It’s been an interesting week in show biz: Amanda Bynes, an entertainer since age 7, tweets that she’s “retired” from acting at 24. Miley Cyrus, all of 17, finds it necessary to declare that she’s “not trying to be slutty.” “American Idol” lowers its minimum contestant age to 15, a product of what some are calling the “Justin Bieber Effect.”
But you could just as easily chalk up all of the above to the Michael Jackson Effect.
A year after the so-called King of Pop’s sudden death at age 50, the most haunting thought is not that he never had the chance to grow old, but that he never had the opportunity to be young. The saddest part, never legally proven, is the possibility he may have robbed others of youthful innocence.
The most-discussed celebrity death of the Internet-era has spurred a flurry of stories as the anniversary of his June 25, 2009 demise approaches. Some accounts, like the man himself, are seemingly contradictory: Jackson’s estate reportedly reaped $1 billion in the last year. Yet The Wall Street Journal puts the figure at $200 million – and notes a $300 million loan is due at the year's end.
Meanwhile, some 273 unreleased Jackson 5 recordings reportedly have been discovered – conveniently in time for the anniversary. But more legal wrangling appears in the offing, making it the unclear if or when the songs will ever be heard.
It was Jackson’s voice on early recordings with his brothers that gave us our first taste of one of the most incredible musical forces ever produced by this country.
As stunning as Jackson’s boyhood work was, no one could have predicted the superstardom that was to come into his nominal adulthood, with “Thriller” raising him to a pinnacle none have since reached. What we learned later was the personal price Jackson paid – and may have extracted from others.
Jackson was a consummate performer, confident in his ability, yet seemingly uncomfortable in his own skin. He was deprived of an ordinary childhood and spent his adult years trying to make up for lost time, turning his estate into a playground – spurring stories about behavior that was, at best, eccentric, and at worst, too lurid to contemplate.
Calling the Michael Jackson Story a cautionary tale doesn’t begin to do justice to a life lived in a spotlight as consistently intense as anyone has ever experienced from youth to death. The interest in all things Michael has only grown in the last year.
Perhaps the most disturbing revelation of this week of Jackson stories came with the news his three children, ages 13, 12 and 8, have never been to school, and are instead taught at home.
"They don't have any friends," their guardian, Jackson’s mother, Katherine, reportedly said.
But there’s some optimism for normalcy: Katherine Jackson said the kids are set to go to a private school, come September.
We can only hope his children and the likes of Bynes, Cyrus, Bieber and all those teens striving for elusive fame on “American Idol” can keep their heads on straight in an off-the-wall entertainment world that one year ago lost one of its most talented and tormented figures – a man-child who never had a chance to grow young.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.