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Image: Michael Jackson memorial
Peter Kneffel  /  AFP - Getty Images
Flowers, candles and posters are part of a memorial in Munich, Germany, that commemorates the first anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death.
TODAY contributor
updated 6/24/2010 12:18:55 PM ET 2010-06-24T16:18:55

When Michael Jackson’s daughter, Paris, paid tribute to her late father at his memorial service, we glimpsed a side of the pop icon we’d rarely seen: the father. As Paris Jackson choked back tears and said, “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine,” the star’s weirdness and personal troubles became a lot less relevant than the fact that his kids were now without a dad.

That was one example of the way in which the public’s impression of Jackson was reframed after his death on June 25, 2009. As details emerged about his ailing health, his drug intake and his still fraught relationship with his family, an unexpected human side of Jackson emerged. In one day, it seemed, he went from looking like a mega-celebrity weirdo to seeming like a troubled, middle-aged guy with health problems.

If we never saw the “real” Michael Jackson, well, that’s the singer’s own fault, said veteran rock critic Nelson George, whose book “Thriller: The Musical Life of Michael Jackson,” came out June 8. Jackson spent most of his adult life fabricating a façade that ensured the public viewed him as an oddity, George said.

“There was the sense that he was a figure that was almost a cartoon,” said George. “I think a lot of Michael’s problem was he became wedded somehow to this image of himself as the eternal innocent — the eternal child. If he had been able to show people his regular side, or the more normal side, he would have had a much better outcome and I think people would have treated him differently.”

George noted that Jackson’s eccentric indulgences (multiple plastic surgeries, a pet chimpanzee) were initially considered amusing by the press in the wake of his smash album “Thriller.” But when the inevitable backlash hit, Jackson couldn’t stem the tide of bad press, so he retreated further into his self-made fantasyland.

“We all forgot that this was a real dude,” George said. “When you look back in his life, how many of the themes of his songwriting and his videos were of this damaged kid trying to make himself into something? I really feel like he became ‘Wacko Jacko,’ as opposed to Michael Jackson, this little guy from Gary, Ind.”

Jackson’s apparent failure to embrace adulthood also made him something of a Peter Pan-like character few people could relate to, said Joe Gross, the pop music critic for the Austin American-Statesman. “He was famously childlike, with his estate full of toys and fairground rides. This was not a guy you associated with adulthood.”

‘Big, bigger, huge’
George said Jackson’s habit of staging events on a grand scale often “worked against us seeing him as a real person.

“He never wanted to do what Prince did, for example. Prince went back and started doing smaller venues where people could almost touch (him) again and see him as a musician. Michael would have benefited incredibly from that kind of strategy. But he didn’t see himself that way. Everything had to be big, bigger, huge.”

According to George, Jackson’s attitude began to reek of “kingly” behavior, “and we act very negatively to that — we don’t like kings.” The public saw the worst of that type of conduct after Jackson was accused of child sexual abuse.

“Here’s a guy who is accused of child molestation who says he sleeps with kids out of pure love,” George said. “OK, and maybe I’ll take him at his word. But after he goes through the trial and the public humiliation, he doesn’t stop doing it. That’s arrogance.”

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‘People could more easily deal with his memory’
Looking back at the news reports that followed in the wake of Jackson’s death, it appears the details surrounding the tragedy stripped away any myths Jackson had built around himself and revealed a life more troubled than most casual fans may have realized.

“I remember feeling very sorry for him,” said Martha Bayles, author of the pop-music history book “Hole in Our Soul,” recalling her emotions upon hearing about Jackson’s death. “He’s one of these people that celebrity just turned into a bizarre human being. It’s just weird what celebrity does to people sometimes.”

Jackson’s death made everyone remember the artist who got buried beneath a pile of controversy and bad decisions, said Jeff Leeds, the music editor of Buzz Media. “I think that it took his death for some people to actually give a fair hearing and a fair review to his music,” said Leeds. “And particularly this applies to the music that he made after the child molestation allegations surfaced.

