Five years ago today, the music world lost a pop icon when Michael Jackson died suddenly from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol.
At the time, the 50-year-old performer and father of three was mired in debt, struggling to shake off an image still tarnished by allegations of child molestation (though he was cleared) and risking everything for a highly ambitious and intensely physical comeback concert series.
His passing — as well as the details that emerged about his secretive life in the subsequent legal battles surrounding his death — kicked off a massive, international wave of nostalgia that has kept him in the headlines, inspired films and shows as well as sparked a musical resurgence (including award show "performances" and the release of several posthumous albums) in the years since.
On this anniversary, CBC Arts staffers and some audience members recount their memories of the King of Pop. Share your memories of Michael Jackson in the comments below or with @CBCArts on Twitter using #MJmemory.
Alice Hopton, producer: I was 10. It was the summer of 1971 in Toronto. It was all out war and there was no avoiding it: the Osmond Brothers or the Jackson 5. There was no middle ground, just one or the other.
Armed with copies of Tiger Beat, we were serious experts in this raging controversy, including whether one loved Donny, the cutest Osmond, or Michael, the cutest Jackson. Friendships depended on it.
While some girls swooned for Donny, how could I love him best? Yes, Go Away Little Girl was the single most profound expression of sadness the universe had ever known and we all cried over it, but ABC was just so fun, danceable and, most importantly, the very epitome of cool.
Did I admit this to my friends? No way — I was outnumbered. Now, all these years later, I am setting the record straight. My heart really did belong to Michael.
Nicolette Mendoza, intern: During the father-daughter dance for my debut [a Filipino coming-of-age celebration], we started with a traditional dance, but arranged for the lights to suddenly shut off. My dad and I both screamed, the lights came up and we broke into the Thriller dance.
Cheryl Brown, writer:Memory #1: Back in ’83, my favourite daycare teacher played us cuts from Thriller on the class turntable. Sadly, she was fired for this.
Memory #2: My mother took me to Michael Jackson’s concert in Toronto in 1984. I don’t actually remember it, probably because it was way after my bedtime.
Eli Glasner, reporter: As a child of the ‘70s, I have many sporadic memories of Michael: checking TV Guide for the next airing of the Thriller music video or Jackson’s floppy sweet scarecrow from The Wiz. But the strongest memory is more recent and comes from watching the concert doc This Is It. I’d expected a mawkish celebration or eulogy, but this was revelation.
The film chronicled the rehearsals leading up to his never-to-be comeback concerts in London. I’d long ago stopped thinking of Michael Jackson as an artist — he was caricature, a Hollywood freakshow hiding behind fetishized military outfits and an increasingly unrecognizable face. What This Is It did was remind me of the amazing musician who started it all. There, onstage, running through numbers with his band, he was a virtuoso: the dancer, the singer, the pianist, the percussionist. You could question his choices and the erratic behaviour, but his talent was (and still is) undeniable.
Ilana Banks, producer: I have several early MJ memories, including my first dance recital — performed to Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough. I forgot all the steps, but I never forgot the song! Then there was The Wiz, a totally underrated movie (though I haven’t seen it since I was a little kid, so nostalgia may be fogging my memory). The soundtrack played over and over on our record player.
Thriller was a major event: a long form music video that was also kind of a horror movie. Are you kidding me? It was an instant classic. And I went to a Michael Jackson concert, too! I drove to Buffalo with my parents and, though sitting an entire football field away, saw the Jackson brothers perform! My cousin and his then-girlfriend (now wife) came with us: we all squeezed into the backseat for the ride. We held bragging rights at the time, because the Toronto concert came after that.
Michael Jackson, seen here during the 1993 Super Bowl XXVII halftime show, remains a cultural powerhouse five years after his death. (Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty)
Leanne Hazon, senior producer: In elementary school, for Sports Day every year we had to decorate our bikes and bring them to school for a contest. I remember arriving at school one particular Sports Day and a girl’s mom had decked out her bike as Michael Jackson’s sparkly white glove. There was no denying it: her bike looked awesome and the rest of ours literally paled in comparison.
Sian Jones, producer: I will never forget the night Michael Jackson moonwalked for the first time. It was on the Motown anniversary show. The next day, everyone at work was talking about just how he did it. I didn’t really want to know. Still don’t. It was magical. It still is.
I was working in the newsroom the day Michael Jackson died. When the news moved and was confirmed, I cried.
Zulekha Nathoo, reporter: Just four in the summer of 1983, I was still old enough to mimic everything about my 10-year-old sister. Part of this meant playing our Thriller album non-stop for months after its release. And when my family made our annual 10-hour drive from Calgary to Vancouver for summer vacation, our parents and grandmother were forced to listen to Billie Jean incessantly.
During a stop along the way, we stumbled onto a record store and couldn’t believe our luck (on the other hand, my dad and his wallet couldn’t believe the misfortune): it carried an entire floor of MJ memorabilia! It was a battle over what we could buy and what we had to leave in the shop.
Though my parents drew the line at the prized red leather jacket sitting so perfectly on a mannequin, my sister and I did walk out with a pretty good haul: matching Thriller tees, MJ keychains and velcro wallets emblazoned with Michael Jackson’s face.Sadly, the shop no longer carried the jewelled glove, which had sold out.
I think my parents had hoped they could switch the music in the car if we were distracted with our new toys, but they had the opposite effect. This time, we began singing along fully draped in our new gear. Incidentally, my dad made the drive to Vancouver in record time that summer. Can’t imagine why.
Nigel Hunt, producer: While attending a conference in Anaheim in 1994, I went with colleagues to visit Disneyland one evening. Near closing time, the crowds had thinned and we were about to try the Pirates of the Caribbean ride when I heard people mention that Michael Jackson was there.
We spotted him with his entourage just ahead, going on the ride, too. I remember thinking: “How strange. Doesn’t he have his own amusement park?” I guess it felt good for him to get out and do something different – be almost normal for a moment, watching those old mechanical pirates fight, sing and carouse.
Deana Sumanac, reporter: In 1988, I was 10 and spending the summer at my grandparents’ house in a small town in Serbia. Michael Jackson’s little known movie Moonwalking had just been released in Europe and the local theatre was so packed for the screening that my friend and I sat in the aisles! I remember it being like an extended version of Smooth Criminal — a lovely narrative music video like only MJ could do!
Jessica Wong, writer: I regularly pull out my Thriller LP to slap onto the record player, but exactly five years ago today, I couldn’t bear to listen to it — and I couldn’t for some time afterwards. I remember being in shock that day, having arrived home from work and hearing the confirmation on television. Working in journalism, we are sometimes hardened to breaking news and all sorts of stories, but I remember that Jackson’s passing was the first death of a major figure that truly affected me.
From the CBC audience:
Kris Pagaduan: When I was a kid, whenever we would do karaoke, me and my cousin would always pick Billie Jean.
Mike Arkin: When I was growing up in Europe, I remember the new Atari game system came out and there was a game that featured the song Smooth Criminal. I forget the name of that game though.
@NickJackson1996: 5 years without you. Michael, you are always in my heart. #mjmemory #foreverinourhearts http://t.co/qW9veRwQoi
@itsjuzmeG: Its been 5 years since you passed…I still miss you dearly mj :) #MJmemory
@TamartianBoom: #MJMemory Michael getting pie smeared all in his face then he’s laughs and jumps after! ADORABLE
@TamartianBoom: #mjmemory Michael jumping on the trampoline and almost falling off #KingOfPop
@Mossfox94: Un classique émouvant. #MJMemory http://t.co/AaC0ZiTarATags: concert, film, movie, music, producer, release, singer, television, tv