Michael Joseph Jackson (born August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana), is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, dancer, actor, entertainer and philanthropist. He began his career as the lead singer of the Motown act, The Jackson 5, in the 1960s, and made his first solo recordings in 1971 as part of the Jackson 5 franchise. Jackson began a full-fledged solo career in 1979 and formally parted with his siblings in 1987, and has since become the most successful recording artist in black music history, and one of the most successful solo artists in music history.
His 1982 album Thriller currently holds the title of being the best selling album in history, it has sold 60 million copies. In addition to his albums, Jackson has also recorded thirteen number-one hits, including "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough", "Rock With You", "Billie Jean", and "Beat It". His distinctive dance moves, music videos, and pop appeal have inspired and influenced many of today's singers, such as Usher, Beyoncé, and Justin Timberlake.
Despite his career success, he has been dogged by media attention over allegations of child sexual abuse, which resulted in a trial and acquittal in 2005.
Jackson was born the seventh of nine children in Gary, Indiana, to Joseph and Katherine Jackson. The entire family – including older siblings, Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, LaToya and Marlon, and younger siblings Randy and Janet – lived together in a tiny two-bedroom house, and Jackson's father earned a meager living working in a steel mill. At the behest of their mother, but against Joseph's wishes, the Jackson children were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses and practiced door-to-door evangelism.
In accordance with Joseph Jackson's strict rules, the children were kept locked in their house while he worked the night shift. However, the children would regularly sneak out of the house to their neighbors’ homes, where they practiced singing and playing music. The older Jackson brothers would sometimes play Joseph’s prized guitar without his permission while he was at work. Eventually, Joseph found out about their musical abilities and decided to capitalize upon it, in order to leave Gary for California.
The Jackson 5 (The Jacksons)
Joseph organized Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and two unrelated neighborhood youths, Milford Hite (on drums) and Reynaud Jones (on keyboards), as an act called "The Jackson Brothers" in 1962. Within two years, Michael and his older brother Marlon began playing congas and tambourine, respectively, with The Jackson Brothers, before the group's name was changed to "The Jackson 5" in 1966, and nine-year-old Michael was appointed lead singer.
With Michael on lead vocals, the Jackson 5 built up a following by playing at clubs and bars throughout the Midwest, and even winning an Amateur Night competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. The Jackson 5 signed their first recording contract with the local Steeltown label in 1967, and had a regional hit with "Big Boy" in 1968.
The Jackson 5 were discovered by both Gladys Knight & the Pips and Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, who brought them to Motown Records in 1968. Label head, Berry Gordy, bought out the Jackson 5's Steeltown contract and signed the group to Motown in March 1969. Gordy then moved the Jackson family to Los Angeles, California, and proceeded to turn them into international stars. In the fall of 1969, The Jackson 5 were presented to the public by Diana Ross, and were officially launched as the next big Motown act.
The group's first four singles, "I Want You Back" from 1969, and "ABC", "The Love You Save", and "I'll Be There" from 1970, all became number-one hits in the U.S. Later hits included "Mama's Pearl" and "Never Can Say Goodbye" (1971), "Lookin' Through the Windows" (1972), "Get It Together" (1973) and "Dancing Machine" (1974). The Jackson 5 recorded fourteen albums for Motown, and Michael, Jermaine, and Jackie all recorded solo albums as part of the Jackson 5 "franchise". Michael released four solo albums while at Motown, spawning the hits "Got to Be There", "Rockin' Robin", "I Wanna Be Where You Are", and the number-one hit "Ben," among others. Most of the Jackson 5 hits were produced by either The Corporation™ – a collective of songwriters and record producers, including Gordy, Freddie Perren, Alphonzo Mizell, and Deke Richards – or by Motown songwriter/producer Hal Davis.
The move to Epic
In 1975, the Jackson brothers signed a new contract with CBS Records, first joining the Philadelphia International division and later moving over to Epic Records. The new deal with CBS provided larger royalties and creative freedom that the Jackson 5 were not allowed at Motown. Upon learning that the Jackson 5 had signed a contract with another label, Motown sued the group for breach of contract, and as a result, they lost the rights to use the "Jackson 5" name and logo. Additionally Jermaine, who had married Berry Gordy's daughter Hazel, opted to remain at Motown for a full-time solo career. Now known as "The Jacksons", and featuring younger brother Randy in Jermaine's place, the brothers continued their successful career, touring internationally and releasing six albums between 1976 and 1984. Hits during this period included "Enjoy Yourself" and "Show You The Way To Go" in 1976, "Blame It On The Boogie" in 1977, "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" in 1978, and "Can You Feel It" and "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1980. The Jacksons would continue to record together well into the 1980s, even bringing Jermaine back into the fold for their 1984 Victory album and tour. By the end of the decade, Michael and Marlon were no longer members of The Jacksons, and the group disbanded in 1990.
In 1978, Michael co-starred in The Wiz as the Scarecrow, with former labelmate Diana Ross as Dorothy. The musical film's songs were arranged and produced by famed producer Quincy Jones, who found a rapport with Jackson. After Jackson signed a solo contract with Epic in 1978, he began work on his first of several albums with Jones.
Michael Jackson's 1979 album Off the Wall was a worldwide hit, and spawned the number-one hit singles and music videos "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You". The ballad "She's Out Of My Life" also reached the top ten in 1980. With that accomplishment, Jackson became the first solo artist to have four Top 10 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart from a single album. The album went on to sell over seven million copies in America, establishing Jackson as a musical force without his brothers.
In the 1980s, Jackson released a progression of solo albums of slickly-produced synthesizer-heavy pop. In what was perhaps the "Golden Age" of the video clip, some of Jackson's videos were virtually short films with detailed plots, special effects, and featuring Jackson's distinctive dance style.
His Thriller album, released in 1982, produced seven top-ten hit singles, broke sales records, and became the best selling album in music history, selling 60 million copies. The "Billie Jean" music video, released to promote Thriller, became the first video by a black artist to be aired on MTV. The seven-minute "Thriller" music video/short film became the world's best selling home video at the time (packaged with the featurette "The Making of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'"), and is considered by many music industry critics to be the greatest music video of all time and a large step forward in artistic quality for music videos. The album's third major single, "Beat It", was another #1 pop hit in the U.S., accompanied by a popular "West Side Story" inspired music video. The videos for "Billie Jean", "Thriller" and "Beat It" frequently place highly on MTV and VH1 countdowns of notable classic videos, and receive airplay on MTV2 to this day.
While performing "Billie Jean" during the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever special on television on May 16, 1983, Jackson publicly performed his moonwalk dance for the first time. In January 1984, at the American Music Awards, Jackson was nominated for nine awards, and won a record eight. At the Grammy Awards in February, Jackson was nominated for twelve awards, and won a record-breaking eight: seven for Thriller and one for his narrative on The E.T. Storybook. In May, Thriller was certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the best selling popular music album of all time. The same year, he was also awarded the H. Claude Hodson Medal of Freedom at the NAACP Image Awards, honored at the White House by President Ronald Reagan with the Presidential Special Achievement Award, and was awarded a star in November on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. By 2005, Thriller had been certified twenty-seven times platinum in the U.S.
"We Are the World" and Captain Eo
Inspired by Band Aid, Michael Jackson was instrumental in organizing the recording of the single "We Are the World", which he co-wrote with former Motown labelmate, Lionel Richie. The single was released in 1985 to raise money for USA for Africa, a charity working to raise awareness about and give aid to impoverished families in Africa. "We Are the World" featured forty-four different vocalists, including Jackson, Ritchie, Harry Belafonte, Cyndi Lauper, Diana Ross, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, and sold 7 million copies in the United States, becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.
In 1986, Jackson starred in the George Lucas/Francis Ford Coppola 3-D film Captain Eo, which was shown in Disney theme parks until 1998. Minute for minute, it was the most expensive film ever produced at the time, with an estimated total production cost of USD 17 million. The film contained the songs "We Are Here to Change the World" and "Another Part of Me".