“For a variety of reasons, it became very, very difficult to consider his music on its own merits for the last 20 years of his life. It’s a little bit easier (now), I think, to separate his life’s narrative from his music.”

Bayles noted that some of Jackson’s artistic decisions may have been motivated by his desire to be taken more seriously as a performer, since critics often dismissed his music as mere pop that lacked much artsy intrigue.

“(There is an idea) that somehow glossy dance music is easy to do well and that being dark and negative and self-searching is somehow hard to do,” Bayles said. “I think that’s an artifact of the critical standards that people have now about popular music. To have that kind of exuberant energy that his music had at its best isn’t easy. If it were, then every boy band in the world would be successful.”

One big reason Jackson’s death brought out such a great amount of public mourning is that his fading reputation had become an impediment to the public appreciating him as an artist, said psychologist Stanton Peele, Ph.D., who penned a Psychology Today blog entry on Jackson titled, “Did Some People Need Michael Jackson to Die?”

“People could more easily deal with his memory than with his actual living presence,” Peele said. “His current lifestyle wasn’t consistent with the appreciation that people wanted to pay him.”

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Photos: Fans remember Michael Jackson

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  1. A mother remembers

    Katherine Jackson, mother of pop star Michael Jackson, attends a ceremony at the family's old home in Gary, Ind., on June 25, 2010. Jackson fans worldwide paid tribute to the "King of Pop" on Friday, marking the one-year anniversary of his sudden death with candlelight vigils, music and dancing. (John Gress / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Family affair

    Tito Jackson, one of Michael Jackson's brothers, waves at fans after a private ceremony at the pop star's grave site at Forest Lawn Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Glendale, Calif., on Friday, June 25. (Gus Ruelas / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. All lit up

    A fan of the late pop star lights candles in Sofia, Bulgaria, as he commemorates the first anniversary of the singer's death. (Stoyan Nenov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Touching her idol

    Jordyn Castor, 16, from Rockford, Mich., who is blind, touches the face of a wax figure of Michael Jackson at Madame Tussaud's Hollywood Museum in Hollywood, Calif. Castor has been a fan all her life, but never knew what the singer looked like. (Reed Saxon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Dolled up

    A fan holds a Michael Jackson doll outside the Glendale Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif., where the singer is buried. (Damian Dovarganes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Worldwide love

    A Michael Jackson impersonator dances in the Ukrainian city of Odessa as fans around the world mark the first anniversary of the music icon's death. (Alexey Kravtsov / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Man in the mirror

    A Michael Jackson impersonator dances at the 02 Arena in London, where Jackson was scheduled to perform the concert series he was working on at the time of his death . (Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Motown memories

    Jackson impersonator Tyuawn Brown and Julian Pavone stand outside of the Motown Museum in Detroit. The museum is featuring an exhibit on the Jackson 5. (Jeff Kowalsky / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Munich memories

    Fans bearing tattoos of Jackson's image observe a moment of silence at a memorial for the singer in Munich. (Michaela Rehle / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. This is 'Thriller'

    Filipino dancers and former inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center perform during a Jackson tribute event in Cebu City, Philippines. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Notes to a lost icon

    Written tributes are left on a remembrance wall for Jackson at the 02 arena in London. (Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Where it all began

    Joe Gasmann dances outside of Jackson's childhood home in Gary, Indiana. (John Gress / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Lighting the night

    A Jackson fan in Berlin lights candles to commemorate the loss of the singer. (Tobias Schwarz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Larger than life

    A Japanese fan pauses in front of a large portrait of Michael Jackson at the foot of Tokyo Tower on the one-year anniversary of his death. (Toru Yamanaka / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. India remembers

    Jackson fans light candles around his posters in Jammu, India. (Channi Anand / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Until the tide comes in

