How reality came to Neverland: the King of Pop's disastrous demise
Kevin Courtneyreviews Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson By Randall Sullivan Grove Press UK, 776pp, £25
In his sprawling but bizarrely fascinating and forensic examination of Michael Jackson’s final years, Randall Sullivan follows the downward trajectory of the late superstar’s life, from the high-point of his Thriller album to the pitiful, disconnected figure he cut during his last decade.
It was in 1993 that the foundations of Jacko’s fantasy kingdom began to disintegrate beneath his moonwalking feet. Jackson was in Asia, finishing his megasuccessful Dangerous World Tour, when he learned that prosecutors in California were launching a criminal investigation against him, after he was accused by Jordy Chandler, a young boy whose family he had befriended, of child molestation. Jackson’s signature crotch-grabbing dance had once been a sign of his musical potency; now he had to endure the humiliation of having his genitals photographed by police so they could corroborate his accuser’s story. It was the beginning of the end for Jackson, but, as this book painfully reveals, the star was so divorced from reality that he was unable to deal with the truth of his situation.
By the end of the century Jackson the pop star was yesterday’s man, unable to repeat his huge successes of the 1980s and early 1990s. His attempts to bludgeon the public with his King of Pop shtick smacked of desperation. When he sent giant statues of himself floating down major rivers to publicise his HiStory album, people were nonplussed, and when his vainglorious performance at the Brit Awards was famously skewered by Jarvis Cocker’s stage invasion, it seemed as if the helium was leaking out of the king’s big balloon.
Sullivan, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine, was dispatched to cover the story of Jackson’s death; the article expanded into a book detailing the final four years of the star’s life, with his career “brush-stroked” in, as Sullivan puts it.
It’s a little more than that. True, the focus is on the twilight years leading up to his death, but there are reams of well-researched information on Jackson’s life. It’s not the definitive biography, but you won’t find a better reconstruction of Jackson’s final days and their messy aftermath: the family wrangling over his estate and his children’s welfare, and the trial of Jackson’s personal doctor, Conrad Murray, who was accused of causing the star’s death and was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Jackson was untouchable in more ways than one. When he was at the top of his game no one could come near him for sheer musical talent and unerring pop instinct. When he was being investigated for alleged child molestation in the early 1990s, there was a sense that the massed forces of LA justice couldn’t get to him, so well cushioned was he by his fame and his carefully constructed wall of privacy. But when he was brought to trial in Santa Barbara in 2005, indicted by a grand jury, no one would touch him with a bargepole; his showbiz friends suddenly disappeared.