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Michael Jackson Watchlist: 6 Revealing Videos That Shed Light On The Star’s Life

Required watching (and reading) to answer your questions after seeing HBO’s “Leaving Neverland.”

We can’t say that the Michael Jackson we hear described in “Leaving Neverland” is a man entirely foreign to us. The searing tales from the documentary’s two subjects are of course shocking. But such tales have come out before.

And Jackson himself: We have always known how weird he was, and most of us suspected that at least some of his behavior — the excessive facial surgery and his odd friendships with kids, for starters — hid deeper and darker secrets.

If you’re coming in new to the Jackson story, or if Dan Reed’s documentary left you with more questions than you started with, here is a list of required watching and reading to fill in the gaps. See and hear how the drama that was Michael played out over the years — and watch how the brightest star in the world began to flicker and finally go out.

If you want to understand Jackson’s upbringing better …

Michael Jackson: Life of an Icon” is an unheralded film made by David Gest, whom most people know as the guy who, for a while, was Mr. Liza Minnelli. Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor were in attendance at the wedding. It turns out that Gest had known the Jackson family since their earliest days in Los Angeles. His portrait of the family, while of course Jackson-friendly, has an unparalleled intimacy.

If you want to see Jackson single-handedly bring on the worst PR disaster of his career…

Then Watch Martin Bashir’s two-part special, ”Living with Michael Jackson,” which aired on ABC in February 2003. Having hooked this big fish, Bashir reels him in carefully, capturing among other things a manic spending spree at a garishly expensive Las Vegas art gallery. Jackson then discloses that he was still sharing his room with young boys. Among the viewers of the show were prosecutors in Santa Barbara county, where Neverland is situated. After seeing Jackson’s admission, they launched a criminal investigation, found a child who said Jackson had molested him, and arrested Jackson later that year. He was put on trial and acquitted of all charges in 2005.

If you want to get a glimpse of PR damage control at its crudest (and least effective) … 

The Bashir interview dwarfed all previous Jackson PR disasters. The Jackson camp’s response was “The Michael Jackson Interview: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See.” Jackson had his own copy of the Bashir interviews; he sold these to Fox, which built this program around them. It was hosted by Maury Povich, hitting a new low even for him. The idea is that Bashir was unfair to Jackson. A few complimentary comments from Bashir are pulled out of context, and a whole bunch of Jackson family members are trotted out to tell us the show misrepresented Michael. The attempt to undermine Bashir’s credibility doesn’t work, because all the destruction Jackson did to himself in the original was accomplished by words out of Jackson’s own mouth.

If you want some disturbing details into the molestation charges from a reporter who followed Jackson for years …

Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth posted this just before “Leaving Neverland” aired: 10 Undeniable Facts About the Michael Jackson Sexual-Abuse Allegations. No. 4: “Jordie Chandler drew a picture of the markings on the underside of Jackson’s penis. His drawings were sealed in an envelope. A few months later, investigators photographed Jackson’s genitalia. The photographs matched Chandler’s drawings.” There are also links to Orth’s reports on Jackson from over the years.

If you want to see the beginnings of Jackson’s public decline …

In 1995, Jackson and his then wife, Lisa-Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis Presley, sat down with Diane Sawyer. Note that the show starts with the outlandish claim that ”Bad” would generate $1 billion in sales. Then we see Jackson. And for the first time, it is clear that he was changing his appearance in a highly disturbing way: heavily pancaked, his chin and cheekbones resculpted, even his ears seemingly pinned back. Then comes the formal interview, and Sawyer with a tone of almost dazed disbelief asks Jackson the obvious questions about his sleeping habits with young boys, which Jackson, with his wife sitting uncomfortably by his side, insists is a perfectly wonderful thing to do.

If you want to see stars rally around Jackson …

Jackson did a pair of concerts in late 2001 for later broadcast on television. The world’s memory of this is somewhat occluded because the second of these took place on Sept. 10. The TV special — dubbed “Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration” — was shown that November. The guest performers included *NSYNC, Britney Spears, Usher, Whitney Houston, Destiny’s Child, etc. etc. etc. All accounts say Jackson was drugged out at the time — and he looked it — but he sang some oldies with his brothers and did a few wan versions of his hits.

If you missed his memorial service ...

The Michael Jackson Memorial Service was a bizarre event held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on July 9, 2009, about two weeks after his death. While a few Motown luminaries — Stevie Wonder, Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson — saluted their dead friend, and a few other stars make appearances, this was an underwhelming event for a star of Jackson’s stature. The second half devolved, as political figures like Al Sharpton showed up to harangue the crowd. At one point, addressing Jackson’s kids, Sharpton bellowed, “Wasn’t nothin’ strange about your daddy! It was strange what your daddy had to deal with!”

Nah, he was strange.

If you want a decent overview of Jackson’s life … 

I wrote this long New Yorker essay in 2012, discussing Jackson’s career and music and specifically what the star’s desperate quest for fame and white acceptance did to his psyche: “There’s little doubt that Jackson lost something self-defining along the way. He ended up a shade, and, besides the music, all that he really left behind — an ambiguous legacy, and a tarnished name, to some rich white kids — was just the final, meaningless step in the ultimate crossover.”

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