September 1, 2009
Posted: 12:59 AM ET
By John Jeremiah Sullivan via GQ Magazine
Before the weirdness claimed his legacy, Michael Jackson understood his talent—and what he was willing to do for it—better than we ever have
How do you talk about Michael Jackson unless you begin with Prince Screws? Prince Screws was an Alabama cotton-plantation slave who became a tenant farmer after the Civil War, likely on his old master's land. His son, Prince Screws Jr., bought a small farm. And that man's son, Prince Screws III, left home for Indiana, where he found work as a Pullman porter, part of the exodus of southern blacks to the northern industrial cities.
There came a disruption in the line. This last Prince Screws, the one who went north, would have no sons. He had two daughters, Kattie and Hattie. Kattie gave birth to ten children, the eighth a boy, Michael—who would name his sons Prince, to honor his mother, whom he adored, and to signal a restoration. So the ridiculous moniker given by a white man to his black slave, the way you might name a dog, was bestowed by a black king upon his pale-skinned sons and heirs.
... It's odd to write about a person knowing he may have been, but not if he was, a serial child molester. Whether or not Michael did it, the suggestion of it shadowed him for so long and finally killed his soul. It's said that toward the end he was having himself put under—with the same anesthesia that may have finished him—not for hours but for days. As though being snuffed. Witnesses to his body on the morgue table report that his prosthetic nose was missing. There were only holes in his face. A mummy. He was mostly bald and weighed scarcely more than 100 pounds. Two separate complete autopsies: They cut him to pieces. As of this writing, no one outside the Jackson camp knows the whereabouts of his body. He seems to be resting temporarily in Berry Gordy's unoccupied crypt.
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