As what would have been the beloved iconic entertainer’s 51st birthday approaches (August 29, 2009) the world community once again finds itself engaged in rediscovering, redefining, and re-devouring Michael Jackson. Some are feasting as they have been for years on continuous disclosures about aspects of his life (and now death) considered unconventional and mysterious largely because the man in question is Michael Jackson ––were he someone else, those qualities termed “eccentricities” while he lived might have been described as just as individual idiosyncrasies or personal issues.
In addition to the extent of his dependence on drugs to manage pain in a world known to exact agonizing cruelty upon hypersensitive souls, another revelation that immediately set tongues wagging and fingers snapping was that of Jackson’s actual monetary net worth. Reports in recent years have often stated he was broke, the result supposedly of spending more to support a lavishly self-indulgent lifestyle than the millions of dollars he was actually earning. While the performer did indeed reportedly accumulate an access of $300 million in debt, he had also worked hard enough and invested shrewdly enough to ensure at least that amount would go to his family once all debts were settled. One well-known investment in particular––a cache of rights to songs by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Neil Diamond––has a potential value of $1 billion plus.
Aside from conversations pertaining to his wealth, the one truth upon which all seem to agree universally is that the legacy of Jackson’s music will stand as steadfastly as that of the Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (whose classic Nutcracker suite the performer adored), jazz master Duke Ellington, or songstress Ella Fitzgerald. To date, his solo albums Thriller (1982) have reportedly sold 110 million copies worldwide; Dangerous (1991) 32 million copies; and Bad (1987) 30 million copies, a feat that helped earn him the World Music Diamond Award in 2006. Additional recordings with his brothers as The Jackson Five and with other artists place his total sales (again, to date) at some 750 million units. In the simplest of human terms, those staggering figures mostly mean someone somewhere will always hear a Michael Jackson song for the first time or the ten-thousandth time and privately celebrate his musical art as a gift to their appreciative soul.
What is so odd when it comes to public discussions of Jackson’s legacy is how few comments one hears about the monies the singer worked for and donated to dozens of charities around the globe. As NBA star Kobe Bryant put it at the singer’s memorial, “Michael gave as much off stage as he did on stage.” The acknowledged amount in that area also exceeds $300 million and prompted the editors of the Guinness Book of Records Millennium Edition to cite Jackson as “the Pop Star who supports the most charity organizations.” That observation places an entirely different spin on the title “king of pop,” conjuring as it does the image of a true sovereign seeing to the needs of his people. That he touched as many lives as he did through his music is miraculous enough but when studying the vast list of organizations and individuals for whom he at times served as a philanthropist, Jackson’s impact on humanity magnifies to an astounding degree.
The following sample of the many organizations to which he made substantial (and some cases long-term) contributions provide some indication of the magnitude of his impact upon his fellow human beings: the AIDS Foundation, Camp Ronald McDonald, the Make A Wish Foundation, the United Negro College Scholarship Fund, Camp Good Times, the T.J. Martell-Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the NAACP, the Rotary Club of Australia, UNESCO, Volunteers of America, the YMCA, numerous children’s hospitals and various legal defense funds. But while most of these organizations are based in the United States, Jackson was a true citizen of the world, a globetrotting moonwalking philanthropist if you will, and the hands he opened to one segment of humanity did not close when he encountered another.
All those stunned by the literally worldwide outpouring of tributes upon his death need only recognize that his generosity truly was global. During the course of various tours he often forfeited individual payment and instead donated his earnings to others: at one point presenting Mayor Kronawitter of Munich, Germany, with a 40,000 DM-check for the needy people of his city; donating £400,000 pounds to charities in Dublin, Ireland; presenting 1 million pesetas to a charities sponsored by the Queen of Spain, and £200,000 to Prince Charles of Great Britain for the Prince’s Trust. Argentina, France, Italy, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Russia, and citizens of countries throughout Africa benefited repeatedly from Jackson’s amazing capacity for altruism.
It is possible that the inscription on the Bollywood Humanitarian Award that the megastar received in 1999 sums up what drove him to work so hard in order to give so much: "Though he comes from the young American tradition, Michael is the embodiment of an old Indian soul. His actions are an expression of the philosophy of Weda, which asked to work for the people––not for one's own interests."
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co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance