Paul Morley: Jacko finally achieves immortality

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As soon as he was gone, he was everywhere, regaining a flashy, bewitching agility he hadn't had since the early 1980s when he really was a kind of king.

He was everywhere, and everyone had something to say, even if they didn't really know what to say.

As soon as it was clear that he was really dead, and that it was now Michael Jackson 1958-2009, the instantly surreal truth being obtained and announced not by traditional media, but by a furtive, deadpan celebrity website, a whole host of Michael Jacksons was released into the air.

The loved Jackson, the gloved Jackson, the wealthy Jackson, the bankrupt Jackson, the Motown Jackson, the moonwalking Jackson, the MTV Jackson, the despised Jackson, the genius, the mutant, the addict, the oddball, the victim, the black, the white, the creepy, the glorious, the narcissist, the pathetic, the gentle, the monster.

You could take your pick as to which Jackson you want to remember, which version of the monster, or the genius, or the dissolving man behind the mask.

He was everywhere, but now that death had returned his full transfixing powers as a spinning, gliding master of self-publicity, any truth about who he really was and what he'd been up to was shattered into a thousand glittering pieces.

Once we watched the exciting premier of the Thriller video. Now we watched another form of extraordinary choreography intended to turn one fascinating, paranoid, fiendishly other-worldly entertainer into an immortal.

The crazed rush was on to try to fix just one Jackson in place; the trailblazing star, or the abused innocent, the loneliest man alive, or the greatest entertainer of all time. The uneasy combination of frantic web action and obsessive, hasty, flamboyantly superficial news coverage meant it was possible to witness a certain sort of immortality start to take form.

The tweeters, the websites, the pundits, the acquaintances, the impersonators, the colleagues, the hangers-on, the fan club members, the newsreaders, the correspondents, the international celebrities all performed their duties so obediently that the whole event seemed to follow a script with the full approval of Jackson. (Imagine how well he's planned the funeral.)

It was immediately clear that the nature and timing of this end had been coming for such a long time. Even while the whole thing was disconcerting and in the middle of it all someone had actually died, it was also the most obvious thing.

Now that it had arrived, this punchline to all the scintillating music and living, seedy chaos, everyone knew their place, as if Jackson's final mortal act as extreme self-obsessed entertainment illusionist was to ensure that the news of his death was itself a kind of glittering if tawdry spectacle.

In those first remarkable moments, death had allowed the myth of Jackson to surge into life, and his career got the focused injection of publicity he had recently been unable to generate consistently without dangerous self-sacrifice. The 24-hour news channels couldn't believe their luck, all this archive, tension, scandal, revelation, mourning, scorning and gossip.

Jackson played a massive, needy part in shaping an entertainment universe which now largely comprises constant gossip about the antics and eccentricities of damaged celebrities, and his death was confirmation that the presentation of round-the-clock news certainly when it comes to popular culture is little more than formally presented, gravely delivered, hastily assembled tittle-tattle.

Everything had been destined to lead to this untimely, shady death, and once that death arrived, a certain kind of natural order was established.

Jackson was where he'd been heading all along - a sudden tragic end, a twist of mystery, a sad, final trip low across the LA sky to the coroner's, coverage that seemed in part pre-recorded ready for the big day.

The whole thing concluded the only way it could - in a resounding blast of grotesque but compelling publicity for a figure who had become all that he had become - the king and the imprisoned, the adored and the humiliated, the accused and the indulged - because of publicity. Jackson had been publicised to death.

As soon as he died, the response came in the form of pure publicity, an almost relieved acceptance that finally the damned thing had at last been resolved.

He was no good to us alive, falling apart physically and mentally, making repeated attempts to repair his image and reputation, reminding us again and again that the neurotic energy, dangerous perfectionism and desperate ambition he'd turned into dazzling, video-age show business had eventually turned back on him and started to eat him up.

There was only one real way to rescue Jackson from the enduring pain of decline and reclusiveness. It wasn't going to involve taking on 50 dates at the O2 Arena, and no doubt revealing a poignant lack of wit, speed and power, and escaping to exile after a couple of disastrous shows.

When he was alive, it was never clear quite how to approach the perverse, shape-shifting, scandalous, ruined, faintly repulsive idea of Jackson, how to deal with the transformation from irresistible child star to weird, shattered, self-pitying, fallen idol.

Dead, in acceptably mysterious and fairly dubious circumstances, he has joined those he loved and admired for their life-after-death adventures - Garland, Dean, Monroe, Presley, Lennon, Diana - and because one of the many Michael Jacksons seems to have had the kind of pointless, chaotic fame that we now think of as being the result of time spent on reality television, there's another chain of celebrity disaster he also belongs to.

It was the loony, minor celebrity element in late-period, now final-period, Jackson - a celebrity Big Brother appearance, even a pantomime, would have been more beneficial than all that demanding singing and dancing he was facing - that actually helped give his death something Presley's and Diana's couldn't have. An element of the busy, hustling, hyper, self-aware 21st century, as reflected by TMZ, Fox, Perez Hilton and Google.

He'd hung on long after parts of his mind, business and body were falling off, but his sense of timing was in the end immaculate.

He sprang to life in the sixties, got himself into position in the seventies, was anointed in the eighties, started to disintegrate, and then hung on for dear life until the media and the web were in the right ever-vigilant, tabloid-minded, freakishly amoral, multi-channelled, search-saturated, tweetist state properly to cover his death with the correct combination of pomp and prurience.

The media had become as bizarre in its obsessions and anxieties as Jackson himself. The cultural stars were in alignment.

Even as he lost ultimate control he somehow took absolute control of the coverage of his life and death, disappearing behind hundreds of versions of himself, now always in our lives whether we liked the idea or not.

He had been disgraced as a living legend, but death had given him back, one way or another, the kind of grace he craved. The grace that comes when your fame, and your name, cannot be taken away.

- OBSERVER

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