(Soundbite of song, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough)
TONY COX, host:
It has been a year to the day since music icon Michael Jackson died. You might even remember what you were doing last June 25th when you heard the shocking news that the 50-year-old king of pop was dead. Michael Jackson will be remembered for releasing the biggest selling album of all time, "Thriller" and good or bad, he'll also be remembered for the personal struggles that stemmed from his family life, addictions and legal problems.
From the memorial service in Los Angeles, here is Reverend Al Sharpton.
(Soundbite of memorial service)
Reverend AL SHARPTON (Activist): I first met Michael around 1970, Black Expo, and from that day as a cute kid to this moment, he never gave up dreaming. It was that dream that changed culture all over the world.
COX: As we look back at Michael Jackson one year later, are we closer to finding out who he really was or who he wasn't? I'm joined by Shaye Areheart. She was an editor who worked with Michael Jackson very closely on his official autobiography, "Moonwalk." Shaye, nice to have you on the show.
Ms. SHAYE AREHEART (Editor, "Moonwalk"): Thank you, Tony, nice to be here.
COX: So, it's been a year. What do you make of what has happened to our understanding of Michael Jackson in this last year?
Ms. AREHEART: The interesting thing that I think that's happened in a year since he died and it happened almost immediately after he died, was people began to reevaluate what a musical genius Michael Jackson was. All of his backlist, his albums went to number one. People were in absolute awe of the genius of this man. And I think it was easy to have that forgotten when what was in the headlines were, you know, just the tabloid nonsense. And so that's really been a valuable aspect of this last year.
COX: Berry Gordy, in the prologue to the reissue of the book "Moonwalk," talks about the fact that Michael Jackson had this public persona as a performer, unparalleled, but that he had these other quirks, you might say. Talk about those as you experienced them, dealing with him in writing his autobiography.
Ms. AREHEART: I personally never saw anything quirky or odd about Michael. You know, Michael was full of fun. He was somebody who loved to have a good time, loved to play practical jokes on people and loved to laugh. He was incredibly intelligent. He was reading all the time. He was always carrying a book around with him that he had words underlined, he had comments of his own in the margins, because he was just so crazy about learning and about knowledge. And he was fascinated by entertainers who had come before him, entertainers who were, you know, his contemporaries. And he was a very interesting man.
But I never saw anything or heard anything that would give any resonance to any of the headlines that many people hung on.
COX: Well, there certainly was a lot to talk about there. You could even, no pun intended, write a book about it. But let me ask you this because his estate, since his death, as amassed one billion that's with a B one billion dollars. That includes album sales, television and movie projects like "This Is It," the documentary. There were other projects. How do you explain that phenomena?
Ms. AREHEART: Well, I think that when Michael was alive and was at the height of his career, with say "Thriller" and "Bad," that he was making that kind of money. And so I actually think that, again, it was that, you know, resurgence of interest in Michael, people realizing, my god, you know, the music is unbelievable. I have to have this album. I have to see this movie. I want to have Michael Jackson firmly in my life. And that's what has generated that money. And, you know, good for the estate and, you know, good for Michael and his heirs.
COX: How does his legacy, in your opinion, Shaye, compare to other music icons like Elvis or John Lennon or Selena or even Kurt Cobain?
Ms. AREHEART: I mean, it's very difficult to compare apples and oranges. I mean, I think Michael was a profoundly fine musician, an incredible songwriter, singer, performer. He just had it all. You know, when Michael Jackson walked on stage, you could not take your eyes off him. And he was so dedicated to his fans and to his audience, it mattered so very much to him that he go out there and he give them his all.
COX: As we end the conversation, what song do you think we should go out on?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. AREHEART: Oh, that's so hard. I think you should go out on "Billie Jean."
COX: Shaye Areheart was one of the editors who worked with Michael Jackson on his autobiography "Moonwalk." She joined us from our bureau in New York. Shaye, thank you very much.
Ms. AREHEART: Thank you so much, Tony.
(Soundbite of song, "Billie Jean")
Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Musician): (Singing) She was more like a beauty queen of a movie scene. I said don't mind, but what do you mean I am the one who will dance on the floor in the round. She said I am the one...
COX: I've written about Michael Jackson on the TELL ME MORE blog. He was the star of the best concert I ever saw, Motown 25, I was there. And we've guest blogs from people who interviewed and worked with Jackson. Also at the blog you'll find TELL ME MORE's backtalk segment where we highlight the backtalk we hear from you. You can find both at NPR.org. Click on the Programs page for TELL ME MORE and blog it out.
Coming up, the Barber Shop guys, and yes, there's lots to talk about including the longest, ever, pro tennis match, and the return to the U.S. of the Rocky Mountain Rambo. That's just ahead on TELL ME MORE. From NPR News, I'm Tony Cox.