The King Goes Pop: Michael Jackson’s Weird Obsession With Death

Michael Jackson’s obsession with death finds its only possible release.


The Internet is full to bursting with eulogies, memories, and teardowns of the late Michael Jackson today – from the believers remembering the glory days of the Jackson 5 and Michael making MTV safe for black people, to the gossip-mongers recounting sordid tales of underage liaisons and “duck butter.”

I come here not to bury Michael, or to praise him, but rather to try to understand what brought him to the state he was in when he died, and what I have to tell you may surprise you.

I posit that, for most of his adult life, Michael Jackson has been obsessed with the grave. Many abused children, as Jackson was at the hands (and belt) of his domineering father Joe, fantasize about suicide, and many of MJ’s most famous moments can be read as complex, sublimated suicide attempts. Think about how the following relate to death and dying, will you?

Take Thriller, one of Jackson’s most famous moments. The 14-minute video for the song stars the King of Pop as a resurrected red-jacketed zombie, leading one of the most famous dance routines in music history. But what could drive a good-looking young man to spend a massive amount of money on a promotional film in which they are portrayed as a rotting corpse?

You can see the conceptual seeds of some of Michael’s future struggles with his body and identity in the video, as Jackson’s Black skin rots off to reveal the white bone beneath. Jackson received some of his greatest commercial success from the song, and immediately afterwards is when his public troubles began.

In 1984, Jackson received his first brush with death when his hair ignited during the filming of a Pepsi commercial, inflicting him with second-degree burns on his head and face. During his recuperation, he also had a third rhinoplasty operation performed on his already severely altered nose. This would be only the start of the extreme plastic surgery that would come to define the singer over the next decades.


As the 80s wore on, Jackson’s bizarre behavior continued. One of his most publicized actions was buying the bones of Joseph Merrick, the famed “Elephant Man.” Interestingly enough, this would be debunked as a hoax – but the rumors were spread to the tabloids by none other than… Michael Jackson.

It’s fascinating that, at the peak of his fame, Jackson would seek to associate himself with a dead, deformed man – but it’s also remarkably precognitive. Jackson saw in Merrick a man desperately unhappy with the body life had given him who had finally found escape from it.

By the mid-1990s, Jackson’s life had spiraled out of control. Amidst accusations of child sexual abuse, he found himself addicted to painkillers and at a career low. Interestingly enough, Michael then began making a series of increasingly bizarre moves that made some wonder if he was crossing items off of his “bucket list.”

First marrying Lisa Marie Presley (the daughter of the previous King), then divorcing her and marrying her dermatologist, Deborah Jean Rowe, with whom he fathered two children artificially. Jackson seemed less concerned with living in the moment than ensuring that his accomplishments would be placed into historical context for future generations.


1997’s Ghosts brought Michael back to the supernatural once more – this short film, written by Michael and Steven King, casts the pop star as a supernatural revenant who uses a variety of occult powers to terrify a group of adults who want him out of their town. In one notable scene, Jackson pulls off his skin to reveal the skeleton below and dances with just his dry, white bones.

The birth of the kids, Michael Jr, Paris Katherine Michael, and later Prince Michael, seemed to knock Jackson closer to death. His public appearances became less frequent, and his body was emaciated, frail, and pale as a sheet. Jackson had virtually become the walking corpse he fantasized about in Thriller and Ghosts, and it was only a matter of time before he met the fate he had dreamed of his whole life. Those who knew Michael communicated that his heart was not really into music and performance in his later years, having not put out an original LP since 2001’s HIStory.

Michael Jackson

In hindsight, it makes sense that Michael would get thinner, whiter, and frailer as he aged – he was trying to meet death in the only way that he could. He knew that suicide would tarnish his reputation even more than the other allegations, a tacit admissal of guilt even if none existed. So he slowly eroded his body, his very identity, and met the grave not with a bang, but with a whimper. I feel sad for Michael Jackson, but it’s too late for that now.

Leave a Comment

  1. donald boerum says:

    This is a totally weird theory. Are you sure you're OK? Good article though.

  2. Ana says:

    I think it makes sense, though this theory disturbs me even more.

  3. joanna says:

    I feel sad for Michael Jackson, but it's too late for that now…
    Thank you for this article.

  4. Heather says:

    Is this so? Michael may have had his problems in life and to a greater extent at the hands of the merciless American People. Why not forget all the bad and let us remember him for his good works.

