Jackson was a pop cultural icon and his touch will forever be felt in all facets of entertainment. Here are just a few of the stars he hitched to in film during his long and storied career.
Sidney Lumet is a director’s director. He gave us classics like “12 Angry Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “The Network,” “Serpico” and the modern-day masterpiece “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” He also gave us “The Wiz,” a playful recasting of L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” set in a fantasy-land version of New York City. Michael Jackson starred as the Scarecrow opposite Diana Ross’s Dorothy. “The Wiz” is an amazing product of its time, accurately casting the plight of the African-American people against Baum’s timeless tale. And Jackson is front-and-center to it all; alongside Ross, Nipsey Russell’s Tinman and Ted Ross’s Lion, he ingrained in the lifeblood of the film.
Director Martin Scorsese needs no introduction. “Goodfellas” says it all, and there’s still so much more. Among that “more” is the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” Like “Thriller” before it, “Bad” is an epic-length presentation — 18 minutes in its full glory — starring Jackson alongside Roberta Flack and Wesley Snipes. Richard Price, the author of “Clockers,” wrote the short film attached to the music. “Thriller” blazed a trailer for the breaking down of barriers between music and film; “Bad” notched things up to the next level, and it was largely thanks to Jackson’s collaboration with Scorsese.
In one fell swoop, Michael Jackson collaborated with not only Francis Ford Coppola — director of “The Godfather” series — but also “Star Wars” creator George Lucas. Talk about giants. Their “Captain EO” was a Disney ride of sorts, a 3-D sci-fi short film of blockbuster proportions featuring two of Jackson’s then-new songs: “Another Part Of Me” and “We Are Here To Change The World.” Coppola directed, Lucas executive produced, James Horner delivered the score and Jackson starred, alongside Anjelica Huston and Dick Shawn.
Matt Groening’s “The Simpsons” TV series is a pop cultural monolith. The second season capper, “Stark Raving Dad,” maintains a special place in Jackson’s career. An unknown voice actor named John Jay Smith was credited for voicing an institutionalized man who believed he was the pop star. The joke was on all of us. A condition of Jackson lending his voice to the episode was that he be credited under a pseudonym. He also contributed a song for the episode, “Happy Birthday Lisa.” The collaboration came about because of Jackson’s interest in the show. It is largely
Director John Landis was something of a ’70s and ’80s icon. Take your pick of classic comedies. “The Blues Brothers.” “Animal House.” “Trading Places.” Prefer fear to laughter? How about “Twilight Zone: The Movie”? Or… “Thriller”? Jackson’s song “Thriller” had plenty of cache on its own, with a chilling midpoint monologue from none other than Vincent Price. The video took things to the next level. Landis co-wrote the script for the 14-minute short film with Jackson. Landis also called in his pal and special effects wizard Rick Baker to make up the video’s zombies. “Thriller” premiered on MTV three weeks before Christmas in 1983, and was the most expensive music video of its time.
Landis said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that Jackson “was an extraordinary talent and a truly great international star.”
“He had a troubled and complicated life and despite his gifts, remains a tragic figure,” Landis said.
Don’t miss “A Celebration Of Michael Jackson On MTV,” airing at 6 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.