Now that he's suddenly gone forever, Michael Jackson
is guaranteed to receive various tributes and appear as the subject of all manner of remembrances. Some of these will inevitably focus on his perceived physical and behavioral oddities, as well as the controversies that have swirled around Jackson for the better part of the last half-century. But when it comes to pop culture, the superstar was everywhere during the '80s. Here's a look at some of Jackson's most memorable '80s moments, all of which cemented him before the decade was out as, arguably, the most famous and successful entertainer of all time.
1. Savvy Young Star Secures Unprecedented Royalty Rates
Although Jackson's financial status has been in question for many years - never more so than in the immediate wake of his 2009 shocking death - he set himself up for plenty of riches in 1980 with a royalty deal that promised him about one-third of his music's wholesale profits, a figure that comes out to about $2 per album at the time. One can never know if Jackson had any idea that Thriller
, his 1982 follow-up to the smash 1979 release Off the Wall
, would become the biggest-selling album of all time (a distinction it still holds today). Nonetheless, this is an early (Jackson had hardly reached his twenties, after all) display of business genius that accompanied the singer's tremendous level of artistic and commercial success to come.
2. Motown 25 Live Performance - the Moonwalk
In March 1983, still in the relatively early part of Thriller
's 80 consecutive weeks as a Top 10 album on Billboard's Hot 200 chart, Jackson performed live on Motown
's 25th anniversary television special to tremendous audience notice. With more than 47 million viewers, the appearance clearly rivaled the Elvis Presley
and Beatles Ed Sullivan Show
landmark performances, and so Jackson's public debut of his "Moonwalk" dance functioned as just so much sparkly icing on the cake. As if his success weren't already like an out-of-control pop culture wildfire, Jackson injected his unique sense of style and fashion completely into the American bloodstream. "Iconic" began to take on fresh meaning in the wake of Jackson's dominion.
3. Jackson Still on Fire in '84... Literally
still holding its impressive grip on record-buyers in America and increasingly worldwide, practically anything Jackson did had a tendency to make the news. But in January 1984, while filming a TV commercial for Pepsi Cola
in Los Angeles, Jackson suffered second-degree burns to his scalp when his hair caught fire as the result of pyrotechnics gone wrong. The incident did not gravely endanger the singer, but it did reveal his tendency toward philanthropy. Donating his $1.5 million settlement for the accident to a California burn center, Jackson certainly proved that his own profits were far from his only concern as a global citizen. Generosity and empathy were always a couple of his strengths, after all.
4. "We Are the World" & Humanitarian Peak
Demonstrating himself as a public figure more than willing to share his riches for what he determined to be worthy causes, Jackson led the rash of celebrities that contributed to famine relief single "We Are the World,"
a tune he co-wrote with fellow contemporary superstar Lionel Richie
. During the same period of 1984-1985, Jackson had already donated his considerable profits from his 1984 world tour to various charities, making him perhaps one of the most active and wealthy humanitarians of the mid-'80s. This period certainly made a strong case for Jackson's long-standing reputation as a force for good, despite the controversies and scandals that would dog him for the rest of his life.
5. Jackson Outbids Paul McCartney to Buy Up Beatles Songs
Jackson's collaborations with other stars during his peak period of popularity extended to many corners of the entertainment world, but his mid-'80s partnership with former Beatle Paul McCartney
remained among his most visible. Despite a friendship with McCartney, Jackson aggressively sought to buy a song catalogue that contained many Lennon
-McCartney compositions. Eventually the superstar dropped nearly $50 million to claim this batch of music, alienating McCartney and demonstrating clearly that as a public figure and individual, Jackson always expected nothing less than what he desired. Having apparently gained the idea from McCartney himself, perhaps Jackson surprised many with such barracuda business vigilance from a star so young.
6. Bubbles, the Elephant Man & Other Tabloid Publicity
As the second half of the '80s commenced, Jackson began to emerge as a tabloid figure of some notoriety, mainly for his odd behavior and flamboyant eccentricities both real and imagined. While Jackson did in fact acquire a pet chimpanzee he named Bubbles and treated with what the press regarded as an anthropomorphic excess of attention and affection, he actually fabricated stories such as the well-known tales that he slept in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to slow the aging process and had purchased the bones of the Elephant Man
. This combination of unusual press backfired ultimately for Jackson, resulting in the appearance of his long-standing nickname Wacko Jacko, a pejorative moniker he would grow to resent terribly.
7. Evidence of Drastically Changing Appearance Grows
Having already secured multiple plastic surgeries by even the period of his vast Thriller
fame, Jackson nonetheless did not begin to appear shockingly different or more pale until around the time of his next blockbuster release, 1987's Bad
. By this time, surgeries had notably changed his facial structure, but a straighter hairstyle and increasingly Caucasian skin color made Jackson look like almost a completely different person from the one who had dazzled audiences with Thriller
and its accompanying smash music videos. This did little to derail his new album's sales, but combined with stories of questionable health and increasing physical fragility, Jackson's public image began to inspire as much confusion as it did joy among some fans.
8. Massive 'Bad' Tour Shatters More RecordsDuring a world tour in support of the album's tremendous success - including an unprecedented five No. 1 pop singles - Jackson at one point drew just over half a million fans to only seven sold-out concerts at London's Wembley Stadium. Perhaps this achievement somehow inspired the singer's plan for a series of farewell shows intended to take place in 2009-2010, but if nothing else the jaw-dropping success and persistence of Bad maintained Jackson's remarkable stronghold on the entertainment universe. At this point the superstar's music was arguably losing some of its luster, but the same thing can certainly not be said about Jackson's fame or his continuing impact worldwide on legions of screaming fans.
9. Neverland Excess Ushers in Period of Gradual DeclineAlso in 1988, Jackson purchased nearly 3,000 acres in California for more than $17 million, a modest fraction of the reported $125 million he was said to have earned the following year alone. Soon enough, Jackson had established a compound he dubbed Neverland, a kid-friendly theme park of sorts that would fuel years of speculation and judgment about the singer's widely labeled unusual affinity for children and their presence within his sprawling property. Jackson's apparent willingness to funnel his significant riches into enterprises the public was bound to deem frivolous if not suspicious probably damaged to some extent the goodwill he had generated through years of philanthropy for various causes, many benefiting children in particular.
10. Friend Liz Taylor Dubs Jackson the King of PopAlthough the "King of Pop" title has become so omnipresent during the last 20 years that it seems now to have been around forever, the nickname actually originated with Jackson's longtime friend, actress Elizabeth Taylor, who introduced the term while bestowing upon her iconic pal a lifetime achievement award in 1989. Even before the end of the decade he so thoroughly dominated, Jackson began to receive a number of accolades as one of pop music's all-time greats. Few have ever disputed the King of Pop designation, and once Jackson died in 2009 suddenly at age 50, the legendary label probably became all the stronger in terms of the performer's strictly entertainment-centered legacy. May Jackson's memory live on even in profound complication.