Michael was certainly onto something when he came up with the concept for the Dangerous cover art. I’m not sure exactly what he was trying to say, and can’t presume to know. But along about the time of Dangerous, it became all about the eyes, whether it be that soul-penetrating gaze from behind the mask, or the single sleeve for Black or White, or the many, varied publicity stills that all emphasized the smoldering, glaring eyes (and often with his other facial features covered so that his eyes would be the only feature seen).
Now, for sure, there must have been an artistic statement at work here. This was coming from a man who, at least from the time of the 1984 Grammy’s, had been seen more and more in his iconic shades, refusing to let the world see into his eyes because he did not like the vulnerability of it; the exposure of it. He supposedly said at one point that the reason for the shades was because he did not like people “gazing into” his “soul.” (But there may have been more practical, medical reasons as well, which we’ll explore here in a bit).
I’ve often said that Dangerous was Michael’s sexiest and (at that time) most honest and vulnerable album. (HIStory would supplant it, but that was still four years down the road). The cover art seemed to say it all: “I am going to let you see through my mask,” he seemed to be saying. “ I am going to allow you to gaze into my soul. I am going to allow you to HAVE my soul. And I, in turn, will have yours…for at least 76 minutes and 58 seconds!”
This has been confirmed by the stories of several fans who did meet him over the course of the years. One of my favorite stories came from a fan who stood, along with many hundreds of others, outdide his hotel room in Auckland, New Zealand prior to his concert there.
I don’t remember every detail of the story, not that it matters for our purposes here. But she said there was a moment when he came to the window, and gazed down at the crowd below. For just a second, they made eye contact. She said those were the deepest, blackest eyes and the most soul-penetrating she ever looked into.
If I had been in her shoes, I don’t think it would have even mattered if I ever spoke to him or not. That gaze she described would have sufficed a lifetime!
Perhaps Michael knew his eyes had that affect on people. Maybe that was another reason for the shades. Perhaps it was as much about protecting the vulnerability of their souls as his own. One of my favorite stories is the one about Madonna getting him to take off his shades. Depending on which side of the story you hear (hers or his) she either asked and he complied and tossed them out the car window (the “her” version) or else she demanded and flung them off herself (the “his” version) but whichever version you believe, Madonna laid down the law: If you’re going to be MY date and MY man for the night, I wanna see your eyes! It was all about stripping away the shield; the protection. Exposing the naked and vulnerable soul. Was this mean? Necessary? Invasive and presumptious? Perhaps. But one way to look at it is as a tactic very similar to the one used in the military. In other words, the idea that you have to break someone down in order to build them up again. Madonna, being the strong and-yes, aggressive-woman that she is, wanted to break through Michael’s protective shield, and this was one way to start.
Now, if you believe Madonna’s version, he gave up his protective shield willingly. If you believe Michael’s version, he was practically raped (in theory, if not physically!). Which is true? Well, since only those two would know, it’s impossible to say, and Madonna is still telling only her version of events, Michael having took his version to his grave. But it was clear that they both knew the power of the eyes (the window to the soul) to either make or break a relationship.
If you don’t believe me about Michael’s eyes being one of his most iconic features, just try doing a quick google of “Michael Jackson’s Eyes.” You’ll get literally thousands of images of those piercing orbs, in as many artistic incarnations as you can imagine, from album covers to tattoos to paintings. Clearly, if Michael’s dancing feet was his most celebrated and recognizable feature, his eyes weren’t far behind!
So what exactly was it about them that captivated us so? From the time he was born, his big, dark eyes were among his most recognizable features. His mother Katherine said it was the first thing she noticed when she held him for the first time: “I noticed his big, dark eyes and long fingers..”
The Girls Convince Michael To Take Off His Shades And Show His Eyes At The 1984 Grammy’s:
As a performer with a keen fashion sense, he would learn later in life how to play them up to his full advantage. By 1987, he had already had permanent eyeliner applied, and by the early 90′s, false lashes were also a staple. But while I do think Michael embraced androgyony to some extent, there was nothing effeminate in those decisions. Karen Faye has said many times that Michael never thought it was fair that women got to have all the good stuff-the perfumes, the makeup, the ability to change their appearace at will with just a few tricks of a wand. Judging from what I see in the entertainment world today, male actors and singers wearing makeup is more the norm than not. And why not? If God gave you a beautiful face, why not make it a canvas? Michael wasn’t gay or effiminate, but he was definitely metro even years before it was the fashionable thing to be.
