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Lennox Mclendon  /  AP file
Michael Jackson strikes a pose onstage at Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium  on December 1, 1984, the opening night of his Victory Tour. At the time, Jackson's "Thriller" was on the lips of most American teens, and he was as hot as hot could get. How times have changed.
msnbc.com
updated 6/1/2005 10:34:32 PM ET 2005-06-02T02:34:32

If you grew up anytime between 1970 and 1995, give or take a couple years, Michael Jackson was part of your childhood.

Maybe you thought he was the coolest thing ever; you coveted that sleek leather jacket and practiced the moonwalk across the kitchen floor.  Maybe you thought he was for wusses as you cued up the new Whitesnake album. Maybe you grooved to “Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough,” but couldn't quite figure out what he was doing with Eddie Murphy and all those Egyptian babes in the “Remember the Time” video.

It wasn't until 1984 that I realized just how big MJ truly was. I couldn't help but hear the nonstop murmurs bouncing off my middle school's hall lockers as the “Thriller” video — The Video — made its MTV debut. My folks wouldn't yet indulge in cable TV for another six years, so all I could do was inhale the vibe.  Did you see?!? His eyes?!? The zombies?!?

Finally, when I managed to tune in a UHF station (remember UHF?) in New York that briefly attempted to compete with MTV, “Thriller” was the only thing that could prompt more anticipation in our living room than "Take on Me" (remember A-ha?). We were entranced.

These are less glamorous times for the King of Pop, but nearly everyone has their Michael Jackson memory.  We've collected a few.  No doubt you'll have your own .   -Jon Bonné

Nothing but cheers
When I was eleven years old, I stood in a crowded gymnasium with my hands on my hips and my head turned to the left. As I waited for the opening chords of “Beat It” to pound through the speakers, I glanced down to make sure that my white pom-pom was in my right hand, and my maroon in my left. I was in the fifth grade, and my cheerleading squad was relying on Jackson’s music to carry us to victory in our first competition.

The song finally began, and a kind of hush fell over the audience. By that time, in the fall of 1983, the tune was familiar, but it was still new and fresh, and the excitement of the song made up for the gawky fumbling of a group of prepubescent girls.

As the song faded out, our routine completed with a Rockette-style kick line, each member of the squad grinned. We didn’t need to wait for the judging ceremony to know that we had won first place.

When most people hear “Beat It” now, they probably remember Michael’s red leather jacket with all the zippers, or the gangs having a dance-off in the video. But for me, that song will always bring back the excitement of performing — and winning. -Kim Reed

A first purchase
When Jackson released “Thriller,” I was about nine years old and had recently discovered the joy of Casey Kasem's Weekly Top 40. In those pre-downloading days, I recorded music by holding up a big ol' tape recorder to the radio when a song that I liked came on the air, trying to time it so I got most of the song and missed the DJ chatter and commercials.

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“Thriller” was too good for that kind of treatment. First of all, I liked most of the songs that made it to the radio — “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin' Somethin',” “Thriller,” “Human Nature,” “The Girl Is Mine” ... way too many songs to record on my own.

Plus, Michael Jackson was so hip back then, with the moonwalk and that sequined glove, that it was considered cool among my elementary school pals to have the album. There was no recourse — I walked into the now-deceased Waxie Maxie's with my seven dollars and bought my very first tape.

Sadly, I suspect that when my son finds that out someday, he'll understand the whole “buying tapes at the record store” concept, but won't ever believe that at one time, Michael Jackson was considered cool. -Craig Berman

Not too weird
It pains me to think about it now, because it pains me to look at Michael Jackson now … but I used to have a crush on Michael Jackson.

In my defense, I had a crush on the real Michael Jackson — the version with the famous original nose, the awesome Afro, and the funky post-disco dance moves.  I dug “Off The Wall”-style Michael even though, by the time I got my mitts on that record in the seventh grade, we'd entered the “Thriller” era, and at that point he'd already started revising his face and wearing way too many buckles and showing up at awards shows with primates on his arm.

But that stuff didn't seem too weird, at the time; it seemed kind of cool, actually, because it was Michael doing it.  And he made such good music that I wouldn't have cared anyway.  I used to put my “Off The Wall” cassette on the ancient tape player my parents let me use, and I would boogie around my bedroom (badly, I might add) and daydream about Michael showing up at my house and inviting me to burn a disco out with him.

