Jackson's Conflicted Legacy Examined

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For all the love pouring out for pop icon Michael Jackson, there are also those who feel conflicted about his legacy. Teresa Wiltz, a senior culture writer for The Root, says Jackson's artistry became eclipsed by his increasingly bizarre behavior.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

For all the love pouring out for Michael Jackson, there are also those who feel conflicted about his legacy. When it comes to complicating public adulation with a questionable private life, Michael Jackson was in the class by himself. In the 1990s, he paid out over $20 million to settle a claim of child molestation. Years later, he was tried and acquitted of other child molestation charges. At best, he enjoyed the company of children, whom he invited for sleepovers.

Teresa Wiltz has been weighing Michael Jackson's undeniable contribution to music against his personal failing. She's a senior culture writer for TheRoot.com. Hi, welcome.

Ms. TERESA WILTZ (Senior Culture Writer, TheRoot.com): Hello.

SIEGEL: How do you weigh this, the contributions of Michael Jackson, the strangeness of his personal life?

Ms. WILTZ: Well, I think it's tricky. You know, I grew up as a fan of Michael Jackson, as many, many, many people did, and became increasingly dismayed by the freak show over the years and covering them as a journalist, you know, his artistry became eclipsed by the increasingly bizarre behavior. I have to say, sometimes I feel pretty wishy washy because we have to look at the fact that he did revolutionize pop music. He revolutionized the music video. And so I think for a lot of the fans that are grieving right now, there's this kind of compartmentalization.

I mean, there are people who just think he's absolutely innocent and they're quite vehement about that. And then there's others who just are completely horrified by the allegations against him.

SIEGEL: One of the questions that Michael Jackson's life and career seem to pose us with is the issue of the role model. And in recent years it's been increasing common to declare everyone who's terrifically successful at anything a role model of some sort. Here is somebody who might have been an artistic role model for people, but not in the way that he led his life or somehow seem to resist becoming an adult in key respects.

Ms. WILTZ: Well, he identified with Peter Pan. He said he was Peter Pan. He can't be a role model. He can be a role model, as you said, artistically, his music. He sold more records than anyone ever. But, you know, some of the greatest stars made by some profoundly, deeply troubled people. And I think especially in this media age, where it's just like 24/7 TMZ-style coverage, we put way too much pressure on our artists to be something that they're not. And clearly this is - Michael Jackson was someone who couldn't handle that pressure.

SIEGEL: Well, he didn't exactly shrink from publicity, though.

Ms. WILTZ: No, he courted it.

SIEGEL: He loved being photographed and being covered everywhere.

Ms. WILTZ: I think he courted the controversy, at the same time he would kind of decry it and, you know, he tried to have it both ways, I think.

SIEGEL: What do you make of Michael Jackson's unique, at least, a role in American race relations, as somebody who, first of all, crossed the color line in terms of his appeal to audiences? And then oddly seemed to cross the color line in his own life. He lightened.

Ms. WILTZ: He did. And of course there's this, you know, huge debate on the Internet right now whether or it was vitiligo, as he attested, or something else. He's an interesting case because there are those who think that he really didn't want to be black and so was trying to erase his blackness and, you know, there's evidence: the hair, the nose, the skin color. But, you know, when you watch his videos, as I did, it was so deeply rooted in his black aesthetic. I think we can look at him and see that this, you know, judge by his actions. And by his actions he was someone who had a very complicated feelings about being black in America.

SIEGLE: How does one describe Michael Jackson to children? What do you say?

Ms. WILTZ: That's an interesting question because I have an eight-year-old niece and a 12-year-old nephew and I've been talking to them about him. You know, my niece looked at, she'd seen the grownup Michael, and then when she saw pictures of the little kids the same age as she is, she was shocked and she was just kind of stunned.

SIEGEL: She was shocked that isn't the person, you mean, she was saying.

Ms. WILTZ: Yeah. Yeah. She was just stunned. So, I mean, I think you say, I told them this is somebody who didn't like himself very much - made great music.

SIEGEL: And as a grown man, would've enjoyed the company of a 12-year-old, I mean, would've - he would've invited your nephew, perhaps over for a sleepover.

Ms. WILTZ: But he wouldn't have been allowed to go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: That's the correct answer.

Ms. WILTZ: And I think we also have to remember, he was acquitted of these charges. We'll probably never know what really happened. But we can speak with authority that this someone who had a lot of troubles.

SIEGEL: Teresa Wiltz, senior culture writer for The Root, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. WILTZ: Thank you.

SIEGEL: The Root, by the way, is a daily online magazine focused on African-American issues.

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Michael Jackson Remembered At L.A. Memorial

On The Scene With Ticketholders

Monday evening and Tuesday morning, correspondent Corey Takahashi spoke with Jackson fans who have tickets to the service. Hear them talk about the scene at the Staples Center and their expectations for the memorial.

Leland Sisk

hide captionLeland Sisk, 62, of Garden Grove, Calif.

