I remember once looking at the liner notes from an album of his, and he quoted the final lines from William Ernest Henley's famous poem, Invictus:
I am the master of my fate:Those are not the words you want written on your tombstone.
I am the captain of my soul.
It is hard to think of a sadder public figure in recent years. A black man who never found his identity as one created in God's image, and who never experienced the identity of being conformed to the image of Christ. Black and white, male and female, rich and bankrupt, genius and punchline, private and public, innocent and deceptive--everything seemed to be jumbled up.
The one thing that comes to mind about Jackson is how bad he was at hiding his brokenness. Even while living in a literal fantasy land, it was obvious to everyone that this was a person--enormously gifted--desperately seeking a mask to cover, in futility, who he was.
May God use even this to increase our compassion and ministry to the lost, broken, and confused.
Update: Andrew Sullivan weighs in:
There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.
But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.
I loved his music. His young voice was almost a miracle, his poise in retrospect eery, his joy, tempered by pain, often unbearably uplifting. He made the greatest music video of all time; and he made some of the greatest records of all time. He was everything our culture worships; and yet he was obviously desperately unhappy, tortured, afraid and alone.
I grieve for him; but I also grieve for the culture that created and destroyed him. That culture is ours' and it is a lethal and brutal one: with fame and celebrity as its core values, with money as its sole motive, it chewed this child up and spat him out.