Dubbed the “King of Pop,” singer-songwriter Michael Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana, on August 29, 1958. As a child, he performed as the lead singer of the Jackson family’s popular Motown group, the Jackson 5. Jackson went on to become one of the most internationally famous award-winning solo pop sensations to date. Jackson’s 2009 death stirred controversy and was ultimately ruled a homicide. Dr. Conrad Murray, who had been caring for the pop star at the time of his death, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter on November 7, 2011, later receiving a four-year prison sentence.
Michael Joseph Jackson was born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana, to an African-American working-class family. His father, Joseph Jackson, had been a guitarist but had put aside his musical aspirations to provide for his family as a crane operator. Believing his sons had talent, he molded them into a musical group in the early 1960s. At first, the Jackson Family performers consisted of Michael’s older brothers, Tito, Jermaine and Jackie. Michael joined his siblings when he was 5 years old, and emerged as the group’s lead vocalist. He showed remarkable range and depth for such a young performer, impressing audiences with his ability to convey complex emotions. Older brother Marlon also became a member of the group, which evolved into the Jackson 5.
Behind the scenes, Joseph Jackson pushed his sons to succeed. He was also reportedly known to become violent with them. Michael and his brothers spent endless hours rehearsing and polishing up their act. At first, the
5 played local gigs and built a strong following. They recorded one single on their own, “Big Boy” with the b-side “You’ve Changed,” but it failed to generate much interest.
The Jackson 5 moved on to working an opening act for such R&B artists as Gladys Knight and the Pips, James Brown, and Sam and Dave. Many of these performers were signed to the legendary Motown record label, and it has been reported that Gladys Knight may have been the one to tell Motown founder Berry Gordy about the Jackson 5. Impressed by the group, Gordy signed them to his label in 1968.
Relocating to Los Angeles, Michael and his brothers started work on their music and dancing with their father as their manager. They lived with Gordy and also with Supremes singer Diana Ross when they first arrived there. In August 1969, the Jackson 5 was introduced to the music industry at a special event, and later served as the opening act for the Supremes. Their first album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, hit the charts in December of that year. It’s first single, “I Want You Back,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in January 1970. More chart-topping singles quickly followed, such as “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There.”
At the age of 13, Jackson launched a solo career in addition to his work with the Jackson 5. He made the charts in 1971 with “Got to Be There” from the album of the same name. His 1972 album, Ben, featured the eponymous ballad about a rat. The song became Jackson’s first solo No. 1 single.
For several years, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 maintained a busy tour and recording schedule, under the supervision of Berry Gordy and his Motown staff. Gordy wrote many of the songs recorded by the group and by Michael Jackson as a solo artist. The group became so popular that they even had their own self-titled cartoon show, which ran from 1971 to 1973.
Despite Jackson’s individual achievements and the group’s great success, there was trouble between the Jacksons and their record company. Tensions mounted between Gordy and Joseph Jackson over the management of his children’s careers, and their level of participation in making their music. The Jacksons wanted more control over their recordings, which led to most of the Jacksons breaking ties with Motown in 1975. Jermaine Jackson remained with the label and continued to pursue a solo career, having previously released several albums—none of which had matched the success of his younger brother Michael.
Now calling themselves the Jacksons, the group signed a new recording deal with Epic Records. With 1978’s Destiny, Michael Jackson and his brothers (which by now included younger brother Randy) emerged as talented songwriters, penning all of the record’s tracks. Working with producer Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson wowed the music world with his next solo album, 1979’s Off the Wall. It featured an infectious blend of pop and funk with such hit tracks as the Grammy Award-winning “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough,” “Rock with You,” and the title track. He also found success with the ballad “She’s Out of My Life.”
The overwhelmingly positive response to Michael’s latest solo album also helped buoy the Jacksons’ career as well. Triumph (1980) sold more than 1 million copies, and the brothers went on an extensive tour to support the recording. Jackson, however, began to branch out on his own more. Teaming up with rock legend Paul McCartney, Jackson sang on their 1982 duet, “The Girl Is Mine,” which nearly reached the top of the pop charts.
