While I’m busy preparing my next, longer and unfortunately darker pieces (as there isn’t exactly a lot of cheery MJ news at the moment) I thought I might fill in the gap with a couple of shorter and more lighthearted pieces-one, an interesting side story that surfaced recently in The Huffington Post, and the other, a short look at a rare but very interesting poem by Michael.
Let’s start with this Huffington Post piece on “The Greatest MJ” photo. This was a 1990 photo by Scott Christopher that was unveiled for the first time last Friday, on June 14th, 2013, at the AMFM Fest at Coachella Valley.
You can read the full story behind the photo here:
I think that calling this “The Greatest MJ Photo” is a bit of hyperbole. To call it the “greatest” would have to mean successfully beating out over four decades’ worth of masterpieces, including all of Todd Gray’s gorgeous beauties (sorry, Scott Christopher, that ain’t gonna happen), Annie Leibovitz, Lynn Goldsmith, and a whole host of talented shutterbugs who have contributed to our gallery of MJ Beauty and Appreciation.
Lynn Goldsmith’s story of how she captured some of MJ’s most candidly and sensual, youthful moments on film was told in her 1981 Plum TV interview:
Photographer Lynn Goldsmith worked for Michael for 8 years. Of this photoshoot with Michael Lynn says “We were in his hotel and it’s about 7’o clock, and that’s when the sun was setting and I said ‘You know Michael, up on the roof there’s m…agic light’ so he said ‘Magic light!’ so I said ‘Yeah, you wanna go up there?’ so he said ‘Yeah’ so we snuck out and and we went up to the roof and it was something that he did, Michael started taking his clothes off on the roof which I thought I would get into big trouble for, I mean, he didn’t completely undress but even just taking his shirt off, this is not, you know, a body builder and so you never really knew what he was thinking and that made photographing him very exciting, for me.”
~Lynn Goldsmith Plum TV Interview. 1981 Boston.
And that isn’t even including our wealth of outstanding concert photos that have forever captured the magic of Michael Jackson in performance. Of those, there are far too many to even begin to credit all of the individuals responsible.
Casting aside all exaggeration and hype, what we have left is certainly a charming, unique, and interesting photo that captures Michael in a wonderfully candid moment, and at the height of one of my favorite MJ eras.
What is it exactly that I love so much about Michael during the Dangerous era? I’ve never been able to exactly put a finger on it, but for sure, there was something about that whole whimsical, quirky persona (complete with the ever-present array of goofy hats) that I just loved. This was the era of Michael as the man-child sprite. It was the incarnate of “Magical Child,” the persona of two of Michael’s most well known poems. And I loved it for the same reasons I am drawn to all of those quirky, eccentric, and childlike characters that Johnny Depp plays so well (Edward Scissorhands, Sam from Benny and Joon, etc). It’s an image that isn’t supposed to be sexy-at least, not in the usual, brawny, chest-pounding kind of way. But yet it is. Irresistibly so.
Perhaps only Michael Jackson (and Johnny Depp) could make Peter Pan or The Mad Hatter sexy. But Christopher’s photo works on an artistic level for precisely the same reason that these Life magazine photos of Michael at his piano worked so well in ’93.
It’s that same sort of quixotic combination of the childlike, goofy persona with the intense, passionate artistry of the adult-in short, the eccentric and waiflike genius. But perhaps with one major difference.
Whereas the Neverland shots were posed, and seemingly part of Michael’s carefully calculated plan to project this image, the photo that Scott Christopher captured that day was (going by his story, which I have no reason to doubt) a completely candid and spontaneous moment. Is it the only photo we have of Michael captured in such a moment of candid inspiration? No. We certainly have others; many just as good. But what this image manages to capture so beautifully is the unique juxtaposition of two African-American icons-Louis Armstrong and Michael Jackson-each trailblazers of their own time and generation, seemingly working in harmony and concert. Additionally, these were two men who each faced their own unique challenges as African-American artists of their own generations-and rose above them. No matter how talented any photographer may be, there are certain moments that can only occur with a bit of divine intervention. This was one of them.
