The Day Michael Jackson Died: A Look Back

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One year ago tomorrow, one of the strangest, most volatile lives in American pop-culture history came to an end. Michael Jackson left this mortal coil on June 25, 2009, and in his wake we were left to not only deal with all of our conflicted and cherished memories of him, but also the public war of words surrounding his untimely death.

Rocks Off remembers tooling around on Twitter and seeing the first missive from TMZ saying that Jackson was being rushed to the hospital in grave condition. At first it seemed like just another wacked-out chapter in his life. We had already been smarting over the death of Farrah Fawcett that morning.

For the next hour, we watched as rumors swirled between news outlets, with conflicting reports getting retracted left and right. The head members of Rocks Off began assembling YouTube footage while half-expecting the very worst but hoping he would pull through.

It was sometime in the mid-afternoon, while we were spinning "Ben," that CNN reported Jackson was dead. Instantly we remembered every single point in our lives where his music was present and every person who was there. We did mist up a little; it was like a superhero dying. In those two hours, he officially became our generation's Elvis Presley, felled by his own excess and the enablers surrounding him.

Jackson passed away at a make-or-break point in his life, when things could have gone one of two ways. His farewell tour could have gone worldwide and reignited the love he lost in the '90s, or it would have gone down in flames like most things he did the last decade of his harried life. It sounds extremely uncaring, but a lot of people felt that they were cheated by him leaving us so relatively early so they couldn't see another trademark Jackson failure.

Only a few hours after the Gloved One passed on, strange tributes and rumors began popping up, all exasperated by social media. The jokes began flying, tempered with sadness and nostalgia. Driving home that night, every radio and television station was playing something MJ-related, and did for what seemed like a month. We watched the "Thriller" video maybe 16 times from June into July. We weren't immune to the hype ourselves.

Death Hoaxes

The rumors of death hoaxes began almost immediately after final confirmation came over the wire that Jackson was deceased. Web sites popped up like the extremely intricate and involved www.michaeljacksonhoaxforum.com, complete with a forum and chat room that speculated on the possibility of him faking his death.

The accusations only grew more so with faked videos of what looked like Jackson jumping out of the back of a coroner's van, and the lurid rumor that Jackson wasn't even inside that gold casket at this televised funeral.

Then "someone" found what was purported to be Jackson's own death-hoax diary, which detailed his plans to leave and come back:

"I'll come back, but only when I'm ready. Bigger than Elvis in '69, maybe 2009 at Christmas. Or maybe the New Year is better."


The weekend following his death saw a glut of tribute nights and television specials that lasted about a month. MTV, VH1 and the Fuse network broke from their usual fashion and rich-white-kid programming to show Jackson videos nonstop. Most every club in Houston had nights dedicated to his music, even indier places like Boondocks.

There was talk of an all-star tribute album, but as the year went on and the story (slowly) fell out of the spotlight, we didn't hear so much. (The last we heard any details on it was at least last September.) After Joe Jackson began rearing his demented head, many folks backed away.

There is a collection of creepy-as-hell fan art of Jackson, mostly drawn by grieving children and demented adults. Perhaps the best worst one for our money is the one entitled "Come Together" which depicts Jackson as a buff superhuman-looking dancer from the "Black Or White" video. We sorta dig the one with Jackson in anime form flanked by two buxom hentai chicks. Classy.

Of course, the inmates of a Filipino prison got their own tribute in with a thousand-man strong interpretive dances to the Jackson 5 songs "Ben" and "I'll Be There" recorded two days after Jackson's death, closing out their presentation with "We Are The World" for no explicable reason.


By the night of Jackson's death, entrepreneurs were making bootleg shirts and hats dedicated to him. That weekend, we saw shirts for sale at gas stations, and in a month there were shirts at Walmart stores all over Houston. It was as if we collectively remembered how iconic he was. It took him dying for you to wear a shirt with his face on it again.

His own Web site dived headfirst into the action, selling "Thriller" letter jackets and bobbleheads, items it couldn't give away months before. Who was going to buy a toy figurine of an alleged pederast?

Last fall, a documentary was cobbled together of footage from Jackson's tour rehearsals and it was released in theaters that October. It was moderately successful, as was the soundtrack of tracks he was working on while getting geared up for the month-long residency at London's O2 Arena.

The Internet Exploded

For the next week, you couldn't be on Twitter or Facebook without seeing a new joke about the singer's death or someone pouring their heart out about him. Twitter crashed at least twice the afternoon of his death, and almost everyone posted at least one of his videos on their Facebook wall.

On June 25, 2009, every single notion that pop culture had concocted about Jackson went out the window. Most forgot the last decade of sexual-molestation accusations and instead chose to crank up "Bad" in their car. It seemed right that after all the false information and money-hungry lawyers had their way with him, it was his music that ended up healing everyone.

Not everyone was sitting at home cradling their vinyl copies of Thriller and sobbing into their concert tees. Some people argued back and forth about Jackson's legacy, or just outright called him a pedophile and drug addict and laughed at the people who were crying over him.

The Kids

Jackson's children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, were thrust into the pop-culture spotlight during their father's funeral. It was heart-wrenching to hear Paris tell her dead father that she loved him. At that point, what hit home to everyone watching on televsion or online that to those kids, he was not just an embattled pop star, but a loving and devoted father. We shut off the telecast and felt sick and ashamed at that point.

Word came recently from Jackson's mother Katharine that they are still very much in mourning a year on, but soon will be entering school life and leaving behind their private tutors. To those three kids, he wasn't a joke or punchline.

And at the end of the day, they are really the only ones who mattered to Jackson.

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