In 1987, Jackson released the album Bad, and began his first solo world tour, performing to sold-out audiences across the world. The Bad world tour broke all existing attendance records. Jackson would later break the Bad world tour attendance records with the Dangerous world tour, and top those records with those for the HIStory world tour. The following year, Jackson released a film entitled Moonwalker, and an autobiography, entitled Moon Walk.
Bad was another multi-platinum success for Jackson, although it was not as successful as "Thriller" had been. Its first five singles and music videos, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You", "Bad", "The Way You Make Me Feel", "Man in the Mirror", and "Leave Me Alone" provided Jackson with another string of hits, and made him the first artist to generate five number one singles off of one album. The other two singles, "Another Part of Me" and "Smooth Criminal" kept Jackson on the charts throughout the year as he toured.
Jackson was awarded a new record breaking $890 million contract by Sony in March, 1991, and released his first album under the new contract, Dangerous. that November. While in the U.S., sales for the album only reached seven million, internationally Dangerous eclipsed Bad as the second best-selling album of Jackson's career, reaching over twenty-nine million albums sold. Its major hit singles included "Black or White", "Remember the Time", "In the Closet" and "Jam".
As was becoming the standard for Jackson, the album's music videos were among the most costly and innovative of their time. "Give in to Me" featured Slash from Guns n' Roses in its video. The video for "Heal the World" featured children and adults from throughout the world, in order to correspond to Jackson's charity of the same name. "Will You Be There" showed Jackson singing in front of scenes from Free Willy. Several of the other videos had complex storylines and dance sequences, and featured cameo appearances by celebrities. The video for "Jam", directed by David Kellogg, showed Jackson and Michael Jordan playing basketball and dancing together, while "Remember the Time" was set in an ancient Egyptian palace, and starred Eddie Murphy and Iman as the pharaoh and his queen. Also, it featured a cameo by basketball player, Magic Johnson. "In The Closet" featured Jackson and model Naomi Campbell as lovers.
"Black or White" probably remains Dangerous' most aired and most remembered video today. Originally over ten minutes long, it premiered simultaneously on November 14, 1991, on MTV, VH1, BET, and FOX, becoming one of the most-watched music video premieres in history. The video is technically noteworthy for featuring one of the earliest examples of computer-generated morphing. The last four minutes of the video also induced much controversy with parents, as it depicted a crotch-grabbing Jackson smashing store windows, and destroying a car with a crowbar. MTV and the other music video networks decided to excise the last four minutes of the "Black or White" video for all subsequent airings, and Jackson issued a statement apologizing to anyone who had been offended.
In 1995, Epic released Jackson's HIStory: Past, Present And Future - Book 1, his first double-disc album. Its first disc was a fifteen-track greatest hits album, while the second disc contained a new album with fifteen songs.
The album produced two major hit singles and videos in America. "Scream", a duet with Jackson's pop star sister Janet, was supported by a futuristic music video which remains, at a cost of USD 1.2 million, the most expensive music video ever filmed. Thanks to a change in Billboard's chart policy, "You Are Not Alone" became the first song to ever debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. "You Are Not Alone", written by R. Kelly, was supported with a music video which featured a cameo from Jackson's then-wife, Lisa Marie Presley.
The album's other singles and videos, "Childhood" (the theme song to Free Willy 2), "Earth Song", "Stranger in Moscow", and "They Don't Care About Us" had limited success in America, and were more successful in Europe. "Earth Song" is an emotional plea for taking care of our environment. "They Don't Care About Us" caused a stir when it was released, due to controversial lyrics which were considered anti-Semitic. MTV and VH1 subsequently banned the video, although it continued to air on The Box. The lyrics "Jew me, sue me/Kick me, kike me" were modified on a later pressing of HIStory.
