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Michael Jackson and The Five Stages of Grief: Denial

29 June 2009 26 Comments

Editor’s note: I am particularly devastated by Michael Jackson’s death because as a black pop culture enthusiast he’s always been so significant to me. As of last week I had a handful of drafted posts about Michael in the coffer anyway, so I’m condensing my final thoughts about him in a series of posts chronicling my journey through the “Five Stages of Grief.” I’m not sure if I believe in the model itself but there are five stages and five days of the week so here it goes. And if you’re all Michael Jackson-ed out or don’t think it’s a big deal, you can go pound sand. This is a monumental time of reflection in black pop culture and I write what I wanna.

The entire world was shocked by the premature death of Michael Jackson. Sure, we all knew that the man was under stress. The intense scrutiny at the hands of the media, which was essentially fueled by our own obsession with celebrity, took a visible toll on Michael; the recurring allegations of child abuse and financial debt of an unimaginable magnitude made him even more of a recluse; his varying health problems that were always hard to separate from his general weirdness undoubtedly contributed to his early passing. Still, it’s hard to believe that any combination of these factors could lead to death at age fifty. But we tend to forget that we’re average, and the average person (who, mind you, can only hold a tune in the shower) only worries about the neighborhood busy-body, overdue student loans, and pretty bad allergies every spring. By comparison Michael’s life should be as unimaginable as the science behind evolution or The Big Bang – it’s just too large and far-out a process for our personal experience to let us believe he’s really gone. This, my friends, is why I am choosing not to. That’s right, I’m too sad believing it, so I’ve decided that Michael Jackson isn’t really dead, and I have five supporting reasons.


1. He’s Michael Jackson. Ok, I know it’s pretty ridiculous to fake one’s death but people have done it before, and who better to actually pull it off than a man whose illusions have ranged from making us believe he slept in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to the 45 degree angle forward-lean in the “Smooth Criminal” video? Michael is no stranger to plastic surgery, so I see no reason why he’d balk at the idea of changing his face to unrecognizable yet again, perhaps this time his old one because I know he must have missed it. This is a man who has been estranged from so many people in his life for the past few years but somehow his creditors have stayed in touch and have him running off to do concerts at fifty years of age. He has never found peace in the public eye, so maybe he’s trying to find peace outside of the limelight. He easily could have faked this whole thing and may be on some island right now wearing lots of sunblock, a sari, and a straw hat, watching Elizabeth Taylor movies on a portable DVD player and sipping a Pina Colada.

2. The BET Awards. Like many of you I watched the show because of promises that there would be a solid Michael Jackson tribute. In an arena filled with dozens of black entertainers, I expected a hootenanny of epic colored proportions that would help me celebrate and/or sweat out some of this grief I’m carrying. I didn’t expect full-on rehearsed numbers or anything that requires more than one day of preparation, but the Michael Jackson tribute that my friends and I cooned up at a dance party yesterday was more entertaining than what BET pulled off – everyone knows the songs and the steps, so what happened with artist participation and/or BET giving them airtime? I appreciated New Edition’s Jackson 5 performance, mostly because those dudes are too old to be doing all of that on such short notice, and Janet’s short speech brought tears to my eyes. But BET bamboozled us by extending the show “to honor Michael Jackson” when very little of that was done. I felt like Tyrone Biggums showing up at the Five O’Clock Free Crack Giveaway only to face an intervention. The BET Awards is always a steaming turd platter, but the Michael Jackson tribute was so shoddily done that it must all be pantomime for the public because Michael is not really gone.

3. Joe Jackson Don’t Seem To Care. Joe Jackson makes me unhappy, upset, afraid, and worried all at once, and every time I see him. He looks like an English Bulldog and I believe deep in my heart that he screwed up his children just to get his own shine on, not to mention dragging Katherine through the mud all of these years. When I think about how his desire to create a superstar negatively affected Michael’s life I feel sick. But is Joe Jackson really this mean?

Maybe he’s senile or still in shock, but is this really the way you act when asked about the death of your son (even if your diction has to be wilin’)? And then to plug your crusty little record label venture? I just don’t get it and I’d rather believe that Joe secretly knows Michael is still alive and is just a crappy actor.

4. C-O-N Spiracy. A single shooter didn’t kill JFK, the government is covering up the existence of aliens. More importantly, the CIA put crack in the ghetto and Tupac is really sorta-kinda still alive and living in Cuba. Most convincingly, if white folks can believe that Elvis faked his death, why can’t we believe the same thing about Michael for at least a few years?

