The jokes had already begun.
A colleague posted on Twitter, "What a coincidence ... America's two sexiest white women die on the same day." (The second white woman is Farrah Fawcett, the other American pop icon who passed away Thursday.) A friend of mine even said he laughed when he heard the news, a reflex brought on by hearing people mourn a man they were probably making off-color wisecracks about the day before.
Everybody is reacting to the death of Michael Jackson, who passed away Thursday at the too-young age of 50. Some are still in shock. Some are grieving. Some couldn't care about it one way or the other.
But there are those, like me, who are beginning to come to terms with what Jackson encompassed in his life.
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who has had a love-hate relationship with Jackson.
A few years ago I wrote an essay about him for a Houston paper. I raked him over the coals for the flighty, pathologically eccentric behavior he exhibited in the 2003 TV documentary "Living with Michael Jackson."
It appeared that the image he presented in that special (a "man-child who is the living embodiment of arrested development," I called it) was more proof that Jackson had lost it.
No more was he the electric entertainer who could make stadiums full of people pass out from ecstatic, jaw-dropping, I-saw-the-face-of-God joy. It appeared music was the last thing on his mind. He could still make the random fan cry with just the touch of his hand, but as far as entertaining the masses goes, those days seemed to be behind him.
I got a lot of heat from Jackson fans all across the globe ("You should be ashamed of publishing an article like that!" was one response in the letters section two weeks later).
But those fans failed to see that I was doing it because, like them, I had a fondness for Jackson and his music, and it was painful to see the man like that.
To see him become a middle-age, lowfat-milk-faced, self-proclaimed pied piper who dangles babies off balconies, hangs in trees, thinks it's OK to sleep with children and does other career-damaging things was just disheartening.
It was as if two hours of television washed away a lifetime of great work.
With such overwhelming evidence against him, I'm sure even the most dedicated fan had a doozy of a time trying to defend him: to friends, family, pretty much everyone. It must have taken a toll on many Jackson supporters, trying to forget about the strange man he had become to keep the dynamic artist alive in their memories.
I always hoped Jackson would remember that dynamic artist, too, and work on going back to that. But alas it never came to be. (I know some of you are saying, "Well, what about the 'Invincible' album?" I would like to forget that mess, thank you very much.)
With Jackson officially in the past tense, it seems that I, among many, am choosing to remember the man in his prime. The Michael Jackson who could do no wrong. The Michael Jackson who didn't lead people to think he was the pervert preying on boys that so many accused him of being in his later years. The lean, mean Michael Jackson who did this thing onstage called the Moonwalk and ended up changing the world.
I remember seeing Jackson perform at the Grammys in 1988 and seeing my family, some of the most gossipy, trash-talking, bad-mouthing people I've ever come in contact with, turn back into rabid Jackson fans when he began performing. "I don't care what they say about ya," my mother screamed over and over again.
It kind of bothered me seeing my peoples, who I've heard call Jackson a screwed-up freak many times during my childhood, turn on the dime like that, just because he was singing "Man in the Mirror." But as I look back on it now, it proves what a big impact Jackson had on people. Even when you had your suspicions about him, they fell by the wayside when he did what he did best.
And that's a good way to remember someone, isn't it?