Mourning Michael Jackson

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach This Friday marks one year since the passing of Michael Jackson. His legacy remains highly controversial. … Continued

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

This Friday marks one year since the passing of Michael Jackson. His legacy remains highly controversial. On one side there are ardent fans who consider him the central inspiration of their lives. On the other there are strident critics who believe he was hopelessly weird with an unhealthy interest in children. In the middle are those who simply love his music and miss his talent.

The truth about Michael as I knew and understood him was something else entirely. Michael Jackson forever remained the broken boy who yearned for a normal childhood but was thrust reluctantly into a spotlight that slowly became addictive. Immersed in a celebrity culture rife with human corruption, he yearned to be innocent. Starved of affection, he spent his life looking for love but ultimately settled for attention. Surrounded by sycophants who indulged his every unhealthy whim, he longed to find an authentic and spiritual environment. And trapped in a cocoon of incarcerating fame, he craved to consecrate his celebrity to a cause larger than himself.

The tragedy of his life was his failure to achieve these noble aims. Michael knew that G-d had given him a special gift and with it the power — as he often sang — to “‘heal the world, make it a better place.” He understood the responsibility of celebrity and was devastated as his was slowly transformed into notoriety. He hated to be hated and was crushed by the chasm between what he saw as his sincere intentions to do good verses the uncharitable public perception of him as a shallow materialist.

Michael and I became close friends for a period of about two years. We worked together to find a renewed direction for his life and gave several joint lectures together about the importance of parents prioritizing their children. Once, in the midst of the 30 hours of recordings we did together for publication in a book that would allow Michael to speak directly to the public, he revealed how defamatory his celebrity had become. “You get tired and it just wears you down. You can’t go somewhere where they don’t manipulate what you do and say, that bothers me so much, and you are nothing like the person that they write about, nothing. To get called Whacko, that’s not nice. People think something is wrong with you because they make it up. I am nothing like that. I am the opposite of that.”

Polite to a fault, he was a soft and gentle soul who prided himself on being different to other celebrities. Whereas they partied in nightclubs, Michael loved being around ordinary families. Where they put, as Michael said, needles in their arms, he was a vegetarian who wouldn’t be caught dead with a street drug. And where they, as Michael maintained, engaged in tawdry relationships, Michael preferred the company of innocent kids.

What he could not see was that overindulging in medication prescribed by a doctor was just as destructive as a street drug and was motivated by the same celebrity emptiness. He was also oblivious to his own excess when it came to kids. It was one thing to show kindness and friendship to children. It was another thing entirely to invite them into your bed.

I do not for a moment believe Michael was a pedophile. Those who judge him as such forget that the only time he was charged he was utterly acquitted, and it is time for the public to exonerate him as well. But he gave himself license to cross lines of basic propriety that brought him into disrepute and soiled his message about the purity and innocence adults could learn from children. For a man who spent his life trying to educate the public as to the wonders of childhood, this was a monumental failure, and he knew it. The suspicion cast on him by a public whose love he had spent a lifetime cultivating marked the principal sorrow of his life. It would have tragic consequences when he turned increasingly to painkillers to numb the ache.

A year after his death what most haunts me is the knowledge that Michael’s life could so easily have been saved. What Michael needed was not painkillers but counseling, not the numbing of an inner woundedness through drugs but the awakening of an inner conscience through spiritual guidance. He needed a wise voice in his ear guiding him to a mastery of his demons before they consumed him. Any number of people could have rescued Michael from impeding oblivion. Most of all, he craved the love and validation of his father. What emerges most strikingly in our recorded conversations – conversations that Michael knew would be read by a wide audience, perhaps including his parents – was the hurt he felt toward his father on the one hand, and the extreme affection he harbored for him on the other. Michael had many fans, but he played primarily to an audience of one.