Corey Takahashi / NPR
Juanda Smith

hide captionJuanda Smith of Atlanta.

Corey Takahashi / NPR
Paul and Joyce Koloa

hide captionBrother and sister Paul and Joyce Koloa of southern California.

Corey Takahashi / NPR
View A Photo Gallery

hide captionView A Photo Gallery

The Jackson family, from left to right: Randy Jackson, Janet Jackson, Paris-Michael Jackson, Prince

hide captionThe Jackson family, from left to right: Randy Jackson, Janet Jackson, Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson, Prince Michael Jackson II and La Toya Jackson, stood on stage at the close of the memorial service.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Millions of music fans said goodbye to Michael Jackson Tuesday during an emotional public memorial service that featured performances by fellow entertainers and eulogies by family and friends in Los Angeles.

Jackson's golden casket — crowned by a magnificent spray of red flowers — took center stage at the Staples Center, where the performer had rehearsed for what was to be a 50-concert comeback tour just one day before his death.

Jackson's brothers were pallbearers at the service. They each wore a gold necktie, one glittering white glove and sunglasses. The family sat together in the front row of the arena, including what was believed to be his three children.

Brother Jermaine Jackson was tearful later as he took to the stage to sing "Smile." At the close of the more than two-hour ceremony, the family came on stage, where one of the singer's three children spoke to the crowd.

"Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine," Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson said. "And I just want to say I love him so much."

The service began with singer Smokey Robinson reading tributes from former South African President Nelson Mandela and Jackson's longtime friend Diana Ross.

"Michael was a giant and a legend in the music industry, and we mourn with the millions of fans worldwide," Mandela said in a letter to the Jackson family.

Pastor Lucious W. Smith of the Friendship Baptist Church in Pasadena gave the invocation, followed by Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz opening the service with "I'll Be There," one of many ballads made famous by Jackson and his brothers when they performed as The Jackson 5.

"We come together and we remember the time," Smith said. "As long as we remember him, he will always be there to comfort us."

Motown music mogul Barry Gordy, the Rev. Al Sharpton and singer Stevie Wonder also paid tribute to the man known as the King of Pop.

"This is a moment that I wished I didn't live to see," Wonder said before his performance.

An estimated 20,000 people were at the Staples Center for the memorial. Free tickets were distributed to 17,500 people chosen from about 1.6 million who registered for a chance to attend the ceremony. About 11,000 people viewed the memorial from inside the sports arena, and 6,500 more watched on giant video screens across the street at the Nokia Theatre.

"Words really can't explain how I feel," said Dani Harris, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mother from Los Angeles. "I'm happy to be here, but the occasion is not so cool. I'm happy to be here and have some closure. It still doesn't seem real."

Fans began making their way to the Staples Center as early as 3 a.m.

"The family has been hurt, so I just want to come out and give some of my condolences and show some pride to Michael and his family," said Dot Cason, who flew in from Philadelphia.

Cason didn't have a ticket to the service, so she opted to join thousands of others in an area about three blocks from the action.

Los Angeles Police Department officials deployed as many as 3,200 officers for the downtown event and for a private service for the family at Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks and Mortuaries in Hollywood Hills.

The LAPD also obtained a temporary flight ban for the air space around the arena because of concern that a large number of helicopters might be using the space at different altitudes.

Television coverage showed crowds building in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday, as fans from all over the world lined up behind barricades waving signs. One man held up a British flag, and the entertainment news Web site TMZ.com showed a contingent of police walking a street near the Staples Center.

Hours before the event, vendors hawked T-shirts and other memorabilia, and fans milled about waiting for the memorial event to start.

"This is certainly a momentous occasion that is probably as big, if not bigger, than when Elvis [Presley] passed away," Steve Howard of Glendale, Calif., told Reuters news service.

"The impact he had on American music and world music crossed all boundaries," said Howard, who won a ticket in an online lottery.

About 50 theaters across the country broadcast the memorial live. In New York City, fans gathered outside the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building to view the tribute on a giant video screen — and fans around the world watched the tribute live on the Web.

Jackson, who was 50, was to be buried at a private service for the family sometime Tuesday.

The pop star died June 25, two hours after he was found in cardiac arrest at his Los Angeles mansion. Los Angeles police and the Drug Enforcement Administration are investigating Jackson's death amid rumors that he may have overdosed on prescription medication. At least two autopsies — one ordered by the family — have been performed. Results of toxicology tests have not been announced, and may not be ready for several more weeks.

Last week, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff named Jackson's mother temporary guardian of the singer's three children — Prince Michael Jr., 12; Paris-Michael Katherine, 11; and Prince Michael II, 7.

Beckloff had initially named Katherine Jackson administrator of the singer's estate, but that was changed when a will surfaced that signed by the singer in 2002. As stipulated in the will, entertainment attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain were named executors of the estate. Another hearing is set for Aug. 3.

With additional reporting by NPR's Carrie Kahn in Los Angeles and wire services.

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