Michael Jackson, in a glove-off session with Oprah

February 10, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

If you own a television set, chances are you have witnessed the sudden coming-out of Michael Jackson, a pop recluse whose once brilliant light seemed to be fading in America only a month ago.

The enigmatic superstar, who was generating more press over his storied personal life than his music, has returned from a world tour to barn-burn America in a series of hard-to-miss performances -- from President Clinton's inauguration to the American Music Awards to a halftime show during the Super Bowl, which wound up being the most-watched TV program ever.

Tonight, Mr. Jackson's media blitz will reach its zenith when ABC broadcasts a live, 90-minute interview with Oprah Winfrey from his ranch in Santa Ynez, Calif. Mr. Jackson hasn't sat down for a one-on-one TV interview in nearly a decade.

What's unusual about all this is that the pop artist seemingly has nothing new to promote. His latest album, "Dangerous," has been on the market for more than a year. So what gives?

"We're in the '90s, and people expect to be much more a part of the life of a celebrity. It was more natural in the '70s and '80s for Michael to be private, even to be sometimes reclusive," said

Bertram Fields, Mr. Jackson's attorney in Los Angeles. "Michael is getting to be an older, more mature person. I don't mean he's old; he's still young. But as he matures, he's ready to speak out about his feelings on things."

Mr. Jackson, 34, has become a more visible spokesman lately for his charitable activities. In a glitzy ballroom news conference two weeks ago, he announced a $1.25 million program to provide drug, health and counseling services to Los Angeles inner city youth in the wake of last spring's riots in Los Angeles. His Super Bowl halftime show, meanwhile, was a tribute to Heal the World, his year-old humanitarian foundation to help children and the environment.

But the Oprah Winfrey interview is another matter. His cooperation was a "management decision," one source said, to corral the runaway rumors that have been hounding the Gloved One for years -- ranging from Mr. Jackson taking baths in Evian water during his last tour to demanding that a white boy play him in a recent soft-drink commercial. The latest tale has Jackson making arrangements to moon walk -- for real, via a personal expedition to the moon.

Some critics feel that his recent exposure is no accident. "Regardless of what he says, 'Dangerous' was his least successful album in more than a decade," observed an executive at a competing record label. "He didn't tour in America. I don't think he could do the ticket sales that a Michael Jackson is accustomed to. He's created such a high throne for himself that he can't come down.

"Then the rumors leaked out, and he started getting a lot of criticism. People are wondering why his look has changed, why his skin is getting lighter and lighter, why he grabs his crotch so much, why he's always hanging around little kids. What is this all about? I think he's finally decided that he has to show -- not that he's normal in the traditional sense, because he's not -- but that he's at least in touch with reality. That he's still the entertainer we all know and love."

Producer Debra Di Maio said that no subject will be out of bounds and no ground rules have been laid for the Winfrey interview, sentiments echoed by Mr. Jackson's management.

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