Michael Jackson

(1958 – 2009)

From his debut as preteen hitmaker with the Jackson Five, to his ascendancy to global superstardom in the 1980s, to his eccentric, rumor-spawning lifestyle, to his bizarre death, every aspect of Michael Jackson's biography seems mythic and stranger than fiction. Beyond the odd and tragic circumstances of his life and death, though, Jackson was a musical force credited for his gifts as a performer and his brilliance as a singer, songwriter, and arranger. At his career peak in the 1980s, Jackson did much to change the face of popular music, breaking down many of the rigid barriers that stood between the Pop, R&B, and Rock genres in the music industry at the time.

Jackson was just 11 years old (not nine, as Motown Records' publicity materials claimed) in 1970, when he first captured the public's imagination as the pint-sized lead singer of the Jackson Five. The sibling group began its career with a bang, setting a record when its first four singles — "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There" — all reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart.

By the end of the 70s, Jackson had gone solo, setting the stage for his ascendancy to the "King of Pop" throne. He scored big with 1979’s Off the Wall album, a smash that yielded four Top Ten hits, including “Rock with You” and “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough,” and went multi-platinum. But it was 1982’s Thriller that made Jackson an icon. That collection would become the best-selling album of all time, spawning such hits as "Beat It," "Billie Jean," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and the title track, and achieving a genre-spanning crossover success that was unheard of at the time. Jackson's dominance of the pop scene, aided by massive MTV exposure, was unquestioned over the next several years, and he remained a commercial juggernaut and creative innovator with subsequent albums like Bad and Dangerous

By the mid-'90s, though, Jackson's musical productivity had slowed substantially, and his reputation had been tarnished by accusations of child sexual abuse, as well as substantial changes in his appearance and persistent stories of his eccentric behavior. He died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication on June 25, 2009.