Now he just makes me feel barfy. -Sarah D. Bunting

Watchful eye
I was 13, and had missed the premiere of “Thriller” the previous evening. All afternoon, as my much-younger cousin and I watched cartoons, I continually flipped back to MTV during commercial breaks, knowing that “Thriller” must be in heavy rotation, hoping to catch it. Eventually I got lucky, tuning in during the opening segment: Jackson in conversation with his putative girlfriend. My cousin kept begging me to switch back to “She-Ra,” to no avail.

Jackson began his onscreen transformation into a werewolf, sprouting coarse hair and fangs, and when he abruptly whipped around to face the camera and his eyes had gone a malevolent yellow (courtesy of contact lenses) my cousin screamed and bolted.

I settled in to watch, only to have my aunt storm into the living room scant minutes later to insist I stop traumatizing her child with “horror movies.” I was only half-listening to my scolding, craning over her shoulder at Jackson and his army of undead ghouls, marveling at how their dancing was both stiff-limbed and loose-jointed. Later, I would imitate their shambling and sliding on my bedroom floor, my prized Jackson poster watching my every move. -Kim Rollins

All hits
Michael Jackson represented two different faces to me, even in the 1980s. He was always a bit odd — the one glove was odd, and the fire at the Pepsi commercial became a staple joke. But he also starred in the video that the MTV generation was dying to see: “Thriller.”

We didn't have cable at my house, so we gathered at a friend's house to watch the big debut. And of course, we loved it — Michael was a magical entertainer then. We watched “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” and loved them.

The one cassette tape I remember my father buying was the “Thriller” album, and it seemed that every song was a hit.  -George Malone

In the seventh row
“Thriller” brings to mind a 10-year-old girl sprawled out across her parents' rust-and-tan comforter — she didn't have a TV in her own room — glued to the fledgling MTV (much to her mother's dismay) in hopes of catching the entire airing of the 14-minute mini-movie video. When it finally appeared, after one too many Martha Quinn news blocks, phone lines lit up across Newport News, Va., as like-minded young girls called to alert their friends that the video was on, and to talk about how absolutely adorable Jackson was.

Fast forward to college at UNC-Chapel Hill, and a revival of the Jackson 5 era. At the Tri-Delt house, tunes like “ABC” blasted from J.J. Miller's aged white Datsun, which had been in no less than six car accidents between her sophomore year of high school and her junior year of college. More than likely these fender benders were a result of her trying to change Michael Jackson tapes while driving.

After Sept. 11, I heard another friend from college had been lost on the 89th floor of the second tower. The numerous obituaries about Mary Lou revealed that she had spent $1,500 on seventh row seats to see Jackson, her favorite pop star, the weekend before the tragedy. Although we hadn't spoken in a couple of years, I can imagine her electric smile as she danced away to tunes by the King of Pop, and I'm so glad that she had those good memories to take with her.  -Katie Cannon

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Photos: Life and career

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  1. Little boy Michael

    Michael Jackson was just 12 when this picture was taken in May 1971, but his career was already stratospheric. Berry Gordy had signed the Jackson 5 to Motown Records in 1968, and Michael and his brothers had already topped the charts with "ABC" and "I'll Be There." It was a bright start for the boy from Gary, Ind. (Henry Diltz / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Signs of success

    Michael Jackson, far left, and the rest of the Jackson Five in 1972. The five brothers from Indiana were signed to Berry Gordy's Motown record label. (Frank Barratt / Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. All in the family

    The Jackson 5 perform in Los Angeles on a 1970s Bob Hope TV special. Michael continued to front the band, but his solo career was already on the rise, starting with 1971's "Got to Be There." (Neal Preston / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A wonderful Wiz

    Michael Jackson at the opening of "The Wiz." The 1978 movie musical was the first time the pop star worked with legendary producer Quincy Jones, who would soon produce Jackson's breakout solo album "Off the Wall," and eventually the "Thriller" album as well. Jackson's "Wiz" co-star was friend and mentor Diana Ross, who had introduced the world to the Jackson 5 back in 1969.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Bettmann / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Wanna be startin' somethin'?

