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Michael Jackson: Condemned in life, revered in death

By Andy Goldberg, DPA,

Los Angeles : He was a man who changed the face of pop music and came to symbolise the excesses of a narcissistic showbiz lifestyle. But in the days after Michael Jackson’s death from cardiac arrest in a rented Hollywood mansion, his frailties, shortcomings and alleged child molestations have been largely swept aside.

As Los Angeles and the world prepare for what is expected to be one of the most watched memorial services in history, a new picture of Jackson has emerged: a once-in-a-generation musical genius and tragically misunderstood celebrity, a man who even as a young child star had an old soul that understood the adult emotions of love and longing, and a doting and loving father whose affection for his own children and compassion for others made him a symbol of universal kindness.

“Wacko Jacko”, as the British tabloids used to call him, had become Saint Michael.

But the media hagiography of Jackson is not without its critics. New York Congressman Peter King Sunday blasted Jackson as a paedophile and pervert – and slammed the US media for giving him so much fawning coverage.

“He was a child molester. He was a paedophile. And to be giving this much coverage to him day in and day out, what does it say about us as a country?” King asked. “We’re too politically correct. No one wants to stand up and say, ‘We don’t need Michael Jackson’.”

His comments sparked a storm of online controversy about the King of Pop, whose every move made headlines in life and in death. From the moment he stepped into the spotlight at age 11, Jackson’s musical prowess set him apart from other performers, as he led his family pop group the Jackson Five to the top of the charts in 1968 with hits like “ABC”, “I want You Back” and “I’ll Be There”.

He was to fulfil his undoubted musical potential in his first solo albums. “Off the Wall” in 1979 is credited with creating the sound of modern pop music, blending and merging funk, disco and pop into a pulsating but always harmonic style.

Three years later “Thriller” had an even greater impact. It launched the music video age, helped smash racial barriers in the US and made Jackson an unprecedented global mega star. He went on to organize the “We Are The World” charity single in 1984, which helped raise consciousness of the plight of Africa.

But, gradually, Jackson created fewer hits and more tabloid headlines thanks to his odd behaviour and plastic surgery. He spent his life sealed off from the world in his fantasy estate, named Neverland, after the setting of the book “Peter Pan”. He appeared increasingly unhealthy whenever he was caught in public.

But at the centre of his scandal-ridden life was his strange relationships with boys.

He was twice accused of child molestation at Neverland, in 1993 and 2003. Although he settled the first case with no admission of wrongdoing and was cleared of all charges after a criminal trial in the second case, the ordeals wreaked havoc on his already fragile psyche and turned him into a media freak in the world’s celebrity sideshow.

The cause of his death is still unclear, but evidence is mounting that he was probably a chronic abuser of prescription drugs.

Fans explain these shortcomings as the result of his lost childhood and discomfort at being in a perpetual spotlight. His flaws and idiosyncrasies, they say, are no reason to overlook his remarkable talent and achievements.

“Much of America and the world honour Jackson as a ‘flawed hero’,” says Clarence Jones, scholar in residence at Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr Institute.

“Even the instances of alleged sexual abuse of boys and millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements wasn’t enough to staunch the affection the world at large has for Michael. In the end, it seems he represented hope, inspiration and the celebration of life, however unorthodox his own life may have been.”