Michael Jackson met an untimely death at age 50, leaving a complicated legacy. As a child star, he was so talented he seemed lit from within; as a middle-aged man, he was viewed as something akin to a visiting alien who, like Tinkerbell, would cease to exist if the applause ever stopped.
It was impossible in the early 1980s to imagine the surreal final chapters of Jackson's life. In that decade, he became the world's most popular entertainer thanks to a series of hit records — “Beat It,” "Billie Jean," “Thriller” — and dazzling music videos. Perhaps the best dancer of his generation, he created his own iconography: the single shiny glove, the Moonwalk, the signature red jacket and the Neverland Ranch.
In recent years, he inspired fascination for reasons that had nothing to do with music. Years of plastic surgery had made his face a bizarre landscape. He was deeply in debt and had lost his way as a musician. He had not toured since 1997 or released new songs since 2001. Instead of music videos, the images of Jackson beamed around the world were tabloid reports about his strange personal behavior, including allegations of child molestation, or the latest failed relaunch of his career.
In the last weeks of his life, a frail-looking Jackson rehearsed for an ambitious comeback attempt and 50 already-sold-out shows at London's O2 Arena. A major motivation was the $300 million in debt run up by a star who lived like royalty even though his self-declared title of King of Pop was more about the past than the present.