But while his life is sadly irretrievable, the lessons to be culled from his life are not. Few were as eloquent in articulating the profound lessons parents could learn from being around their children. Fewer still were more attuned to the lifelong scarring of children who were victims of neglect. I can still hear Michael’s daily admonishments to me to look my children in the eye and tell them I loved them and to never allow a night to go by without reading them a bedtime story.
When first I learned of his death my immediate reaction, I am ashamed to say, was anger. You silly man, I thought. How could you? You knew your children, whom you adored, depended on you. You were the most devoted father. How could you orphan them? You Michael, to whom G-d bequeathed such unequaled talent, just threw it away?

Twelve months later the anger is gone, replaced by a deep sadness. He was an imperfect candle. But his striving to go beyond the caricature he had become and redeem his life by visiting orphanages and hospitals was illuminating. The lyrics of his songs spoke to the human yearning to mend the broken pieces of the human soul and become whole. Whether it was encouraging himself and his fans to be the man looking in the mirror, or healing the world, he wished for his music to inspire people to choose goodness.

A year after his untimely passing it is time to mourn Michael as a man. To remember him not as an entertainer, or to miss him as an international icon — an object without feelings or pain — but as a struggling soul who tried to transform the pain of his broken childhood into an inspirational message about parents cherishing their children. It is time to evaluate Michael his life not in the context of an idol who had much money and fame but as a man who searched for a real home that was not a stage.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of “The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul Intimate Conversation,” (Vanguard) and the just-published ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life’ (BasicBooks). He is also host of Shalom in the Home on TLC. Follow him on Twitter @Rabbishmuley.

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  • remorse

    Boteach is not an authority or friend of MJ and has no right to comment about anything related to MJ. He used MJ’s celebrity to advance himself and then used MJ’s death to make money with his book. Why did MJ fire Boteach? Why was Boteach denied a pulpit in the UK? Where does Boteach’s charity money really go to? Someone at the Washington Post should investigate this guy before publishing another one of his blogs. He exploited MJ just like Joe Jackson did. Boteach is not a man of faith. He worships at the altar of celebrity.

  • GlendainTexas

    Look at the outpouring of love for Michael Jackson. We all miss him so much! I pretend that he’s still with us because I can’t accept right now that he’s gone.

  • rcubedkc

    michael jackson will be remembered for what he was, a pervert.

  • exco

    All fairly simple rabbi” -There are ardent fans who consider him the central inspiration of their lives.” Rejoice in the fact that you had someone who inspired you. Move on. – “There are strident critics who believe he was hopelessly weird with an unhealthy interest in children.” May or may not be true, but the man is dead. Move on. – “In the middle are those who simply love his music and miss his talent.” We live in a digital world. Put on your headphones, smile at what you hear and move on. And to those still milking Jackson’s life and death one year later. You get the point, right?

  • grohlik

    Moms and Dads: Keep your kids away from the Rabbi. No overnights, ok.

  • MikeWise

    I have no idea if Rabbi Boteach is a cult-of-celebrity fraud or a genuine guy for a short time in Michael Jackson’s life. I do know what he wrote crystallized my feelings about who Michael really was and what ultimately kept him from being happy.At some point we all decide to put people around us who either tell us what we want to hear or tell us what we need to hear.The “need to hear” crowd was drowned out by the hangers on and the enablers. It’s his fault he’s gone, but he got plenty of help. Either way, I miss the kid who made me smile during the worst days of my childhood when he sang, “Ohhhh, babeee, give me one more chance…” I miss what he tried to be in his best moments as a man. I don’t miss the freak show. But then, none of us wants to be judged solely in our worst moments. I have to believe that’s not the totality of who he was.

  • eldonth

    MJ’s death was indeed sad. He touched so many children.

