Michael Jackson turns 50, shadow of superstar self

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Singer Michael Jackson turned 50 on Friday, a shadow of the superstar once known as the “King of Pop” whose records thrilled millions before his bizarre personal life eclipsed his musical brilliance.

U.S. pop star Michael Jackson waves to fans at a U.S. military facility in Tokyo, as he walks to board a helicopter bound for Camp Zama, a U.S. military base west of Tokyo, to join a fan appreciation event March in this 10, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files

Unlike Madonna’s 50th birthday bash and launch of another world tour earlier this month, the singer who wishes he was Peter Pan appears to have no special celebrations planned and a much-touted musical comeback has so far come to nothing.

A semi-recluse since his harrowing 2005 trial and acquittal on child sex abuse, Jackson has been living out of the spotlight for the past few months.

In a telephone interview with ABC television program “Good Morning America,” Jackson said he will “just have a little cake with my children and watch come cartoons,” and he added that he feels “very wise and sage, but at the same time very young.”

Recent pictures of Jackson in Las Vegas showed him dressed in pajamas and slippers, and one had him sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a surgical mask.

Long-time Jackson family friend and lawyer Brian Oxman told Reuters the singer sometimes used the wheelchair to get around unobserved. “It is not an indication of any health problems. It is an effort to be unseen,” he said.

Oxman added that for the 50th birthday, “no-one is planning anything special. He is just being quiet these days.”

Billboard senior music analyst Geoff Mayfield saw nothing unusual in Jackson’s low-key birthday. “I don’t think our celebrities are real hot on how old they are getting. Why would a pop singer draw attention to the fact they are getting older?,” Mayfield told Reuters.

Jackson’s record label Sony BMG launched a big overseas promotion to mark his half-century and a career that started with his brothers in The Jackson Five, when Michael was 11, and which produced the 1982 album “Thriller” -- still the world’s biggest selling album and one of the most influential.

Fans in 11 countries, including Japan, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia where Jackson has his biggest following have voted on Web sites for their favorite songs that have been compiled on a “King of Pop” hits album being released on Friday.

Yet, a poll on AOL’s pop culture news Web site suggested that Jackson’s surgically-altered face, his financial problems, the shuttering of his “Neverland” fantasy ranch, and the fallout of the 2005 trial, risked overshadowing his musical achievements.

Some 49 percent said Jackson’s bizarre behavior changed the way they viewed his classic hits of the 1980s, and 71 percent agreed there was “not a chance” of him making a comeback.

Jackson’s last major public performance, in London in November 2006, fizzled out in disappointment when he sang only a few lines of an old song.

His last album of new music was “Invincible” in 2001, but the 25th anniversary reissue of “Thriller” this year has sold 635,000 copies in the U.S. alone and is one of the 30 best-selling albums of 2008.

Mayfield said that whatever the future holds for Jackson, he has made an indelible mark on pop music.

“To really still be in the conversation in terms of music sales decades after your career started is the exception not the norm,” Mayfield said. “It is hard to imagine any album ever dominating the conversation as much as ‘Thriller’ did.”

Oxman said that all stars go through difficult stages and he was hopeful that Jackson would yet resurrect his career. “We are anxious and waiting for him to do something,” Oxman said.