Michael Jackson, internationally known as the “King of Pop,” died today at the age of 50. Jackson, who got his start fronting the family band The Jackson 5 at the tender age of eight before enjoying one of the most successful entertainment careers in history, often fell under intense public scrutiny for his personal life but created some of the most popular albums of all time and remained a pop culture fascination through his final years. He also helped popularize the music video genre, made extensive charitable contributions, worked with some of Hollywood’s leading directors, and acted in feature length films while leaving a lasting influence on modern dance, music, and culture. Jackson was 50.
Gossip website TMZ first broke the news that Michael Jackson had suffered fatal cardiac arrest in his Southern California home before being rushed to a hospital this afternoon, a report that was confirmed shortly thereafter by the Los Angeles Times. The “King of Pop” had been planning a huge career comeback, which would have seen Jackson perform 50 sold-out shows in London beginning in July. High School Musical director and choreographer Kenny Ortega had been working with Jackson to direct the tour.
As a child singer, Jackson fronted the musical group The Jackson 5 with brothers Marlon, Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine, topping the charts with singles like “I Want You Back” and “ABC.” But those Motown roots were only the beginning of a five-decade recording career that marked Jackson as one of the most versatile artists in show business, as his sound morphed from R&B to funk to disco-pop to jazz and beyond.
In 1978, Jackson took on his first feature film role playing the Scarecrow in Sidney Lumet‘s The Wiz, an all African-American version of The Wizard of Oz. During production, Jackson made plans to work with the film’s music arranger on his next solo album. That album — produced by Quincy Jones — was Jackson’s multi-platinum selling Off the Wall, which propelled both Jones and Jackson to even greater fame, and led to their collaboration on Jackson’s next two albums, Thriller (the best-selling album of all time) and Bad (which yielded five #1 singles).
His directors on the landmark music videos for both of those albums? None other than John Landis, whose 14-minute short film involved dancing zombies and helped make MTV an early success (and who later directed Jackson’s “Black or White” video), and Martin Scorsese, who directed Jackson opposite a young Wesley Snipes in the 18-minute short film for Bad. Later, horror legends Mick Garris, Stephen King, and Stan Winston would team up on Jackson’s long form music video Ghosts, in which Jackson played opposite himself as a reclusive outsider more comfortable around children than the judgmental town folk around him. Other notable directors that helmed some of Jackson’s well-known music videos include John Singleton (“Remember the Time”), photographer Herb Ritts (“In the Closet”), and Mark Romanek (“Scream”).
(In addition to his music video work, Jackson worked with Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, producer George Lucas, composer James Horner and actress Anjelica Huston on the 3D film Captain EO, showcased as its own attraction in Disney theme parks all over the world.)
In 2002, Jackson returned to the big screen with a small part (playing essentially himself) as “Agent M” in the alien conspiracy sequel Men in Black II, a self-reflexive character type repeated in his last screen role in 2004’s direct-to-DVD spoof film, Miss Cast Away.
Jackson’s sudden death comes at a time when his career seemed on the verge of a comeback. In addition to his planned UK concert tour, Jackson is a featured subject of discussion in Universal’s upcoming comedy-documentary, Bruno, in which the character Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen) attempts to wrangle a Jackson interview by speaking on-camera with his sister, LaToya Jackson.
For a more detailed look at Michael Jackson’s movie career, go to his celebrity page.
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