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Joan E. Dowlin Headshot

What Really Killed Michael Jackson?

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After following the coverage of Michael Jackson's life and tragic death, I have come to the conclusion of what killed him. It was not America nor drugs nor a ravenous and unrelenting press, nor was it a lack of love in his life.

When celebrities like Deepak Chopra, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, Miko Brando, his mother, his sisters and his brothers all fiercely defend his honor and legacy, one realizes what a beloved person he was.

So the question is: with all of this love, not to mention the adoration of millions of fans around the world surrounding him, why did Michael appear to be so unhappy? Why did he feel the need to have countless surgeries on his nose, have treatment for "vitiligo" (an autoimmunity in which the body attempts to reject its pigment cells) that involved complete depigmentation of his skin, take so many pain/prescription medications, display bizarre behavior (dangling his baby son from a balcony), wear makeup, and sleep with children in his bed at his "Neverland" California ranch?

The answer lies within Michael himself. No matter how much another person loves you, if you do not love yourself, it won't make a difference. I believe that MIchael Jackson did not love himself.

What made such a talented singer, dancer, composer, and musical icon have such low self esteem? MJ claimed that his father abused him both emotionally and physically. This obviously could have started a self-destructive pattern that continued into his adulthood. Michael also was denied a normal childhood, being thrust into fame with the "Jackson 5" at an early age. Perhaps this is why MJ was so fascinated with the fantasy of "Peter Pan and Neverland".

Jackson also became famous in the late 60s and early 70s when African American performers were just beginning to be recognized for their talents and the "black is beautiful" movement was becoming the rage. He obviously never took that slogan to heart.

Courtland Milloy in his Philadelphia Inquirer article "Jackson's War With His Face" wrote that "Studies have shown that many African Americans obsess about facial features and skin color that conflict with images of beauty promoted in the mass media-images that are usually based on some notion of a white ideal." Hopefully, the 2008 election of America's first African American President has reversed this trend. But Jackson reached his musical prime in the 1980s.

I'm sure Michael would disavow he was attempting to become "white" just as he denied multiple surgeries in his 2003 interview with NBC's Martin Bashir. However, it is interesting to note that Jackson's two wives were white. Whatever his motivations, it is clear he was not happy with his appearance. Perhaps his father's mocking comments about his nose being too big set off his insecurities about his looks.

Watching that NBC special with Bashir also made me aware of MJ's obsessive nature. In one sequence he was shopping in an expensive Asian furniture store and told the salesman "I'll take that and that and that and that..." going on and on while running up a bill of millions of dollars, demonstrating clearly addictive behavior. It is not hard to believe he may have become hooked on prescription drugs and pain killers.

In that interview, MJ also displayed a certain shyness that was unusual for such an outgoing and innovative performer. It's possible Michael was uncomfortable with the adulation of millions of fans and being the center of the world's attention. Who wouldn't be?

But in the end, it was tragic that he was never able to fully accept and appreciate the love that was always there for him. As Deepak Chopra shared, MJ surrounded himself with "enablers" who kept his addictions alive and shunned those who cared for him the most. Addiction does that, especially to those who feel unworthy of love and support. Denial and escape become the norm. Unfortunately, this leads down a lonely road of isolation and despair that often ends in tragedy.

Michael Jackson will be remembered for the amazing trailblazing contributions he made to the world of pop music but through his personal story we can learn about the importance of love and self-acceptance. May he finally rest in love and peace.