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An honest look at Michael Jackson: Good, bad and ugly

Gary Carter | 6/20/2013, 12:43 p.m.

Originally published on Jul. 9, 2009.

"Let me fill your heart with joy and laughter, togetherness, well, it's all I'm after..."--Michael Jackson, "I'll Be There," Motown Records (1970)

How should we honestly remember Michael Jackson, a classic study in good, bad and ugly? As a true superstar entertainer whose lilting voice, stylish presence and unchallenged charisma enchanted millions, or as an identity-confused man-child uncomfortable with his race and color who tried hard to appeal to white people?

While we joyfully support the first assessment, Michael clearly lived the latter. This included marrying Lisa Marie Presley--the dippy daughter of Elvis--and Debbie Rowe, who had two white children for him from the sperm of his celebrity dermatologist, Dr. Arnold Klein. His third white child was borne by an unidentified surrogate mother.

Indeed, Michael, a.k.a. "the Gloved One," went from a precocious young Black singer who parlayed his experience with the famous Jackson Five, to superstardom as a spectacular single act--looking freaky with bleached white skin and seeking white friendships. And many who marveled at his innovative greatness wondered what was up.

Thus, in the wake of Michael's tragic passing last month at 50--some $500 million in debt--many dedicated fans of all races remember him only as a dazzling performer, while others recall images of a weird-behaving kook and serial pedophile who got away with unspeakable private misdeeds.

The Jackson family hailed from Gary, Indiana, hard by Chicago--a haven of original Black R&B in the 1950s and '60s. Gary also produced four-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist Deniece Williams, as well as the Spaniels of "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight" fame.

And in the beginning, everyone was impressed by Michael--a cute Black kid whose stunning voice and style set him aside from his singing siblings, such as on 1972's classic "Never Can Say Goodbye." To wit:

"Every time I think I've had enough, I start heading for the door. There's a very strange vibration that pierces me right to the core. It says turn around you fool, you know you love her more and more."

Yes, there's no doubt the "King of Pop" had it going on from the jump. Who among us didn't love his sometimes bouncy but always melodic lead voice on the likes of the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back," "ABC," "Never Can Say Goodbye," "Sugar Daddy," "I Wanna Be Where You Are," "I'll Be There," "Got to Be There," "Rockin' Robin," "Mama's Pearl," "Who's Loving You," "Ben" and "People Make the World Go 'Round"?

As he matured, Michael thrilled millions with his signature hits such as 1979's "Rock With You" and 1982's "Billie Jean" and "Beat It." There were groundbreaking videos and blockbuster albums, including "Off the Wall" (1979), "Thriller" (1982) "Bad" (1987)," "Dangerous" (1991) and "Invincible" (2001). And, of course, the "moonwalk" he introduced in a Motown TV special in 1983--viewed by 47 million people.

Adorned in his single white glove and drum major costume, Michael headlined many successful concerts such as 1997's "HIStory" tour. In 1978, he scored in "The Wiz"--a Black musical movie remake of "The Wizard of Oz"--as the scarecrow, opposite Diana Ross. Prior to his death, he was preparing for a 50-date "This Is It" tour in London.