Michael Jackson, once pop’s Peter Pan, turns a sad 50

August 28th, 2008 - 9:09 am ICT by IANS  

Santa Maria (California), Aug 28 (DPA) The gates of Michael Jackson’s Neverland were locked shut this week. The funfair was idle and the animals from the private zoo were long gone.As the former King of Pop was set to mark his 50th birthday Friday it seemed fitting that the extravagant estate built as his homage to a fantasy of childhood remained empty - a site irrevocably tied to his financial and legal troubles, a symbol of a strange star’s downfall.

This was meant to be Jackson’s refuge - a place where he could play with children who were the age he was when he became a professional singer at 11. His goal seemed to be to recover that lost childhood. But it turned sour.

He was accused of two instances of child molestation at Neverland, in 1993 and 2003. Although he settled the first case without any admission of wrongdoing and was cleared of all charges after a media-saturated trial in the second case, the ordeals wreaked havoc on his already fragile psyche and turned him into a freak in the world’s celebrity sideshow.

So there were no parties there this week, no stadium concerts like Madonna - the Queen of Pop who turned 50, 13 days before Jackson - and celebrated while on her wildly lucrative “Sweet and Sticky” world tour.

Like Madonna, Jackson turned the 1980s pop world on its head, selling more than 100 million copies of the album “Thriller” in 1982, and introducing new dance moves, new sounds and a new level of mega-stardom.

Jackson has blamed his problems on the challenges of being a child star - one of nine musical siblings and the star of the Jackson Five long before he reached puberty. He had monster hits like ABC and “I’ll Be There” with his siblings, but changed the entire industry with hits such as “Thriller,” “Off the Wall,” “Billie Jean” and “Beat It”.

These songs redefined the modern music video and forced MTV to start showing black performers, ensuring the success of the fledgling music station and paving the way for the acceptance of rap and hip- hop as mainstream musical styles.

But gradually Jackson created less hits and more tabloid headlines thanks to his odd behaviour and plastic surgery. His two- year marriage to Lisa-Marie Presley sparked intense speculation. Then he married his nurse Debbie Rowe, who became the mother of his two older children.

The mother of his third child has never been identified.

Whereas once he was widely seen as the best dancer in the entertainment world, his most recent public appearance saw him confined to a wheelchair on a Las Vegas shopping trip with his three children Prince I, 11, Prince II, 6, and daughter Paris, 10.

He was wearing slippers and pyjamas, and the ever-present facial mask which either shields him from pollution or hides the damage that excessive plastic surgery has wrought on his face.

Talk about a comeback has been floating around for years as Jackson juggles huge debts yet remains one of the most intriguing celebrities in the world. The most persistent rumours suggest a series of residency concerts at a Vegas venue.

Other reports involve the construction of a Thriller casino and entertainment venue, or “Cirque du Soleil” show based on his roster of hits. But deal after deal has reportedly fallen through because of Jackson’s weak mental state and inability to function normally.

Jackson appeared briefly for a live performance at the World Music Awards in London in November 2006 for which he was reportedly paid $400,000. But he was two-and-a-half hours late and only sang a few bars of his charity hit, “We Are the World”, before the sound was cut off and he was booed from the stage.

It was left to young star Chris Jones to wear a trademark red leather jacket, sing “Thriller”, and pay tribute to an artiste still regarded as one of the most influential music makers in the last 50 years.

“He has influenced my life since day one, since I was in my mama’s womb,” Brown said. “I was listening to his music as I was coming out and I’m here to pay tribute to him.”

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