NEW YORK – Michael Jackson didn’t want to be just a superstar. Like the Beatles, he wanted to be the biggest, the king. He wanted to topple the reigning man with the crown, Elvis.
In life and in death, there was Elvis.
“It’s just so weird. He even married Elvis’ daughter,” said author-music critic Greil Marcus, who wrote at length about Presley in his acclaimed cultural history, “Mystery Train.”
Elvis Presley overdosed in his bathroom on prescription drugs in 1977 at 42, his bloated, glazed middle age a cautionary tale to rock stars and other celebrities. Jackson died Thursday at 50, rushed from his Los Angeles home and pronounced dead at the UCLA Medical Center.
The death shocked more than surprised. While endless fame seemed to inflate Elvis like helium, Jackson’s fame seemed to scrub the flesh and wear into his bones until you could almost see him shiver.
Like Elvis, Jackson was once beautiful, outrageous, a revolutionary without politics who shook down the walls between black and white. He had the hits, the style, the ego, the talent. He was the King of Pop and he needed only to fill in the life: He married Elvis’ daughter. He bought the rights to some of Elvis’ songs. Elvis owned Graceland, its name a symbol for a deliverance the singer prayed for until the end of his life. Jackson had Neverland, a fantasy for a child-man for whom money meant the chance to live in a world of his own.
He did, and did not, want to be like Elvis.
In “Moon Walk,” a memoir published in 1988, Jackson insisted Elvis was not important to him growing up and that he was unhappy to learn a song he recorded with his brothers, “Heartbreak Hotel,” shared the name of Presley’s first national hit.
” I swear that was a phrase that came out of my head and I wasn’t thinking of any other song when I wrote it,” he wrote. “The record company printed it on the cover as ‘This Place Hotel,’ because of the Elvis Presley connection. As important as he was to music, black as well as white, he just wasn’t an influence on me. I guess he was too early for me. Maybe it was timing more than anything else.
“By the time our song had come out, people thought that if I kept living in seclusion the way I was, I might die the way he did. The parallels aren’t there as far as I’m concerned and I was never much for scare tactics. Still, the way Elvis destroyed himself interests me, because I don’t ever want to walk those grounds myself.”