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Jackson, Michael(1958– ) popular singer, songwriter; born in Gary, Ind. He was a child star with his brothers in a popular Motown soul group, the Jackson Five, and had his first solo hits in the early 1970s. He began producing and songwriting when the group left Motown in 1976, becoming the Jacksons, and he collaborated with Quincy Jones on his first best-selling solo album, Off The Wall (1979). His second solo album, Thriller (1982), sold over 30 million copies and made him a superstar. As his recordings and videos continued to attract an ever larger public and gain him ever more millions of dollars in sales, commercial endorsements, and contracts, he moved beyond being another popular singer to become more an entertainment phenomenon, known for his unusual choreography (including the "moon walk"), elaborate special effects, mannered performances, and occasional tours before frenzied crowds. Meanwhile, his offstage life also became increasingly bizarre: he transformed his face with plastic surgery, became chummy with celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, and lived in a secluded estate rumored to be like an amusement park/zoo. In 1993 his private and public careers collided when he was accused of sexual abuse of minor boys; although he was never legally charged, his somewhat ambiguous sexual persona and relations with young children, on and off stage, lost some of their appeal.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.