An Excerpt & The Afterword From ‘Seven American Deaths And Disasters’

Seven American Deaths and Disasters was published by powerHouse Books in 2013. Below is the section of the book on Michael Jackson. The book’s Afterword and, in part, Technical Notes are here.

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Michael Jackson

I.

Wow, it’s weird cause, uh, I’m hearing this music and I’m seeing online this video of the three Charlie’s Angels running out of a door, you know. Uh oh. Jeff McKinney’s running into the room.

Well, much talk today about Farrah Fawcett certainly, but now there is news that Michael Jackson has been rushed to a hospital, um, I think it’s in Los Angeles, I’m not sure. The CBS newsroom just came on saying that there is a special report coming up for Michael Jackson’s physical condition, which apparently is, uh, dire at this moment.

It’s so interesting. Before we came on the air today—I hope this is not the case—but Jimmy and I were talking about how things happen in threes. We just lost Ed McMahon, today we lose Farrah Fawcett, now we’re hearing Jeff McKinney walking in telling us…

I’m saying he’s ill. I’m saying he’s ill. I don’t know how dire he is but the indication is that he is quite ill. They’re gonna run a special report. They don’t do that lightly, the folks back in New York. So we’re gonna do this in about ten seconds here. We’re gonna get the latest on Michael Jackson.

Boy, there’s a lot, a lot of curiosity here.

Alright so let’s take it away. It’s four fifteen.

This is a CBS News special report. I’m Dan Raviv. We
 are receiving word from Los Angeles that the pop superstar Michael Jackson has been rushed to a hospital. The Los Angeles Times website says it got some confirmation from the L.A. Fire Department that Michael Jackson was not breathing when paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital. Let’s go to the CBS newsroom in Los Angeles. Correspondent Steve Futterman, what are you learning?

Dan, we’re just hearing these reports, still nothing confirmed. Reportedly Michael Jackson has been taken to the UCLA Medical Center, which is not far from his home, but nothing official yet from the UCLA Medical Center. According to the L.A. Times, Captain Steve Ruda, who’s with the L.A. Fire Department says 
that paramedics responded to a call at Jackson’s home around twelve twenty-six local time—that’s just under two hours ago. According to the Times, he was not breathing when they arrived. The paramedics, according to the newspaper, performed CPR and took him to the UCLA Medical Center. The website TMZ says that Jackson was in cardiac arrest and that paramedics administered CPR in the ambulance. According to TMZ, Michael Jackson’s mother is on the way or may be there already at the UCLA hospital to visit him. But again, we want to emphasize that there has been no official confirmation. Two reports, one from the L.A. Times, one from the website TMZ, both of them saying that Michael Jackson has been taken to a hospital.

Jackson, by the way, is age fifty. This comes on the same day that the actress and star Farrah Fawcett died of cancer in Los Angeles at age sixty-two. CBS News special report. I’m Dan Raviv.

Okay. So as far as we know, Michael Jackson is still alive but there are two reports saying that he was in cardiac arrest when, uh, EMTs got to him and they were administering CPR as they rushed Michael Jackson to the hospital. Shocking to hear that Michael Jackson is fifty years old.

I was just thinking of that. We were talking earlier about how, you know, it seems like yesterday we were watching Farrah Fawcett in her youth and beauty—and sixty-two years old to me is still young—you don’t think of Farrah Fawcett being sixty-two years old. You don’t think of Michael Jackson as being fifty. It’s…it’s just strange.

There’s some real parallels between these two people— Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson—in that they both had overwhelming, huge effects of popularly in their heyday.

Um hum. Um hum.

I mean, Michael Jackson did have the same sort of…different effect, but he had the same sort of all-encompassing effect on…on the world as Farrah Fawcett did, you know?

When he…when he was at his height…

…1983, 1984…

…his peak, it was like nothing you’d ever seen. I mean, it was…

But you could say the same for Farrah Fawcett, though.

Yeah, you could. I…I think it’s…yeah, you’re right. You could. You absolutely could say the same thing for her. And then she went and married, uh, Steve Majors? Steve Majors? Remember she became Farrah Fawcett.

Six Million Dollar…Lee Majors.

Yeah. Lee Majors. Why did I think it was Steve Majors? Next thing you know I’ll say Paul Majors, but no it was Lee Majors.

Farrah Fawcett herself as well, I mean, there is, you know, in…in her heyday…

For a brief period of time…

Excuse me?

For a brief period of time she had at least, domestically…she was about as famous as you can get within the confines of the United States of America.

Absolutely. Charlie’s Angels was the biggest hit on television. That poster, the famous poster of her…

The poster, yeah.

…was the biggest seller. I mean, she did…she did a spread for Playboy in the 90s and that was the biggest selling issue of the decade. I mean, she was a big star as well.

Do you know what kinds of health problems Michael Jackson had?

I didn’t know he had any.

He has had occasional fainting attacks and things like that. We’ve always heard that. I mean, he’s certainly never looked robust, Michael Jackson, to say the least.

