Jacko's watershed weirdness

FYI: pop culture news

January 01, 2004|By Knight Ridder / Tribune

Bubbles the chimp. The vanishing nose. The baby, cloaked and dangling. OK, maybe Michael Jackson's cheese has slipped off the cracker.

Now that he's been formally charged with child molestation, and we're guaranteed to learn more than we ever wanted to know about the naif of Neverland, let's consider whether he's the weirdest celebrity who ever lived.

Greta Garbo's biographer, Barry Paris, says the reclusive actress of the 1920s and '30s used to arrange tiny troll tableaus under her living room couch and was fond of gender-bending pronouncements such as, "I have been smoking since I was a small boy."

Curmudgeonly W.C. Fields was so worried about losing his money in a bank collapse that he opened small accounts in almost every town he visited, usually in the names of his characters and pen names.

Howard Hughes, industrialist, aviator and mogul, spent his last years growing Fu Manchu nails and being obsessed with germs and the movie Ice Station Zebra. Convinced he was spied on, he once bought 20 identical Chevrolets. No one, he reasoned, would bug all 20.

But is anyone more wacko than Jacko?

Jackson once earned headlines for his music. Five No. 1 hits burst from his 1982 classic Thriller, which remains the second-best-selling album in history. Once the rare recipient of both popular and critical acclaim, he is now known by many merely for his bizarre life.

Michael Musto, a pop-cult columnist for the Village Voice, makes a clear distinction between celebrity freakiness and criminal conduct. Freakiness, he says, "I celebrate."

That said, Jackson is in a class by himself. "He's encased himself in this bubble which is so removed from reality, and that's why we have a problem with him," Musto said. "There's weird, and there's Michael Jackson."

Eccentric, says Musto, is former basketball rebound machine Dennis Rodman. Or the ex-Mrs. Billy Bob Thornton, Angelina Jolie, "before she found her purpose in life" and went goodwill-hunting for the United Nations.

Jackson, says Musto, goes beyond Elvis (swallowed medicine cabinet, shot TV) or Jerry Lee Lewis (married 13-year-old cuz).

And so, Musto says, we're seeing something for the ages in the fragile self-styled King of Pop.

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