Michael Jackson: Death perspective

Jun 26, 2009 at 4:37 a.m. ET

The fact that Michael Jackson died should be put in perspective. His passing is the death of Elvis, plus the assassination of John Lennon, divided by the suicide of Kurt Cobain: Monumental, shocking and crushing.

Michael Jackson's Billie Jean video broke MTV barriersMichael Jackson's death on June 25 sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry, in which death seems to arrive early to its biggest stars. Jackson, Presley, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix now have company in the spirit of Michael Jackson.

Jackson's death at 50 has left an enormous hole in the world's collective pop culture consciousness. Those who knew him never believed Jackson would die of old age. But, publicly, the world is shocked.

Michael Jackson jams

Sociologically, Michael Jackson broke barriers. As Reverend Al Sharpton said June 25, "There would be no Barack Obama without Michael Jackson."

Jackson was welcomed into America's households as no other African American had ever been. No one could eclipse the appearance of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show… until the Jackson 5 hit the Sullivan stage.

Most importantly, the godsend to the music industry -- MTV -- avoided African-American artists at all cost. Michael Jackson came out with the Thriller album, and the collective desire for the video representation of his first single, Billie Jean, became too impossible to ignore.

The public demanded to see Michael Jackson.

MTV's race wall tumbled under Jackson

Billie Jean begat Beat It, which begat Thriller -- and the door had been kicked down for a cornucopia of artists from Prince, Usher, John Legend to Chris Brown. Can you imagine MTV without the presence of African-American artists? Before Michael Jackson, it was a virtual wasteland.

Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera also owe much of their careers to the majesty of Michael.

See more Michael Jackson death coverage hereAny given American Idol season includes a litany of singers influenced by Jackson. Let's not forget the barrage of reality TV dance shows on television and the chorus of influence extolled by their contestants – "I would not be dancing if it weren't for Michael Jackson."

It's a chorus as familiar as any of Michael Jackson's many hits.

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