Since he first appeared on the scene as part of the Jackson 5 in the mid-1960s, there has never been a time in which Michael Jackson hasn’t been world-famous.
Even in death – the Thriller singer died a decade ago, in 2009 – MJ is still one of the most famous pop stars on the planet.
This hasn’t always been for the right reasons, admittedly. In the 80s, Jackson was untouchable, but from 1993 onwards, he was dogged by accusations and persistent rumours that he was a child abuser.
Today, in the wake of the bombshell HBO/Channel 4 documentary Leaving Neverland, fans are divided over whether MJ is still the King of Pop, or one of music’s greatest monsters.
Here are 20 things you never knew about Michael Jackson, one of the most widely adored and controversial musicians who ever lived.
20. He used to share a single bedroom with all five of his brothers
The early days weren’t so glamorous for the man who went on to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in his lifetime.
Jackson was born and raised in Gary, Indiana, along with his three sisters and five brothers – all of whom he shared a single bedroom with.
This was reality for Jackson until 1969, when the success of the Jackson 5 meant the family could afford to relocate to a West Hollywood home four times the size of the Indiana house.
19. He was raised a Jehovah’s Witness
Michael, like all the Jackson children, were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses after their mother, Katherine, converted to the religion in 1963.
Surprisingly, even after their relocation to California, the Jacksons including Michael continued to knock on doors in their neighbourhood to ‘spread the word of Jehovah’.
Michael was still preaching in his local neighbourhood in 1984, at the height of his fame.
18. Thriller is the best-selling album of all time
While Thriller brought him immense success, and A LOT of money, the rest of Jackson’s career was constantly judged against the success that it brought.
Among the many accolades the record won, Thriller took eight Grammys and became the first album to go 30x platinum.
Thriller ended up spending 122 weeks on the Billboard 200 in the US, and at its peak sold 1 million copies in just one week.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the album is now the best-selling of all time, with 66 million units sold.
17. Billie Jean is based on a true story
According to a top Jackson biographer, Billie Jean was in fact a real person who wrote to Michael claiming that he had fathered her twins.
Jackson himself, however, claimed that ‘Billie Jean’ was a composite of several women who claimed their children were fathered by Michael’s brothers while he was on the road with the Jackson 5.
“There were a lot of Billie Jeans out there. Every girl claimed that their son was related to one of my brothers”, Jackson would later say.
16. He owned the rights to The Beatles’ music
Michael Jackson, like many people, was a Beatles fan – but his obsession with the Fab Four went further than anyone else’s.
Jackson was so enamoured with The Beatles’ back catalogue of music that he bought the lot in 1985. Not the records, but the rights to the music itself.
Flush with cash after the success of Thriller, Jackson paid $47.5 million for the rights to 251 Beatles songs. He would go on to sell them to Sony for $750 million in 2008.
15. He had a serious falling out with Paul McCartney because of it
It was Paul McCartney who in 1983 advised MJ to invest in music publishing, which was where the big money was at.
McCartney would come to regret giving this advice, as Jackson just two years later bought up all the rights to McCartney’s work with The Beatles before McCartney could do it himself.
This ended McCartney and Jackson’s friendship. McCartney later said: “I think it’s dodgy to do things like that, to be someone’s friend and then buy the rug they’re standing on.”
14. His music video for Scream is the most expensive of all time
Scream, the first single from Jackson’s 1995 HIStory album, might not be one of MJ’s best-remembered tracks, but it makes the history books for one notable reason.
The video for the single, a collaboration between Michael and sister Janet, was the most expensive video ever made in 1995 – and it still holds that record today.
The video, which finds the two Jackson siblings dancing on-board a spaceship in black and white, cost $7 million to make.
The cost apparently prompted the head of the record label to ask: “Do you think I’m the f****** Bank of America? Are you out of your f****** mind?”
13. He was an ‘honorary director’ of Exeter City FC
Strange but true: MJ, who was besties with one-time co-chairman of Exeter City FC Uri Geller, was a supporter of the football club.
It started when Geller invited Jackson to Devon to give a speech before a game, raising the profile of the club and raise money for charity.
Half the money raised went to AIDS charities, a cause Michael often campaigned for.
A few months later, Michael Jackson became an honorary director for Exeter City, which entitled him to free entry to games and to vote on key decisions within the club.
12. He made $2 billion in his lifetime… and blew it all
Despite making $1.1 billion – or $2 billion, adjusted for inflation – in his lifetime, Jackson was such a big spender that he burned through it all. And then some.
At the end of his life, Jackson, despite his enormous earnings, had around $350 million worth of debt to his name.
Apparently, Jackson in his final years was spending $20-30 million more per year than he actually earned, pushing him further and further into debt.
11. He was such an animal enthusiast that he bought his own zoo
As a child, Jackson was an animal lover, with a particular affinity for German Shepherds and a pet rat, named Ben, who he wrote his first ever song about.
As Jackson came into serious money as an adult, however, he decided to turn his animal obsession up to 11.
At Neverland Ranch, Jackson had his own private zoo, complete with orangutans, giraffes, llamas, flamingos and an elephant.
Oh, and a certain monkey named Bubbles of course.
10. Bubbles was a ‘stepbrother’ to Jackson’s children
In 1986, Michael adopted Bubbles – a chimpanzee – when he was 3-years-old from a research facility in Texas.
From that point on, Jackson and Bubbles would be almost inseparable, with the Bad singer’s new pet accompanying Jackson in the recording studio and on tour.
