Like a lot of people, I was shocked when I heard the news that Michael Jackson had died. To me, it was like losing a member of the family. It really didn't sink in right away either. Only after I got home and turned to CNN did I realize that Michael, as I call him, was gone forever.
Everyone has a favorite Michael story. And no one ever forgets the first time they saw Michael on television and definitely no one forgets the first time they saw Michael in person.
For me, the first only time, I saw Michael in person was 1984. The venue was the Orange Bowl in Miami. Tickets were hard to get and the Palm Beach Post, where I worked at the time, purchased 900 tickets to sell its employees and family members. Two of my nieces, Monica and Tiana, wanted to see the concert too.
My roommate was a sportswriter named Tanya who claimed she could maneuver in Miami traffic with ease since she often covered the Miami Dolphins. Her driving skills in Miami turned out to be a near nightmare.
The four of us headed for Miami in plenty of time but Tanya got lost twice. We managed to make it to the stadium just in time to find our seats. Within minutes the Jacksons, without Michael, took the stage and gave a great performance of some of their older songs.
After about 30 minutes the lights went down and there was almost a hush over the stadium. The pyrotechnics went up and there was Michael, standing in the middle of the stage with his back to the audience. He was wearing a silver sequined jacket, white shirt, black pants, silver socks and black shoes. The black hat he wore was slightly pulled forward.
That's when the screams started and the lights went up.
I looked to my right at my nieces and the excitement of the concert had taken its full effect. Monica's little eyes were gleaming as her face rested between both hands. It seemed to me that she didn't blink during the entire concert.
Tiana, who was excitable as a child, alternately cried and screamed, "Michael, Michael, Michael," until her little 10-year-old body was spent. At the end of the concert we went to the vendors. Because Tanya's driving delayed us, only magazines of the tour and a few other trinkets were left. T-shirt girl that I am, I was ready to shell out $40 each for the tour tees.
The first time I ever saw Michael was on the Ed Sullivan Show one Sunday night. The show was a variety show that usually featured singers, jugglers, a comedian or two and one black act that almost always came at the end of the show. The "Jackson Five" had been promoted almost all of that week and people were glued to the television to see the Jackson Five.
Those were the cutest kids who made little girls swoon and older people point with pride at the talented family.
As the years went by, Michael continued to perform and grow his fan base into an international following. But he did more than sing. No doubt many of you have heard about his charitable heart mixed liberally with criticism of things he may or may not have done. He was never found guilty of anything.
Here is the other side on Michael, the side I hope he will be remembered for as much or more than his music.
• He gave over $50 million to charities.
• He gave $5 million to Ronald McDonald House and UNICEF.
• He organized benefits after 911 that raised millions for families of New York firefighters.
• He organized a benefit for Nelson Mandela.
• He raised millions for leukemia and AIDS research.
And that's just what has been publicized. Many times, people who are philanthropists would rather keep some charitable gifts private.
My favorite Michael song is "Man In the Mirror" because I really believe if we all started with the man in the mirror the world would be a better place.