The sales performance of HIStory in the United States was considered a disappointment by both Epic and Jackson, and to date has sold three and half million copies (seven million discs) in the US. In the UK, however, HIStory spawned Jackson's most successful UK single, "Earth Song", which stayed at the top of the chart for six weeks and sold over a million copies. The HIStory world tour was launched in September 1996 and ended in October 1997. Breaking his previous solo tour attendance records, The HIStory world tour remains the highest attended tour ever. Two home video collections, Greatest Video Hits, HIStory (released in 1995) and HIStory On Film, Volume II (released in 1997), were released during the HIStory era, anthologizing Jackson's music videos.
Blood on the Dance Floor and Invincible
In 1996, the members of The Jackson 5 were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Michael Jackson would be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a solo performer in 2001.
The following year 1997, Jackson released Blood on the Dance Floor, a remix album of several of the new tracks from HIStory. Five new songs were also included on the LP, which has since become the biggest-selling remix album of all time. The album only had one single and official music video, the title track, which failed to catch on in America, and again proved a far more popular hit in Europe. However, Jackson also produced "Ghosts," a forty-minute short film, which was shown in several movie theaters and uses the songs "Ghosts" and "2 Bad" on its soundtrack. The short film "Ghosts" is occasionally played as an hour-long special, with space made for commercials, on MTV and VH1, especially during the Halloween season.
Michael released his next studio album, Invincible, in 2001. It debuted at number one on the U.S. charts, selling two million copies in the United States and twelve million worldwide. These sales figures were below expectations, considering Jackson's previous success and the cost of the album. As opposed to his earlier albums which each spawned at least six singles, most of which were generally worldwide smashes, "Invincible" produced only the singles "You Rock My World" and "Butterflies" in America; "Cry" was issued as a third single in Europe. "You Rock My World" managed to enter the top ten in America, but only for a week, and its big-budget, fourteen-minute music video received only sparse airplay on MTV, VH1, MTV2, and BET, usually in a shortened five-minute version. "Butterflies" was a number-two hit on the R&B charts, but did not reach the top ten, despite a popular radio remix featuring rapper Eve. The song peaked at number sixteen, and its relative lack of success also allowed no budget for a music video.
In June 2002, Jackson was inducted for his work as a songwriter into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In November 2002, Jackson received Germany's Bambi Award, in recognition of his status as the world's "greatest living pop icon". The awards recognize outstanding personalities and performances in various fields, including show business, film, politics and sport.
"One More Chance" to The Essential Michael Jackson
On November 20, 2003, Jackson released a new song, "One More Chance", written by R. Kelly. It was the only new track included on his Number Ones greatest hits album, released the same year. As of 2005, the album has sold six million copies worldwide. "One More Chance" went on to become the number-one track on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Sales chart for three straight weeks. An original video for "One More Chance" was filmed but never released.
In November 2004, Jackson released his first box set, Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection, a four disc collection which included many of his biggest hits, unreleased material from the past 25 years, demo recordings of some of his biggest hits, four news songs ("In The Back", "Beautiful Girl", "The Way You Love Me" and "We've Had Enough" - all written by Jackson) and a bonus DVD that featured a concert from the Dangerous world tour, originally aired on HBO in 1992. Six months later, Epic released a two-disc compilation, The Essential Michael Jackson, which focused only on the hit records. The Ultimate Collection peaked at #154 on The Billboard 200, while The Essential Michael Jackson sold 8,000 copies in the first week in the U.S. (compared to the number-one album, "Now 19", which sold 436,000 copies in the same period), though the CD reached #1 in the U.K..
Michael Jackson continued to engage in door-to-door evangelizing as a Jehovah's Witness after becoming famous, but in disguise. His career and flamboyant lifestyle led to friction with congregation elders. At one point, his sister, LaToya, was shunned by Jehovah's Witnesses, and in 1987, he formally left the religion.
