Michael Jackson-The 1990s
Michael Jackson was the artist of the 1980s. In fact, US President George H. W. Bush awarded Michael Jackson the White House’s “Artist of the Decade” award. He enjoyed worldwide success from three record-breaking, insanely popular solo albums: 1979’s Off The Wall, 1982’s Thriller, and 1987’s Bad. Alongside this success, he suffered from disease, a changing physical appearance, and relentless tabloid rumors. While the ‘90s brought Michael Jackson even more success, it also was a decade full of damaging scandals and painful rumors circulated by the tabloids and the media.
Michael Jackson started the decade off by releasing a new album called Dangerous in 1991. It has sold over 32 million copies worldwide to date. The album’s first single was “Black Or White”, and there is the potential that it garnered so much attention because it was the question people were asking about Michael’s skin color. Black Or White was essentially a plea for racial unity, and it hit the number one spot in over a dozen countries worldwide.
The music video for Black Or White was controversial, featuring violence, vandalism, and sexually suggestive dance moves by Michael Jackson as a message against racism. It ended up being censored for live airplay, with the last four minutes being cut. Michael Jackson issued an apology the day after it aired because many considered it unsuitable for family viewing.
In 1992, Michael Jackson founded the “Heal the World Foundation,” which brought underprivileged children to his Neverland Ranch, and it also sent millions to other countries to help children plagued by war and disease. His “Dangerous Tour” lasted from 1992 to 1993, and all the proceeds went to the “Heal the World Foundation.” He also increased awareness of HIV/AIDS and continued to be an active supporter of funding AIDS research and charities.
Jackson’s career reached another high point when he performed at halftime in Super Bowl XXVII. The performance actually increased the number of viewers in the middle of the game, resulting in 135 million viewers. After the acclaimed performance, sales of Dangerous skyrocketed 90 places on the chart. He was nominated for Grammies for best vocal performance, best R&B vocal performance, and best R&B song.
In 1993, during a vulnerable interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Michael admitted to being physically and emotionally abused by his father as a child. The 90-minute interview garnered 90 million views, becoming the fourth most-watched non-sports program ever in the United States. He revealed his skin condition of vitiligo, as well as dispelling rumors of sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber or purchasing the bones of the “Elephant Man.” After the interview, Dangerous again shot up into the top 10 on the album charts.
And then, despite the fact that Michael Jackson had been the object of sympathy and admiration for so long, his reputation plummeted suddenly. A highly publicized child molestation case was brought against Michael Jackson by Evan Chandler and his 13-year-old son, Jordan Chandler. Michael Jackson had recently been surrounding himself with children at his Neverland Ranch and helping children through charities, so claiming Michael was a pedophile, in combination with his eccentric behavior and disquieting appearance, seemed logical to some people. Whether it was true or not, the doubt had been planted.
At any rate, it was a grave accusation. The Chandlers claimed that Michael Jackson had performed sexual acts with Jordan. At the time, many other children and their families vehemently denied that Jackson was a pedophile, and even Jordan Chandler’s mother insisted that Jackson was innocent. Jackson made a public statement pleading his innocence and condemning the media for biased coverage.
Another problem in Michael’s life was his abuse of painkillers for his chronic pain, a result of the disease lupus and an accident he suffered during the Dangerous tour. He became dependent on Valium and Ativan for pain relief and Xanax for relief from stress and panic attacks. He also began to lose unhealthy amounts of weight and was forced to cancel the rest of the Dangerous tour. Much of the stress and decline in health was a result of the allegations he was suffering, not only from the Chandlers, but also from tabloids and the media.
The media was particularly unforgiving, throwing around stories of Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual acts and that his career was at an end, even though more than 75% of Americans polled felt that it was just an attempt by the Chandlers to capitalize on Jackson’s fame and wealth, and that he was innocent. When the conflict was finally resolved on January 1, 1994, it was for a settlement of $22 million out of court.
Michael Jackson soon married Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley, in 1994. He had depended on her during the molestation case. The media immediately called it a publicity stunt to distract people from his sexual preference toward children. The marriage lasted only two years, but the two remained friends after they divorced.
During the remainder of the 1990s, Michael Jackson released the double album HIStory, and it was his highest grossing album behind Thriller. It is hard to say whether his career would have been much better without the molestation publicity, but his albums continued to sell well anyway.
His second marriage was with Deborah Rowe, his dermatologist’s nurse. They had been friends for a long time and then became romantically involved. With her, Michael Jackson had two children, Prince Michael and Paris. Controversy didn’t abate after they were married. In 1999, Deborah and Michael divorced, and Michael was granted full custody of the children.
The 1990s saw Michael Jackson enjoy continued success and suffer continued controversy. He had to go to rehab to recover from prescription drug addiction and was continually plagued by ill health throughout the decade, in part due to the stress caused by the molestation accusations and unrelenting media and tabloid criticism. Whether good or bad, there was hardly a moment gone by that didn’t feature Michael Jackson. He was truly a phenomenon.