The Tragedy of Michael Jackson

Like so many today, I was shocked and saddened at the sudden death of pop icon and superstar Michael Jackson. As a Gen-Xer I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know his name or hear his music. Michael’s death reminded me that the first album I ever owned was a tape of Thriller. My mother bought it for me along with my very own walkman. (Do you remember those?) With my headphones on, I listened to that tape over and over again, non-stop. And when I wasn’t listening to the tape, I had the radio on, cruising from station to station to hear “Thriller”, “Beat It”, and “Billy Jean”. I don’t recall any other performer who held his kind of superstar power. He and his music riveted my imagination. When Michael Jackson came to town on his Thriller tour, the Washington Post had a full-page autographed insert picture of him which hung on my bedroom wall for several years.

Michael’s good friend Elizabeth Taylor rightly dubbed him “The King of Pop,” and that he was. His music and artistry captured the adoration and respect of a whole generation of young people. And I was one of them.
But then, right at the crest of his powerful career, the magic of Michael Jackson began to ebb away. His inwardly-focused, unusually exotic, outlandish lifestyle seemed to take a strange twist. We heard tales of amusement parks, zoos and other lavish attractions at his Neverland mansion. Then we began to see odd changes to his face– Michael’s infamous plastic surgeries. Speculations about his health and behavior covered the tabloids. We saw images of Michael dangling one of his children outside a window balcony. The stories of lawsuits over child molestation, breaches of contact, and his marriages flashed across the headlines. And it went on and on and on…

Only God knows the inner workings of Michael Jackson’s soul and the things in his mind that led him to the decisions he made over the course of his life. I’m sure the speculations about the kind of man he was will dominate entertainment shows and documentary specials for years to come. Frankly, I think it’s all pretty pointless. He was who he was.

The real tragedy of Michael Jackson, however, is not any of this, but rather the neglected opportunity he had to rally his massive influence to benefit the world who made him famous. When I was a preteen fan of Michael Jackson, anything he might have said or done would have motivated me to be a better person. Even his reclusive, quiet voice could have commanded so much in the lives of people who adored every aspect of his being. And yet, for whatever reason, he turned most of what he had onto himself. And that’s the true tragedy of Michael Jackson: he failed to use the influence he had to make more positive, lasting impacts on the world.
michael_jackson07Yet Michael Jackson doesn’t stand alone in this failure. I think of others like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, and others who died far too soon without living up to their full potential in using their gifts to accomplish untold amounts of  good. It makes their deaths all the more painful.

Looking at Michael Jackson’s death, I’m also deeply challenged to examine my own life. If I were to suddenly die today or tomorrow, could I honestly say that I used every gift of influence and ability God has given me to accomplish the most good? It’s easy to pounce on a fallen giant, but do I stop to look at my own life with the same kind scrutiny? My former hero’s death has me thinking again. I hope he has even gotten you to think of your own legacy, too. Perhaps then, the ongoing influence of Michael Jackson, even in his death, could spur on some lasting good.


Filed under Cultural Quakes, Music

5 Responses to The Tragedy of Michael Jackson

  1. stan

    great point and something I had not thought of. i wonder if his idiosyncrasies were born out of a life consumed with self? down under it all, there were deep wounds from his childhood that bound him to self. you’re right – his influence for good could have been enormous. Just look at Bono in contrast.

    • stan

      every person on this planet has value because they are created in the image of God. any life lost, not lived to its potential is tragic.

    • pastorchrisowens

      Yes, I was thinking of someone like Bono, too– a superstar icon who uses his wealth and influence to influence world policy in an intelligent way towards Africa. But your comment got me thinking about something else: aren’t we all wounded in a way that naturally moves us to be consumed with self? Michael Jackson’s was just a very dramatic, public example of it.

  2. Joanna

    I have found it difficult to morn his death because of the bizarre nature of his behavior during the last 15 or so years. Not that I wished him ill, it is just hard to feel sympathy when the media turns it into a “grief circus” with flyover video of crowds massing outside of the hospital. I know that there are people close to him who are sincerely devastated at this tragedy. I do, however, appreciate your perspective on the situation and your call to us a Christians to learn from this. It is a sobering reminder for us to use every moment of our lives living out God’s purpose for us the best that we can. Amen to your post.
    And PS: I actually had the album Thriller and remember staring at his picture on it all the time while listening to it on my record player 🙂

  3. My Dear Son, Chris -Your reflections on MJ are deep, well thought out, and as usual, eloquently written. I can’t help but wonder, though, if your thoughts on what he COULD have accomplished had he made different decisions might have been inspired on some level by the ghost of MY words spoken long ago when his behavior, shall I say, “changed.” In those days, I often said that I was very angry, frustrated and dissapointed in him because he held an INTIRE global generation in his hands, that he could effortlessly molded into an omnipotent force for good. As you said, those millions of kids hung on his every word and would have done whatever he asked, but he was silent. I just wanted to shake him or slap him or SOMETHING until he woke up and used his power to redirect the world. But now I think that he may have been all too aware of this potential, and was terrified because he felt it was simply too much for him to handle. Anyway, whether or not I can silently claim credit for some of your observations, I am glad we are of like mind on this. It happens so rarely! 🙂 No, I suspect it just happens more often than you feel comfortable admitting…
    Love, Mama

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