5. He’s Magic. It’s neither fair nor believable that Michael Jackson could ever die. Everyone dies and all, but Michael Jackson was magic, like a unicorn or dragon or even Santa Claus. As a child, I thought that Michael Jackson was some sort of wizard with the power to hypnotize, conjure up sparks of light and objects, and win fights without even touching people. I had a Thriller commemorative glass with his face on it that would turn green when filled with cold liquid, and that could only be accomplished through magic, right? I watched Moonwalker dozens of times and saw little Lithuanian children faint during his concerts, but had never before seen anyone fall out like that for any reason EVER. When my mother said that he’d changed his face, I wondered why I couldn’t just up and change mine, and concluded that just must have been some more MJ magic. Everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten (read: Michael is STILL magic). So how can it be that he’s gone from this world?

I refuse to believe it.

Throwback Video: The Jacksons skit “The World Is A Mess”

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Next: Part 2 of 5, “Michael Jackson and The Five Stages of Grief: Anger


  • Treina said:

    Thanks for sharing this, Thembi. I’m definitely still grieving. Surprised myself by how much his death has affected me. It hit me again hard today when I opened my inbox and saw an email from The O2 about refunding my concert tickets. I still feel like I am going to see him on stage anyway. Just don’t want to believe he’s really gone.

  • aj said:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. He’ll live on forever because we can turn on his music and go back the good old days whenever we want to. I feel so sad for the type of life that he had to live – my fondest memories of him were when he was with the Jackson 5. I still get goosebumps when ABC starts to play.

    Yeah, I think I’m with you…….I’m just going to try to stay in denial. The only thing that messes it up for me is when the bulldog & his side kick, Press N Curl show up on my TV screen.

    I’m just sickened by such a display of ignorance and contempt. I would just like for Michael to be honored in a way that befits him. But that won’t come from the ones that screwed him up in the first place.


  • Kyle said:

    I’m willing to buy the conspiracy angle. I’m expecting his and Tupac’s joint album to drop sometime around Christmas.

    Also, white people not only believe Elvis is alive, but also insist that Kurt Cobain’s suicide was a fake. Someone should write a book about a town made up of all the people who supposedly faked their own deaths.

  • ChiefCrystal said:

    So maybe MJ fans shouldn’t seek Perez Hilton out and smack him…for at least two years? Gatta’ laugh or we’ll all (continue) crying. DENIAL. DENIAL. DENIAL–all the way!

    I have a friend that says she saw MJ in The Bahamas eatin’ conch salad and drinking a Kalik! If I run into him, I’ll be sure to tell him we’re all on to him.

    You’re better on the other side Mike (wink, wink).

    Thanks for the MJ love Thembi!

  • kellybelle said:

    Nice tribute. I’m still tripping a bit over Michael’s death. I do feel like at some point someone will reveal this to be a hoax. But his death has finally put MJ in a place of peace and in my memory as a little brown boy who sang like an angel.

  • acne.care.jenny said:

    michael jackson is a very very talented person to the point that he rose as a pop icon. he would live forever in our history books and memories…

  • Malcolm said:

    Not long after Michael died, the Oliver Stone in me started playing the “what if he faked his death” game. As you probably remember, my cable company doesn’t have BET so I haven’t seen the recent awards show. However, you are the 2nd person to write that BET fumbled the ball big time. If they fucked up as bad as it sounds like they did, I say a boycott is in order.

  • Amy said:

    I’m really so gutted :(
    I know I’m young, but I grew up with Michaels music and I’m also learning alot more about both him and his songs now (which just upsets me more when I remember that I’m too late, and hes gone.)

    Its also really upsetting to read the crap that the tabloids (that he despised) are still spewing about him, even now he’s gone.

    I really do pray that its all an act and the superstar will make a huge comeback. I wouldn’t put it past MJ!

    I can’t get him out of my mind!

    “You knock me offa my feet now baby, wooo!”

  • Christy said:

    LOL, it would have been great if those reasons really were the case, though I imagine the fans would be pissed at him for having them grieving over his death when he wasn’t really dead. But I do think that half a century is a decent life-span for someone who had been troubled by health problems and stress from the day he was just over a toddler’s age.And he is with us in spirit, and his music, concerts/tours and interviews he did are there, and we can view the interviews, concerts/tours via DVD/VHS, and so he still lives. After all, the soul never dies, though the physical body does. Great list!

  • Patricia said:

    Every time I hear a Michael Jackson song or watch a video, I cry. this is difficult to take in and I would love to believe that he is still alive. so sad, so unfortunate, so untimely.