Now, of course, no discussion of Michael and his eyes would be complete without acknowledging the fashion statement he made of eyewear, particularly with his signature Aviator Ray-Bans and Wayfarers. In fact, Michael made the look so famous that he’s often featured as the poster boy for such spectacle websites as Selectspecs and blogsites devoted to the subject of eyewear. Here were two such such sites that I ran across. The first one, especially, is a very detailed and informative pictorial of the many different styles of shades that Michael wore:
Michael’s Aviator Ray-Bans And Other Shades Became An Iconic Fashion Statement In Their Own Right. They Had Many Uses…
But did the glasses serve another function other than just as a fashion statement or to protect his soul? In the 90′s and 2000′s, we also began seeing him quite frequently in prescription glasses and bifocals, though usually only at formal affairs such as trials and depositions that required lots of close-up reading of eyestraining documents. Unfortunately, since trials and depositions would become an almost permant fixture of his life throughout his last two decades, we had quite a bit of ample opportunity to see him in prescription specs. Fortunately for Michael, he looked hot in glasses (not every guy can pull off the “geek” look nearly so well!). But what was the nature of his vision problem?
That’s a good question, and one I’ve researched for months with no satisfactory or conclusive answer. Since he only appeared to wear prescription glasses for reading, it’s probably safe to say that he may have simply had a mild case of myopia or hyperopia. He may have possibly also had astigmatism, which might explain why he usually wore glasses rather than contacts. This is just guessing, of course. In some of his short films, such as Thriller and Ghosts, he was known to wear contacts for special effect, but I do not know if he ever wore them in real life.
UPDATE: When I originally wrote this piece, Paris had been wearing prescription glasses for about a year, hence my theory at the time that if Michael had astigmatism, she may have possibly inherited the condition, as many children often do. I thought at the time that this might be a possible explantion for why she was wearing glasses rather than contacts. However, since then, Paris has obviously made the transition to contacts. She still occasionally wears glasses in public, as she did this past year in Gary during the candlelight vigil at the house. But that is very normal for contact lens wearers, whose eyes occasionally need the break.
Myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism are all conditions that can be genetically inherited from one’s parents, so perhaps this can be added (along with Prince’s vitiligo) as one more reason to believe Michael’s children are indeed his, in every sense. Perhaps, although I would caution that given just how common these visionary problems are in childhood(unlike vitiligo, which is a much more convincing arguement) it is probably not worth reading too much into. But interesting, nonetheless.
There’s also another possible explanation. As a sufferer of lupus, Michael was also subject to the vision problems that can be brought on, if not directly by the disease, then certainly by the medications used to treat it. This comes from The Lupus Site:
How can the eyes be affected in lupus?
One of the conditions that can occur along with lupus is Sjögren’s syndrome. This occurs in about 1 in 5 to 1 in 10 people with lupus. In Sjögren’s syndrome the immune system attacks the glands that produce fluids to lubricate different parts of the body. This most commonly produces dry eyes and dry mouth (xerostomia). It is usually milder in people who also have lupus. Artificial tears or saliva will often help. There are also some special pastilles that can be sucked to help the production of saliva. It is important however that these are sugar-free as the lack of saliva increases the risk of tooth decay. There is a blood test for a specific antibody that is often found in people with Sjögren’s (anti-Ro and anti-La antibodies). Sometimes a tiny piece of tissue can be removed form inside the lower lip to detect the condition (a salivary gland lip biopsy). Sjögren’s syndrome can also cause dryness of the vagina (which can make sexual intercourse sore), or dryness of the skin. Gels and creams are available to help these symptoms.
At some time about 1 in 10 people with lupus develop conjunctivitis. This usually presents with slightly gritty red eyes which can be sore and itchy. Depending on the cause this may require steroid or antibiotic eyedrops.
