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Posted at 11:50 AM ET, 12/22/2008

Coming to Terms with Michael Jackson at 50

By Liz Kelly

A few weeks back, a chatter asked me to name something about the celebrity beat that really surprised me. I was stumped -- after witnessing the circus surrounding the death of Anna Nicole Smith and an endless stream of shenanigans from a dirty dozen of Hollywood hellions, one tends to get a bit desensitized.

Then, this morning, whilst innocently gathering links for the morning mix, it happened. I was surprised to read that Michael Jackson is 50 years old (and possibly in need of a lung transplant). I mean, I knew he was 50 -- both Jacko and Madge hit the half-century mark back in August -- but it didn't fully sink in until today at approximately 6:07 a.m.

And I'm not sure how I feel about it. Michael Jackson became, sometime around the early '90s, a man-child, the little boy who never grew up, a fly stuck in resin of his own making. We watched as he faced some very adult problems -- continued accusations of child sexual abuse (all cleared or settled out of court) and a gradual loss of his fortune, that paralleled his trajectory as he went from King of Pop to deposed monarch to court jester.

With a 50-year-old Michael Jackson, one is forced to think of one's own mortality and know that -- just like the rest of us -- celebrities age and face the indignities that come with the territory. One imagines moonwalks giving way to arthritic limbs, shiny loafers replaced with something a bit more comfy. And it is that much harder to tell how the years may or may not have affected Michael -- he is usually swaddled in a veil and his facial geography has been rearranged so many times, nature itself may be confounded.

But our man-child has reached an age at which even the most preserved of celebrities starts to show the inevitable signs of aging. Some stars (Madonna) seem to view age as a condition to be conquered and work to put off the march of time with hours-long workouts and a strict diet of Kaballah water. Others, like Mick Jagger or Keith Richards, take on their aged selves with all the ease of donning a well-worn leather jacket. It fits and dignifies their hard-won years of survival in a business that eats its young alive.

What will Michael Jackson, old man, be like? I don't know. I'm not sure I want to know. Instead, I prefer to adopt another tactic of the aged -- remembering the good old days through a soft focus lens. For me, Michael Jackson will always be an 11-year-old fronting his brothers and forming part of the soundtrack of my own youth:


(If you don't want to wait through the Bill Cosby intro sketch, fast forward to 1:22.)

By Liz Kelly  | December 22, 2008; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  Michael Jackson  
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Comments

I get shocked when I see a star turned 50 because well, that means I am getting old too. Michael Jackson, like Madonna, will not age gracefully. Would that they could all be Paul Newman.

What also shocks me is when I realize that I am older than some stars ever got to be. I am older now than Princess Di ever got to be. Or River Phoenix or a host of others. So, I may not be famous, and I may be aging, but darn it, it beats the alternative.

Posted by: epjd | December 22, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Michael Jackson, Sharon Stone, Madonna. Fifty is the new 40, right?

When you watch old Michael Jackson videos, you see an amazingly talented kid wailing, "I Want You Back," even though (thanks to TV movies) we know he was being worked like a slave by his domineering dad.

The late 70s brought us a lanky young man looking so happy singing, "Rock With You," and the 80s showed astounding dancing in "Thriller" and "Billie Jean." Once "Bad" came along, something was different -- he was getting whiter, the hair started to grow, and the plastic surgery intensified. He started going off the edge around then (late 80s / his early 30s). Why?

Did he realize THEN that "Thriller" was a one-time thing never to be repeated, making him a has-been at 25? Or was he just too rich and catered-to to care about anything? Punchline though he is now, his music is (still!) incredible.

I can't see the 50+ Michael doing anything as generic as Vegas, but if he doesn't have any money (as is reported), how else will be survive? Clearly the recycled greatest-hits collections (e.g., "HIStory") aren't going to cut it.

I gotta say that the idea of a J5 Theatre in Branson does hold some kitschy appeal, were he not so adamant about not giving his brothers a lifeline.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | December 22, 2008 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Liz, "a fly stuck in resin of his own making" should be the Comment of the Week, except that you made it. Even though it's a mixed metaphor (resin being a plant, rather than animal, product), way to go in keeping us amateurs humble.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 22, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Besides, Madonna and Mick Jagger aren't the comparisons to invite -- to see how far afield Michael has gone, look at Donny Osmond (just turned 51).

Despite a few career bumps, Donny branched out into Broadway and television. Not only does he still sing well, but also he looks like he's only 35 -- without cosmetic help. Michael should take pointers from him.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | December 22, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

It's a bit weird to consider that Michael Jackson and my parents are the age.

Also, I just want to say that Madonna's attempt to conquer age seems to be going as well as the Soviet attempt to conquer Afghanistan.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 22, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

For me, it's Michael's speaking voice that refuses to let me believe he is already 50yrs old.

I remember the Thriller premier on MTv back when I was still in highschool. My girlfriends and I gathered at a friend's house to watch and it was the coolest thing we ever saw, back then.

It is quite sad the path his life has taken. Whatever ailment he has, I hope he gets well soon.

Posted by: hodie | December 22, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Liz - this is a very sweet (Do you call it a Kit or is that Achenbach thing?) posting. A little while ago I saw Kevin Bacon, who is also 50. Although he still looked really good, I could tell that the young lad from "Footloose" was gone for good. And I felt a bit of the same sadness you record here.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | December 22, 2008 12:26 PM | Report abuse

To tie this with the morning mix, Salma, Julia, Nicole, and Halle are all over 40. Though Julia was not on the men's list, Salma ranked #5 on both, which is pretty darn good. Halle was number 3 on the women's list, right behind Jen at number 2, and we all know she's pushing 40. Don't know how she made the men's list at all, but that's probably just me.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 22, 2008 12:29 PM | Report abuse

As a former resident of Southwest Mizzourah, let me just say that "J5 Theater in Branson" is an interesting concept on so many levels. It should also be Comment of the Week. Wait, I'll leave that to the professional.

