Michael Jackson’s single white glove was his trademark — an iconic image for a performer whose career constantly set, then redefined, pop culture trends.
But it also was an early effort to mask a skin condition that he would struggle with for the rest of his life, say some who were close to him. Actress Cicely Tyson, a friend of Jackson’s, said the two shared a fashion designer in the 1980s. “All of a sudden, he said, ‘I’m doing this glove for Michael,’ ” she said. “Michael was beginning to develop the vitiligo and it started on his hand. “The glove was to cover the vitiligo; that’s how that glove came into being.” The glove design and reason for it were not just hearsay for Tyson, she said. “I was there when he was creating it,” she told CNN’s Don Lemon. More than the black fedora, the white socks and loafers or the red leather jacket, the solitary glove — made famous in the music video for “Billie Jean” — became a Jackson trademark. He was dubbed “The Gloved One,” by media and a sequined glove he wore during his 1984 Victory tour was expected to fetch more than $60,000 in an upcoming auction, even before his death. Jackson’s dermatologist, Dr. Arnie Klein, told CNN that Jackson suffered from vitiligo, a disease that causes blotches of lightening skin, as well as a form of lupus that led to rashes and flaking of skin on his scalp. Watch Jackson doctor talk with Larry King » “His was bad because he began to get a speckled look over his body,” Klein said. “All over his body — but on his face and hands, which is hard to treat.”
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It’s a report that rings true to others with the disease. “I have to wear sleeves and carry an umbrella,” said Lee Thomas, who wrote a memoir called “Turning White,” which discusses his physical and mental struggles as an African-American man whose skin changes because of vitiligo. “It totally makes sense to me.” Thomas, an Emmy-winning television journalist in Detroit, Michigan, told CNN that he shares a habit with Jackson. “I got [white spots] on one of my hands, so I used to wear a glove to hold a microphone,” he said. Dr. James Norlund, a dermatologist, never treated Jackson, but said the singer’s use of the gloves and lipstick was consistent with the patterns of vitiligo, since the spots frequently first appear on the hands and face, including the lips. Klein said he treated Jackson’s vitiligo with a cream that eventually bleached Jackson’s darker pigmentation to even out his skin color. He said it was that treatment — not a once-rumored desire by Jackson to be white — that lightened his skin over the years. “Michael was black,” Klein said. “He was very proud of his black heritage.” Regardless of its origins, the glove was never viewed as anything other than fashion by Jackson’s fans, some of whom donned gloves to impersonate him. At Jackson’s memorial service Tuesday, actress Brooke Shields, a close friend of Jackson’s, remembered the glove in a light moment during an otherwise emotional eulogy.
“When he started wearing the glove, I was like, ‘What’s up with the glove’ ” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “I was like, ‘If you’re going to hold my hand, it better be the nonglove one because sequins really hurt me.’ It would dig in. “He’d just shake his head and he would just smile.”