Monday, June 29, 2009

Letter From the Editor: 'King of Pop' Could Have Averted the Scandals That Killed Him

The Time Is Long Overdue to Acknowledge Publicly That the Last 25 Years of Michael Jackson's Life Would Have Been Much Different -- Indeed, Much Healthier For Him Both Physically and Psychologically -- Had He Had the Courage to Come Out of the Closet

The night that forever altered Michael Jackson's life: The March 25, 1983 taping of the NBC television special "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever," in which Jackson stunned the live audience at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles -- and the 47 million viewers who watched the special when it aired two months later -- with his performance of his chart-topping hit, "Billie Jean," which catapulted his album, "Thriller," into the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest-selling album of all time and touched off what came to be known as "Michaelmania." Little did anyone realize at the time that the 24-year-old Jackson -- whom most of the world had known up to that time as the charismatic, babyfaced kid who was the lead singer of the Jackson 5 -- would never be the same after that night. (Photo courtesy NBC)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, June 29, 2009)


It was a Thursday that neither I -- nor millions of people across America and around the world -- will soon forget.

I had a strong, gut-level feeling that this would not be a normal, run-of-the-mill Thursday afternoon as I was broadcasting my weekly smooth-jazz radio show. Sure enough, about 40 minutes after I went on the air, the bulletin flashed on the computer screen in the studio that actress Farrah Fawcett, a cultural icon of the 1970s best known for her role in the TV series "Charlies Angels," had lost her three-year battle with cancer at the age of 62.

As I read the bulletin on the air, little did I realize that this was only the beginning of an unforgettable Thursday.

Less than two hours later, after I had signed off and was in my car heading home, another, more dramatic bulletin boomed from my car radio: Michael Jackson -- the "King of Pop" -- had been rushed to the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles amid reports of having suffered "cardiac arrest."

Stunned by what I had just heard, I pulled over and stopped. I didn't wait for the follow-up bulletin that the 50-year-old Jackson had been pronounced dead. I knew right away that he was gone. But it wasn't the fact of Jackson's death that stunned me. Rather, it was the realization that a remark I made about Jackson two-and-a-half years earlier proved to be prophetic.


I knew that Jackson was a dying man the moment I watched his appearance in late December 2006 at the funeral in Atlanta of his mentor, the "Godfather of Soul," James Brown, who had died on Christmas Day at the age of 73 from complications of pneumonia.

Jackson appeared so emaciated -- he had to be assisted to and from the podium -- that I turned to my wife and said, "Michael Jackson's not going to be around much longer. Look at him! He looks like a dead man walking!"

A year and a half later, photos appeared in the tabloids and on the Internet of an even thinner Jackson confined to a wheelchair being pushed by actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Las Vegas.

It was abundantly clear that Jackson was in seriously ill health. The first thought that crossed my mind was that the "King of Pop" was suffering from a debilitating disease -- To be candid, I was thinking AIDS -- and that he was unwilling to talk publicly about it.

But now it's very likely that Jackson suffered the same fate as Elvis Presley when he died in 1977 at the age of 42: Death caused by years of abuse of prescription medications. It was revealed over the weekend that Jackson had become addicted to painkillers, including Valium, Xanax and Ativan.

Appearing on NBC's "Weekend Today," Dr. Deepak Chopra, a longtime friend of Jackson revealed that he turned down a request by the "King of Pop" to prescribe him OxyContin -- the same painkiller that conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh admitted he became addicted to in 2003.

With all the bizarre twists and turns that Jackson's life had taken in the last 25 years -- and especially since his 2005 criminal trial for alleged child molestation -- I frankly didn't expect Jackson to make it to 50. As it turned out, I was off by just one year; Jackson died just over two months shy of what would have been his 51st birthday on August 29.


There can be no doubt about the musical genius of Michael Jackson. Not since Elvis Presley has a solo popular-music entertainer so captivated Americans. But neither Elvis nor the Beatles could come anywhere close to Jackson's global popularity.

Of course, Jackson had two things going for him that Presley and the Beatles didn't have: An incredible gift for keeping people entertained since he was five years old -- and MTV. He also broke down the wall separating black and white music lovers.

Jackson is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records not only for the biggest-selling album of all time, "Thriller," but also for the greatest number of number-one singles.

He also branched out into movies, with his role as the Scarecrow in the film version of the Broadway musical "The Wiz" in 1978; the title character in Disney's "Captain EO" in 1986; and as himself in his 1988 autobiographical feature, "Moonwalker."

But Jackson's incredible success may have also proven to be his greatest curse.


After suffering second-degree burns in an accident in 1984 while filming a Pepsi-Cola TV commercial in which his hair caught fire in a pyrotechnic burst, Jackson became deeply self-conscious about his physical appearance.

A year later, as fans noticed his complexion becoming progressively lighter, Jackson revealed that he was diagnosed with vitiligo, a chronic relatively common disorder that causes depigmentation in patches of skin. The disorder --which most starkly affects African-Americans -- causes patches of discoloration on the face, hands and wrists, as if the person had suffered severe burns.

But Jackson's change of skin color -- combined with numerous cosmetic surgeries to his nose and mouth -- prompted persistent rumors that he was somehow ashamed of his African-American heritage and was bleaching himself white. His video of "Black or White," the first single from his 1991 album "Dangerous," only added fuel to the rumors.


But by far the most controversial aspect of Jackson's life was over his sexuality. With his high-pitched voice that often broke into a falsetto and his increasingly androgynous -- some would say effeminate -- appearance and demeanor, the "King of Pop" would be dogged for the rest of his life by rumors and innuendo that he was gay. The accusations in 1993 and again in 2005 that Jackson had "inappropriate" relations with young boys only made matters worse.

Particularly in the last 15 years, it became increasingly difficult for this writer -- I came out of the closet more than 30 years ago, first as a gay man in 1978 and later as bisexual in 1993 -- to believe that Jackson was straight. Indeed, he had repeatedly dropped strong hints, whether consciously or unconsciously, that he was gay from the night he appeared at the taping of the NBC television special celebrating Motown Records' 25th anniversary in 1983.

Jackson's video of his 1987 hit, "Bad" didn't help; by that time, it was painfully obvious, in the opinion of this writer, that Jackson was not -- and would never be -- a bad-ass macho straight dude. His attempts to project an image of a crotch-grabbing tough guy in subsequent videos and stage performances fell flat on their face.


His marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis' daughter, in 1994 -- following accusations the previous year by a 13-year-old boy that Jackson molested him -- was dismissed by many, including this writer, as a sham, a ploy to prop up Jackson's public image that had been battered by the molestation accusations, even though they were never proven and Jackson reached an out-of-court settlement with the boy's parents.

Despite Lisa Marie's insistence that she and Jackson lived "a married couple's life ... that was sexually active," few people believed her and the marriage lasted only 19 months before it ended in divorce -- adding more fuel to the rumors that the "King of Pop" was gay.

His second marriage in 1997 to Debbie Rowe lasted two years, during which Rowe bore him two children: son Michael Jr., better known as Prince Michael (now 11 years old) and daughter Paris Michael (now 10). Yet both children were conceived through in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination -- strongly suggesting that the couple never consummated their marriage.

The identity of the mother of Jackson's youngest son, Prince Michael II, remains a closely-guarded secret, although Jackson has said that Prince Michael II (now seven years old) was also conceived through artificial insemination.

Why would a man who's supposedly heterosexual marry two different women yet never consummate either marriage? And why would he father three children through artificial insemination?


For many, the 2005 child-molestation case against Jackson was the final straw. Although he vehemently denied the accusations and was eventually acquitted, Jackson by that time had nonetheless dropped all public pretense of being heterosexual. He had no known girlfriends after his 1999 divorce from Rowe; Hollywood gossip about Jackson and actress Tatum O'Neal being romantically linked proved false.

Looking back at the latter half of Jackson's life, this writer is convinced that he could have avoided all the controversies about his private life that dogged him -- and would probably still be alive today and in much better health, both physically and psychologically -- if the "King of Pop" had had the courage to do 25 years ago what I did 30 years ago: Come out of the closet.

Instead, Jackson spent the last 25 years of his life going to extraordinary lengths to run away from what he truly was.

There are those reading this editorial who no doubt will believe that I am "outing" Michael Jackson now that he is dead. I reply by saying that the "King of Pop" outed himself, even as he fought tooth and nail not to.

How else to explain the title of one of his hit singles from his 1991 "Dangerous" album -- "Keep It In the Closet?"

Skeeter Sanders
Editor & Publisher
The 'Skeeter Bites Report

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Volume IV, Number 51
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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rebecca said...

Insightful article, Skeeter. I agree if he would have confronted his personal "demons," he would have been healthier. Maybe having been raised as a Johovah's Witness made him feel being homosexual was unclean/wrong, & it must be kept on the down-low. Which is very sad. I wish he could have been true to himself.

Here's more reason he probably was gay:

Older brothers:
One of the most established findings in all of developmental psychology is that each older brother increases the chance that a man will be gay. Younger brothers don't seem to have an effect and neither do sisters. In fact, siblings don't seem to be related to a women's sexual orientation at all. But among men, each older brother increases the chance of homosexuality by about 33% (Blanchard & Bogaert, 1996). It has been hypothesized that this effect is due to mothers producing antigens to male fetuses and that these antigens have effects on the developing brain (Blanchard, 2008). ----published in Psychology Today.

MJ was the 5th of six brothers (the 7th of nine children).

Deb said...

As a fellow writer and Author; also it seems, sharing similarPolicitcal attitudes/registration: Very well written,Very insightful and honest! Pain and fear and confusion are the most devasting emotions/reactions of human beings; the ones that prevent clear, and/or critical thinking. I think the 'want and need" Michael Jackson had, "to be the biggest Star in the world" (Liberace), and be able to share his music as unabatedly- meant, perhaps soley in his mind, the need for silence and hope for 'blindness'. He could also be an Incredible business man.
The bigger the star, the more the gossip, so ambiguity may have prevailed. Androgeny-not 'til the'80's,so perhaps the safest road were the risks he did take; and let the public do as we always do: Think what we will.