Before Jackson had the chimp moved to an animal sanctuary in the late-90s, Bubbles became a true part of the Jackson family.
Bubbles would sleep in a crib in Jackson’s room at Neverland, eat at the family dining table and even use Michael’s private bathroom. It was said that Jackson hoped his children would keep in touch with their monkey ‘stepbrother’ after his death.
9. He was badly burned filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984
In 1983, while riding high from the success of Thriller, Jackson signed a record-breaking $5 million endorsement deal with Pepsi that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
The following year, while filming a Pepsi commercial, Jackson would be left with a heavily burned scalp when his hair caught flame in a pyrotechnics accident.
The incident would leave Jackson with second and third degree burns and permanent hair loss, which would see the singer wear hairpieces for the remainder of his life.
It’s also been said that Jackson’s addiction to painkillers began here.
8. He really did have vitiligo
It was a source of fascination for fans and non-fans alike while he was alive: just why did the world’s most famous black artist turn white over the course of his career?
In a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson addressed the speculation for the first time, telling Winfrey he had vitiligo, a condition that causes patches of skin to lose their pigmentation.
This wasn’t enough to convince everyone, though, with the media continuing to speculate that Jackson was bleaching his skin ever-whiter.
Jackson’s 2009 autopsy, however, put the matter to rest for good, with the coroner confirming that Jackson had vitiligo.
7. He didn’t invent the Moonwalk
When Jackson first performed a dance he called the ‘Moonwalk’ during the TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever in 1983, the move instantly became synonymous with the singer.
However, Jackson wasn’t the first person to dance the Moonwalk, nor did he invent it – far from it.
Jackson was actually taught the move by Soul Train dancer and choreographer Jeffrey Daniel, who had been dancing the move since the mid-1970s.
The dance goes back further, however – Cab Calloway danced a variation of the ‘Moonwalk’ as far back as 1932, when it was called ‘The Buzz’.
6. He once tried to buy the Elephant Man’s skeleton
As with the ‘vitiligo myth’, it became hard to tell during Jackson’s lifetime whether or not the report that he tried to buy the bones of ‘Elephant Man’ John Merrick was true.
In his 1993 Oprah interview, Jackson denied ever making such a bid, telling her: “Why would I want some bones?”
However, David Edwards, Chief Administrator at the London Hospital Medical College where Merrick’s skeleton was kept, confirmed in a 1987 radio interview that Jackson’s people had put a serious offer in.
Jackson had offered $500,000 for the skeleton. When this was rejected, he raised the offer to $1 million. This too was rejected.
5. Jackson was also a patented inventor
He’s the most awarded artist of all time, with the best-selling album and the most expensive music video. There’s one more string that we can add to Jackson’s bow: inventor.
In the 1988 video for Smooth Criminal, Jackson and his backing dancers are seen leaning forward in a seemingly impossible 45-degree tilt.
It’s true that the move is indeed impossible for the human body – at least without some added support.
In order to pull off the move, Jackson along with his team had to invent a new type of shoe that would allow him to ‘cheat’ gravity. Jackson patented the design.
4. He named all three of his children after himself
With Jackson having successfully kept them out of the spotlight in his lifetime, we know very little about the singer’s three children.
While we don’t even know for sure who fathered Jackson’s kids – it’s long been rumoured that just one or even none of Jackson’s children are biologically his – we do at least know their birth names for sure.
Known as Prince, Paris and ‘Blanket’ in the media, Jackson’s three children were in fact christened Michael Jackson Jr, Paris-Michael Jackson and Prince Michael Jackson II – meaning he named all three after himself.
3. He almost banned the Thriller video himself
Jackson was still a devout Jehovah’s Witness at the time the Halloween-themed Thriller video was put out.
So devout, in fact, that Jackson sought to have the groundbreaking film destroyed after fellow Witnesses began to express concern that Jackson was promoting demonology.
Jackson first asked director John Landis to can the film, but Jackson’s lawyer convinced Jackson to instead include a disclaimer at the video’s beginning.
This reads: “Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.”
2. La Toya Jackson said Michael was a paedophile in two 1993 interviews
In the latter half of his career, rumours that Jackson had sexually abused children constantly swirled around the pop star.
In the wake of the Leaving Neverland documentary, the world has once again divided into defenders of Michael Jackson and those who believe the pop star was a predatory paedophile.
For a time, even Michael’s older sister La Toya was firmly on the side of the believers, as evidenced in two recently unearthed interviews from 1993.
It was around the time of the Jordan Chandler accusations, and La Toya gave two interviews, one to NBC News and one to press in Tel Aviv.
In the interviews, La Toya claims she has personally seen cheques made out to parents of abused children and says “these kids are going to be scarred for the rest of their lives”.
She adds: “Now you stop and think for one second and you tell me, what 35-year-old man is going to take a little boy and stay with him for 30 days?”
1. Police found pictures of naked children and animal torture at Neverland Ranch
In 2003, Jackson’s Neverland Ranch was raided after the singer was again accused of child sexual abuse.
At Neverland, officers found adult heterosexual pornography, pictures of animal torture and photography books containing images of nude or semi-clothed children.
Most damningly of all, Jackson’s pornography collection was shown to be covered in the fingerprints of both himself and his underage accusers – supporting the prosecution’s claim that Jackson had shown pornography to the accusers in an attempt to groom them.