Michael Jackson – The Promise of Neverland
“A measure of any society is the way in which it treats its young people…. The nurturing of children – providing them with food, security, love and education – should never be viewed as an altruistic act.” Pat Lancaster
He’s really gone…and now all we can do is haltingly flashback to a kaleidoscope of memories. We are left with memories that bookends the innocence of “ABC” to the idealism of “We are the World” and the introspection of “Man in the Mirror”. Looking back we can’t help but realize that he has always been with us…and somehow we thought he always would. Losing him is like returning to our old neighborhood and finding our favorite places gone. We struggle to get our minds around this; but ultimately we recognize that this is a vacancy that can never be filled.
For many of us-loyal fans included, we could not have dreamed that there was such a deep reservoir of love for him around the world. For the past 13 years he has become perennial tabloid fodder…more superfreak then superstar. “Wacko Jacko”, possible child molester, financially distressed has-been, Peter Pan, a misfit are just a few of the labels the media bestowed on him over the last 20 years. The more charitable observers thought of him as a lost tormented soul at best, who desperately needed therapeutic intervention.
Bubbles the chimp, self-mutilation, Neverland Ranch, Elephant Man’s bones and his hyperbaric oxygen chamber are just a few of the bizarre behaviors linked to him. Many of the stories were blatant fabrications; however, Michael’s publicist sometimes chose not to refute them as they kept people talking.
Of course, dangling his child out of a hotel window and sleeping with children certainly contributed to the idea that he had become undone. Still somehow now, none of this controversy is important. All the concerted efforts of the media to reduce him to a sideshow freak have failed spectacularly as we examine the facts. The London O2 concerts give us an idea of the ferocious loyalty of his fans. 800,000 tickets were sold out in 5 hours and this is nearly twice the sales of his hay day performances back in 1988. The Staple Center Memorial site reports receiving a half billion hits. Amazon reported that 60% of all CD sales were fans buying anything with his name on it. Barnes and Nobles actually sold out of his CDs, DVDs and books.
Even China, a country known for rejecting American excesses, gave him full page coverage on the country’s largest Website, Sina.com. Predictably–Japanese media gave massive coverage to the death of “Michael-san,” as did CNN in Asia. The three biggest cable news networks – CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC – averaged 8.2 million viewers in prime-time a figure nearly doubled their normal viewers. BBC reported an increase in viewers second only to the night when Barack Obama was elected President. Russian, South American, Canadian, Australian and African media reaction was equally massive.
It has been 13 years since Michael has toured and many wondered could he really deliver anything close to a smooth moonwalk or the youthful energy of his “Thriller” or “Bad” performances or would this just be another misadventure tailor-made for tabloid consumption. Even the promoters admitted being anxious but could not resist the possibilities and profitability of a Michael Jackson reemergence. The press voiced serious doubts that at 50 he could pull off the grueling 50-date O2 concert. However, video footage of his final days showed that his was poised to give the world one more thriller.
You could not help but wonder was this comeback story more about overly optimistic promoters trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Stories of him having skin cancer and a host of other chronic health problems have always persisted. He reportedly began his descent into prescription drug addiction shortly after his hair caught fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial in 1984. The 1993 child molestation charges finally pushed him over the edge. Those close to the singer stated that by 1990 he had undergone about 10 plastic surgery procedures prompting some mental health experts to declare that Michael suffered from body dysmorphic disorder. This is a psychological illness that causes one to feel physically repulsive. In 1993 he shared that he had vitiligo in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. In December 2008, Michael Jackson biographer Ian Halperin, stated that he suffered from Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a potentially fatal genetic illness, as well as emphysema and gastrointestinal bleeding. His management vehemently denied most of this. However, we all wondered as images of him in a wheelchair and his zombie-like gaze during his last molestation trial were circulated.
Despite all the speculation about his mental/physical health status, he passed his physical for Tour Insurance “with flying colors,” according to AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips. The photographer Kevin Mazur who had been following Michael for the past 30 years and was documenting the rehearsals for the tour book stated “Michael was back – that’s all I could say,” Everyone close to Michael from his choreographer to the shows producers agree about this. He looked energized and ready to give the performance that would bring him back to his former glory and maybe beyond. His O2 concert series was to begin in July and be followed by a world tour.
True to form… MJ’s death can not be neatly explained. It seems the King of Pop will remain the King of Tabloid long after he is laid to rest. He has now undergone two autopsies and the cause of death is still inconclusive. Toxicology reports due back in 3 to 4 weeks may shed some light on the cause of death. Police reportedly removed the powerful drug Propofol, marketed under the brand name Diprivan from his Holmby Hills rented home. How this drug came to be in his possession is certain to be pursued by LA police and the DEA.
His personal doctor Dr. Murray and a host of other doctors/enablers will undoubtedly come under further scrutiny even though the Los Angeles police state that presently there is no evidence of foul play. Dr. Murray, a 56-year-old cardiologist with a practice in Las Vegas and a clinic in Houston, has lived in numerous homes over the last decade in several states. His former partner also a doctor in Houston was incarcerated for rather liberally distributing prescription drugs. According to public records Dr. Murray filed for personal bankruptcy in 1992 in California and has five tax liens against him for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Health Grades, a health care ratings company, indicates that he is not board certified in his two specialties, internal medicine and cardiology. While certification is not required to practice a specialty, it is recommended and indicates a high level of training and expertise. We have to wonder why someone of Michael’s stature would hire anyone with less than impeccable credentials.
As we ponder the global appeal of this singular pop star and try to grasp the media frenzy and worldwide outpouring of emotion around his passing we have to ask why we are so transfixed. What is at the core of this phenomenon? This man-child as Paul McCartney so aptly describes him–who for a moment upstaged all world events including wars, the swine flu, the world’s economic collapse and Kim Jong-il’s nuclear ambitions.
Why did the world stand still for this pop star? His shy effeminate demeanor, surgically disfigured face and endless tales of bizarre behavior don’t add up to the Mr. Clean image that idol makers typically package. He was never classically “commercial”. He was certainly not a good fit for the hardcore rocker or hip-hop image because despite the phenomenal sales of the “Bad” album he was much more cute then “bad” when he released this album. In fact, imagining Michael as bad or intimidating is perfect material for a Saturday Night Live skit.
Everyone close to Michael from Deepak Chopra to his manager all agree that his adult years have been deeply troubled and he only seemed to find peace and fulfillment when he was performing and receiving a “fix” from his adoring fans. Interestingly, despite his painful recollections about his father’s abuse, when asked if he would give it all back to have a normal childhood, he said no.
Michael’s refusal to “grow up”- his child-like idealism is perhaps in the end the key to his universal appeal. Our grown up world is a world where 963 million people across the world are hungry and wars inflict incalculable suffering and depletion of valuable resources. Everyday a child dies every five seconds from hunger-related causes. In the past decade around 2 million children have been killed in armed conflict. This is the world of so-called competent grown ups.
When we examine the life and contributions of Michael Jackson we must conclude that he was much more than a song and dance man. His consistent and some say naive messages of love and unity are perhaps why the world is reeling from the loss of this gentle soul. Of course, the media has never widely reported that he has given generously to 39 charities throughout the world. Unsurprisingly, many of these charity’s primary mission was the well being of children.
As we begin to grasp Michael’s universal appeal it becomes clear that this self-proclaimed King of Pop was singular, vast, and timeless enough to be genuinely deserving of this distinction. His magical performances transported us away from the relentless banality/brutality of the REAL world…and allowed us to escape to a musical Never Neverland. For this we are eternally grateful… and we will all delight in his rich musical legacy forever and ever …and ever.