Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson, and a moment of clarity

Yesterday, we mourned the tragic, untimely death of the King of Pop; his life was eulogized by the King of Opportunism, Rev. Al Sharpton, and his musical and humanitarian legacies were celebrated around the world.

But who mourned the tragedy that was the last 20-odd years of Michael Jackson's life?  

Michael Jackson, the man, or Michael Jackson, the icon, positively affected and inspired millions of people, as evidenced by the global response to his passing.  Just think what Michael could have accomplished over the past two decades if he hadn't become unhinged.

Of all the controversies that have resurfaced in the past two weeks, Michael's mental and/or emotional decline is one that has not been disputed.  Anyone who saw the re-runs of the Martin Bashir interviews was reminded of how deeply disturbed Michael had become.  The singer clearly needed psychiatric help, but apparently wasn't getting any.

Of course, Michael's fans chose to interpret the over-the-top signs of illness as the traits of a misunderstood, eccentric, child-like innocent.  They seemed to view him not as a man, but as a musical messiah or an all-powerful, benevolent alien sent here to right the wrongs of the world.  But, as they witnessed yesterday, Michael Jackson was, in the end, merely a man, a man whose children no longer have a father.

A man whose death, in all likelihood, will be linked to his profound problems.  A man who was removed from reality, a king that was seemingly above the medical profession, and quite possibly, the law.  A ruler that had more or less lived in exile for the past 10 years.  A performer with unprecedented talents and unlimited potential whose illness(es) —  undoubtedly sparked by the double-edged sword of superstardom — turned him into the butt of jokes for almost 20 years.

It's beginning to sink in that the most meteoric celebrity in world history is dead.  We've watched the videos over and over again, and mourned not only the loss of an icon, but the loss of our youth.  And now that the man is laid to rest, that little nagging nugget in the back of our minds can resume asking the question, "What the hell happened, Michael?"

The question of the ages.  Michael left behind one of the most complicated histories and mysteries of any figure, and it will never be completely unraveled.  We're at the tip of the scandal iceberg; decades of wildly conflicting views and opinions and unauthorized biographies has just begun.  The opening salvos of the legal and financial battles haven't yet been fired.  The freak show that was Michael Jackson's later life has folded its tent, but the big top will be in town for a long time to come.

As we indulge our sick, morbid curiosities and watch this circus go through it's three-ring act again and again, let's occasionally put down the popcorn and pause for a moment of clarity.  Let's shake off the cloak of denial that coats our precious memories in warm fuzziness.

Michael Jackson was a kind, generous, unique, gifted and very, very troubled man who achieved something that few have ever achieved —  and that something swallowed him up and took him to places that we would never, ever want to go.

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