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.

On the other hand, who can forget the images of Michael dangling his infant child off a balcony in Europe, and how he made his kids wear masks, veils, towels and hoods with him in public? When he died–reportedly due to an overdose of pain-killing drugs that led to cardiac arrest–he carried an emaciated 112 pounds on his anorexic-like frame and was virtually bald. Autopsy revealed his hips, thighs and shoulders riddled with needle marks and scars, and his stomach completely empty except for partially dissolved pills.

Along the way, Michael admitted to sleeping with little boys and paid $20 million to 13-year-old Jordan Chandler in 1993 to buy his silence regarding allegations of sexual molestation. The following year, he paid $2 million to another boy for the same purpose.

In 2005, he pleaded not guilty to a 10-count criminal indictment and, after a highly publicized 15-week trial, was acquitted by a jury in Santa Maria, Calif., for child sexual abuse of 12-year-old cancer patient Gavin Arvizo. Ironically, the married name of the boy’s mother was Janet Jackson.

The surreal trial featured 140 witnesses–50 for the defense. A lowlight was a 64-minute police video tape played in court, in which his accuser described Michael’s sexual abuse, which he said included masturbating him. Perhaps American jurisprudence should adopt the precepts of Scottish courts, where, when a defendant is acquitted at trial, it is called “not proven” instead of “not guilty.”

Finally, Michael longed to be Peter Pan and to that end, built his magical child-themed Neverland ranch. His well-documented personal peccadilloes and major missteps aside, his talent and showmanship made him an entertainment giant–a man whose musical gifts and performing persona were without peer.

Over the years, whenever I’d think of Michael, I’d hum some of his “Never Can Say Goodbye,” to wit: “Even though the pain and heartaches seem to follow me wherever I go. Though I’m trying hard to hide my feelings, they always seem to show.” Truly, we never thought we’d say goodbye to Michael, the “King of Pop.” May he rest in peace.