T Dog’s Four Pack – In Memoriam

A special edition of T Dog’s Four Pack this week, in honor of four individuals who passed away this week – two of these I have already written obituaries for.

– Ed McMahon. Click here for the obit on the legendary pitchman and second banana.

– John Callaway. Click here for the obit on the legendary interviewer.

– Farrah Fawcett. One of the stars of Charlie’s Angels and numerous other projects, died Thursday morning at the age of 62 after a three-year battle with cancer. Her fight with the deadly disease was chronicled on numerous newsmagazines and a two-hour special titled Farrah Fawcett: My Story, with drew 9 million viewers last month on NBC.

Ms. Fawcett launched her TV career in the 1970’s with appearances on Harry O and The Six Million Dollar Man (with then-husband Lee Majors.) In 1976, she starred in Charlie’s Angels as Jill Munroe, which rocketed into the top 10 in its first season (finishing #5 for the 1976-77 season.) But she left the show in 1977 to focus more on movies. When her film career went bust, she returned to Angels to make sporadic appearances.

In 1984, she appeared in the ground-breaking TV movie The Burning Bed, as a spouse who was battered and abused by her husband and decides to take revenge. The movie was a huge smash for NBC and drew attention to the issue of domestic violence. Fawcett earned an Emmy nomination for the role. Fawcett also appeared another made-for (Small Sacrifices), which she also earned critical acclaim.

In 1991, she appeared opposite boyfriend Ryan O’Neal in the short-lived sitcom Good Sports. She returned to the big screen in Apostle; her more recent TV appearances included stints on Ally McBeal and Spin City; she also had a reality series on TV Land four years ago titled Chasing Farrah.

And of course, there’s always that poster…

Michael Jackson. And while we were mourning the death of Ms. Fawcett on Thursday, another shocker emerged: The king of pop was rushed to a hospital in Los Angeles due to cardiac arrest. He died at 4:26 p.m. Chicago time.

If there was anyone who changed the face of the music and radio industries, it was the gloved one. Mr. Jackson sung with his brothers and were known as The Jackson 5 and hailed from nearby Gary, Ind. They hit the charts with I Want Your Back, Dancin’ Machine, and ABC. Mr. Jackson had his first Number One single as a solo artist in 1972 with Ben. ABC (the network, not the song) cashed in with a Saturday Morning cartoon featuring the Jackson Five (but not their voices.)

In 1976, The Jacksons left Motown for Epic, but the hits kept on rolling. In 1979, Michael Jackson released Off The Wall and spawned several Number One singles, including Rock With You, and Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.

But Mr. Jackson wasn’t through. His next album (Thriller) was a commercial and critical success. It spawned two Number One singles, and became the first album in history to land seven singles in the Top 40 of Billboard’s Pop Chart – all of them reaching the top ten. Michael Jackson’s videos were not just music videos – they were presentations. The success of Billie Jean and Beat It helped make MTV a household name – though the network would not play videos from black artists for the most part before Billie Jean hit.

Then came Thriller, the title track from Mr. Jackson’s album. The video was fourteen minutes long and premiered on MTV three weeks before Christmas, and on NBC’s Friday Night Videos on December 23, 1983. At the time, it was the most expensive music video ever made, and was directed by John Landis. The video won two Grammy Awards and four MTV Music Video Awards.

As for Beat It, Mr. Jackson’s song was not only played by Pop and R&B stations – but also AOR rock stations – one of the first times a black artist (other than Jimi Hendrix) was played on those type of stations. Beat It also helped launch the career of Weird Al Yankovic in a way – his parody of the song – and the video – titled Eat It, reached #14 on Billboard Pop Chart in 1984.

And Thriller’s success helped contemporary hit radio in a huge way. The format’s future was up in the air after disco imploded in 1979 and many stations were shunning away from any type of dance music, especially songs from from black artists (unless you were Diana Ross, Kool & The Gang, or Stevie Wonder.) Jackson’s success at radio re-opened the door for other black artists at mainstream radio – including Prince, Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, and Morris Day and The Time.

Believe it or not, Michael Jackson’s next release (Bad) had greater success on the singles charts, with five Number One singles and became the third album in history to land seven singles in the Top 40 (Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. was the second.) However, Bad lived up to is name as the album was not as well-received by critics as Thriller and Off the Wall had; and despite five chart-toppers, Bad’s sales were lower compared to Thriller and did not spend as much time at Number One on the album chart as its predecessor did.

Jackson’s next album (Dangerous) was a major success, spawning hit singles such as Black or White, Remember the Time, and Who Is It, but produced only one chart-topper (Black or White.)

By this time, Michael Jackson’s personal and private life came out in the open. He was accused of molesting children and his marriages to Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe made for fodder in the tabloids. Jackson’s child molestation acquisitions hurt his career as releases of subsequent albums were commercial flops, notably Invincible. Jackson’s miscues (such as dangling his baby off of a balcony in Berlin in 2002) made things even worse.

Jackson legal and financial troubles continued to mount, and even though he was acquitted of another child molestation charge (in 2005), legal fees from his defense mounted and left him in worse financial shape. As a result, Jackson decided this year to tour again for the final time – though only in the London area (for the record, Jackson has not toured in the U.S. for many years.)

Despite his bizarre personal life – and whether you loved the guy or hated him (and there’s a lot of people in either camp), you can’t deny he changed the face of the music industry and pop culture forever. For generations of music lovers, he will always be The King Of Pop.