His enormous impact on popular culture over the past 40 years means that the artists we listen to and the styles you see on people walking down the street today all owe a debt of gratitude to him for paving the way. Would there have been Justin Timberlake, Usher and Mariah Carey -- and a host of other hip-hop and pop artists -- without Michael Jackson? Where would MTV be without the success of Thriller, the epic music video/short film that defined music videos and that Guinness World Records called the most successful music video ever?
He racked up 13 Grammy Awards, 13 number one singles and sold more than 750 million records worldwide in his career as a solo artist. Thriller is often cited as the best-selling album of all time, with worldwide sales of between 47 million and 109 million copies. He was described by Time, in the mid-1980's, as the "hottest single phenomenon since Elvis Presley," and cited in 1990 by Vanity Fair as the most popular artist in the history of show business.
For the every day fan, though, I think one of our friends on Twitter, laurenvaught, summed it up the best: "He gave me the sense that I can be whoever I want, to be as crazy as I want, because it's ok to be different."
For everyone who marched to the beat of their own drummer, Michael Jackson was and remains an inspiration.
Here are some recollections and favorite memories from MODERN staff and our Facebook friends:
"When I was a little girl, my grandparent’s house was the center of the universe. The whole family used to get together there at least twice a week. They had a carpeted living room with a wood floor right in the middle that served as our “stage.” My two sisters, my cousins and I all used to have dance parties and the highlight of those dance parties was whenever Michael came on. We’d go totally nuts: jumping up and down, screaming “Ow!” at all the right parts and imitating Michael’s dance moves. We used to take requests from whoever was watching us; our top two songs were Billie Jean and Thriller. To this day, I can’t listen to Michael without thinking back to when I was six years old, dancing my tush off on my dance floor with my sisters and cousins."
Alison Shipley, Associate Editor, MODERN
"We are the same age -- I grew up with him and I don't think we will ever see such a huge talent in our lifetime again."
Susan Pittsley Tate, via Facebook
"I remember watching the Thriller video on MTV for the very first time. I had never seen anything like it. It was an incredible video and he was an incredible artist."
Elliott From, Graphic Designer, MODERN
[Side note: Elliott also created these six amazing paintings, something he does in addition to designing the magazine each month. To check him out painting to music, you can find him on Facebook or at Artbeat Live.]
"My 12-year-old daughter, Clare, and I watched MTV Jams all through last weekend. She didn’t know most of the songs, but by Sunday she was dancing around singing Billie Jean ... "I’m Bad/Who's Bad" .... and "Annie, are you ok/Are you ok, Annie" from the Smooth Criminal video. I thought my husband would lose his mind! I loved it! She’s so young that Michael Jackson, for her, was this guy who was turning white and wore too much makeup. Now she thinks he’s the greatest singer and dancer EVER!"
Debbie Ogilvie, Executive Managing Editor, MODERN
"Despite his personal short-comings it's hard to ignore the massive impact he had on pop music. I, for one, will chose to remember the impact his music had on me growing up. And begging my mom to sew some sequins on a white glove for me. Oh ya, and my Billie Jean Trapper Keeper!"
Brian Hill, via Facebook
"I loved the music of Michael Jackson. He was a truly talented performer, like Elvis. Their legacies will live on through their music."
Linda King, via Facebook
"In college, we were headed to Florida for spring break in my friend Lynn’s car. She had an eight-track player and a single eight-track tape, Michael Jackson's Off the Wall. We couldn't get any radio reception most of the way there, so we listened to it 17 times in a row. To this day, I know every single note."
Steve Reiss, Publisher, MODERN
"So talanted...so tormented!! I hope he finds the peace he so desperately looked for in his lifetime!"
Lisa Walton Renninger, via Facebook
"I was recently at a wedding where one of the bride’s friends performed the Thriller dance—perfectly executed—at the reception. It was pretty amazing. She had all the moves down and the other wedding guests LOVED it!"
Laurel Smoke, Editor in Chief, MODERN
"When Bad was released in 1987, just about everyone I knew had it and listened to it obsessively. My mom, however banned it in our house, thinking it was not age-appropriate for me. So I did what any self-respecting eight-year old would do - I spent all my time hanging over at the neighborhood bad-girl's house, listening to it. Hopefully my mom's not reading this! She can't still ground me at 29, can she?"
Melissa Hill, Online Editor, MODERN
All paintings done by MODERN Graphic Designer Elliott From/www.artbeatlive.com.