The "King of Pop" had been topping music charts long before he ever pulled on that white-sequined glove, made the moonwalk a household move and sent screaming fans into a frenzy.
But the spotlight that followed Michael Jackson, earned him headlines and made him a tabloid favorite as an adult, often had little to do with the artistry. While filming a commercial for Pepsi in 1984, a pyrotechnic accident set his hair ablaze, leaving him with second-degree burns on his scalp and igniting what would eventually became an odyssey of reconstructive work. Rumors about his face, the ever-changing nose and lightening skin fueled the “Wacko Jacko” persona, a moniker he’d be given later and seem to embrace. There was, for instance, Bubbles, a chimpanzee he adopted, befriended and allowed to share his toilet. Jackson didn’t fight and even perpetuated claims, even though they weren’t true, that he’d bought the remains of The Elephant Man and slept in a hyperbaric chamber — although he would deny both years later during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. It was then, in that 1993 interview, that he also shot down rumors that he was dying his skin to make it lighter. Instead, he spoke for the first time about having vitiligo, a skin pigmentation disorder. Meantime, he had designed his dream home, the Neverland Ranch in Santa Ynez, California, as if he were the Peter Pan he so admired. Replete with a zoo, his own amusement park and the bevy of children who surrounded, played and sometimes slept over with him, he proudly set out to recapture the childhood he publicly said he’d never had.
In Depth: Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson, pop music legend, dead at 50
Allegations of what went on privately, however, landed him in a big-boy pool of legal hot water. He was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy, and the fashion icon showed up in court leaning on others while wearing pajama bottoms. Soon after came talk about his addiction to prescription drugs. He settled the civil lawsuit with the accusing family in 1994 and was never charged criminally. Then came the shocking, albeit relatively short-lived, marriage to Lisa Marie Presley — a move that set off a whole new round of speculations. More facts about Jackson’s life » Did he tie the knot to fight the child abuse speculations that dogged him Was this eccentric “King” aspiring to be the son-in-law of “The King,” Elvis Presley Or could it have been true love Despite this two-year marriage, and the reported relationships he’d had earlier with Tatum O’Neal, Stephanie Mills and Brooke Shields, Jackson remained sexually ambiguous and, in many people’s eyes, sexless altogether. He’d later marry once more for two years, this time to a nurse named Debbie Rowe. People debated whether they consummated that marriage or if artificial insemination played a role, but Jackson left in 1999 with custody of two children, a son known as Prince Michael and a daughter named Paris. For years when they appeared in public, the children wore veils or masks. Prince Michael II was born in 2002. An unidentified woman gave birth after reportedly being artificially inseminated with Jackson’s sperm. His second son was semi-revealed to the public in Berlin, Germany, when Jackson momentarily dangled the baby, his face hidden beneath a blanket, over a balcony four stories above the ground and a mass of fans. Watch Jackson introduce Prince Michael II » It was yet another move that spawned talkand accusations, and it was one he’d apologize for later. In recent years there was yet another child sexual abuse accusation, one Jackson was acquitted of in May 2005, and financial problems to deal with.
But in spite of all of this, Jackson’s draw remained strong. More than 25 years after the release of his epic album, “Thriller,” it was being celebrated again. He was scheduled to start what he described at a March press conference as his “final curtain call” concert tour, which had recently been postponed to next year. See Jackson make his final tour announcement » What Jackson would have brought to the stage then, and to the headlines before and after, will never be known. What is certain is that he’s one who’ll always be remembered.