    Indian sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik puts the finishing touches on a sand sculpture honoring Jackson on a beach at Puri, India. (Strdel / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A true star

    Tourists take pictures and pose by Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, Calif. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Still posing for pictures

    Visitors pose with Jackson's wax image during a free public display of the figure at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Hollywood, Calif. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Memories pile up

    A woman signs her name to a memorial poster beside flowers, letters, and pictures of the singer in Munich. (Christof Stache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Angels on guard

    Candles surround a picture of Jackson at a memorial in Munich. (Matthias Schrader / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Katherine Jackson, mother of pop star Michael Jackson, attends a ceremony at the family's old home in Gary, Indiana
    John Gress / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (20) Fans remember Michael Jackson
  2. Michael Jackson in a Butterfly Collar Shirt
    Henry Diltz / Corbis
    Slideshow (36) Michael Jackson: 1958 - 2009 - Life and career
  3. Image: Michael Jackson fans embrace in New York on day of Jackson's memorial service
    Mike Segar / Reuters
    Slideshow (52) Michael Jackson: 1958 - 2009 - World reaction
    Slideshow (16) Michael Jackson: 1958 - 2009 - Face of change
  5. EXCLUSIVE: Michael Jackson's children are vacationing in Hawaii. Michael jr., Paris and Blanket, spent the eve of the anniversary of Michael's death at a Hawaii resort. The children enjoyed riding the
    Splash News
    Slideshow (3) Jackson kids take a vacation
    Slideshow (16) The face of change - Face of change
  1. Michael Jackson in a Butterfly Collar Shirt
    Henry Diltz / Corbis
    Slideshow (36) The face of change - Life and career
  2. 6th Annual RFK Tennis Tournament Party
    Ron Galella / WireImage
    Slideshow (13) The face of change - Famous friends
  3. Courtesy of the Malnik family
    Slideshow (12) Jackson’s children unveiled

Timeline: The ‘King of Pop’

Timeline of singer's life, from Jackson 5 to ‘Thriller’ to Neverland.

TODAYshow.com | Link |
  1. Image: Michael Jackson
    Above: Timeline The ‘King of Pop’
  2. AP, Reuters, Getty
    Gallery Michael Jackson’s inner circle

Video: Remembering Michael Jackson

  1. Transcript of: Remembering Michael Jackson

    MATT LAUER, co-host: But we begin this half-hour with the anniversary of Michael Jackson 's death. We're going to talk to Mark Lester , Jackson 's friend and the godfather to his three children, in just a couple of minutes. But first, NBC 's Jeff Rossen is at Neverland Ranch . Jeff , good morning to you.

    JEFF ROSSEN reporting: Hey, Matt , good morning to you. Hard to believe it's been a year since he died. I think we all remember where we were when we got that tragic news. And, you know, as I drove into Neverland this morning, it's, of course, the wee hours of the morning here on the West Coast , there are already fans down at the front gate of the ranch laying down flowers, paying their respects. We're going to show you around this truly majestic property, 3,000 acres of it, in just a moment. But first this morning, we have exclusive new information on Michael 's kids and the investigation into his death.

    ROSSEN: Today the Michael Jackson empire is bigger than ever. The movie " This Is It " grossed $260 million. In just the past year, his estate brought in $780 million. Michael 's kids won't ever have to worry about money, heirs to the King of Pop . Paris , Prince and Blanket are settling into a more normal life. Rarely seen when their father was alive, these days they're spotted all over LA , attending karate class, walking the streets of Universal Studios and spending time with relatives at the Jackson family compound. Their 80-year-old grandmother, Katherine , has custody and has remained silent until now, speaking for the first time since her son's death in a new interview licensed by " Dateline NBC ."