Jackson's most famous home is his 2,600 acre (eleven square-kilometer) Neverland Ranch in Santa Ynez, California which he purchased in 1988. It is named after the magical kingdom, Neverland, from the children's story, "Peter Pan". Jackson, a huge Disney fan, built an amusement park on the ranch, and frequently welcomes sick and poor children there to visit and sponsors charity drives for children. Jackson's relationships with children, both his own and others, have been controversial: his sleepover parties at Neverland have received widespread critical media coverage, especially after he revealed that he sometimes slept in the same bed with several unrelated children.
He claims that he likes to be surrounded by children because of their sense of innocence, which he feels he lost too soon. His song "Childhood" included the lyric, "It's been my fate to compensate, for the childhood I've never known". Jackson is fond of animals: he owns a private zoo at Neverland, and was often seen with a chimpanzee named Bubbles and a snake called Muscles in the 1980s. Jackson claims that Neverland has inspired much of his work, having once told an interviewer that he liked climbing trees to write songs like "Will You Be There" and "Heal the World".
Jackson is noted for his humanitarian efforts, and has often used his music, including the all-star single "We Are the World" (1985), "Man in the Mirror" (1987), "Heal the World" (1992), "Earth Song" (1995), "Cry" (2001), and "What More Can I Give (2003) to support and promote various causes. The "Heal the World" foundation was created by Jackson in 1992, with assistance from former President Jimmy Carter. Jackson was considering a tour of Africa in May or June 2004 to raise money to fight AIDS; Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Senegal were among the countries he had planned to visit.
Over the years, Michael Jackson maintained a number of high-profile celebrity friendships with entertainers such as Diana Ross, Elizabeth Taylor, Macaulay Culkin, Emmanuel Lewis, and others. Jackson is also the godfather of Lionel Richie's adopted daughter, Nicole Richie.
Jackson's marriages and children
In 1994, Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley; the marriage was severely criticized by the media and lasted less than two years. Despite some comments questioning the validity of this union, Presley, has always maintained that they both shared a normal couple's life during their time together.
In 1996, Jackson married Deborah Jeanne Rowe, with whom he had a son, Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr. (who publicly goes by the name "Prince"), and a daughter, Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson. They were divorced in 1999. Rowe later said that she wanted Jackson to have the children as a "gift", which she had offered even while Jackson was married to Presley. Rowe had given up her parental rights to the children, but as of 2005, a family court case is under way regarding visitation. The godparents of these two children are Macaulay Culkin and Elizabeth Taylor.
Around February 2002, Jackson had another son, Michael Joseph Jackson III, called both "Prince Michael II" and "Blanket", apparently with a surrogate mother whose identity has not been disclosed. In late 2002, Jackson stirred up controversy while staying at the Adlon hotel in Berlin, by briefly suspending him over the edge of a balcony so that fans could see him. Jackson defended his actions, saying that he held the child very tightly. Jackson's children are veiled or masked when they appear in public with him, which he describes as a security measure. Rowe said it was her idea from the beginning.
After the children were seen in Martin Bashir's Living with Michael Jackson documetary special, many in the press and the public questioned whether Prince and Paris were actually Jackson's children, as they had no noticeable African features about them. Jackson explained that his own father is African-American, but has blue eyes, and that some of the Jackson family ancestors are Caucasian. However, during the interviews for the same special, Jackson revealed that "Blanket's" mother was black.
There had been rumors that Jackson was having children by various women. One woman claimed that she was giving birth to quadruplets fathered by Jackson, a claim later proven to be false. Jackson had suffered the same problem two decades earlier with a woman claiming Michael was a father of one of her fraternal twins, a story from which his memorable hit "Billie Jean" was derived.
Although Jackson's skin color was a medium brown tone for the entire duration of his youth, his skin has lightened gradually since 1982, and is today a light cream color. Jackson has attributed his changing skin color to vitiligo, a skin disease in which the body develops antibodies against its own pigment, resulting in light patches and an eventual loss of melanin. The public finally got to know of Jackson's condition when he first revealed it in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1993. Several members of the media refused to believe Jackson has vitiligo and believe that Jackson bleaches his skin, an allegation which Jackson denies. Jackson's family members backed up his claim, with Joseph Jackson stating that his own father (Michael Jackson's grandfather) had also suffered from vitiligo.