But Michael is not just in a moment of inspiration here. He is also captured in a moment of spontaneous play-the kind of spontaneous play that we know, eventually, led to brilliant compositions. It reminds me of that famous scene where Charlie Chaplin suddenly gets the bright idea that if you stick forks into ordinary dinner buns, you can create a dance.
Michael Jackson was the greatest inheritor of that Chaplinesque whimsy, charm-and spontaneous genius that only the most unbidden moments could capture. Michael may not have been creating a Gold Rush dance here out of dinner rolls. But, who knows, he may well have been gleaning his first ideas for some of those great Dangerous classics.
Scott Christopher certainly has every right to be proud of this one. Whatever candid moments those other photogs may have had, this was his moment, and his opportunity to capture a rare and beautiful Michael Jackson moment.
And he did just that. So while it may be far from the “greatest MJ photo ever” I will forgive The Huffington Post hype and simply say thank you, Scott Christopher, for giving us yet one more beautiful image of our beautiful Michael to cherish.
Strangers came and scorned his joy
With ridicule and banter they tried to destroy
What in their minds was a skillful ploy
With cruel darts they tried to plunder
To suffocate and strangle his innocent wonder
Fighting hard, despite their blunder
Again and again to steal his thunder
Despite their attacks, they could not break
With all their barbs, they could not take
God’s gift of love, which they could not fake Not knowing his strength of what he sought to seek They complained aloud and called him a freak-Michael Jackon, Excerpted From Dancing The Dream, “Magical Child Part 2”.
I love a recent comment I read that said: “AEG promised that things would get ugly. But so far, they are the ones who look like jerks!”
By the way, my title isn’t a typo. I intentionally left out the article “a” just as Shakespeare did in the famous line from Othello. The line comes when the villain Iago asks Desdemona why she weeps, after having just had a confrontation with her husband. But the chaste Desdemona cannot bring herself to speak the word “whore.” “It abhors me now, that I speak the word.”
So the blunt and far more liberated Emilia does the job for her, effectively explaining all that needs to be said about the cause of those tears. “He called her whore.”
Sometimes I am reminded of the beauty and stark power of Elizabethean verse. By removing the article, the word takes on more significant power as a label. For Desdemona, being called whore was more than just an unfair accusation. It was a label that shook the very core of her self-identity. From that point forward, she would become a vulnerable victim-tormented and subject to doubting even her own innocence. Shakespeare’s play is a fascinating glimpse into the complexities of the human psyche, for as Othello and Desdemona both learn, if one is led to believe something long enough, and convincingly enough, it becomes their truth. Labels have the ability, and the power, to define us-if we let them.
Here is the write-up that CNN’s Alan Duke did on the story:
Los Angeles (CNN) — A top AEG executive referred to Michael Jackson as “the freak” and another called him “creepy” just hours before their company signed the pop icon to a huge concert deal.
The revelation brought an audible gasp in the Los Angeles courtroom at the wrongful death trial Wednesday and left fans crying.
Jackson’s mother and children are suing AEG Live for what they say was the negligent hiring, retention or supervision of Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the singer’s death.
Katherine Jackson watched from the front row as her lawyer questioned AEG Live Senior Vice President and General Counsel Shawn Trell about an e-mail exchange with his boss at parent company AEG.
The Jackson family matriarch began weeping when Trell returned to the witness stand Thursday morning. She left the courtroom and did not return.
“Is it the policy of AEG to talk in derogatory terms about the artist you’re going to do business with?” Jackson lawyer Brian Panish asked.
“No,” Trell answered.
Panish then showed jurors an e-mail Trell sent on January 28, 2009, to Ted Fikre, AEG’s chief legal officer, letting him know he was about to go to Jackson’s home for the signing of the contract for his “This Is It” concert tour.
“Does that mean you get to meet the freak?” Fikre replied.
Trell responded: “Apparently. Not sure how I feel about that. Interesting for sure, but kind of creepy.”
The e-mail exchange happened less than four hours before Trell and other AEG executives visited Jackson’s Los Angeles home.
“This is a man you hoped to make millions and millions of dollars from?” Panish asked Trell. “Didn’t your mom ever say if you don’t have anything good to to say about someone, don’t say anything?”