    Ms. KATHERINE JACKSON: Paris loves the piano and she also wants to be an actress. And she can pick out any song that she wants to and especially her daddy's songs. Prince has a lot of talent and also he's very talented with the camera and with electronics. He wants to be a cameraman and he wants to write movies. And Blanket , he just -- he loves to sing and he plays with his toys most of the time. He's very young yet, but he's -- can carry a tune very well and he has rhythm. And he can dance.

    ROSSEN: Just like his dad, singing and dancing from the time he was a toddler until his final days. No one ever lived like Michael Jackson .

    BRIAN WILLIAMS reporting: Shocking news from Los Angeles tonight.

    And no one ever died like Michael Jackson .

    ROSSEN: Mourners are streaming by his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame .

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: And I just wanted to say that I love him so much.

    The pop star 's death has been labeled a homicide.

    Miss PARIS JACKSON: Dr. Conrad Murray is now charged with involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors say he administered a lethal dose of propofol to Jackson just before he died. Dr. Murray proclaimed his innocence in a YouTube video .

    LAUER: I told the truth and I have faith the truth will prevail.

    ROSSEN: Now for the first time , his medical assistant, who was involved in Jackson 's treatment, is opening up in an exclusive interview.

    Dr. CONRAD MURRAY: He would never intentionally harm a person. This man is the kindest, most gentlest human being you could ever, ever imagine.

    ROSSEN: If Dr. Murray wasn't responsible for Michael Jackson 's death, who was?

    Ms. STACEY RUGGLES (Murray's Medical Assistant): The addict.

    ROSSEN: Michael Jackson .

    Ms. RUGGLES: Absolutely. Addicts are very good at getting medications and hiding medications.

    ROSSEN: How could he know that as his doctor?

    Ms. RUGGLES: I didn't know that. If you're not told -- if your patient does not tell you, divulge all their medical information to you, how are you going to know that?

    ROSSEN: So you're saying maybe he wouldn't have used certain drugs on him if he'd known that he was on other drugs.

    Ms. RUGGLES: I'm saying maybe he wouldn't have taken the job.

    ROSSEN: Is he scared?

    Ms. RUGGLES: I don't think so.

    ROSSEN: He's not scared of losing his license? He's not scared of going to jail?

    Ms. RUGGLES: He did nothing wrong.

    ROSSEN: To this day, she says Dr. Murray still considers Michael Jackson a friend.

    Ms. RUGGLES: I can tell you that he misses his friend, he misses his friend dearly. He worries about the children. He thinks of them often. He loves the children very, very much.

    ROSSEN: And Michael 's kids actually have a huge stake right now in Neverland . We're right now at the main house on the property because this is currently owned by a private equity firm called Colony Capital and the Jackson estate and so the kids could get it later. This is a 400-pound door that leads you into the front house. This is where Michael lived, his bedroom was just off that way and there were statues everywhere. There was a butler here with cookies on a tray. And they still have this, they'll never sell it. This is a gift from Elizabeth Taylor to Michael Jackson . It's still here on the property. Apparently Michael , back in the day , would get up here on the bike, ride around and give kids ice cream right out of here. And if we walk right through this way, this is Michael 's dining room . This is where he entertained. There was a huge dining room table here. Right now, as you can see, it's empty. And down here was the living room where he spent a lot of his time. This is not Michael Jackson 's furniture. This is actually fairly new. Colony Capital brought this furniture in because they use Neverland now for charity events. People bid on auctions, they bid at auctions. They have dinner here and they raise money for charity. So they'll often entertain people from the outside who just want a chance to raise money for a good cause and have dinner at Michael 's Neverland Ranch . He lived here, really the only place he called home in his adult life, from 1985 to 2005 . Nearly 3,000 acres here, Matt. It cost millions of dollars to maintain. The question is, what happens to it now? What's the future for Neverland ? They won't tell us. It's still unclear. But Katherine Jackson recently said that she just hopes it's not sold. She wants to keep it in the

    Ms. RUGGLES: Yeah. Jeff Rossen , it's a remarkable place. Jeff at Neverland...



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