Use of long term steroids, particularly at higher doses increases the risk of getting cataracts. It may also increase the likelihood of getting glaucoma. On the whole it must be stressed that this is uncommon, but If there is a family history then regular eye checks by an optician may well be advised. Occasionally people report slight blurring of vision when the steroid dose goes up or down as a result of fluid changes in the eye or when the steroid dose is changed. If you are on hydroxychloroquine (plaquenil) or chloroquine there is a theoretical risk of developing inflammation at the back of the eye. Over recent years however it has become clear that this risk is incredibly small at the doses that we use these drugs at, if indeed there is any risk at all. Nevertheless as a precautionary measure it important to mention any changes in your ability to read or changes in colour vision to your doctor, and from time to time your doctor may recommend an eye check at your opticians. If you have been on this medication for a few years it may be sensible to do this about once a year.
Lupus can, rarely, affect the blood vessels in the eye which may lead to pain and reduced vision. If this happens then you should phone your doctor straight away as it may be important to treat you with steroids and other drugs, whether as drops, or tablets, or injections, quickly to prevent permanent damage occurring. Inflammation inside the eye (iritis or scleritis) can also produce a painful red eye and again urgent treatment may be needed.
Sometimes conditions such as shingles can affect the eye and people who are on steroids or immunosuppressants such as azathioprine or cyclophosphamide or whose spleen is not working well are more prone to infection or reactivation of an infection they have had many years ago. This may require antibiotic or anti-viral treatments. In these circumstances steroids may actually make this type of problem worse. Clearly if there is something very wrong and out of the ordinary, it is important not to waste time but to seek medical advice quickly and get the right treatment straight away.
There is a range of other problems that can affect the eye. Some people with lupus may get an overactive thyroid gland that can occasionally cause prominence of the eyeballs. If there is inflammation of the nerves that supply one or more of the muscles to the eye (optic neuropathy) this may cause double vision when you look in a particular direction or directions. This again is uncommon.
Granted, most of the above applies to those with systemic lupus, and from all accounts, Michael suffered from discoid lupus. In an article I found on Michael and discoid lupus, there is a paragraph that mentions the circulated rumor that Michael was possibly losing vision in one or both eyes. Of course, I believe for the most part this rumor was just more Ian Halperin rubbish (the man who has probably done more damage to Michael’s legacy by “playing doctor” with his ailments and conditions than anyone else I can think of) but I’ll go ahead and quote the excerpt here since it does offer up some telling facts about discoid lupus and vision (keep in mind this article was written before the official autposy release and even before the official coroner report; it was during a time when people were still speculating if his death could have been lupus related):
…I don’t know if MJ was prescribed this drug or not but anti-malarial drugs like Placquenil are typically prescribed to keep discoid lupus at bay. Patients on this drug can have successful results from plastic surgery but, there is no guarantee. If he was on an antimalarial drug he needed to protect his eyes and skin from sunlight and, unfortunately, these drugs can cause damage to your retinas and blindness which coincides with a more recent rumor that MJ was losing vision in either one or both eyes…
According to at least a couple of other sites, the vision problems that can be associated with lupus are many and varied. These are some listed by Healing Well.com; I’ve bolded the symptoms that Michael was known to have had:
Vision problems: Changes in vision can be a result of lupus or because of the corticosteroids and antimalarials used to treat lupus. Problems can include inflammation of the eye, glaucoma, cataracts, general changes in vision, and blocked tear ducts. On very rare occasions, blindness can result. Warning signs include:
- development of a rash over the eyelids;
- mucus discharge from the eye;
- blurred vision;
- sensitivity to light;
- a sore, red eye;
- lack of tears, and eyes that hurt and are dry; and
- episodes of flashing lights and partial blindness.
Of course, any of these could be attributed to other factors and conditions as well. But I think we can safely say that there’s at least a good possibility that Michael may have been suffering from impaired vision brought on by lupus in his last years. At the risk of playing Ian Halperin, however, I’ll just leave it at that-a possibility, albeit an inconclusive one.
But whatever may have been going on behind the famous, penetrating gaze, one thing’s for certain. At age fifty, those eyes were still just as striking and beautiful as when Mama Katherine first gazed into them on a hot August night in 1958.