Trell earlier testified that he was excited to meet Jackson for the first time and was impressed with his “good, firm handshake.”
“I may not have necessarily agreed with some of the life choices Michael Jackson made, but I certainly had enormous respect for him as an entertainer.”
Most of Wednesday’s session was a dry review of Jackson and Murray’s contracts as AEG Live’s defense team worked to convince jurors that Murray was not hired by the concert promoter. Jackson chose, hired and supervised the doctor, they contend.
Murray signed his contract the day before Jackson’s June 25, 2009, death, but AEG executives and Jackson never put their signatures on it. Jackson lawyers, however, argue he had been already working for two months based on an oral contract.
The Jackson lawsuit contends that AEG Live executives ignored red flags that should have warned them that Jackson was in danger from Murray’s treatment.
The coroner ruled that Jackson died from an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol, which Murray told police he was using to treat the singer’s insomnia.
Panish — the Jackson family’s lead lawyer — questioned Trell Thursday about his previous testimony that there were no “red flags” to alert AEG executives about Jackson’s declining health.
He showed jurors an e-mail sent to AEG Live President Randy Phillips and Co-CEO Paul Gongaware by “This Is It” stage manager John “Bugzee” Houghdahl on June 19, 2009 — six days before Jackson died.
“I have watched him deteriorate in front of my eyes over the last 8 weeks,” Houghdahl wrote. “He was able to do multiple 360 spins back in April. He’d fall on his ass if he tried now.”
The name of Prince Rogers Nelson — the artist commonly known as Prince — came up when Trell acknowledged that while AEG Live had promoted about 100 tours, it had produced only one other concert tour the size of Jackson’s shows.
When Panish suggested Prince had not had “a very favorable experience” with AEG, Trell said he’d not spoken to him about it.
Panish: “Did you ever try to get a doctor for $150,000 a month for Prince?”
For years, the media mocked Michael Jackson and labeled him “freak.” I am not going to get into all of the why’s and how’s of this conspiracy, a conspiracy that determined to knock Michael Jackson down once he became too powerful in the industry-or, more aptly, as a blackman who became too powerful. That is all ground that has been covered quite thoroughly in other posts, and by other writers-not to mention, this post would be a million miles long if I got into all the back history.
But it has become one of the great-and sad-ironies of our time that one of the greatest musical geniuses of our time has also been saddled with such a derivative label. While some may point to the personal choices Michael made, nevertheless, the label derived from a deep-rooted desire to knock him from his pedestal. Of this, I am thoroughly convinced, because the media backlash against him began as soon as Thriller became the biggest selling album of all time-or to be more precise, right about the time that his then manager Frank Dileo began planting stories in the press about hyperbaric chambers and the Elephant Man’s bones. While at first intended to simply create a harmless mystique and the idea of an eccentric genius, the strategy backfired. Instead, these stories became like a wildfire that, once started, had no end in sight. It didn’t help that we were seeing Michael’s skin color getting lighter and lighter-with no explanation at the time, and that he was wearing more eyeliner with every subsequent album release (but, hey, it was the 80’s, after all!). All of these factors combined just in time to satisfy the jealous people in the industry who wanted to see him knocked from his throne.
Michael was not only acutely aware of the label, but even began to embrace and own it. Part of his public bravado, as evidenced in songs like 2 Bad, Is It Scary, and Threatened, was to say, “I will proudly be a freak, if that’s what you want/need me to be.” In other words, he was giving us permission to project onto him whatever we desired him to be. In doing so, he was holding up a mirror to ourselves, so that we might see our true human nature-and our driving need to have a scapegoat. “Freaks,” after all, have always served a vital function in our society. They show us the best and worst of who we are.
That Michael was well aware of his public perception as a “freak” is further evidenced in this clip from “Ghosts” in which he literally has a showdown-with himself. It is no coincidence that much of the dialog in Michael’s showdown with The Mayor (who, in turn, is simply Michael under a different guise) revolves around the liberal use of the word “freak” and “freaky.”
Michael once said that he had rhinoceros skin. But despite all the public bravado; despite all the show of having embraced and “owned” the label, there can be no doubt. Labels hurt. Kids learn the power of names, from the time they are old enough to bully on the playground. True, names are not sticks and stones…but contrary to what the nursery rhyme teaches us, they have the power to bruise.