  • mr. nichols said:

    Great tribute and a very thorough post Thembi. All of these reasons seem probable to me. “He easily could have faked this whole thing and may be on some island right now wearing lots of sunblock, a sari, and a straw hat, watching Elizabeth Taylor movies on a portable DVD player and sipping a Pina Colada.” <<< I can definitely picture that.

  • nightshade said:

    I do not get it. Michael Jackson never showed up for any NAACP or BET award, but he is beloved by Blacks the world over. He has not at any time indicated that he likes or love Black women unless they are props to promote his career as in a video, yet many Black women has shown him undying love. He went from Black to damn near White in less than 20 years as to image. When he wanted children he went out and hired and “married” a very White woman and sired his kids via science and I bet the DNA will prove they are White. If Mike could talk he would tell Blacks that they only thing they can do for him is buy his records, shine his shoes and clean his toilet if they can not promote his career.

  • Thembi (author) said:

    @nightshade You’re so wrong that I figure you’re just trying to sound ignorant. MJ performed at and attended numerous BET and Soul Train awards shows, you can find that footage on YouTube. Hes been in many videos with black models such as Iman and Naomi Campbell. Read more before you continue wondering and don’t put Elvis’ words in Michael Jackson’s mouth.

  • Jennifer said:

    Hi Thembi,

    I am sorry to say that I haven’t heard about you before. I think it is fitting that I found you when searching for some appropriate writing that can help me cope with the death of Michael Jackson. I know wonder why I didn’t know about you before. You should be really proud as a writer that you attracted fans as a result of your thoughtful and funny analysis of the death of Michael, something few writers have yet been able to do for me. That should make you feel great. Thank you, and looking forward to more blog visits.

  • yamma99 said:

    I still cry over Michael’s death. It hurts deeply. Tuesday will be a terribly difficult day for all of us to truly say goodbye to a legend. Lately I have been listening to tracks I haven’t heard since childhood and really listening to the music. This is my absolute favorite Jackson 5 song and video. RIP MJ


  • Chris said:

    “cooned up”

    We have to be friends…

  • Janet said:

    Michael has said he is proud to be black. And he has dated a black woman. Her name is Stephanie Mills and she worked with him on The Wiz. Check it out on youtube and you will get a refreshing account of Michael before his life became media fodder.

  • Abha Kashyap said:

    Michael Jackson is not dead.He is alive in my heart and in all his fans heart.I will not let him die till I am alive.I love u Jackson………………..I donot care about what people say about u.you are my hero and love and will remain forever……

  • Neila said:

    you’re absolutely right. Michael isnt dead; he can’t be. I believe he’s hanging out with his kids… probably got surgery to look like Tito ( and its Tito that really died and they made out that it was Michael) and now Michael is chilling out , got surgery to look like his bro Tito and hanging out at jermaines house, sipping on Jesus juice….. im a big Tito fan now…. i listen to ALL HIS MUSIC and look forward to his forthcoming releases.. coz i know in my heart that thats Michael… but i feel sorry for 3T coz their dad Tito died.. but it was a good opportunity for Michael to leave his debts behind and all his haters. now he can enjoy fame as Tito too…. his 2nd life. Michael has ALWAYS been genious at creativity and getting surgery to look like Tito was hella clever…
    i dont care what anyone says…. i believe this.please dont try to talk me outta it either.

  • Neila said:

    and you’re right … the BET awards were LOUSY and POOR and downright EMBARASSING…. they shoulda waited anotehr couple of days and really practised their performances and got some better celebs to sing/dance….. darn it…. their SO MANY EXCELLANT BLACK celebs!!! where were thye all hiding at?????!!!! they shoulda been supeona’d to perform and give their respects!!!!!!… its embarassing for the jackosn family to know that the balck artist werent even that bothered to put togetehr a good show…. i watched the MIChael Jackson i think it was 40 decades in the music industry anniversary and that was great…. think it was great coz MJ performed in it loads too. his performance with Usher black dude from rush hour was ace

  • Girls High said:

