Where were you when you heard the news, when you realized that the world had lost its greatest entertainer? I was in my living room, watching TV, shaking my head and wondering what life would be like without George Carlin.
That was a year ago. I just couldn’t believe the brilliant comedian was gone.
I had the same feeling when I heard that Michael Jackson had died, a feeling that the world had lost a talent it would never see again, at least not for another millennium, when someone develops a time machine.
Jackson was to my generation what Neil Armstrong was to the previous one. Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, but until Jackson came along, many of us had never seen the moonwalk.
He was no astronaut, of course, but nobody could rocket up the music charts like him. During his peak, he had more No. 1 singles than anyone else, more hits than the entire lineup of the Chicago Cubs.
He became known as the “King of Pop,” easily outshining all contenders for the title, even that Indian man who had set a world record for bursting balloons.
He gave us an album called “Thriller” –- and what a thrill it was, the best investment a music fan could make, aside from taking Madonna on a date.
His mega-hit “Beat it” soared to No. 1 on several charts around the world, so popular that Ayatollah Khomeini, concerned about the influence of American popular culture, instructed the youths of Iran to stop “beating it.”
He had seven hits on the Billboard Top Ten in one week, a truly astonishing feat, as amazing as when Kanye West managed to read seven pages of a book in one week.
His unrivaled dancing and stellar singing combined to give concert-goers a super-charged performance like no other. Even the Amish people were impressed. They had never seen anything so electric.
That he was a brilliant performer, a true musical genius, no one can deny. He set the bar so high, it’s far beyond the reach of today’s generation of bar-hoppers.
But Jackson also had “issues,” lots of them. The tabloids dubbed him “Wacko Jacko” and wrote headlines about anything strange he did, whether he lay in an oxygen chamber, dangled his baby over a balcony, or spread mustard over his hot dogs.
Plastic surgery turned him into a caricature of the handsome man on the cover of “Thriller.” It was a crime that unfolded before our eyes, but the police never filed charges against his plastic surgeon. No one else in American history has gotten away so easily with defacing a national treasure.
Jackson loved to play with children, entertaining them on Neverland Ranch. On two occasions, he was accused of sexual abuse, charges that didn’t land him in prison, but tainted his legacy and caused parents to warn their children that Jackson’s home was most definitely “never land.”
After an acquittal on the second charge, he took refuge in Bahrain, but was planning to return to the limelight with a concert series in London. The concerts sold out within a few hours, a testament to his enduring popularity. Despite all his problems, it was hard not to love him, like that tattered doll my daughter just won’t throw out.
So how should we remember him? As the greatest performer of our era, a man whose musical career approached perfection, whose life never quite did.