Processing Michael Jackson’s Legacy

Jun 25 · 6 min read

As we mark 10 years since Michael Jackson’s death, I’m struggling to come to terms with my feelings about the King of Pop.

I’ve never loved a celebrity more. And, I’ve never been more physically disgusted by a star.

Musically, he doesn’t have an equal. MJ is the most influential solo artist of the last century.

The beats he created with Quincy Jones are catchier and more interesting than anything out today.

Michael’s songs play in virtually every dance club in the world every night…still. Every wedding. Every Bar Mitzvah. Every event…40 years after they were made.

Travel to a different part of the world. They may not know how to speak English…but they know how to sing “Thriller.”

Almost every male pop star today is basically doing a Michael Jackson impression. Think about it. Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, Usher, Bruno Mars, Jason DeRulo, The Weeknd, They’re all emulating Michael’s moves, tone, and essence.

Personally, he’s the most important musical artist in *my* life.

The first cassette tape I ever bought was Michael’s music.

My first memory of a Super Bowl was not the football…but the halftime show. Kids my age surrounded Michael. As they sang about “Healing the World,” I wanted to exchange places with them.

One of my first memories from inside a movie theater was listening to Jackson’s voice as the killer whale jumped in “Free Willy.”

We sang “ABC” as a class in elementary school, pretending to be the Jackson 5.

In high school, my first ring tone on a cell phone was Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.”

As I got older, Jackson got…weirder.

But even during his trials, I rooted for him. I didn’t want to believe the allegations.

Like so many, I always thought that because his father robbed him of his childhood, he just wanted to be a kid. He was like an asexual five year old.

When he announced he was coming back for “This is It,” I wanted to attend the show.

By that point, he looked and acted freakish. And, he wasn’t the same performer we saw moonwalking on “Motown 25.” But, half of Michael Jackson was still better than almost everyone else.

Then, June 25, 2009 happened.

I was a few months into my first job as a reporter in San Diego. I remember seeing the headline on TMZ. “Michael Jackson Dies.”

I shrieked.

At the time, TMZ wasn’t widely respected by the mainstream media. I was hoping that somehow Harvey Levin got this one wrong.

But, of course, he didn’t. He almost never does. The Los Angeles Times soon confirmed it…and then every other news organization. I felt shaken to the core.

My station sent me to Los Angeles for the first ever “road trip” of my career.

For the next several days, the outpouring of grief and love was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. People in the streets crying…and dancing. One last time, MJ uniting people of different ages, races and creeds…who could all sing “Billie Jean.”

In the years that followed, I saw “This is It” in the theaters. It was amazing to see a true musical genius at work.

I also covered the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray…and learned far too many grisly details about his death and drug addiction.

But, I was able to compartmentalize all of that. His music remained a constant…part of the soundtrack of my life.

Then, “Leaving Neverland” came out.

And everything changed.

I resisted seeing it for several weeks. I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to believe.

But everyone I trusted in my life told me I had to see it. As a journalist, I needed to.

So, then one night…I turned off all the lights in my place, sat down by myself, and started the documentary.

Within minutes, one thing became pretty obvious to me: his accusers were telling the truth.

The specific accounts are gripping, heart wrenching and heart breaking.

Rarely do I ever cry, but I was bawling by the end of their stories. You could feel their pain through the screen.

I didn’t know how to deal with my new reality: Michael Jackson was a serial child molester.

That entire time I was idolizing him, he was abusing children my age.

He knew what he was doing was wrong. He had elaborate systems in place to hide it. He told the kids to lie. And, he did it anyway.

The most haunting images of the documentary for me was Michael holding the hands of his “boyfriends” as they walked in public. He was literally flaunting those relationships for us all to see.

I mean: what grown man holds the hand of random young boys that aren’t his son? And travels with them? And shares a bedroom with them?

But, none of us wanted to believe that the King of Pop could be a horrible person. So, we didn’t. We pretended it wasn’t happening. And all those kids paid the price for it.

His family, who had been profiting off him since childhood, didn’t want the gravy train to stop. So, they covered for him then…and cover for him now.

It was hurtful to realize this.

I felt betrayed by him.

I felt naive for not realizing.

And I felt angry to have to give up something and someone I love so much.

Ever since, I’ve found it hard to separate the music from the man.

Naturally, I want to dance when I hear some of the greatest beats in history. I am transported back to specific, happy moments in my life when those songs played.

But I also now visualize those poor, innocent boys who were manipulated by a monster. I think about how those song’s sales fueled his lifestyle…and their agony.

Right after seeing the film, I couldn’t listen to any of his songs.

To be honest, I’ve found it a little easier to listen in the months since. But, I also feel a little guilty for doing so.

As we remember 10 years since Jackson’s sudden departure, it’s important to remember both aspects of Michael’s legacy.

Not only the joy he brought so many of us…but the pain as well.

What do you think?

Elex Michaelson

Written by

“Good Day L.A.” co-host weekdays 7–9AM; “The Issue Is:” host Fridays 10:30PM

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