Before the cosmetic surgeries and child molestation allegations overshadowed his musical legacy, Michael Jackson was just a talented kid from an abusive home. But with reports now swirling about his alleged drug abuse, sadly, his troubles suddenly seem…common.
"Common" isn't a word that tends to be associated with, well, any part of Michael Jackson's life. His troubled childhood was plagued with emotional cruelty and violence at the hands of his father, and his meteoric rise to fame put a kind of spotlight on him that he was unequipped to deal with.
At a press conference yesterday, Michael's brother Jermaine explained that Michael's personal physician was with him the time of his death, and that the doctor attempted to resuscitate him. TMZ is reporting that the doctor was actually living at Jackson's home, and is now missing. There are also allegations that this doctor was administering Demerol, intravenously, to Jackson on a daily basis. In hindsight, this abuse of medication seems obvious, given some of his conduct.
Jackson was a pioneer—he was one of the first to become a target of the constant chasing and intrusion of the paparazzi, which, at the height of his professional success, wasn't something that automatically came with the territory of celebrity. There was no real precedent for invasion of privacy at this level, so he had to pave a way out of out-of-control media relations that stars like Britney Spears would later encounter.
In 1997, shortly after the birth of his first child, he sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters. He discussed, at length, the pain he felt from media scrutiny. Babs asked him why — if he had such a problem with tabloids and paparazzi — he would sell official pictures of his newborn to a magazine. Jackson explained that it was his way of getting photographers - and helicopters they rode in - off his back and over his house. (He donated the profits from the shoot to charity.) Today, this is a common practice among celebrities.
Due to the obvious and drastic changes in his physical appearance over the years — coupled with bizarre reports of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, pet monkey, and obsession with the Elephant Man — people thought Michael Jackson was a total weirdo. And in a sense, he was. But how could anyone expect that his experiences of an abusive childhood and exploited adulthood could ever breed stability?
People were attentive — yet not necessarily all that shocked — when, in 1993, he was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy. Dealing with the stress of the allegations led to Jackson's use of painkillers, Valium, Xanax, and Ativan. He became addicted, canceled his tour, checked into rehab, and settled the case out of court.
In 1995, Jackson and then-wife, Lisa Marie Presley, sat down for an interview with Diane Sawyer.
Looking back now, it was probably the most lucid we've seen him in the past 15 years, particularly when compared to his catastrophic interview sessions with Martin Bashir in 2002, for the special Living with Michael Jackson.
Soon after Bashir's special aired, Jackson was again accused of molesting another young boy. The trial, to put it mildly, was a circus, and his behavior went beyond the eccentricities that the public had grown accustomed to: He showed up late to court, even wore pajamas on one occasion, and danced on the roof of his car for fans outside the courthouse.
It should have been obvious to everyone that he was on drugs. But his public persona had become "the creepy freak," and an alternately adoring and disparaging public wanted to believe that he was insane, or delusional, or simply put, a "wacko." Perhaps he wasn't such a weirdo; maybe he was just really fucking high.
The irony, of course, is that the applause he received from his performances turned into jeers and heckles on the public stage. Even if his recent drug use is purely speculation at this point, it's undeniable that Jackson was always chasing the high of fame. His death, like much of his life, is tragic. And, unfortunately, for superstar celebrities, that's par for the course.