soul entered eternity on June 25, 2009 at the age of 50. He is mourned by his extended family and millions of people around the world.”
There’s much more, including a listing of Jackson’s unheralded talents (he was apparently both an inventor and a gifted sketch artist) as well as his many charitable activities. But for all the affectionate chronicling of Jackson’s “irresistible” smile and “infectious” laughter, I see a huge reservoir of anger. This tribute reads like the life of a saint, one whose goodness couldn’t withstand the cruel machinations of others.
I don’t pretend to know the real truth about Michael Jackson. I don’t understand his mysterious lifestyle, his baffling choices. I do know that he was immensely talented. Like many, I suspect that his personal life was somehow stunted by the show business career toward which he was pointed almost from birth.
I also know that he made a difference to many he never met. A small example: I was on a family vacation at a Mexican resort, the kind where members of the staff put on the evening’s entertainment. One highlight was a Michael Jackson tribute show, highlighting his most popular numbers. The star, lip-syncing to Jackson’s falsetto and pulling off his idiosyncratic dance moves, was a slender young Mexican who during daylight hours worked as a bartender. When, over a frosty piña colada, I asked how he’d developed his uncanny impersonation, I learned he’d been a fan since age eight. Through years of practice before his bedroom mirror, he’d turned himself into a Michael Jackson clone.
I wish him a happier life than Michael Jackson had. Perhaps (aside from those Club Med talent shows) he’ll steer clear of showbiz, which can give generously, but also taketh away.