Farewell, Michael, but never can say goodbye

Published: Friday, June 26 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Jackson 5, clockwise from front right, Michael, Marlon, Tito, Jackie and Jermaine, are shown in Los Angeles in this undated photo.    (Associated Press) The Jackson 5, clockwise from front right, Michael, Marlon, Tito, Jackie and Jermaine, are shown in Los Angeles in this undated photo. (Associated Press)

One of my childhood heroes is dead.

Michael Jackson died Thursday. He was 50. Reports at first were confusing, but once I got an e-mail from the Recording Academy (the Grammy people), I knew Jackson was gone.

When I was 3, he made his national recording debut at age 11 with his brothers on the album "Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5."

That's the album that contains the mega-hit single "I Want You Back."

My aunt had that album. And every time I went to her house, I couldn't wait for her to put it on the stereo.

I used to have my mom make fake leather vests so I could dress like Michael. And I would not lip-sync but actually sang with the Jackson 5 song in living-room "concerts." I also had Jackson-like shoes.

When I was 5, my aunt, uncle, mom and I went to the Special Events Center (now the Huntsman Center) at the University of Utah to see the Jackson 5 in concert.

I even got a full, color photo of MJ and a group photo of the Jackson brothers, which also included his younger brother Randy.

I remember the concert like it was yesterday. And I remember all the brothers walking to the stage wearing white before jumping into the song "Zip a Dee Do Dah."

Michael was 13. I wanted to be him.

My favorite J5 album, by the way, is "Third Album," which featured the hits "I'll Be There" and "Mama's Pearl." However, my favorite song was "Goin' Back to Indiana." I knew all the words, even the nonmusical mumbles at the end of the song.

The other night, I attended the Smokey Robinson show at the Red Butte Garden and he sang Jackson 5 hit "Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage," which also appears on "Third Album." Smokey wrote it. To tell you the truth, I like J5's version better.

Even when he was in the Jackson 5, Michael wanted to become a solo artist. His early solo albums "Got to Be There," "Ben," "Music & Me" and "Forever, Michael" were in my album collection, and I have them on CD now.

But it was the 1979 album "Off the Wall," produced by Quincy Jones, that set Michael on the springboard to superstardom.

"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You" were all over the radio and nightclubs in 1980. The album sold 7 million copies and reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200.

Then came "Thriller" in '82.

Selling a whopping 26 million copies and standing strong at No. 1 for 37 weeks, The Moon Walker's place in the history of Rock 'n' Roll was solidified. "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," "Human Nature," "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," "Say Say Say" and "Thriller" were the singles that flew off the album and onto the charts.

And not only did that break records and set standards, the 10-minute video, or mini-movie, for the song "Thriller" pioneered the way for music videos.

The only album that has challenged "Thriller" for the bestselling album of all time is the Eagles' "Greatest Hits 1971-1975." And every few months they switch places. But now, for sure, "Thriller" will once again surge with sales because the King of Pop is gone.

His subsequent albums — "Bad," "Dangerous," "HIStory: Past, Present and Future Book 1" and "Invincible" — still were successful but not to the magnitude of "Thriller."

In fact, "Invincible," which was released in 2001, sold more than 200,000 copies in its first week of distribution and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

But with the fame came the tragedies and missteps.

Pyrotechnic malfunctions, accusations of child molestation, canceled tours, painkiller addiction and failed marriages — one to Lisa Marie Presley and the other to Debbie Rowe — were fodder for the tabloids.

Then MJ became reclusive and secretive.

That only fanned the flames for the media, who called him "Wacko Jacko."

The 2002 incident where he playfully dangled his baby off the balcony in front of the paparazzi didn't help his image, either.

In 2004 he was 15 minutes late to his child-molestation hearing in Los Angeles but instead of walking straight into the courtroom, he stopped to shake hands with his fans.

Then during the hearing, which took about 10 minutes, he actually left early to go to the restroom. When he emerged from the courthouse, he jumped on a vehicle and did an impromptu dance.

His lawyers said it was a "spontaneous display of affection." I called it a lack of respect for the courts.

At any rate, Jackson was acquitted of the child molestation charges in 2005. And he settled other cases out of court. But he was never able to shake the stigma of being an accused child molester.

Lately, things began to look up for MJ, who was preparing to embark on a world tour.

But the multi-Grammy Award-winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who delighted millions throughout the '80s is dead.

And I'm sure the media await the autopsy reports with bated breath.

A friend told me that Michael Jackson's death is what Elvis' death meant to our parents. Or John Lennon's.

I agree.

Goodbye, Michael, but as you sang all those years ago, you "Never Can Say Goodbye."

E-mail: scott@desnews.com

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