Micheal spoke out publicly many times about the pain and humiliation of these labels, as well as his suspicions of their origins:
But you might say, well, what can one expect from the tabloids? Sure, the press relished in calling Michael “freak.” But what about the people in the industry who worked with him? Surely we could expect higher standards of human conduct from them? Well, the bombshell dropped last week during the AEG trial. The revelation of the email exchange between AEG Senior Vice President Shawn Trell and AEG chief legal officer Ted Fickre sheds light on something even infinitely sadder than what Michael had to deal with in the press. It shows the extent of disrespect that Michael had to deal with even from those within the industry-from the very people who stood to make millions off of his talent!
Sadly, I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident. But it is pretty much the story of Michael Jackson’s life from the age of five. I am not trying to add to the chorus of “poor Michael.” But it is a fact that his entire life became subjected to people who would gladly use him for what they could get out of him, with little to no respect for him as a human being.
Look, I have read all the excuses from the AEG apologists. But I’m not buying them. It doesn’t matter if this was a private exchange and never intended to be made public. When Michael said that Jews were leeches, that was a private, off-the-record remark never intended to be public, either. He was venting in an unguarded moment over some of his acquaintances whom he felt had betrayed him. But it didn’t stop his detractors from ripping him apart over it (yet these are some of the same people who now defendFickre and Trell’s exchange on the basis of it being a private email!). Michael’s remark may have had some mitigating circumstances, but that still didn’t make it right. And you know what? Nor does the same excuse wash now, with what Trell and Fickre did. The logic that it was a private exchange, and therefore above reproach, is as ludicrous as trying to defend something stupid that someone might blurt out while drunk by excusing it with “oh, they were drunk.” Okay, maybe they were under the influence. But as we all know, alcohol only lowers inhibition; it doesn’t plant the thoughts in our heads!
In short, people can offer a lot of excuses. But words-once recorded or in print-are there forever.
In other words, it shouldn’t matter in the least if this was a private email between Trell and Fickre; it doesn’t matter if Fickre was joking; it doesn’t matter if it was never intended for Michael or his family or fans to know the remark was made. It doesn’t even matter if Trell made his comment based on preconceived notions before he met Michael (which he claims to have been the case).
The fact is, none of that matters. The comment was made. And no matter how some try to justify it, it wasn’t right. In fact, it was downright dehumanizing.
And let’s not forget, this is a mere few hours before AEG is set to sign a huge contract with Michael.
I can’t emphasize the sad irony of this enough. Michael would basically spend the last months of his life at the mercy of people who thought of him as “freak.” This isn’t merely a case of, say, two immature, college frat boys having a laugh about a geeky roommate.
Let’s reiterate Panish’s statement again:
“This is a man you hoped to make millions and millions of dollars from?” Panish asked Trell. “Didn’t your mom ever say if you don’t have anything good to to say about someone, don’t say anything?”
And let’s reiterate what stage manager John “Bugzee” Houghdahl stated in his June 19th, 2009 email to Randy Phillips:
“I have watched him deteriorate in front of my eyes over the last 8 weeks,” Houghdahl wrote. “He was able to do multiple 360 spins back in April. He’d fall on his ass if he tried now.”
I believe, as many do, that Michael’s health actually deteriorated from the time Murray began treating him on a daily and nightly basis. Which gets us right back squarely to the heart of what this trial is really all about. Michael’s death was ruled a homicide. So who is responsible? It seems to me that Murray was under just as much pressure as Michael to deliver at all costs-not that this in any way absolves him of his own guilt. But clearly there were strings at work, and someone was pulling them. The picture is emerging that Michael spent his last months bullied and pressured by people who had no respect for him other than as a commodity (and this by no means lets the Jacksons off the hook, either; he was a lifelong commodity to them, as well. But at least they were his family, not a corporate entity whose only personal interest in Michael was to see what “the freak” was like in person, and how much money can “the freak” make for us?).