  5. madmax says:

    why don't you let the dead rest in peace????????

  6. Angela says:

    Micheal was a great musician , I agree with Heather why not forget all the bad and focus on all the good he did . I think he had bad advisers and I bet they pockets stand good today .The press Hound him to death . He never was a child and he never became a man in the right sense of the word. I feel we all should honor Michael as a King should be honored.
    Please give his family time to mourn a great son.

  7. Ann says:

    This article is bear bull

  8. AYLA says:

    Michael him self has always said he loved life, his music and his fans! No matter how his personal life may have been he did change the history of music, dance, and transcended, crossed many boundaries. He's not a robot so of course he would have his problems…but hey at least u can't try take away what he said so genuinely…"I LOVE LIFE" !!!

  9. bolu says:

    Michael was simply the greatest, and being mortal, his time though soon eventually came. God bless his soul, and bless his memory. For those who can search the deep, there is plenty of wisdom to garner from the life of this great man.

  10. Shayla says:

    But can you really base this theory mainly off of two music videos? I see where you're going, but your argument is thin, considering the sheer number of videos and film projects that Michael produced. I especially think it's short-sighted to use "Thriller" as an example of a death obsession. What would possess a young man to depict himself as a zombie… umm.. acting? He also depicted himself as a scarecrow in The Wiz. Should we take that to mean he wanted to be a straw-filled moppet in another life? Is Stephen King or any other horror writer death-obsessed or secretly a mass murderer?

  11. ann says:

    something is wrong with you

  12. Impale says:

    I don't think he had a normal life, but again, he is Michael Jackson. It was his fate to live a life like he did. I don't think he was strange though. I think people around him are strange. I grew up with his music and everything. He always was loving, cute and passionate. I loved him deeply, and I still love him deeply. I don't think I will change my love towards him. There's some magical about him, like he has some kind of Healing Power. I am saddened by his death, and I want him to rest in peace. But I don't want him to be lonely.

  13. cami says:

    2001 is the INVINCIBLE album, not HIStory! And your arguments are thin. He was not obsessed with death. He loved life. The videos you are mentioning, especially Thriller, were made because he wanted to do something with substance for people to like it and buy it. He wanted to be a pioneer and he was. Ghosts was made because he liked directing short-movies, family oriented movies that children could also watch. It not only horror, it's humour also.

    Instead of reiterating some ideas that appeared in the press you should watch 'Man in the Mirror' video and explain it to your readers. It has a powerful message like other videos Michael Jackson has made (Leave me alone – his relation with the press, Black or White -anti racism, Earth Song – about Global warming, They don't care about us – anti racism).

  14. Brianna says:

    All I have to say is that I love Michael Jackson and he is sssooo awesome and always always will be!!!!!!!

  15. Dorothy says:

    Michael was an incredible artist and an incredible entertainer. Let's leave it at that. All the "theories", ideas, etc. are just that. MJ wrote a book- Moonwalk- and did some of his own artwork. He had a few very close personal friends. If we want to find out about MJ, that would be the place to look. Other than that, it's more speculation, and he's had more than his share of that.

  16. unknown says:

    You are wrong. Remember that he likened himself to Peter Pan and has said that he wanted to live forever.

  17. God bless MJ.. He trully changed the world..

  18. I still miss Michael J very much, Can’t believe his gone!

  19. blue says:

    i believe mj wanted to die.
    assisted suicide in essence is what occurred.
    sometimes i think how sweet and innocent mj was other times i think he was manipulative and egotistical!
    the fact is he was obviously way way to thin towards the end of his life and had a drug problem that made him a very vulnerable human being.i cannot understand why he was not helped by somebody,anybody that gave a dam for a fellow human being suffering as mj was.
    regardless of any of mjs actions the bottom line is he needed help and no one provided it.
    admittedly mj exhibited self destructive tendencies but so do many people,a bit of compassion as opposed to ridicule could have made for a very different ending to this story.
    R.I.P Michael you will be remembered for the good things and receive the benefit of the doubt for the bad!

  20. Jas says:

    Interesting theory its such a shame how his personal life turned out in the end he was so talented but his History album acutely came out in 1995 not 2001 ! it was acutely his Invincible album that came out in 2001. Get your facts straight buddy !