    I don’t know what to think or do all I know is I’m suffering. It is somewhat comforting to know that I’m not the only one. I am so desperate
    as to think of how we could bring Michael back. I thought somehow we get all of his Christian fans together from all over the world where ever they are in the world and simultaneously have a resurrection prayer vigil. I know that sounds crazy but I’m willing to try anything to alleviate this unbearable pain. I’m also one of those fans who thinks it is possible that Michael may have faked his own death. I wish to God that were true but I can’t imagine anything that would keep Michael away from his children or his “This is it” tour. I wake up everyday with him on my mind,I have to listen to his music every time I get in my car, I try not to but I cry everyday. Fellow M.J.J.help!Is this normal grieving?
    I am extremely angry at Michael’s so called friends and or associates. We as fans thought Micheal was being well taken care of and clearly that was not the case. I guess we should have known after that stupid child abuse case. Joe Jackson did not realize what a jewel he had and we as a society did not realize it or we would have treated Michael like the king that he was. I want to know why this guy who said that he predicted Michael’s death,why isn’t he a number one suspect in the investigation sense he knows so much and how can he say
    anything he is not a doctor. Supposedly a doctor gave Michael a clean
    bill of health in May. Something is not making sense. If it is proven
    that Mr. Murray is the cause of Michael’s death, he better hide.
    We as fans want and demand answers and we are not going to let the
    media or anyone else forget about Michael or his due justice.I will always love Michael Joseph Jackson and this world has a big void now
    that it can’t fill. Fans look up and imagine Michael smiling.

  • Thembi (author) said:

    Dear Girls High,

    I’m not a licensed therapist so I’m not sure what normal grieving is, but a good rule of thumb is that if you find yourself with more sad moments than happy moments, it’s best to ask a professional for help. Its always the best in the long run!

  • Kaitlyn said:

    I think the sooner you realise that our beloved MJ is dead the better. Having false hope that he is still alive will not get you anywhere. I don’t want to be harsh, but Michael is dead. But not gone or forgotten. Michael would never fake his own death. He loved his family, friends and fans too much to put them through that, and he loved his life too much. As unfortunate as it is, I think that his death has meant that many people have stopped taking him for granted.
    I personally still cry everyday. RIP MJ love you forever, You’re always in our hearts. Always.

  • Judy Morris said:

    I am having a hard time with my grief. I grew up with Micheal Jackson’s music. He has been on my mind constantly, ever since his death hit the news. I watched that tribute, what got to me was Paris standing there crying, saying that her daddy was the best in the world. I too would like to think that Micheal is out there somewhere safe and where the media can’t touch him. He was a talented man, whose music touched us all.

    How the media treated him , will always be a bitter pill with me. It surprised me to see how low someone would stoop for money,IE: the Chandlers. Martin Bashir and all his lies. I have to admit; though, Micheal was a little strange and eccentric.

    All through the years, the people who worked so hard to bring him down,seem to forget all the good he has done. His charity work, in the fight against AIDS, always helping sick children. I never saw anyone who was so tortured by the media and public sheep.

    I have spent a lot of time crying and grieving, just to think of it brings tears to my eyes. I don’t think I will ever stop. I won’t ever forget. I am so glad there are places, where we can show our grief. God Bless All of You.

  • Don said:

    I too was completely shocked at the passing of this music legend in the sense that as long as I have been alive, there has always been Michael Jackson.

    There are no other entertainers who rewind me back to every point in my life through their music, except Michael Jackson. From the times where my sister and I sat in front of the TV and watched as he performed on The Jackson 5 Variety show; to the times where he performed on Soul Train as a teen and always tossed his head backwards; to his Off The Wall days; to his Thriller days; to his Bad and Leave Me Alone era – the magic felt the first time we visited The Epcot Center and even managed to snap a picture of him and Emmanuel Lewis; to his remarkable significance throughout my days of Hip Hop music.

    There has always been Michael Jackson, and as I continue to live, I am convinced his music will live through me and long after I have taken my final breath.

    I am always quick to inform the current generation that, as far as entertainers go, my generation was blessed in the sense that saw the magic of Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan and Mike Tyson.

    All when they were Kings.

    Great post. Happy to have been fortunate enough to catch the link on Twitter.

  • Shanika P. Carter said:

    Thanks so much for this Thembi-I love it! It’s a year later and his birthday was just this past Sunday and I took the time to watch all my MJ videos, movies, recorded DVR shows and such I recorded from this past June because of how busy life has gotten and just not having the time to do so. Life goes on, but I was going to make that a day to celebrate MJ’s life because I have so many memories from the time I was a little girl and discovered my love for the man and his talent.

    I remember being a little girl having to climb in a chair to reach my mom’s record player just so I could play Off the Wall over and over again (and dance with MJ in that fold-out album cover!); my first cassette tape to go with my first walkman was Thriller; I wish I still had the Thriller jacket, MJ dolls, Jacksons watch that sang “Body”, MJ buttons and posters, and other memorabilia as keepsakes still! :)
    Although Sunday was to be a time to celebrate what would have been his 52nd birthday, I found myself getting sad at times because there will never be another MJ. I’m thankful that God shared this man with us (the world), and his spirit and legacy continues.

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