Rolling Stone Scribe Remembers Michael Jackson

Rock historian Ben Fong-Torres covered Jackson in the '70s

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    Ben Fong-Torres
    Rock writer Ben Fong-Torres first met Michael and Jermaine Jackson in the 1970s.

    Rolling Stone icon Ben Fong-Torres says it's impossible to overstate the significance of Michael Jackson's passing.

    "It's like the death of Elvis Presley and John Lennon," said Fong-Torres, a former writer who was one of the first to chronicle Jackson's career. "It's that enormous."

    Young Michael From Rolling Stone Reporter's Eyes

    [BAY] Young Michael From Rolling Stone Reporter's Eyes
    Rolling Stone icon Ben Fong-Torres, who profiled Michael Jackson for a cover story when the future King of Pop was just an 11-year-old star, says it's impossible to overstate the significance of the mega star's passing.

    Fong-Torres, a native of Alameda, Calif. first met Jackson in 1971 when he profiled the 11-year-old pop star for a cover story. "Backstage before a show, [Michael and his brothers] were hanging out playing cards, flipping through comic books and fan magazines," says Fong-Torres. "They were already on a run, already had five top-10 hits by 1971 but they were very unassuming."

    They met again in 1977, when Jackson was "18 years old and as shy as ever," Fong-Torres recalls. "He was very comfortable on stage but uncomfortable offstage. But even as shy as he continued to be throughout his life when you asked him a question he answered quite fully."

    The turning point, says Fong-Torres, was the 1982 album Thriller. "Thriller was a moment in pop history that turned him from mere super star to pop icon. I don't know where 'King of Pop,' came from but it fit because he was ruling the world of music."

    MTV helped Jackson cross over: "He became the first African-American star to be a regular feature. That helped the channel and the channel helped him, propelling him to even more sensational sales."

    Despite the allegations and Jackson's questionable actions, his music remains his most important legacy, according to Fong-Torres. "No matter what else he is, he wrote great songs. He choreographed his own moves. He directed the Jackson Five."

    Thriller sold more than 50 million units, and is still selling, notes Fong-Torres. But that posed an unsolvable problem for the pop star: "He was then driven to top the untoppable."