  • asoders22

    I have a hard time even getting through this article by the notorius, manipulative Boteach, who obviously has no inkling as to who Michael Jackson was. Not because he didn’t talk to him often enough, but because he’s too narrowminded. He obviously hasn’t even listened to Michael’s music. If he had, he would have heard Morphine, which came in 1997 and clearly showed (which Lisa Marie Presley confirmed) that Michael was very aware of his drug use. And that’s only one aspect. Michael Jackson was very complex and he was a creative soul. Boteach has no idea what that is or what it needs. I take exception to seeing an article here by this man at this time. Boteach judged and exploited Michael Jackson and should hang his head in shame.

  • asoders22

    And for the last time: Michael will only be “remembered as a pervert” by those sad little souls of bad will and no knowledge. He is remembered as a musical genius and generally good man who, in spite of decades of malicious press and slander, sold out fifty shows at the gigantic O2 arena because people genuinely loved him and enjoyed his art. I miss him like hell, and I’m not even an old ardent fan. The 2005 trial was a lynching by a racist DA without a case, and the media killed what was left.

  • eldonth

    I cannot believe he is gone. He touched so many children.

  • momof20yo

    Are we going to now be put through (tortured with) annual “Michael’s birthday” remembrances, store sales events, etc. just like Elvis? For the sole purpose of re-filling the bank accounts of the MJ estate?Pathetic. Ridiculous. Embarrassing. Yet typical. Dead people make more money than when they were alive, or at least someone is abusing the memory of the dead person to make a lot of money off of them. MJ’s ‘music’ wasn’t selling well for years, but now that he’s dead, it is? Why didn’t all these ‘fans’ care so much about MJ until he died?

  • drjcarlucci

    As a rich pedophile and narcissistic drug addict who got away with it.The pedophile part.His attorney couldn’t buy his way out of the drug overdose.

  • therev1

    What does this garbage have to do with faith? The On Faith editor needs to be fired.

  • kevina2

    MJ was very talented but he also lived a life that could easily be classified as a freak. Why all the secrecy over a skin disease ? You’re not the only one with it. Why all the fascination with young boys ? That’s really odd.

  • mbc1954

    I hope that people will also think about the anniversaries of the passing of Farah Fawcett and Billy Mays this time of the year. And they should also remember the unfair amount of mention that these two celebrities got last year in the media in proportion to Michael Jackson.

  • alex35332

    I don’t know what we will remember him as, but history will likely see him as a symbol of America’s failures. Like how we view Nero or Caligula, an icon who if he were a common man would be locked away.

  • bigbrother1

    Michael Jackson was a moderately talented singer, a gifted dancer and a human being. Nothing more. Everything else was fabrication and media-generated idolization. And it was this everything else, compounded with the cruelty of his upbringing and the loss of childhood that fame brings, that eventually killed him.This is not a question of faith. It is a question of our culture of fame and what it turns real humans into. Some are desperate to strive for fame, others to grant super-human power on the famous. This is a societal sickness, nothing more.

  • areyousaying

    The man’s dead. What right do you Huckabee Haters, whose Christ taught you otherwise, to still condemn him. Did God deputize you to sit in judgment? I thought you said that was His job.Poor old Jesus.

  • areyousaying

    “…. who if he were a common man would be locked away.”Posted by: alex35332 kinda like pervert priests, eh?

  • dmtompos

    Michael was a very talented performer – singer, dancer, artist. Like all of us, he had faults, sins, and shortcomings. God loves all of His creations – with all of our faults, issues, and stains! Michael was a troubled soul – but who isn’t? Let’s celebrate his music, his artistry, and his talent!

  • mike85

    With all of the serious problems going on in the US and around the world today, wasting front page space on Michael Jackson is disgusting. Where is the Post’s article on Obama considering to issue a Presidential Proclamation granting amnesty to 15MM to 20MM illegal aliens against the wishes of a majority of Americans? Where is the article about how badly Obama is botching the Gulf cleanup? Where is your article about how the new financial reform bill will muddy the financial waters but do nothing to help prevent another financial debacle? Where is your article about the 31 states that are considering new laws like Arizona’s SB1070?What a waste!

