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Saturday, August 29, 1998 Published at 08:18 GMT 09:18 UK


Still a thriller at 40?

Jackson's marriage to Lisa Marie Presley lasted just over a year

As the world's most famous male pop star follows his female counterpart, Madonna, into middle age, John Murphy reports on Michael Jackson's road to fame and whether his career could now be on a downwards slide.

On Saturday the child star who, in many ways, refused to grow up, reaches middle age. Now on his second marriage and a father of two, he remains as unconventional as ever.

Michael Jackson has never really been the boy next door. By the age of four he was part of the family pop group, The Jackson Five, soon to become famous as its tiny frontman, strutting his stuff on stage in the style of James Brown.

[ image: The mother of his children Debbie Rowe]
The mother of his children Debbie Rowe
It was in 1979 that Michael Jackson's solo music career really took off, with the album Off the Wall, which included the number one singles Don't Stop Till You Get Enough and Rock With You.

He continued to tour and record with The Jacksons, as the Jackson Five had been renamed. But already media speculation was growing about his private life.

He was portrayed as a figure trapped in an eternal childhood, surrounded by toys and pet animals, and insulated from the outside world.

Wanna be startin' somethin'

Then, in 1982, Michael was catapulted into mega-stardom with the release of his album Thriller which remains the most successful LP of all time, selling over 40 million copies by the early 1990s.

It included a string of hit singles, accompanied by extravagant promotional videos, like that for Billie Jean.

In 1983 Jackson accepted the largest individual sponsorship deal in history from the soft drinks company Pepsi-Cola.

[ image: Jackson owns rights to most of the Fab Four's songs]
Jackson owns rights to most of the Fab Four's songs
He is a very rich man who is estimated to have amassed a fortune of at least $1bn. Not all of this has come from his music.

He has shown himself to be an astute businessman also, particularly when he bought the ATV Music company in the 1980s, which gave him the rights to most of the Beatles' songs - the biggest-earning catalogue in pop music.

More recently he has signed a business deal with a member of the Saudi royal family, setting up a company which aims to deliver integrated global family entertainment.

Describing the deal in 1996, Michael Jackson said: "My earliest aspiration to be actively involved in all dimensions of the global multi-media explosion was derived from decades of concert tours throughout the world.

"During these travels I heard the heartbeats of millions of fans who shared their hopes, their loves and their fears and, most importantly, their desire for a better life.

"It was during this time that I began to appreciate that global family entertainment could bring peace, brotherhood and love to the world."

Related to this enterprise, Michael Jackson later announced his intention to set up a theme park in Poland.


[ image: Jackson: Spends little time with his wife]
Jackson: Spends little time with his wife
But it is perhaps for his private life that he is best known.

There have been constant allegations of him being mad, sexually and emotionally retarded, a recluse who prefers the company of young children and his chimpanzees to adults.

In 1993 he abruptly cancelled a world tour, announcing that he had become addicted to pain killers.

The following year he married Elvis Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie.

Many people assumed it was a public relations exercise to try to make child abuse allegations he was facing go away.

Others suggested Lisa Marie wanted Jackson's money for the Church of Scientology, to which she belongs. She bluntly denied both suggestions.

"I'm not going to marry somebody for any other reason than the fact that I fall in love with him. Period. And they [tabloid newspapers and others] can eat it if they want to think anything different, to put it succinctly."

Both Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie appeared on prime time television about their lives together. One of America's top television journalists, Diane Sawyer, asked Michael about the allegations that he had abused 13-year old Jody Chandler.

Michael denied the question, saying: "I could never harm a child or anyone. It's not in my heart. It's not who I am. I'm not even interested in that."

After a long investigation, no criminal charges were brought against the singer, but in a civil case an out-of-court settlement, estimated at between $5 and $20m, was paid to the boy's family.

She's out of my life

Jackson's marriage to Lisa Marie lasted just over a year-and-a-half, when she filed for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences." He did not appear particularly upset.

By the end of the year, Michael Jackson's publicity team confirmed the startling news that he was to be a father, and that the mother of the child was his long-time nurse and friend, Debbie Rowe.

In November 1996 the couple married in Australia, during a concert tour. Debbie Rowe has since given Jackson two children, a son called Prince Michael Junior and a daughter named Paris Katherine.

Rumours, denied by Jackson and his publicity team, have abounded that Debbie was paid a vast sum of money to be a surrogate mother and that she was artificially inseminated.

What is clear, though, is that the two spend little time together and he brings up the children, with the help of a team of nannies and nurses, mainly in Europe.

In recent years Jackson has been trying to sell his Neverland ranch in California; not that he needs the money, although his record sales have never again reached the peak of Thriller.

And, despite becoming a father, Michael Jackson has looked more and more out of touch with the real world.

He is as reclusive as ever and, as he reaches 40, many are still wondering if he will ever grow up.

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