Michael Jackson passed away unexpectedly last Thursday; he was 50. In the last week, there has been a great surge in radio airplay of his songs, as people paid tribute to the King of Pop. Many public figures in the entertainment industry have come out to express their shock and sorrow over his death — Madonna, Yoko Ono, his ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley, and many others. Some of them knew him personally and others didn’t.
Though there’s no doubt that he had millions of devoted fans, as we watch the news coverage surrounding Jackson’s death, we can’t help but wonder how many people genuinely care and how many are capitalizing on his popularity.
Perhaps President Obama said it best. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated that he and the president talked about Jackson. “He said to me that obviously Michael Jackson was a spectacular performer and a music icon, and I think everybody remembers hearing his songs and watching him moonwalk on television during Motown’s 25th anniversary,” Gibbs said. “But the president also said, look, he had aspects of his life that were sad and tragic.”
Not much more was said. Obama sent his condolences to the family, but didn’t release a public statement, which some people are upset about, seeing it as a snub. We don’t see it as a snub. We like that he gave credit to Jackson’s talent and also acknowledged the controversies. We like that his response was understated because, after all, he didn’t personally know Jackson. Profuse and emphatic words of consolation would have been disingenuous.
Jackson did have tragic elements in his life. Toward the end of it, he was very reclusive. Those who didn’t understand and couldn’t empathize wrote him off as ‘weird’ or worse. But maybe he had good reason to appear the way he did and act the way he did, maybe there were psychological issues — we do not know, and we should not judge. Perhaps his passing should serve to remind us to always keep an open mind and to reach out to the troubled people that we care about. We should give them the benefit of the doubt. Of course, the outcome of such efforts may not always be positive, but we should always try.
And lets not forget all the great things Jackson has done that we should strive for. He was a brave pioneer. In the face of opposition, criticisms, and flat-out racism, he was the first Black entertainer to successfully crossover into pop music and amassed a following of so many diverse fans. He was an incredible musician, singer, and entertainer. Perhaps most notable of all, he gave back.
A lot of people forget he was a philanthropist. In 2000, he held the Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Charities Supported by a Pop Star.” He reportedly gave away $300 million of his personal wealth over the course of his life. That is no small feat. ♦