Jackson has been shown in various pictures over the years to have suffered from the disease. In several early-1980s concert photos, there was a white blotch on Jackson's neck which could easily explained Jackson's lightening condition. After going to a hospital, he finally received the news when his doctor diagnosed him with the disease in 1986. Ever since then, Jackson has regularly worn long-sleeved shirts and pants under an umbrella while in public to hide from the sun, which he says he's allergic to because of his condition.
It has been rumored that Jackson has used extensive plastic surgery to modify his appearance, although he claims to have had only three operations: two rhinoplastic surgeries – the first of which he claims was to repair a broken nose resulting from a dancing accident in 1978, and the second to correct imperfections in the first surgery – and the surgical creation of a cleft in his chin. When listing his cosmetic surgery, Jackson often omits mentioning the cleft; however, he confirmed this surgery in his 1988 autobiography, Moon Walk.
Jackson's alleged extensive use of plastic surgery has now caused increased concerns of media's surgeons for possible cartilage and nose collapse. They agree that Jackson's nose structure could easily collapse during an altercation. Other experts, however, claim that in the last twenty-seven years, Jackson had totally only two nasal bone structure surgeries, the latest in 1982, and three other minor corrections of the cartilage in 1983, 1990, and 2000.
Jackson's ATV/Sony music publishing company is estimated to be worth USD 1.5 billion. In October 2002, various international banks claimed that Jackson was tens of millions of dollars in debt. That same month, concert promoter, Marcel Avram, sued Jackson in a court in Santa Maria, California, claiming that he reneged on a deal to perform on a series of millennium concerts crossing the International Date Line on the evening of December 31, 1999–January 1, 2000. Jackson lost the case, and is appealing.
He has been involved in a legal dispute with his former financial adviser, Union Finance and Investment Corporation of South Korea, who claim that Jackson owes the firm twelve million dollars in fees and expenses, and that Jackson's extravagant spending may lead to his bankruptcy. See also Jackson's finances in connection to the trial.
Alleged child sexual abuse
Michael Jackson has also repeatedly been accused of child sexual abuse. In 1993, Jordan Chandler, the son of former Beverly Hills dentist Evan Chandler, accused Jackson of sexual molestation, represented by civil lawyer Larry Feldman. Jackson was served a search warrant to have the Santa Barbara Police Department, headed by District Attorney Tom Sneddon, view his body. Jackson later complained in a December 22, 1993 press conference that the officers violated his privacy, by photographing his body in order to look for some marks allegedly described by the young accuser. Jackson settled out of court with the accuser for at least USD 25 million. Jackson's settling out of court brought suspicion among the media, some of whom claimed that Jackson avoided a trial because he was afraid he would have been proven guilty. Others debated whether Jackson chose to settle or was forced to by his insurance provider. When interviewed by Bashir, Michael Jackson confirmed that the 1993/1994 settlement was his own personal decision.
In 2003, Jackson was accused of sexual molestation by a second young accuser, Gavin Arvizo, who appeared with Jackson on the Living with Michael Jackson television documentary. Like Chandler, Arvizo was represented by civil lawyer Larry Feldman, and an investigation was once again launched by Sneddon. Jackson was served a search warrant for Neverland, and the singer was arrested in November 2003. In the prelude to the trial, Jackson allowed a high profile visit of children to Neverland in December 2004. Michael Jackson's spokesperson provided the press with a list of non-profit children's organizations which had sent the children. According to Court TV, most of these organizations turned out to be either non-existent or were upset that they were falsely associated with the visit.
The criminal case was tried in Santa Maria, California during the spring of 2005. Jackson was acquitted of all charges on June 13. CNN later reported that two of the jurors, Ray Hultman and Eleanor Cook, claimed to regret their decision to acquit Jackson, and announced impending books on their experiences in the trial.
A civil (non-criminal) suit over allegations of abduction and sexual assault is currently pending in Louisiana.