Of course, I will agree on one thing. As many have pointed out, this email exchange only sheds light on the character of a few individuals behind the scenes. It can’t stand as evidence that AEG is responsible for Michael’s death, or that AEG hired Murray-which, after all, is what the jury will have to ultimately decide.
AEG attorney Jessica Stebbins Bina said that the emails served no function except to “embarrass AEG.”
Well, perhaps they shouldbe embarrassed. Perhaps they need to be embarrassed. It doesn’t exactly reflect well on them for the public to know that this is how they privately discuss the entertainers they sign.
Let’s not forget that there is a valid reason why character assassination is such a vital part of both prosecution and defense strategies. Juries are comprised of human beings, who of course are susceptible to the same prejudices as all of us. Didn’t AEG’s attorneys promise to reveal “ugly things” regarding Michael? I say, turnabout is fair play.
Knowing that AEG executives blatantly disrespected Michael may not determine the company’s guilt.
But it sure succeeds in making them look like a__holes.
Which just may make it seem all the more likely that they held his life in as little regard as they held him.
As for Shawn Trell, after agreeing that Michael was a “freak” and that meeting him was going to be “kind of creepy,” what impression did he ultimately walk away with?
Shawn Trell was questioned by both sides.
“I won’t forget meeting Michael Jackson,” said Shawn Trell.
“He seemed very personable when I met him. I thought it was
very interesting when he got up and met me at the door,” explained Shawn Trell.
He had also mentioned, as noted, being impressed by his “good, firm handshake” (this doesn’t seem like much, but in the business world, it is everything).
Trell also stated that he had “enormous respect for him as an entertainer” even if he didn’t agree with “some of the life choices he made.” But hmmm. That’s an interesting choice of words. What life choices, exactly? He was never convicted of anything, and didn’t even indulge in most of the wild excesses of so many of the celebrities that I’m sure AEG deals with on a daily basis. It would still seem to me that this was a prejudice based on reputation alone.
Just how badly can words hurt? It was reported that Katherine Jackson left the courthouse weeping on Thursday, and was unable to return. Fans were reported openly weeping in the hallway, saying that animals are treated better. No doubt, these reactions were the culmination of hearing so many painful details, stacked one upon the other. But you know it has to be hard for any mother, especially one who has buried her child, to have to sit and hear him called “freak”
But it’s not the word itself. “Freak” is, after all, merely a five-letter word. However, its implications have the power to stretch far beyond its diminutive appearance. It says everything about the world that Michael Jackson-one of the greatest musical geniuses of our time- had to live, work in, and face on a daily basis. Somehow, it just shouldn’t be this way.
The interesting thing about trials-barring the fact that they have very serious consequences for those involved-is that they are a lot like watching a really good tennis match. One side serves, and they are off, slinging back and forth until, ultimately, one side comes out victorious. AEG will be working overtime to prove their case, and in the months ahead, they will be unloading every weapon in their arsenal to make Michael out to be the jerk. But right now, they have some tough hurdles to overcome.
I am glad, for his sake, that Trell had an opportunity to get to know the real Michael Jackson. Like so many (I have heard this same story play out a million times!) he expected to meet a “freak” and instead, met a true gentleman whose decorum and manners left a lasting impression on him.
It would be nice to think that, somewhere in the back of his mind, he regretted those words. It would be nice to think he sent a follow-up letter to Ted Fickre that said, “We may have misjudged the guy.”
In a perfect and ideal world, maybe. But this is the real world, and it is the reality of a world where multi-million dollar deals trump any concerns for human respect, dignity, or even-in some cases-human welfare.
It was the reality of Michael’s world for forty-five years.
So, having kicked things off with a discussion of Michael’s hair, we’re now going to travel south a bit. Next stop: Those iconic eyes! Need I say more?
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!”
I never met Michael. But in my imagination, I played out the scene many times. I always imagined that if one ever met Michael, it would be impossible to get past the eyes. I could imagine those big, dark eyes piercing your very soul; looking through you and beyond you. I’ve had the experience of being in the room with people like that. It’s actually a very uncomfortable feeling because it leaves you feeling exposed. You almost feel as if this person could tell you what your underwear looked like. I know, just from looking at photos, how mesmerizing Michael’s eyes could be. Imagine in person!
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;
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.