  • mybandy

    Enough, already! Who cares? How is this a national story? its been a year. Get off it!

  • drazen1

    Now he belongs to the Eighties.I’m sorry, but Michael Jackson stopped being the King of Pop after “Black or White” charted. He performed practically nothing worth listening to for the last two decades of his life, recycled the same dance moves over and over, and morphed into that worst example of celebrity: someone who became famous for being famous — or infamous as the case may be. Remembering Michael Jackson is the last thing I want to do.

  • hrayovac2

    What horseradish!

  • cllr

    He didn’t touch quite as many children as he would have liked.If the Post wants to write about this skin-whitening obessed, drug-addicted pedophile, how about an interview with Jordie Chandler? He knew him quite well.

  • davidsawh

    Michael was a brilliant entertainer. He was not a paragon of virtue. He was taught to hate his complexion and nose. I will forever remember the wonderful songs sung and the excellent dancing. This still remains the only case I know of where a poor black boy grew up to be a rich white woman.

  • asoders22

    Yes, Michael Jackson should have come forward with his skin disease – for his own sake. But when he tried telling a very close friend, Quincy Jones, he was – according to QJ himself – not believed. Sadly, Ouincy Jones thought Michael was lying about both his vitiligo and his bad lungs. As the autopsy showed, he did not lie. He had indeed vitiligo and he had chronic inflamed lungs. But can you blame him for not telling the world, when not even a close friend and collaborator would believe him?As for Jordy Chandler, he denied any allegations until his father drugged him. He flatly refused to appear at the 2005 trial. If he had, defense attorney Meserau had lined up witnesses to whom Jordy had vonfessed that the allegations were in fact not true. Furthermore, his description of MJ genitals were incorrect. He said MJ was circumcised, which was not right – again, according to the autopsy. Jordy Chandler distanced himself from both his parents. He did not go to his father’s funeral. Evan Chandler attacked his own son and shot himself after MJ’s death. He extort Michael and he managed to destroy his reputation, just like he promised to do in tape (Michael refused to fund his film and buy him a house).Not one single count on the trial had any foundation. MJ was acquitted for very good reasons. If you still want to rant on about him being a pedophile, it’s against all the evidence and hence all in your head – fed by relentless media slander and your own with to have someone to hate.

  • lwilliamson1

    Yeah, he “touched” a lot of children alright (LOL!).I cannot believe he is gone. He touched so many children.Posted by: eldonth | June 25, 2010 3:38 AM

  • killerm1

    Michael was the king of ‘SODA’ pop, like soda pop he as overly sweet, left a bad after taste, was a poor choice to give to your kids, and was a little icky. What a sad state we have come to in this country that we idolize such an obviously warped and pathetic individual. Like soda pop he as lost his fizzle, gone flat, and soon will be tossed in the trash.

  • nativebutterfly

    MJ was celebrated the world over. What an entertainer. An icon, now at rest.

  • lartfromabove

    Michael Jackson was a great performer and a lousy accountant. It’s unfortunate that he died. People should remember him for the great things he accomplished, and not load their own baggage onto whatever problems he had in is off-stage personal life.

  • lwilliamson1

    The “skin disease” issue is, frankly speaking, B.S. On observing his appearance-his nose, his chin, his hair, as well as his complexion–it’s painfully obvious that he was trying to transform his self into a Caucasian. A black Rolling Stone magazine writer (whose name I can’t recall) once put it best: Michael was just “a poster boy for black self-hatred.”

  • rurik

    Good riddance to an overhyped musician. He’s dead. Let him rest, people.

