Michael Jackson (1958-2009) was a child prodigy who skyrocketed to fame and earned the title “King of Pop.”
While a string of hits earned him the honor, the nickname paints a limited picture of Jackson’s contributions to the world. Jackson was also a talented dancer whose gravity-defying moves and innovative choreography thrilled audiences. His groundbreaking music videos established the art form as a legitimate type of entertainment and influenced fashion for more than a decade.
Box office receipts from entire Jackson concert series were donated to charities around the globe, putting millions of dollars into worthwhile causes. And Jackson opened his ranch to groups of sick and disadvantaged people, giving them a glimpse into a world called Neverland.
Through several controversies, fans gave Jackson unwaivering support. When organizers announced a series of 10 London concerts for July of 2009, tickets sold at the rate of 11 per second and the series was expanded to 50 shows. At age 50, Jackson threw himself into a grueling schedule of rehearsals for the event.
On June 25, 2009, fans learned Jackson had collapsed at his home. Although attempts to revive him failed, the King of Pop will live forever through his contributions to music and the less fortunate.
Rise to Fame
The seventh child born into a large family, Jackson joined his older brothers’ band as a background musician at the age of five. Three years later, Michael took over the lead vocals for the Jackson 5. Rolling Stone magazine called him a prodigy with “overwhelming musical gifts.” The Jackson 5 made music history when four singles peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save, and I’ll Be There were the first of a string of hit songs.
Jackson launched a solo career in 1971 and achieved even greater fame. Inspired by legendary performers James Brown and Little Richard, he wrote and recorded songs with megastars like Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and Paul McCartney. Shaped by their influence, Jackson developed his unique music style and catapulted to the top of the music charts.
Released in 1979, Jackson’s Off the Wall album was the first in history to land four U.S. Top 10 hits. Sales topped 20 million worldwide. Thriller followed in 1982. Electrifying songs including Billie Jean, Beat It, and Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ propelled the album to the top of the charts, where it spent 80 consecutive weeks in the top ten (with 37 in the number one position).
As a solo artist, Jackson released a total of ten albums, including Dangerous and Invisible, and sold more than 170,000,000 albums worldwide.
Michael Jackson made history again on March 25, 1983. During the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever television special, Jackson spun around quickly while performing Thriller, froze for a moment, and executed a movement that made it appear he was being pulled backwards while trying to walk forward.
While the “moonwalk” dance had been performed for decades, Jackson’s dramatic performance electrified the audience and made the move his signature dance. Describing the massive album sales following the televised dance routine, TIME magazine called Jackson, “A one-man rescue team for the music business... who sets the beat for a decade.”
The King of Pop also revolutionized the dance world with his robot move from Thriller and the anti-gravity lean from Smooth Criminal. Together with fedoras, sequined gloves, and black shoes with white socks, the dance moves guaranteed audiences a performance like nothing they’d ever seen. And they responded – Jackson broke a Guinness World Record when over half a million people packed seven sold-out concerts.
Dream for a Brighter Tomorrow
Throughout his adult career, Jackson donated millions of dollars to 39 charities and established his own “Heal the World Foundation” to help children threatened by war or disease worldwide. After his hair caught fire while filming a segment for a Pepsi commercial, Jackson donated his $1.5 million settlement to a hospital that now has a burn center named in his honor.
Jackson gave $5 million from his Victory Tour concerts to charity and co-wrote We Are the World, which raised millions more for famine relief. The United Negro College Fund received $500,000 from Jackson, who also donated all the profits from the Man in the Mirror single to charity.
Decades after its release, Thriller remains the best-selling album of all time with four others close behind. Twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jackson has been honored by two U.S. Presidents, won 13 Guinness World Records, 19 Grammy Awards, 12 World Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards. Jackson was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002, and became the first celebrity to have two stars in the same category on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Like the King of Rock and Roll before him, Michael Jackson will forever be remembered as the King of Pop.