Inarguably, there are parallels between Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley—the two highest-profile pop star deaths of the post-Vietnam era. At the times of their respective deaths, both men’s careers were in terminal decline. Elvis hadn’t had a great single since “In The Ghetto” almost a decade before. And Michael Jackson, the self-proclaimed and trademarked King of Pop? Dan Quayle was a presidential prospect the last time his music was truly relevant.
Of course, both men were active music industry entities when they died. Elvis was still recording, and the debt-ridden Michael Jackson was steeling himself—at the prodding of his myriad creditors—for a ridiculous slate of 50 concerts in London, England.
Those concerts, of course, never came to pass. Michael Jackson died under circumstances so suspicious they seem better suited to an episode of “Quincy” than real life. That said, Michael’s estate managed to cash in on the rehearsal footage from the London shows. As the recent film—the ironically titled “THIS IS IT”—showcases, Michael Jackson was a wreck, performing his ‘80s style moves over his played-out instrumental tracks in practice… even though his 50-year-old body was used up to the point that his dancing often was at half-speed.
At the press conference promoting the London shows, Michael Jackson said that he was going to “play the songs the fans want to hear”. Translation: Michael was going to give the folks the pastiche and pabulum they wanted. Namely, a sad wax-museum version of the Reagan-era “Moonwalker”, playing the old music without any sense of irony like it was 1987 and “Dirty Diana” (and Max Headroom and Gordon Gekko and all those other faded tropes of that bygone epoch) still retained relevance.
The concerts never came to pass. The King of Pop, deposed under suspicious circumstances, very likely by members of his inner circle. Luckily though, his estate was able to cash in on the rehearsal footage for a film. And his brothers, none of whom have had any chart success in a full quarter century, managed to reunite for a reality show in the most shocking and wanton display of exploitation since Lyndon Johnson cashed in on JFK’s postmortem popularity to kick the Vietnam conflict into high gear.