Arts & Entertainment your connection to The Boston Globe

Accusations are the latest twist in story of a star's decline

From King of Pop to tabloid fodder

Michael Jackson's current legal imbroglio is the latest shattering blow to a once-stunning musical career that has been in free fall for years.

These days, Jackson is more recognized for shocking headlines -- such as the arrest warrant issued yesterday in Santa Barbara County on multiple counts of child molestation -- than for the effervescent songs that first made him a star more than three decades ago. Police began searching his sprawling Neverland Valley Ranch on Tuesday, the same day the 45-year-old entertainer and father of three released "Number Ones," an 18-song collection featuring his chart-topping hits. After the charges were made public, CBS announced yesterday that a planned Nov. 26 special celebrating the singer would be postponed.

Still, even before the latest accusations, Jackson's new compact disc, which garnered little prerelease fanfare, was already sputtering.

"It's shocking how poorly Jackson's new album has sold. As of midday it had sold only 90 copies in the whole chain," Mike Dreese, owner of the 24-store Newbury Comics chain, said yesterday. "And we've sold 150 copies of Cyndi Lauper's new album. Both of them hit the streets on Tuesday. So a Cyndi Lauper record of show tunes is doing more than 50 percent better than a Michael Jackson album of his number one hits. That just shows how much his career has dive-bombed."

After the critical and commercial disappointment of his 2001 album, "Invincible," Jackson seemed to be angling for a career revival. His latest CD featured a new song, "One More Chance," written by singer R. Kelly, who, coincidentally, is also facing charges of alleged sexual misconduct with a minor. And CBS was scheduled to air "Michael Jackson Number Ones," next Wednesday, described in a network press release as "a new entertainment special that takes a historic journey through Michael Jackson's unparalleled career, celebrates his achievement, and examines his artistic genius."

Jackson is now more a punch line than a pop star, and his career never fully recovered after a 1993 child molestation investigation. Though he wasn't indicted or charged, many questioned his innocence after he settled with his accuser for reportedly up to $30 million. Since then, attempts to resurrect a career that reached its zenith in the 1980s with the release of "Thriller," one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, has been overshadowed by such bizarre incidents as Jackson dangling his infant son over a hotel balcony in Germany last year.

"In all, we sold 31,000 copies of the Beatles' number one hits" -- "The Beatles 1," released in 2000 -- "but with Michael Jackson we'll be lucky to sell 1,000," Dreese said. "It shows how far a career can implode from bad behavior."

Jackson certainly didn't help himself during a televised documentary earlier this year in which he defended sharing his bed with children other than his own.

"It's very charming, it's very sweet," Jackson said of his "slumber parties."

Though he has remained a draw overseas, Jackson hasn't toured the United States since 1988 and is no longer considered "a force in the touring business," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the trade magazine Pollstar.

"He stopped working, and if he did go back to touring, it remains to be seen how he would do," Bongiovanni said. "He's certainly not the King of Pop anymore."

Others reserved judgment on what this latest twist in Jackson's life and career may mean in the long run.

"People are still innocent until proven guilty," said Christopher John Farley, Time's senior music writer who has followed Jackson's successes and foibles. "We'll have to wait and see where this goes."

Reaction to the news among Jackson fans at the Virgin store on Newbury Street was mixed.

"I think they're picking on him," said longtime fan Bernard Stevens, 38, of the South End. Stevens said he was buying the album out of support for Jackson. "Maybe I'll buy three. I'm not buying his personal life, I'm buying his music."

Troy Miranda, 27, of Cambridge said he thinks Jackson is guilty. Though he likes the hits on the album, he said, he would not feel right buying it. But Craig Smith, 25, of Dorchester said the allegations would not sway his opinion. "I think he's still one of the greatest entertainers. The music speaks for itself." Globe correspondent Jared Stearns contributed to this report.

Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months