The Final Word on Michael Jackson

The Dr. Conrad Murray verdict can’t change what happened to the King of Pop. But the trial may have altered the way we’ll remember the entertainer

By Jere Hester
|  Tuesday, Nov 8, 2011  |  Updated 5:10 AM CDT
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Life and Times: Michael Jackson

AFP/Getty Images

The King of Pop's image changed yet again during the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray.

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Following the trial of Michael Jackson's personal physician Conrad Murray, found guilty Monday of involuntary manslaughter, proved a depressing exercise -- fraught with feelings of helpless frustration and sadness.

It's almost as if fans bore collective witness to Jackson pathetic final days, a performance wrought in tragedy, starring perhaps the greatest entertainer of his time.

The verdict, of course, can’t change what happened to Jackson. But the trial further altered the music great’s already confused image and evolving legacy in new, disturbing ways.

The King of Pop proved an emperor without clothes – literally in the photos of Jackson's naked corpse, shown to jurors and forever available to anyone with an Internet connection. And like in Hans Christian Andersen’s fable, no adult seemed to bother to try to save man from himself.

Jackson also became exposed in other ways, perhaps most notably through his own audio-taped words – uttered not in the familiar high-pitched voice mocked when he spoke and lauded when he sang, but in an unrecognizable slurred baritone growl. "I never had a childhood," he said in tone that was anything but childish, just weeks before his death in 2009 at age 50.

That may have been the saddest and most telling moment during the legal proceedings, a painful, if necessary attempt to extract some truth – even if why no one could help the addled Jackson remains maddeningly unanswered.

An overwhelming desire to please fans – and help children – clearly drove him. He spoke of building a children's hospital when he badly needed responsible medical help. There are echoes in Jackson of Holden Caulfield, the anti-hero of J.D. Salinger’s "The Catcher in the Rye," who wanted to save children from what he'd become.

Each day of testimony seemed to bring Jackson closer to the pantheon of real-life tragic figures like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, who, with the passage of years, increasingly have become more known for how they died rather than their talent in life.

Jackson, who spent most of his years in the spotlight and succumbed to a cocktail of powerful drugs as he was striving to snatch the lightning of past glory, seemed desperate to solidify his place in entertainment history. His attempted comeback appeared, in part, an answer to his declining music output and his sullied reputation as, at best, a bizarre eccentric, and at worst, a predator.

We’ll never know how much was edited from “This Is It,” the documentary showing Jackson in rehearsals during the last days of his life. But he comes across as a perfectionist with a clear vision of how he should be perceived. Now, we can expect more posthumous releases of songs he might never have wanted the public to hear, and a new Cirque du Soleil production featuring his music, but not his direct creative input.

Jackson did leave us with his own epitaph, via tapes from the trial that forever changed the way we’ll remember him. So let’s give him the final word: "When people leave my show, I want them to say, 'I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. Go. Go. I’ve never seen nothing like this. Go. It’s amazing.

"'He’s the greatest entertainer in the world.'"
 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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