    Michael Jackson performs in concert during a 1981 tour with his brothers. During the tour, Michael began writing down ideas for a solo project that blossomed into the highest selling album of all time.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Susan Phillips / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A mentor

    Michael Jackson and Diana Ross hold their American Music Awards in L.A. Jackson won for favorite soul album and Ross won for favorite female soul vocalist. (Juynh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Fright night

    Michael Jackson stands with a group of dancers dressed as zombies while filming his 1983 video "Thriller." "Thriller" was revolutionary in the music industry. The zombie-themed minimovie put MTV on the map and essentially confirmed music videos as an art form of their own. The album sold 25 million copies in the United States alone.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Corbis / Sygma) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Moment of stardom

    Michael Jackson performs the moonwalk during "Billie Jean" for the first time on television's "Motown 25," a tribute to Berry Gordy. The dance move that would become Michael's trademark stunned viewers and the crowd, and marked his imminent crowning as the King of Pop.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Bettmann / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Handfuls of glory

    With Quincy Jones at his side, Michael Jackson holds six of the eight awards he won for "Thriller" at the 1984 Grammy Awards. His outfit, complete with epaulets, sequined glove and dark shades, became a quintessential Michael look. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Role model

    During a May 1984 ceremony at the White House, Michael Jackson accepts a Presidential Award from President Reagan as first lady Nancy Reagan looks on. Jackson was honored as a model for American youth, and for lending his hit song "Beat It" to a new campaign against drunk driving. (Bettmann / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A scary day

    Michael Jackson, background, is seen with his hair on fire during a taping of a Pepsi TV commercial in Los Angeles on February 1984 as brother Jermaine Jackson, foreground, continues to perform, apparently unaware of the situation. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Gloved love

    In a newly released image, Michael Jackson is seen visiting burn victim Keith Perry in the burn center at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, Calif., on Feb. 4, 1984. The pop star was recuperating in the hospital after suffering from a burn to his head while filming a commercial for Pepsi-Cola. (Carl Arrington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Crowd control

    Michael Jackson is led through a crowd by police on a 1985 promotional tour of Great Britain. (Dave Hogan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. They were the world

    In January 1985, a who's who of the music and movie worlds came together to sing "We Are the World," written to benefit famine victims in Ethiopia. Michael Jackson can be seen front and center, along with Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, Elizabeth Taylor and dozens of other stars. Michael's sister Janet can be seen bottom right. (Bettmann / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Victory lap

    Guitarist Eddie Van Halen, left, makes a July 1984 guest appearance during Michael Jackson's Victory Tour concert in Irving, Texas. Van Halen had recorded the now immortal guitar riff on "Beat It," to the displeasure of bandmate David Lee Roth, but to the delight of nearly everyone else.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Carlos Osorio / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Who's bad?

    Michael Jackson and his dancers in concert during a 1987 Tokyo concert on Jackson's "Bad" tour. The previous year, he had starred in the 3-D film "Captain EO," one of the most expensive short films ever. But Jackson had begun to draw more criticism as his albums and videos grew costlier and more infrequent. His next album, "Dangerous," wouldn't arrive until 1991. (Neal Preston / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A difficult year

    A cameraman photographs Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey in January 1993. This was the year Jackson was first accused of child molestation, and he took an opportunity on a 90-minute Oprah TV special to address the charges. The criminal allegations eventually were dropped, but Jackson reportedly paid as much as $25 million to settle the claims. (Neal Preston / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Black and white at the Super Bowl

    Michael Jackson gives a performance with 30,000 children during the Super Bowl XXVII halftime show on Jan. 31, 1993, in Pasadena, Calif. Despite allegations against him, Jackson's career had regained momentum with hits such as "Black or White" and "Remember the Time," and the "Dangerous" album was a multiplatinum seller. (Ralf-Finn Hestoft / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Clowning around

    Michael Jackson and French mime Marcel Marceau clowning for the cameras at the Beacon Theatre in New York on Dec. 4, 1995. (Bob Strong / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Power marriage

    Michael Jackson and then wife Lisa Marie Presley are seen at Neverland Ranch in preparation of the Children's World Summit in April 1995. Presley would file for divorce less than a year later, prompting speculation about just what had inspired the relationship. (Steve Starr / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Golden man

    Michael Jackson performs on stage during his "HIStory" world tour concert at Ericsson Stadium in November 1996 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Phil Walter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Marriage 2.0

    Just months after his divorce from Lisa Marie, Michael Jackson walked down the aisle with Debbie Rowe. This wedding photo was released by Jackson's publicist minutes after the Nov. 13, 1996, ceremony in Sydney, Australia. But the pairing was less about romance and more about bearing Jackson a child, and the two would divorce three years later, with Rowe eventually ceding parental rights to Jackson.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Reuters / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Best of friends

    Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor arrive at a Sept. 7, 2001, concert celebrating the 30 years of Jackson's career. The two stars had been longtime friends, and Taylor is godmother to two of Michael's children. (Jeff Christensen / Reuters / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Sharing his testimony

    Michael Jackson testifies on Nov. 13, 2002 in Santa Maria, Calif. Superior Court in a trial in which he is accused of cancelling concert appearances, costing the promoter several million dollars. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Not so invincible

    Michael Jackson poses for photographers during a November 2001 appearance in New York's Times Square. Jackson made his first ever in-store appearance to promote his new album "Invincible," which was released Oct. 30. "Invincible," at the time the most expensive album ever produced, fared better with critics and fans than 1995's "HIStory," but questions began to surface about the future of Jackson's career. (Brad Rickerby / Reuters/Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. One big mistake

    Michael Jackson holds a towel-covered Prince Michael II over the balcony of a Berlin hotel on Nov. 19, 2002. Jackson later called the incident a "terrible mistake," but the image of him dangling his baby son out a window shocked even many die-hard fans. And his reputation was to receive far worse damage just a few months later.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Tobias Schwarz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Arresting development

    Michael Jackson is pictured in this Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department mug shot from Nov. 20, 2003. In a February 2003 documentary, Jackson acknowledged letting boys sleep in his bed. Soon after, Santa Barbara district attorney Tom Sneddon launched a probe into allegations that Jackson had molested a teen boy who appeared in the program. Authorities raided Neverland Ranch in November, and Jackson surrended for arrest days later.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff's D / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Family support

    Michael, center, and sisters LaToya, left and Janet Jackson walk over to greet fans during a lunch break at a pretrial hearing in Santa Maria, Calif., in this Aug. 16, 2004, file photo. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. MJ's PJs

    Michael Jackson wears pajama pants and is aided by bodyguards after arriving more than an hour late to court on Mar. 10, 2005, during his trial on the 2003 molestation charges. Jackson appeared after Judge Rodney Melville threatened to revoke his bail. (Kimberly White / pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Singin' with the kids

    Michael Jackson sings with some of his young fans at the World Music Awards at Earls Court in London on Nov. 16, 2006. (Graham Jepson / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Fans in uniform

    Michael Jackson receives a letter of appreciation from Col. Robert M. Waltemeyer, the garrison commander of Camp Zama, on March 10, 2007, in Zama, Japan. Michael greeted thousands of U.S. troops and their family members at the U.S. Army base. (U.S. Army via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Father figure

    Michael Jackson walks with kids Prince and Paris through a studio parking lot in Los Angeles in March 2009. The singer had been spotted with his entourage going to a studio on a cold rainy day in the city. The pop star stayed at the studio for more than two hours, and there were many production people working around him, suggesting that the star was filming. (Splash News / Splash News) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Concert tour planned

    Fans take pictures of an electronic screen projecting a press conference by Michael Jackson at the O2 arena in London on March 5, 2009. The pop megastar announced he would play a series of comeback concerts in London in July, his first major shows in more than a decade. (Ben Stansall / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Reaching for redemption

    Jackson, center, is shown in Los Angeles on May 6 during rehearsals for his planned concert tour in London. (Courtesy of Michael Jackson via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Happy to perform

    In this handout photo provided by AEG, Jackson rehearses for his planned shows in London at the Staples Center on Tuesday, June 23, in Los Angeles. It's a tragic loss — and an accounting nightmare for the promoters of Jackson's doomed 50-night "This Is It" concert extravaganza. More than 750,000 fans are waiting for details on ticket refunds, and the British government's consumer protection board told them June 29 not to hold their breath -- complex legal issues need to be worked out first. (Kevin Mazur / AEG via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. All the world's a stage

    "He was on the eve of potentially redeeming his career a little bit," Billboard magazine editorial director Bill Werde said of Jackson, shown rehearsing in Los Angeles on June 23. "People might have started to think of him again in a different light."

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Kevin Mazur / AEG via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Michael Jackson in a Butterfly Collar Shirt
    Henry Diltz / Corbis
    Above: Slideshow (36) Michael Jackson: 1958 - 2009 - Life and career
  2. 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
  3. MICHAEL JACKSON
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    Slideshow (16) Michael Jackson: 1958 - 2009 - Face of change

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