Celebrity obituaries are always predictable, and no less so in the case of Michael Jackson. In the mass media, the MJ story basically goes: cute child star, pop mega-idol, plastic surgery, chimpanzee, molestation trial. Mix in the phrases "troubled" and "King of Pop", maybe throw in a mention of that whole baby/balcony incident, and then a few seconds of "Billie Jean" or "Bad", and you're done.
But Michael Jackson was far more complicated, weird, influential, and yes, talented than those soundbites indicate. Like any other 9-year-old in 1983, I lived and breathed Thriller and hoped against hope there'd be a red zippered jacket under the tree at Christmas. (There wasn't.) Like every adult in America, I've watched his last couple of decades with a mixture of sadness, mockery, and disgust. But there was never a dull moment. Thanks to YouTube, here are ten of the least dull.
Captain Eo: every kid I knew was desperate to go to Epcot Center to see MJ's Popstar Galactica sci-fi turn. This weird piece finds him leading a "ragtag band" of wisecracking Muppet-like creatures into interstellar combat, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by George Lucas. The latter's involvement indicates how the Star Wars prequels would turn out - lots of pre-echoes of Jar Jar in those puppets...
I Want You Back: Bill Cosby & Tommy Smothers introduce a "rehearsal session" from a 1972 Jackson 5 TV special. Sounds like they're miming along to taped music, but the choreography and the charisma are real.
Michael Jackson, Prince, James Brown: a jaw-dropping after-hours jam in LA in 1983. The Godfather of Soul meets two of the greatest pop stars ever at the height of their powers. If MJ's awesome dance moves dont get you, just wait for Prince's entrance on the back of a burly handler in a zebra-print vest. Whoa.
Moonwalker: this 1988 arcade game captures the creeping megalomania of the white-suit period, positing Michael as a whirling, moonwalking superagent on a mission to, yes, free the children from a villain unimaginatively named Mr. Big. In this clip, Michael trades the white suit for body armor. Best part: the special weapon that clears the screen by forcing all the baddies to dance offstage. Michael's military strategy was as forward-thinking as his beats.
"Can You Feel It": of course, that megalomania didn't pop up overnight. Check out the Jacksons' grandiose New Age sci-fi 1980 gem, from the Ken Nordine spoken intro to the giant gold-clad brothers descending from the stars to sprinkle sparkles of light to a grateful world. Oh, and the song is kickass thumping disco with a huge surging hook. Irresistible.
1996 Brit Awards: by the mid-90s, though, the messianic vibe had reached ridiculous proportions, prompting this stage invasion at the 1996 Brit Awards. Lanky Britpop gadfly Jarvis Cocker of the band Pulp tries to disrupt this pompous performance as "a form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some kind of Christ-like figure with the power of healing."
Home Movies from Soul Train: sure, Joe Jackson was selling a false image of the happy family here. But there's still something sweet about Michael playing badminton and rocking his baby nephew, Jermaine playing ping-pong, and Joe explaining Randy's broken arm by calling him "a little kung-fu cat."
Eddie Murphy on Michael Jackson in Delirious: "Tito, get me some tissue." Big surprise: this 1983 Eddie Murphy stand-up routine contains NSFW language.
The hair-on-fire incident dramatized: you can't see much in the actual footage of Michael's hair famously catching on fire during a 1984 TV-commercial shoot. It's grainy, confusing, and over in four seconds. So the 1992 ABC miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream helpfully slows it down and puffs it up into a dramatic minute's worth of action.
Filipino prisoners mass dance to "Thriller": this post wouldn't be complete without the Internet's best-known tribute to Michael Jackson. Still amazing on the hundredth viewing.
If you want more rare Michael Jackson video, Anil Dash posted a couple of other clips, including a video directed by David Fincher (se7en, Fight Club) and a surprisingly moving Pepsi commercial. If you're in the mood for something more reflective about the tangled legacy of this strangest of all icons, read these pieces: Michael Kinsley writing in 1984, Barney Hoskyns writing in 1998, and Ta-Nehisi Coates and John McWhorter today. And yes, I'm suprised that Michael Jackson's death has been so thought-provoking for me, too. Now go spin "Smooth Criminal" or "Rock With You" and remember the good times.
Assembled with help from Scott Lydon and Dave Rutledge.