No.

But I think this is the first indication we…we’ve ever had that Michael Jackson has any sort of serious health issues and this appears to be a very serious health issue.

Two updates that have come to TMZ here in the last few minutes. A Jackson family member tells TMZ that Michael is in, quote, really bad shape and that the brothers are now headed to UCLA.

Well, that sounds very unofficial, of course.

Yes. And then there’s another update from TMZ saying that they’ve just got off the phone with Joe Jackson—that’s the father, Michael’s dad—who says he is, quote, not doing well.

OK.

So?

So, Farrah Fawcett has died, the great superstar of the seventies. And now, the great superstar of the eighties—equaling her superstardom—there are reports, that he has been in cardiac arrest this afternoon and has been rushed to the hospital in 
Los Angeles. So, stay tuned, I guess. We’ll continue to get news throughout the day on that.

There are probably at least a thousand people outside the hospital right now where he is in Los Angeles. Evidently, they’re gathering and they’re in a perfect rectangle, I guess holding a…some sort of séance?

Not a séance. A, uh, vigil.

Well, a séance would make more sense for him. He’s got plenty of eccentricities, but the music…

Well, he doesn’t have anywhere close to the talent Elvis had.

We’re not talking about talent. We’re talking about influence.

I’m just saying that Elvis’s influence overshadows his by 100 times.

I…I don’t know about that.

I do.

Well, OK, I’m saying between 1980 and 1990, I mean, doesn’t he have like five of the all time top ten records sold?

Jeff. Jeff. There are still people who want to sound like Elvis! There’s nobody who wants to sound like Michael Jackson. Not the impersonators. I’m talking about real bands, I mean, you know, not Elvis impersonators.

Elvis will be impersonated for another hundred years.

It’s got nothing to do with impersonation. You’ve got real rock bands out there who still love Elvis and are trying to do music
 like Elvis. Without Elvis, is there rock ‘n’ roll? You know? What is Michael Jackson responsible for? What did he come up with that’s so special?

He created a video channel, essentially. If not for Michael Jackson videos, MTV wouldn’t be on and what it is today.

So we can blame him for that.

On the other hand, the Jackson Five…

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome up on stage, the Jackson Four!

It doesn’t have the same ring.

No, it doesn’t.

Well, this is gonna be a bizarre day if this story continues to develop. I mean, if he stabilizes, we can all sort of breathe a sigh of relief and say…

…speaking of which, did you hear that the World Climatological Society has issued a, uh, wind alert this afternoon?

No.

Yeah, all of the children across the world let out a collective sigh of relief.

I’ve got more! I’ve got more!

That’s enough.
What a week! Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett…

…and Michael Jackson.

Uh, guys. He’s still with us. He’s, uh…

…as far as we know.

II.

This is a CBS news special report. I’m Dan Raviv. About an hour after first word that pop music star Michael Jackson suffered a heart attack in Los Angeles, it’s now reported and, reliably reported, that he has died. The Los Angeles Times website says Michael Jackson, age fifty, has died. He was in a coma when taken from an expensive rental home in Los Angeles. The website TMZ.com has also been reporting that Jackson died. We go live to Los Angeles. CBS news correspondent Steve Futterman.

Well, Dan, if all this is correct, it’s just a shock here in Southern California and around the world. The L.A. Times, as you said, saying that, uh, Michael Jackson was pronounced dead—this 
is according to the L.A. Times—by doctors this afternoon after arriving at the hospital in a deep coma. The L.A. Times is quoting city and law enforcement sources. The L.A. Times, uh, a very reliable newspaper. Obviously the website TMZ, which also has been very reliable in the past, had earlier reported that Jackson had died. Now we had reports confirmed by Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Steve Ruda that Jackson was not breathing when paramedics arrived at his home. All this began around three hours ago, that’s when the 911 call was made, exactly three hours ago. Paramedics came to the home—that’s when Jackson reportedly was not breathing—and was taken to the UCLA Medical Center. Now, as we’ve heard, both the Los Angeles Times and TMZ are reporting that Michael Jackson, the pop star, the legendary pop star, known by millions of fans around the world, has died.

Steve Futterman reporting live from CBS News in Los Angeles. Michael Jackson was fifty years old. Here’s a look back at his career from CBS’s Dave Browde.

They called him the King of Pop. At least his fans did. But that nickname was his publicist’s invention, a kind of tabloid label for the prodigiously talented but, bizarrely behaving, superstar. They called him Wacko Jacko. Michael Jackson, the son of an Indiana steelworker who’d started an astonishing show business career 
at the age of five as the lead singer of the Jackson Five, the group featuring Michael and four of his brothers. The Jackson Five turned out fourteen albums of hits. Michael broke out with four solo discs. But he truly became a superstar and thrilled the world in 1982. Michael Jackson’s Thriller broke all records, selling some fifty million copies worldwide. Jackson broke more new ground
in the then-fledgling music video field with his fourteen-minute Thriller video, in which Jackson began displaying the remarkable dance skills that would again launch his career over the moon. But Jackson’s increasingly reclusive and bizarre behavior—along with his reported multiple plastic surgeries—made tabloid headlines surpassing his sales, as did an incident in which his hair caught fire during the 1984 filming of a soda commercial. Then there was Jackson’s purchase of the ranch he called Neverland, which he stocked with animals, amusement park rides, and a constant flow of children. Suddenly, swirling accusations exploded. In 1993, Jackson released a video denial that he’d molested a thirteen-year-old boy who visited Neverland.

