The Man in the Mirror: Michael Jackson. Can we see ourselves in Michael?
They are calling it a "mysterious death," the sudden cardiac arrest which took the life of mega-pop star Michael Jackson, this past Thursday. The facts are not in and a formal autopsy report has not been issued yet. The true cause behind Michael Jackson's demise can only be speculative at this point in time. Yet there have been some strong indications that Michael Jackson's untimely death may have been caused by some sort of prescription drug overdose. Susan Donaldson James from ABC news reports that "Jackson's former video producer said the pop star who died Thursday at age 50 from cardiac arrest had a "20-plus year" addiction to the painkiller Demerol, as well as to a cocktail of other drugs, such as Oxycontin." Add to this the Los Angeles police were informed that Jackson had received a Demerol injection one hour before he ceased breathing. Demerol, a narcotic prescription pain killer, similar to morphine, can be highly addictive for some people.
It seems that Michael Jackson is just as mysterious in death as he was in life. Fifty is a young age to die by today's standards. It seems that so many of our brightest talents die young. So what can we make of it all? What possible meaning does Michael Jackson's life and death have for our lives?
When I first heard the news that Michael Jackson had died I was as stunned as anyone else. It seemed so out of the blue and surreal. I couldn't really connect to this event at first as Michael Jackson, the icon, seems far removed from everyday reality. Everyone knows the name but who he was as a man was kept carefully hidden. We got glimpses from time to time but we were never quite sure of what we were seeing. All of us have images of Michael as a little boy bee bopping with his brothers on Dick Clark, the first time we saw his flawless "moon walk" and of course his Thriller video where he took music to another stratosphere. But we also have images of the tabloids with headlines screaming, "WACKO JACKO," the highly publicized court cases where Jackson was accused of sexually molesting a boy, the plastic surgeries which made him almost unrecognizable, as well as the permanent video image of Michael Jackson dangling his baby from a high storied building window as he smiled for the crowds.
In time public opinion of Michael Jackson seemed to sour as Michael's behaviors became more and more erratic. Somewhat ostracized, Michael Jackson began to lead what could be described as a hermit like existence.
Michael Jackson, otherwise known as the "King of Pop" may appear to most as far removed from our world as a distant star. Yet despite all the sordid tales of outlandish behavior Michael Jackson was a man and a very human one at that. We who never knew him nor will ever know him can only offer our voyeuristic theories.
And my humble theory is that Michael Jackson was living a life of great emotional pain. We hear reports from the media that Michael's early life was plagued with possible abuse at the hands of his father. We know Michael was a perfectionist, even as a young child, always wanting to be loved and adored by fans. I always envisioned Michael Jackson as a man who had limitless talent but his talent alone was not enough to sustain him. I believe Michael Jackson never truly felt loved despite all the throngs of adoring fans. It seems that Michael Jackson used fantasy and prescription drugs to ease his emotional pain and feelings of emptiness.
Michael Jackson seems a perfect dichotomy of growth and self destruction. In this way I think we can all feel ourselves in this man. We all have gifts to share with the world. We all have the capability for healing and self growth. But at the same time we also bear the psychological weapons of self destruction to annihilate our own happiness. Some of the "coping mechanisms" we employ to deal with pain can quite literally kill us in the end.
If it is true that the misuse of prescription drugs contributed to Michael Jackson's death, he would not be alone in this. The Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports that:
"More than 8,500 people died in 2005, the last year for which data are available. From 2001 to 2005, more than 32,150 people died of prescription drug overdoses."
If you or someone you know is battling a prescription drug addiction there is help.
Here are some resources to help you find assistance:
For treatment referral call 1-800-662-HELP
Nationwide Addiction Assistance Helpline: 1800-559-9503
Michael Jackson will always be remembered for his musical gifts which can never be duplicated by anyone. But I think I would like to remember Michael Jackson as one of us, a vulnerable and very human being. As he was once quoted as saying, "I'm just like anyone. I cut and I bleed."
Please share your thoughts with us about Michael Jackson's death, what it means to you and what your favorite MJ memories are.