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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
    Slideshow (16) Michael Jackson: 1958 - 2009 - Face of change
updated 6/13/2005 8:44:02 PM ET 2005-06-14T00:44:02

When Michael Jackson became a superstar more than three decades ago, irresistibly cute with his apple cheeks and dandelion Afro, perhaps the most startling thing about the child phenom was just how adult he appeared to be.

Though a diminutive 12 years old (his handlers said he was 10 to make him seem even more precocious), Jackson commanded the stage like a veteran. With his vocal prowess and dazzling footwork, he truly seemed inhabited by an old soul.

In his 1988 autobiography “Moonwalk,” Jackson recalled an early talent show when one competitor referred to him as a midget. “My feelings were hurt,” he wrote, “(But) Dad explained they weren’t laughing at me. He told me I should be proud, the group was talking trash because they thought I was a grown-up posing as a child.”

Yet as he grew older, Jackson was unwilling — or unable — to adjust to a grown-up world. Apparently scarred by the lack of a real childhood, a painful adolescence that included verbal and physical abuse at the hands of a demanding stage father, and finally the pressures of fame, Jackson devoted much of his adulthood to recapturing the carefree atmosphere he never was able to enjoy.

Jackson always maintained that his affinity for children was non-sexual, and on Monday a jury agreed, finding that Jackson did not molest a 13-year-old former cancer patient. But while Jackson left the courtroom a free man, he also emerged as a broken, tragic figure with his once-brilliant career now in tatters.

Jackson’s acquittal did provide some hope for his future. “He’s absolutely capable (of a comeback), he has an amazing talent,” Island Def Jam CEO and Chairman Antonio “L.A.” Reid told The Associated Press after the verdict. “This is one of the greatest performers of our time.”

Perhaps no other entertainer has plummeted from such stratospheric heights to the depths of notoriety like Jackson, who has been a superstar since he crooned “I Want You Back” in 1969, when he was 11.

Missed a normal childhood
Jackson was born in gritty Gary, Ind., surrounded by poverty and crime. With nine children, his mother, Katherine, and his father, steel worker Joe, looked for a way to keep their children off the streets. Music was a hobby at first, but Joe, a former guitarist, saw it as a way out of the ghetto. While Jackson has said he was never forced into show business, by the time he was 8, he already had a full-time job with a stern boss.

“He was a great trainer,” he said of his father in “Moonwalk,” but added, “We’d perform for him and he’d critique us. If you messed up, you got hit, sometimes with a belt, sometimes with a switch.”

Slideshow: Michael Jackson trial Even as a child, Jackson wowed audiences, and by the time he and his brothers reached the attention of Motown founder Berry Gordy, they had already built up a national reputation on the amateur scene. Gordy signed the Jackson 5 to his powerhouse label and they immediately started churning out hits: “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “I’ll Be There” represent just a sampling of their classic catalog.

But Jackson was still missing something.

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“There was a park across the street from the Motown studio, and I can remember looking at those kids playing games. I’d just stare at them in wonder — I couldn’t imagine such freedom, such a carefree life — and I wish more than anything I had that kind of freedom, that I could walk away and be just like them,” he wrote in “Moonwalk.”

As a solo artist and with his brothers, Jackson sold millions of records and made some of pop’s most revered classics by the time he reached puberty. Then he made the tricky transition from prodigy to adult pop star with the stunning “Off The Wall” album in 1979. And in 1983 he became an international icon with the release of “Thriller,” still the best-selling album of all time, with more than 50 million copies sold worldwide.

Thrilling his fans
At his peak, Jackson had the world spellbound. His moonwalking “Billie Jean” performance on the 1983 “Motown 25” TV special was a mesmerizing moment on par with Elvis Presley swiveling his hips or The Beatles singing on Ed Sullivan. And at a time when music videos were primitive performance clips, Jackson revolutionized the genre with elaborate choreography and dramatic plotlines — even 21 years after it was released, his 15-minute “Thriller” mini-movie, directed by John Landis, is considered one of the greatest videos ever made. Jackson also helped break the color barrier on MTV when it was rock (code word for white) oriented.

Given how unpopular Jackson has now become, it’s hard to imagine that 20 years ago, he was not only the world’s most popular entertainer, but the most beloved.

President Ronald Reagan persuaded him to come to The White House so he could give Jackson a special award — and take a photo with the world’s most famous pop star. Former first lady and Doubleday book editor Jacqueline Onassis personally wooed him to write “Moonwalk.” When Jackson’s 1987 album “Bad” was released, with the video for the title track directed by Martin Scorsese, CBS deemed it worthy of a prime-time special. And a 1984 Time magazine cover story described Jackson as “the good boy, the God-fearing Jehovah’s Witness, the adamant vegetarian ... the impossibly insulated innocent. Undeniably sexy. Absolutely safe.”

Those are the last words anyone would use to describe Michael Jackson anymore.

Now only his most die-hard fans would describe him as visually appealing — years and years of plastic surgery have transformed Jackson from a handsome, somewhat androgynous figure into a strange, feminine oddity. Though in his autobiography he claimed he’s only had surgeries on his nose and his chin (to create a cleft), his face now seems more mask than man. Coupled with the evolution of his skin color from milk chocolate to vanilla (he suffers from vitiligo, a rare condition that robs skin of its pigment over time), visually he’s an unsettling figure.

But for a long time, despite his growing “wacko” personality — his alleged plot to buy the Elephant Man’s bones, or to sleep in a hyperbaric chamber so he could live to be 150, his crotch-grabbing dance moves, and reclusive personality — Jackson did seem to be an innocuous figure, an asexual persona more interested in children’s games than adult relationships.

Superstar to accused pedophile
That all changed in 1993, when a 13-year-old playmate accused him of molestation. That year, Jackson had been riding high — he had successfully diminished his weirdness factor with a sympathetic, highly rated Oprah Winfrey prime-time interview; his album “Dangerous” sold millions of copies and was still on the charts; he was on a sold-out world tour; and had gotten a legend award from the Grammys, at age 34.

“I don’t read what is written about me and I didn’t know how many people thought I was weird and bizarre,” a jovial Jackson said before an adoring audience of industry watchers at the Grammy ceremony.

But in an instant, he became an accused pedophile, an almost permanent stigma. It became even more difficult to separate him from the accusations after Jackson, despite maintaining his innocence, settled a civil lawsuit by the boy for a multimillion price tag. The boy then stopped cooperating with authorities and no charges were filed.

The episode put a dark spin on Jackson’s formerly endearing penchant for all things childlike.

“I remember driving with him one day,” friend Jane Fonda said in a 1983 interview about Jackson, “and I said, ‘God, Michael, I wish I could find a movie I could produce for you.’ And suddenly I knew. I said, ‘I know what you’ve got to do. It’s Peter Pan.’ Tears welled up in his eyes and he said, ‘Why did you say that?’ with this ferocity. I said, ‘I realize you’re Peter Pan.’ And he started to cry and said, ‘You know, all over the walls of my room are pictures of Peter Pan. I’ve read everything that (author J.M.) Barrie wrote. I totally identify with Peter Pan, the lost boy of never-never land.”’

At first, that didn’t seem all that bizarre. He wasn’t that far removed from his teen years, and his other eccentricities hadn’t come into full public view.

But somewhere down the line, his fixation on reliving his childhood began to get a little weird — even creepy to some. Maybe it was when, in 1984, he carried 13-year-old pint-sized Emmanuel Lewis affixed to his arm like a stuffed animal won at a carnival, with date Brooke Shields on the other. Or when he christened his 2,700-acre Santa Barbara estate “Neverland” — when he was nearing 30. Or his numerous friendships with young boys, from Macaulay Culkin to Sean Lennon.

After the 1993 child molestation allegations, it became more than weird — to some, it was damning.

Rosie O’Donnell, a frequent Jackson critic, scoffed at the idea that Jackson could be innocent in a 1994 interview with The Los Angeles Times: “They say that about priests; they say that about people’s fathers and their brothers and the elementary schoolteacher and the soccer coach. They say it about every man who is accused ... Wake up.”

Tarnished image
Still, for all of his problems, Jackson’s career — while diminished — was still viable. A marriage to Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, thrust him back in the spotlight in late 1994, and in 1995, he released a double-disc set, “HIStory” containing his greatest hits and new material, much of it detailing his frustrations over the child molestation allegation. The album sold more than 2 million copies in the United States and included the No. 1 hit “You Are Not Alone,” but was considered a commercial disappointment because of the stunning successes of his previous albums and the amount of money he spent to record the album and shoot videos).

Later, he would divorce Presley and marry Deborah Rowe, a nurse for his plastic surgeon. They had two children, Prince Michael and Paris, before divorcing. Rowe gave Jackson full custody, though she is now fighting for custodial rights. Jackson later had another child, nicknamed Blanket (the mother’s identity never was released), whom he infamously dangled over a balcony while showing him off to fans.

In 2001 Jackson released another album, “Invincible,” on the heels of a star-studded tribute concert. It sold 2 million copies, but any modest success was obscured when Jackson got into a fight with Tommy Mottola, then the head of Sony records, accusing him of racism and sabotaging the project.

Given the road he was on before the his 2003 arrest, it’s unlikely that Jackson would have ever restored his tarnished image or regained the universal appeal he enjoyed in his heyday. But he was popular enough, with respect and admiration in the industry, as well as top-notch talent willing to work with him.

Will his career recover?
Now, even with his acquittal, it’s unclear whether he’d be able to salvage his career in any form. For many, his guilt was already determined, despite evidence that did not prove the contrary. And given the unseemly allegations and what was proven in court — a penchant for drinking, a trove of pornography and a dangerous pattern of letting young boys into his bedroom — has left the public leery and weary.

Almost no one in the music industry approached by The Associated Press prior to the verdict wanted to comment on what his future might hold. Mariah Carey, a comeback queen herself, simply offered prayer and sympathy for Jackson in a recent interview, as did legend Aretha Franklin.

“My heart goes out to his family,” Franklin said. “It’s just hard really, one way or the other. It’s really hard for me to judge in any way.”

Still, esteemed producer Rick Rubin, who has produced everyone from Johnny Cash to Jay-Z to the Beastie Boys, said in today’s world, no scandal is insurmountable — especially for an extraordinary figure like Jackson.

“I think he can always have a career making music. People will always be interested in what he does,” Rubin said. “Regardless of any other things going on in their lives, people are always interested by the great acts, and there’s no questions he’s one of the greats.

“Regardless of anything else going on, he’s still Michael Jackson.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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