Michael Joseph Jackson

Jackson, Michael Joseph, 1958–2009, American performer, b. Gary, Ind. Jackson was an extremely successful pop singer, superb dancer, and talented composer who often conveyed an androgynous image and ambiguous sexuality. Offstage, he became known for various alleged eccentricities, for his sharp business acumen, and for a physical appearance that changed radically over the years—his body becoming rail-thin, his skin progressively whitening, and, as a result of multiple plastic surgeries, his facial features undergoing marked changes.

As a child in the 1960s and 70s he was the dominant voice and youngest member of the Jackson Five, a pop group that included five brothers and scored its first big hit in 1969. A decade later, with his solo albums Off the Wall (1979), and the even more successful Thriller (1982), which sold over 30 million copies, Michael Jackson became one of the world's leading musical stars. He created a unique style that mingled rhythm and blues with pop and became widely known as the "King of Pop." Jackson also did much to usher in the era of pop celebrity, becoming famous for his packed concerts, his glittering military-style outfits, his sequined white glove, and his "moonwalk" dance steps. His recording success continued with the albums Bad (1987) and Dangerous (1991), both of which sold over 20 million copies.

In 1993 Jackson was charged in a civil suit with sexual abuse of a minor, a charge he denied. The suit was settled out of court in 1994, and no criminal charges were filed. Jackson's much-publicized double album HIStory (1995) was criticized as petty, maudlin, and paranoid and garnered comparatively disappointing sales. Reaction to his next album, Invincible (2001), was mixed. Jackson was indicted in another sexual abuse case in 2004. The trial, in 2005, was marked by sensational testimony and spellbound media coverage, and ended in Jackson's acquittal on all charges. Subsequently, he largely disappeared from public view, but was in rehearsal for a comeback tour when he died.

See biographies by J. R. Taraborrelli (1991) and R. Sullivan (2012); study by M. Jefferson (2006).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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