The song also appeared on his next solo album, Thriller (1982), which generated seven Top 10 hits and became the best-selling album in history. On a television special honoring Motown, Jackson performed “Billie Jean”—eventually a No. 1 hit—and debuted his soon-to-be-famous dance move called “The Moonwalk.” Jackson, a veteran performer by this time, created this step himself and choreographed the dance sequences for the video of his other No. 1 hit, “Beat It.”
Jackson’s most elaborate music video, however, was for the album’s title track. John Landis directed the horror-tinged video, which featured complex dance scenes, special effects and a voice-over by actor Vincent Price. The “Thriller” video was an immense success, boosting sales for the already successful album. The single stayed on the charts for 80 weeks, holding the No. 1 spot for 37 weeks. In addition to its unparalleled commercial achievements, “Thriller” garnered 12 Grammy Award nominations, winning eight.
Jackson’s Grammy victories showcased the diverse nature of his work. For his songwriting talents, he earned a Grammy Award (best rhythm and blues song) for “Billie Jean.” He also won Grammys for the singles “Thriller” (best pop vocal performance, male) and “Beat It” (best rock vocal performance, male). With co-producer Quincy Jones, Jackson shared a Grammy for album of the year.
Jackson also broke numerous records as an artist. He earned several Guinness World Records titles, including achieving the longest span of U.S. Top 40 singles—from November 6, 1971, to January 1, 2011. He won a total of 13 Grammy Awards—eight of them in one night in 1984—and was the first artist to have five singles reach No. 1 from the same album (1987’s Bad). He was also a double inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for both his work with the Jackson 5 and as a solo artist.
Sadly, Michael Jackson would never get to experience the anticipated success of his comeback tour. On June 25, 2009, Jackson suffered cardiac arrest in his Los Angeles home. He was rushed to the hospital after his heart stopped and CPR attempts failed, and died later that morning. He was 50 years old.
News of Jackson’s death resulted in an outpouring of public grief and sympathy. Memorials to Jackson were erected around the world, including one at the arena where he was set to perform and another at his childhood home in Gary, Indiana. On July 12, 2009, a televised memorial was held for fans of the “King of Pop” at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. While 17,500 free tickets were issued to fans via lottery, an estimated 1 billion viewers watched the memorial on TV or online.
The Jackson family held a private funeral on September 3, 2009, at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, for Michael Jackson’s immediate family members and 200 guests. Celebrity mourners included former child star Macaulay Culkin; Jackson’s ex-wife, Lisa Marie Presley; and actress Elizabeth Taylor.
As dictated in his will, Jackson’s children were placed in the care of their grandmother, Katherine Jackson. In respect to their father’s wishes, Paris, Michael Joseph Jr. and Prince Michael II have been kept largely out of the limelight, appearing publicly only a few times in the last year. They stepped up to the mic in 2009 to speak to fans at their father’s funeral, and again in January 2010 to accept a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award for their father at the Grammys. In June of that year, it was announced that the children would be heading to private school in the fall.
A film documenting Jackson’s preparations for his final performance, entitled This Is It, was released in October 2009. The film, featuring a compilation of interviews, rehearsals and backstage footage of Michael Jackson, made $23 million in its opening weekend and sky-rocketed to No. 1 at the box office. This Is It would go on to make more than $260 million worldwide.
On December 10, 2010, Michael, a posthumous album was released amidst controversy about whether Jackson actually performed some of the tracks and if he would have given the release his blessing. Jackson’s brother Randy was among those who questioned the recording’s authenticity, but the Jackson estate later refuted the claims, according to The New York Times.
Another posthumous album, Xscape, featuring new music from Jackson was released on May 13, 2014. R&B star and Jackson protege Usher debuted the first single “Love Never Felt So Good” at the iHeart Radio Awards. The song was written by Jackson and Paul Anka in 1983. The album’s track list includes eight songs Jackson recorded between 1983 and 1999. The album debuted as #2 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album chart.