Must learn to consolidate my comments. Such a waste of electrons. And bandwidth.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 22, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Jacko? Meh.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | December 22, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I always felt a bit sorry for Michael Jackson. He didn't have much of a childhood and when he tried to reclaim it, he made a grand mess of things; now's he much older and doesn't have a lot to show for it.

Posted by: CentrevilleMom | December 22, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

The man who made Michael Jackson the megastar we know today, Quincy Jones, is 75 years old.

When Quincy was 40, he suffered a brain aneurism. He was told he could no longer play trumpet. He kept composing and producing. When he was approaching 50, he produced Thriller.

That was certainly not an end for him, but a beginning.

Michael has the skills, but does he have the level of creativity that it takes to keep reinventing himself? That's what keeps one ageless. Not hyperbaric chambers and botox.

Posted by: mdreader01 | December 22, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

On the one hand, I feel sorry for the guy because, as has been said, he didn't have much of a normal childhood. Nevertheless, there comes a time when we take the reins of our lives and direct our own path. This guy had all the money in the world to get to the heart of the matter--through therapy or whatever--to forge his own better life and he didn't do it. He chose to focus on the outer man rather than the inner man and has little to show for it, including self-acceptance and peace.

Posted by: pras40 | December 22, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Jacko and Donnie do have one thing in common:

They both have scary-creepy sisters, especially Donnie.

Posted by: memphis1 | December 22, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Man, all this nostalgic-thread-of-my-favourite-childhood-singing-stars is missing is David & Shaun Cassidy & Leif Garrett!

I'll take Marie over Janet any day. Marie is the most "normal" of the Osmonds. She's been divorced twice, has adopted kids that act up & post inappropriate stuff on Myspace. She's as close to a "normal" as those Osmonds will ever get.

It's the creepy doll thing that keeps her from truly being "one of us." She's one step away from clown-ventriloquist-dummy territory with those things.

Posted by: wadejg | December 22, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

wadejg, you forgot about LaToya.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | December 22, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Flies do not produce resin.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 22, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Last post for the day, I promise.

Let's hope Marie Osmond does not have a "wardrobe malfunction" on national TV. Although according to this quote from one of her stepford doll sites, it's possible.
"Marie Osmond’s adorable “Bare Bottoms” collection of dolls"...

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 22, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Jacko belongs in a freak show.

Posted by: justhere | December 22, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Come to TERMS?

OK.

He made great music as a young man and today he's a disgusting warped pedophile hiding in a "rich, until recently third world" nation where every official asks to be bought. I'm sure Jackson is having the time of his life over there, and more children are suffering in his home.

There. I've come to terms with Jackson.

Posted by: onestring | December 22, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Last post for the day, I promise.

Let's hope Marie Osmond does not have a "wardrobe malfunction" on national TV. Although according to this quote from one of her stepford doll sites, it's possible.
"Marie Osmond’s adorable “Bare Bottoms” collection of dolls"...

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 22, 2008 2:08 PM

------------------------------------------
This is a job for Spanx!!!

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 22, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

wadegj,
ever seen Marie's nutrisystem commercial?


ew.

Posted by: memphis1 | December 22, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Favorite Michael Jackson joke (warning: it's dated and a little insensitive, but the subjects lived in the public spotlight and admitedly brought attention to themselves):

Q: What's the difference between Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor?

A: One got burned by coke, the other by Pepsi.

Posted by: nojunk4me | December 22, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse

You have a wonderful way with words. One of the best analysis I've read. Keep up the wonderful writing.

Posted by: DorothyKelly | December 22, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse

People Get Older As Time Passes... Film at 11.

Posted by: ComfortablyDumb | December 22, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Well there's another way she's "normal," she's fat & forever on a diet like lots of "normal" folks!

Posted by: wadejg | December 22, 2008 4:18 PM | Report abuse

"Others, like Mick Jagger or Keith Richards, take on their aged selves with all the ease of donning a well-worn leather jacket. It fits and dignifies their hard-won years of survival in a business that eats its young alive."

The word "dignifies" just struck me funny. I suddenly pictured Keith Richards in a smoking jacket and ascot hosting Masterpiece Theatre....I'm glad this is only a 3 day work week....

Posted by: hodie | December 22, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Well, hodie, they're dignified compared to Kenny Rogers and his unspeakably artificial facelift.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | December 22, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

You know that old guy on Family Guy with the bathrobe and really likes...uh..well.....SWEET JESUS!!

Posted by: andio76 | December 22, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't think Madonna is desperately trying to fight her age. Madonna is simply determined to stay healthy and fit. If this means doing the same thing that millions of other people do by daily exercise, eating properly, no drugs, and getting proper rest---well, what's wrong with that. Madonna has the type of discipline, energy and enthusiasm that performers half her age can only dream about. Michael Jackson on the other hand should get back into the studio and get his own creative resources jelling again and cut out the veils, cover-ups and the other nonsense that no one cares about.

Posted by: sonofsalome | December 23, 2008 6:55 AM | Report abuse

"Madonna is simply determined to stay healthy and fit. If this means doing the same thing that millions of other people do by daily exercise, eating properly, no drugs, and getting proper rest---well, what's wrong with that. "

Posted by: sonofsalome | December 23, 2008 6:55 AM

And you know all this about Madonna because you are some kind of "insider" to her life?

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 23, 2008 7:45 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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