These statements about me are totally false.

Jackson reportedly settled by paying the boy’s family millions.

Please welcome Mr. and Mrs. Michael Jackson.

Jackson’s marriage to Lisa Marie Presley almost immediately thereafter, was seen by many as a desperate ploy to rehabilitate his image—it broke up after only nineteen months. Jackson’s next album was a disappointment, despite a duet with superstar sister Janet. After another album—his first complete flop—Jackson married again to a nurse, Debbie Rowe. The couple had two children in as many years, followed quickly by divorce, fights with his record company, litigation over allegedly canceled appearances, and apparently, even more plastic surgery. Jackson explained his changing skin color as the result of a disease of vitiligo. Then, Jackson’s most incredible public incident: dangling his eleven-month-old son, Prince, over a balcony, followed quickly by Jackson’s arrest on charges of molesting a twelve-year-old cancer patient. Jackson’s denial this time on 60 Minutes.

Totally false. If I would hurt a child, I would slit my wrists. I would never hurt a child.

Jackson’s behavior while facing the criminal charges, redefined eccentricity. Jumping on his limo to delighted fans one day, showing up late in pajamas another. Ultimately, he was acquitted, but despite many loyal fans, his image was in tatters.

That’s CBS’s Dave Browde. If you’ve just tuned in, Michael Jackson, at age fifty, has died. He suffered a heart attack—an apparent heart attack—in Los Angeles. Michael Jackson died, yes, on the same day that Farrah Fawcett died of cancer in Los Angeles at age sixty-two. We turn to Anthony DeCurtis who has written about music for so many years for Rolling Stone magazine. Uh, Anthony, uh, indeed it’s the music we should focus on because that…that’s what will last.

Well, absolutely. I mean it’s, you know, with all the scandals and all the problems and all the weirdness that Michael represented, you know, it’s easy to lose sight of the music and the music is extraordinary. I mean, this is somebody who is as important a figure as popular music has produced.
And, just the way he went at age…at age fifty, I guess we realize there was something wrong with his health, with his behavior, or with the advice he got from others.

Well, it’s, you know, I mean, Michael’s life…it’s been a struggle, I think, in recent years, you know, I mean, he’s been attempting these comebacks, they never really gain any traction and I mean, obviously, you know, if he’s getting set to do the shows in London, you know, a run of fifty shows, you know, clearly that’s not going to happen. You know, we don’t really yet have enough information on, you know, what exactly, you know, created the situation but, you know…you know, there’s been a kind of tragic aspect to what, you know, Michael Jackson’s life has been, you know, without any question.

Anthony DeCurtis has written about music for so long for Rolling Stone magazine.

Let’s turn to the media critic and historian Robert Thompson of Syracuse University. Michael Jackson may have had, well, a tattered image at times, but when it comes to the music and the dancing he gave pleasure to tens of millions of people. Robert?

Not only pleasure, but I would put him right up there with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and P.T. Barnum. I mean, this guy was far and away one of the greatest American entertainers that has ever lived in this country since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. I mean, he was not called the King
of Pop for nothing. He was a superstar. I’ll never forget when I watched the moonwalk on that Motown twenty-fifth anniversary show in 1982 and it literally made my jaw drop. Nobody had moved like that before. And what he did for MTV and the art of music videos, what he did for all kinds of performance styles in the eighties. He was really a superstar.

Well, Robert, what about the image part of it? You know, if there’s a pr…problem with his personal behavior, does it take away from the way we’ll remember Jackson the musician?

Well, I think for, uh, at least fifty years, yes. As long as anybody’s around that remembers the trials and dangling the kid off of the balcony and all of this kind of stuff, we’ll never be able to separate those. However, one hundred years from now—and I’m convinced we’ll still be listening to the Thriller album one hundred years from now—when nobody is making all of those connections, I think his musical legacy will probably last a lot longer then 
the legacy of his multiple peculiarities. But we shouldn’t ignore them. I think this was really one of the great American stories of what celebrity can do to a human being. I think this guy became so famous, I think he became such a huge celebrity, that he was isolated from the real world as most people know it. He was living on Planet Michael and he called it Neverland, of all things. And I think that if anyone else behaved like that, someone would tell you to knock it off and you’d have to get your act together, whereas Michael Jackson was almost free to live in a world where he made up and lived by his own rules. It’s a really almost Greek-tragedy-like story.

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