  • burnie4241

    It’s amazing how many people have no knowledge about the skins disease that MJ had and are too dumb/stupid/ignorant to look it up or do any research before passing judgement. Vitaligo, which affects people of all races, is a skin disorder that causes depigmentation in patches of the skin. In cases of extensive vitiligo the option to de-pigment the unaffected skin may be considered to render the skin an even colour. The removal of all the skin pigment is permanent and it takes about a year to complete. The plastic surgery was over the top but taking the medication to completely remove all color was what he thought would be best for a celebrity of his stature. Some other notables with this disease, which can range from mild to severe, are Rasheed Wallace (NBA player) and Tempest Bledsoe (Cosby Show). How stupid to say that it was black self hatred that caused him to change his skin!

  • burnie4241

    As for the sleepovers with children, I don’t fault MJ at all! Where in the world were the parents! What parent in their right mind would allow their children to attend a sleepover at a grown man’s house no matter who it is?! That, to me, makes them unfit to raise a child!

  • Badwisky

    michael jackson was a tremendous talent. I think that we forget all of the time and money he contributed to different causes. He was a somewhat troubled soul looking for a more innocent world which probably led him to make some poor choices.

  • Secular

    This guy Boteach is trying to finagle into MJ’s gravy train. Once a snake oil salesman always a snake oil salesman. That what thes people of the cloth are. They read up on the Vile books of fables and try to stretch everything to fit into the books or stretch the books to fit the issue and try to feel relevant. These morons should be out in the street shouting and selling pencils to the passersby. That’s what they are fit to be and trained to do.

  • Listening2

    Michael Jackson was a great entertainer, possibly a child molester and a pathetically dysfunctional individual, let him rest in peace already and give us some peace too. If there are individuals out there who view him as some kind of icon, they need to get a life already. There are many individuals out there who admire “celebrity” of whatever kind for no purpose at all, how sad. The news media needs to stop selling cheap stories and stop making the problem worse. And Rabbi, get a life.

  • Itzajob

    Rabbi Boteach seems to have missed that lesson about worshipping fame and other golden idols.Faith would lead us to consider all the tormented souls in the world who suffer without any resources at all, much less an entourage and adoring fans like the Rabbi.

  • asoders22

    Ignorance is rampant. Yes, vitiligo is a disease, and he had it. And yes, you can have a life and be in awe of Michael Jackon’s genius and talent at the same time (as the whole musical industry is). But it requires that you can tell the difference between brilliance and amateur night in Dixie. If you can, watching MJ perform is bliss.

  • barferio

    Soon, appearing in the sweat stain hear you – Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley performing their greatest hits.

  • CharlesGriffith1

    This macabre continuation of this ululating is sick.

  • Jihadist

    Filipino inmates doing Michael Jackson impersonations to celebrate him on the anniversary of his death is more enjoyable. All artists are warped in their own way. Including Vincent van Goth. Mr. Boteach can capitalise on MJ’s “search” for his soul. No more, no less reprehensible than all those books about Elvis, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin by those purported to be close to them.

  • shaheed-yahudi

    F I F A – W O R L D – C U P – 2 0 1 0:

  • barferio

    Vincent van Goth [sic] was epileptic. He had real problems, real issues to deal with.Michael Jackson was so narcissistic and self-involved he couldn’t deal with his own fame.Why this pathetic worm died at such a young age is of concern to those of us who are the same age … I truly wonder if he’s actually dead? He pulled some money trick, he’s re-blackened his face and living like a sheik in some country somewhere.

  • Jihadist

    Why this pathetic worm died at such a young age is of concern to those of us who are the same age … I truly wonder if he’s actually dead? He pulled some money trick, he’s re-blackened his face and living like a sheik in some country somewhere.Posted by: barferio *****************************************The Gloved One is certainly more world famous than all the Pathetic Worms smirking about him here. MJ was old when he died. He was over 40 years old. Don’t be macabre and gothic speculating on MJ’s black to white and black again face, he’s a walking dead, a Zombie living somewhere. You can’t sing, dance and write songs like the Gloved One or what? I like Prince, The Weird One, better anyway. Geeez 🙂

  • shaheed-yahudi

    …………………. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ./