August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana
June 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
As a young child, Michael Jackson had cultivated stardom as a singer and performer with the Jackson Five before he reached double digits in age. In the '70s he remained a stalwart member of that group, becoming an ever more central figure in its continuing success. And although he began to step out as a solo artist during the '70s, Jackson did not truly become a full-fledged star until the '80s, the decade he personified, defined and ruled so completely.
An Off-the-Wall Transition to Solo Star:
If Thriller was Jackson's magnum opus, then 1979's Off the Wall was certainly a pretty hefty masterpiece in its own right. With this smash hit record, Jackson not only proved he was capable of sustaining his own, independent career; he showed that not even the sky was the limit. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" is an absolutely exhilarating tune, employing elements of disco with great skill but succeeding much more completely through Jackson's masterful approach to various pop music styles.
Quite a Thrill & Still the Biggest-Selling Album of All Time:
At nearly 60 million albums sold worldwide, Michael Jacksons 1982 masterpiece, Thriller, retains its title as the biggest-selling record of all-time. Those numbers are evidence of the music's continuing popularity but also just how big a hit the album was upon its initial release, during which some two-thirds of these sales occurred. The music from this record was omnipresent from 1982 through 1984, and ultimately the album yielded seven Top Ten pop hits culled from its nine-track total.
With Success Comes Publicity, and then More Publicity:
As the mid-'80s arrived, Jackson had become arguably the biggest star in the world. As such, press paid close attention to his every move, of which there were many. In the wake of Thriller, Jackson ruined his friendship with Paul McCartney when he outbid the former Beatle for control of many of the band's songs. He also famously suffered burns when his hair caught on fire filming a Pepsi commercial. And in 1985, he was a major force in recording the massive "We Are the World" charity single.
Michael Jackson Still Huge Despite Relative Career Decline:
Looking at the sales of Bad, Jackson's follow-up to Thriller released in 1987, it certainly didn't look like his star was on the wane. Nonetheless, despite four No. 1 singles and multi-platinum sales, the album was received more coolly than Thriller. Worse, Jackson increasingly got noticed less for his music and more for his drastically changing appearance or outlandish rumors that he tried to buy the Elephant Man's bones. Around this time Jackson's disparaging nickname, Wacko Jacko, surfaced.
The '90s and Beyond - More Controversy, Legal Troubles & Reduced Relevance:
Jackson entered the '90s as the biggest pop star in the world, but his life, at least publicly, had become quite a circus. He seemed to spend a lot of time at his Neverland ranch, often entertaining children there and sometimes inviting them to sleep over. In 1993 he was accused of child molestation, a case the singer eventually settled. A highly scrutinized marriage to Lisa Marie Presley followed. Then more sexual abuse charges surfaced in 2003, resulting in a notorious trial and acquittal in 2005.
Shocking Death & The Still-Emerging Michael Jackson Legacy:
Though Michael Jackson has been known for pretty much anything and everything under the sun besides music for the past 15 years or so, his accomplishments during the '80s will always remain some of the most impressive in music history. For better or worse, Jackson came to define what it meant to be a star in the modern world, and it can certainly never be said that his public life has ever been boring. That statement remained eerily true all the way up to Jackson's unexpected death on June 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, where he had been preparing for a series of comeback concerts set to begin in London in July 2009.