Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) is an American musician and entertainer whose successful music career and controversial personal life have been at the forefront of pop culture for the last quarter-century.
Jackson began his musical career at the age of seven as the lead singer of The Jackson 5 and made his first solo recordings in 1971 while remaining a member of the group. He began a full-fledged solo career in 1979 and formally parted with his siblings in 1984. In his solo career, Jackson recorded and co-produced the best-selling album of all time Thriller, with worldwide sales over 51 million; received thirteen Grammy awards; and charted thirteen number-one singles in the U.S. Throughout his four-decade career, Michael Jackson has been awarded numerous honors, including the World Music Award’s Best-selling pop male artist of the Millennium, and he is a double-inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (once as a member of The Jackson 5 in 1997, and again in 2001 as a solo artist.) He is also a member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
From 1988 to 2005, Jackson lived on his Neverland Ranch property, on which he built an amusement park and private zoo for economically disadvantaged and terminally ill children.
In 1982, Jackson released his second Epic album, Thriller, which became the best-selling album in music history with more than 51 million copies sold worldwide. The album spawned seven hit singles, including “Billie Jean” (which was the first music video by a black artist to receive regular airplay on MTV), “Beat It” and the album’s title track which was accompanied by a revolutionary music video. The thirteen-minute “Thriller” was critically acclaimed, and massive airplay lead to it being packaged with the featurette “Making Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on VHS, where it became the best-selling music home video ever.
Thriller spent 37 weeks at number one and remained on the Billboard album chart for 122 weeks. It was eventually certified 27x Platinum in the United States
In 1983, whilst performing “Billie Jean” at the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever concert Jackson debuted what could now be construed as his signature move the moonwalk. The media began paying more attention to this new, publicity-courting Jackson and his new-found superstar status and wealth allowed him to reap financial rewards. In 1983 he started a sponsorship deal with Pepsi-Cola, and as part of the deal Jackson agreed to star in a commercial. While filming a Pepsi Light commercial with his brothers in 1984, before a live audience at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, his hair caught on fire when a pyrotechnic effect went wrong. Jackson suffered serious burns on his scalp, which required skin grafts. Later in 1984, Jackson won eight Grammy awards. Seven were for the critically acclaimed Thriller (album). Jackson also won a Grammy for the E.T. Storybook that year, breaking the record for the most Grammy awards won in a single year. Reuniting with his brothers, Jackson then helped to write the Victory album and performed and starred in the successful Victory Tour that summer.
On May 14, 1984, Jackson was invited to the White House and was personally thanked by then-President Ronald Reagan at a White House ceremony for donating his song “Beat It” for use in drunk driving prevention television and radio public service announcements
Jackson continued his charity work in 1985 by co-writing (along with Lionel Richie) the hit single “We Are The World”. The charity single helped to raise money and awareness for famine in East Africa and brought Jackson his first taste of perception in the media as a humanitarian.
Later in 1987 Jackson released Bad. This was his third album for the Epic record label, and final album with producer Quincy Jones. With high expectations after the success of Thriller, Jackson had complex ideas for the album. He initially wanted to make the album 30 tracks long, but Jones cut this down to 10. He also wanted the title track to be a duet with fellow pop superstar, but that idea fell through after the two had creative differences over lyrical content and Prince refused the project. Prince also stated later that he thought the song would be a hit whether he was in it or not.
Bad spawned seven hit singles. In comparison to Jackson’s previous work, Bad had lower sales. Numerous critics have said that this was due to the stripping down of the epic nature of Jackson’s work. Bad was still a huge commercial success. The number one singles off the album are: “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, “Bad”, “The Way You Make Me Feel”, “Man in the Mirror”, and “Dirty Diana”. The album was supported by a world tour which lasted for over a year and visited 15 countries, and for which Jackson insisted on a personal bus, plane and helicopter to be available to him all at the same time
The success Jackson achieved during this period in his career led to him being dubbed the “King of Pop”, a nickname which he continues to be referred to by his fans. There are various conflicting reports as to the origin of this nickname although according to Jackson it was conceived by actress and long-term friend Elizabeth Taylor as she presented Jackson with an “Artist of the decade” award in 1989, proclaiming him “the true king of pop, rock and soul”. Additionally, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this period saw Jackson enjoy “a level of superstardom previously known only to Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra.
In the year after his death, Jackson sold more than 8.2 million albums in the US and 35 million albums worldwide, more than any other artist in 2009. In 2014, Jackson became the first artist to have a top ten single in the Billboard Hot 100 in five different decades. He became the first artist to sell one million music downloads in a week, with 2.6 million song downloads. Thriller, Number Ones and The Essential Michael Jackson became the first catalog albums to outsell any new album. Jackson also became the first artist to have four of the top 20 best-selling albums in a single year in the US.
Forbes reported in August 2018 that Jackson’s total career pretax earnings in life and death was $4.2 billion. Sales of his recordings through Sony’s music unit earned him an estimated $300 million in royalties. He may have earned another $400 million from concerts, music publishing (including his share of the Beatles catalog), endorsements, merchandising and music videos.
Estimates of Jackson’s net worth during his life range from negative $285 million to positive $350 million for 2002, 2003 and 2007.
On July 26, 2013, the executors of the estate of Michael Jackson filed a petition in the United States Tax Court as a result of a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over US federal estate taxes imposed on the value of Jackson’s Estate at the time of his death. The executors claim that the Estate was worth about $7 million. The IRS asserts that the Estate was worth over $1.1 billion. In February 2014, the IRS reported that Jackson’s estate owed $702 million, including $505 million in taxes, plus $197 million in penalties after the estate had allegedly undervalued Jackson’s fortune. A trial was held from February 6 to 24, 2017. A decision is expected in 2019.
In 2016, Forbes estimated annual gross earnings by the Jackson estate at $825 million, the largest ever recorded for a celebrity. The majority was due to the sale of the Sony/ATV catalog. It was the seventh consecutive year since his death in which Jackson’s annual earnings were over $100 million. In 2018 the figure was $400 million. According to Forbes in 2016, Jackson had been the top-earning dead celebrity each year since his death.