Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) was an American singer, songwriter, and dancer. Dubbed the “King of Pop”, he is regarded as one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest entertainers in the history of music. Jackson’s contributions to music, dance, and fashion, along with his publicized personal life, made him a global figure in popular culture for over four decades.
Michael, the eighth child of the Jackson family, Jackson made his professional debut in 1964 with his elder brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Marlon as a member of the Jackson 5. Jackson began his solo career in 1971 while at Motown Records and rose to solo stardom with his fifth studio album Off the Wall (1979) during the peak of disco. By the early 1980s, Jackson became a dominant figure in popular music. His music videos, including those for “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, and “Thriller” from his sixth studio album Thriller (1982), are credited with breaking racial barriers and transforming the medium into an art form and promotional tool. Their popularity helped propel Jackson and the television channel MTV into prominent highlights of the 1980s pop culture. At the 26th Grammy Awards, Thriller won a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. Jackson continued to innovate with videos including “Leave Me Alone” and “Smooth Criminal” from Bad (1987), “Black or White” and “Remember the Time” from Dangerous (1991), “Scream” from HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I (1995) and “Ghosts” from the remix album Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix (1997). With songs such as “Man in the Mirror”, “Black or White”, “Heal the World”, “Earth Song” and “They Don’t Care About Us”, Jackson’s music emphasized racial integration, environmentalism and fighting against prejudice and injustice. Through stage and video performances, he popularized complicated dance techniques such as the moonwalk, to which he gave the name. His sound and style have influenced artists of various genres.
Starting in the late 1980s, Jackson became a figure of controversy and speculation due to his changing appearance, relationships, behavior, and lifestyle. In 1993, he was accused of sexually abusing the child of a family friend. The lawsuit was settled out of court, and Jackson was not indicted. In 2005, he was tried and acquitted of further child sexual abuse allegations and several other charges. In 2009, while preparing for a series of comeback concerts, This Is It, Jackson died from an overdose of sedatives administered by his personal physician, Conrad Murray. Fans around the world expressed their grief, and Jackson’s public memorial service was broadcast live. In August 2009, the Los Angeles County Coroner ruled that Jackson’s death was a homicide, and Murray was charged with involuntary manslaughter in February 2010. Nine years later, the documentary Leaving Neverland, which detailed posthumous allegations of child sexual abuse, led to a media backlash against Jackson.
Jackson is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with estimated sales of over 350 million records worldwide. His albums Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), and HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I (1995), rank among the best-selling of all time. Thriller is the best-selling album of all time, with estimated sales of 66 million copies worldwide. Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix (1997) is the best-selling remix album of all time. Bad was the first album to produce five Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles. Jackson had 13 Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles, more than any other male artist in the Hot 100 era, and was also the first artist to have a top ten single in the Billboard Hot 100 in five different decades. He won more awards than any other artist in the history of popular music, has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice and is the only recording artist to have been inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame. His other achievements include 39 Guinness World Records, including the Most Successful Entertainer of All Time, 26 American Music Awards, 16 World Music Awards, 13 Grammy Awards, as well as the Grammy Legend and Lifetime Achievement awards, 11 MTV Video Music Awards, 6 Brit Awards, and a Golden Globe Award. In 2016, his estate earned $825 million, the highest yearly amount for a celebrity ever recorded by Forbes.
Jackson was influenced by musicians including James Brown, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, Diana Ross, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jr., Gene Kelly, and David Ruffin. Little Richard had a substantial influence on Jackson, but Brown was his greatest inspiration; he later said that as a small child, his mother would waken him whenever Brown appeared on television. Jackson described being “mesmerized”.
Jackson’s vocal technique was influenced by Diana Ross; his use of the oooh interjection from a young age was something Ross had used on many of her songs with the Supremes. She was a mother figure to him, and he often watched her rehearse. He said he had learned a lot from watching how she moved and sang, and that she had encouraged him to have confidence in himself.
Choreographer David Winters, who met Jackson while choreographing the 1971 Diana Ross TV special Diana!, said that Jackson watched the musical West Side Story almost every week, and it was his favorite film; he paid tribute to it in “Beat It” and the “Bad” video.
Jackson had no formal music training and could not read or write music notation; he is credited for playing guitar, keyboard and drums, but was not proficient in them. When composing, he recorded ideas by beatboxing and imitating instruments vocally. Describing the process, he said: “I’ll just sing the bass part into the tape recorder. I’ll take that bass lick and put the chords of the melody over the bass lick and that’s what inspires the melody.” Engineer Robert Hoffman recalled Jackson dictating a guitar chord note by note and singing string arrangements part by part into a cassette recorder.
In 1989, Jackson’s annual earnings from album sales, endorsements, and concerts were estimated at $125 million. Forbes placed Jackson’s annual income at $35 million in 1996 and $20 million in 1997. Estimates of Jackson’s net worth during his life range from negative $285 million to positive $350 million for 2002, 2003 and 2007. Forbes reported in August 2018 that Jackson’s total career pretax earnings in life and death were $4.2 billion. Sales of his recordings through Sony’s music unit earned him an estimated $300 million in royalties. He may have earned another $400 million from concerts, music publishing (including his share of the Beatles catalog), endorsements, merchandising and music videos.
In 2013, the executors of Jackson’s estate filed a petition in the United States Tax Court as a result of a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over US federal estate taxes. The executors claim that it was worth about $7 million, the IRS that it was worth over $1.1 billion. In February 2014, the IRS reported that Jackson’s estate owed $702 million; $505 million in taxes, and $197 million in penalties. A trial was held from February 6 to 24, 2017, and a decision is expected in 2019.
In 2016, Forbes estimated annual gross earnings by the Jackson Estate at $825 million, the largest ever recorded for a celebrity, mostly due to the sale of the Sony/ATV catalog. In 2018 the figure was $400 million. It was the eighth year since his death that Jackson’s annual earnings were reported to be over $100 million, thus bringing Jackson’s postmortem total to $2.4 billion. In 2019, Forbes recognized Jackson as the top-earning dead celebrity each year since his death except 2012.