By 1993, he cancels his "Dangerous" tour, stating an injury he had while on tour led to a Demerol addiction. He disappeared from the public eye for a while, and there were unconfirmed reports that he went to a "wellness center" in the United Kingdom to help with his addiction. It was at this time that the allegations of inappropriate conduct with minors began surfacing.By 1997 his behavior is all but inexplicable, and he writes a song called "Morphine". Here is a sampling of the lyrics: "Demerol, Demerol, Oh God he's taking Demerol. He's tried hard to convince her to be over what he had. Today he wants it twice as bad."
Again, from my vantage point, this is where he "crossed the line", as they say in recovery - when his addiction consumed him. The next 10 years are spent mostly out of the public eye - with the notable exception of the child molestation hearings - with reports of ill health, missing court dates due to "spider bites", "swollen toe", "exhaustion". He is estranged from most of his family, and has a cycle of friends who come into his life for periods of time, only to have falling outs with him and disappear. It is acknowledged that his inner circle of friends and family knew of his addiction, tried to help, tried to intervene, to no avail. Several of them admit to being unsurprised at his death of a heart attack at age 50.By 2007, he looked like this:
He was disfigured, bald (he wore a wig), frighteningly underweight, and virtually incapable of functioning in the real world. He had surrounded himself with paid help - doctors, nurses, body guards. He had the money and the means to maintain his addictions, and like any good addict, he did. There is no way to watch this evolution and say that he was anything but a very sick and broken man.
Here's the thing: I don't put the responsibility for his drug use on anyone but him. I think the doctors that supplied him with these illegal medications are reprehensible and possibly criminal, to be sure, but ultimately it was Michael Jackson's addiction - his illness. It is impossible to get someone sober, and keep them sober, if they don't want recovery for themselves. Throughout his life, his behavior demonstrates a kind of self-rejection ... self-repulsion, even - one of the four horsemen of addiction.
But he is no different than any other addict or alcoholic I meet every day. He had the added difficulty of living in the public eye - I do have sympathy for how that complicates things. But it irks me to have his obvious addictions explained away -- this is enabling. It isn't any different than a family member who loves someone struggling with addiction - it is very hard to see how bad things really are. It is part and parcel of the illness - the addict is in denial, and will do anything to maintain their addiction. They will isolate and vehemently maintain that everything is fine. They will do this until it kills them if they don't get - and accept - help. His death was a virtual certainty. We all watched it unfold over the course of nearly three decades. We have a strange level of intimacy with our celebrities. We love to idolize and vilify them. But they are human, and subject to the same pitfalls as the rest of us. There is a very straightforward answer to all of his odd behavior, his isolation, his steadfast denial that his behavior was odd or inappropriate: he was an addict. He created impenetrable walls of denial around himself - he had the means to build them stronger than most - and he shut out the people in his life who tried to help him.
So now he is gone. His talent at the pinnacle of his career is undeniable. We lost an iconic artist, and that is always jolting - like Elvis or Marilyn Monroe before him. I heard some say his death is like a loss of innocence. But Michael Jackson the talented and promising artist, the singer/songwriter, the creative talent, the man himself - he has been gone from us for a long time, it is just that few people really want to admit it. But I do. One of the real tragedies here is the lost potential. Thriller - even for people who aren't particularly fans of his kind of music -was an amazing piece of artistry. It changed pop culture forever. Can you imagine what else he could have done, what other barriers he could have busted down, what kind of cutting edge music he could have created if he hadn't been taken down by drugs?
So while I honor his artistic legacy, I say a prayer for another life and spirit extinguished by addiction.