Michael Jackson: A Legend
Michael Jackson was a legend who will be remembered in the hearts of his fans for years to come. Throughout his tumultuous life, one thing that ironically remained constant was the ongoing transformation in his physical appearance. Despite obvious changes to his nose, jawline and eyes, the pop icon denied he had extensive plastic surgery and blamed his changing skin tone on vitiligo.
A Look at MJ’s Physical Transformation over the Years
Michael Jackson began his career as the lead singer for the Jackson 5 in 1964. In the picture above, he is shown on the left in 1969 as a successful child singer. By 2001, Jackson’s face differed markedly from its former self. Here are pictures documenting the evolution of Michael Jackson’s face over the decades.
At left, Michael Jackson poses for a studio portrait in March 1971. His doe eyes, cherubic face, and sweet voice made him the object of many an adolescent crush. Three decades later in November 2003, an almost completely unrecognizable Jackson is shown in a mug shot after he was booked for multiple counts of alleged child molestation. After his death, the question lingers: what was it all about?
“He didn’t want to be Michael Joseph Jackson. He just wanted to be something else. And he went about the business of doing that,” says Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli.
By the time this photo was taken in 1973, Jackson had already released three solo albums and his first number one hit, “Ben.” At this time, puberty began to naturally transform Jackson’s face, melting away the baby fat and revealing a more masculine jawline.
Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli suspects that the inevitable changes of puberty were deeply traumatic for the child star. “When he started to change physically as all guys do, when they go through adolescence and puberty, this was really difficult for him,” he told Cynthia McFadden of ABC News in 2003.
By the tender age of 18, Jackson’s fame had well eclipsed that of his brothers. Yet, despite the adulation, the star was becoming increasingly insecure about his looks. In particular, Jackson disliked his acne-prone skin and his nose. It didn’t help that, according to Taraborrelli, Jackson’s brothers reportedly called him “big nose.”
In 1979, the same year Michael Jackson released his fifth solo album, Off the Wall, it is believed he took another big step: his first foray into plastic surgery.
Jackson reportedly underwent his first rhinoplasty at age 21, after breaking his nose during a dance rehearsal. It would be the first step in a dramatic facial transformation. The same year, in a prophetic interview with Sylvia Chase of 20/20, he claimed he was unable to lead a normal life.
“It’s hard to in my position. I try to sometime. And, but people won’t deal with me in that way because they see me differently. They won’t talk to me like they would a next-door neighbor,” he said.
Michael Jackson poses in 1981, during the hiatus between Off the Wall and his mega-hit Thriller. By this point, he had ditched his seventies Afro in favor of what would become his signature curly hair, and his nose is noticeably different from from what it had been just a few years earlier.
“Obviously he’s had some nasal surgery,” plastic surgeon Pamela Lipkin told ABC News in 2003. “The bridge is much thinner, width of the nostrils is greatly reduced. . . That’s a great result. That nose is still believable.”
By 1983, Jackson was at the zenith of his career with Thriller well on its way to becoming the best-selling album of all time. Some argue that Michael also looked his best at this time.
This photograph of Jackson was taken in 1985, the same year he would write the hit song “We Are the World” with Lionel Ritchie, which they performed along with fellow superstars Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen. The year before, Jackson had suffered second-degree burns on his scalp in an infamous accident while filming a Pepsi commercial.
Here is Jackson in 1987, shortly after the release of his album, Bad. In the five years between Thriller and Bad, Jackson’s face changed almost as dramatically as his had fame skyrocketed.
After the unprecedented success of Thriller, some think that Jackson’s metamorphosis became an artistic statement, far more than his initial insecurities about his appearance. “He wanted to be the King of Pop. He wanted to be Captain Eo,” claims Margo Jefferson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of On Michael Jackson. “I think he was obsessed with staying timeless, is what I think. . . It’s as if he wanted to look like some, you know, being who has gone into some eternal realm of fame. . . beyond life and death.”
In this picture, Jackson attends the 1989 Soul Train Awards in Los Angeles, unveiling an even thinner nose, heavily-lined eyes, and a suddenly prominent cleft chin. In a 2003 interview with ABC News, plastic surgeon Pamela Lipkin insists that Jackson’s transformations could not have been natural.
“That’s not a natural cleft. There’s a way of creating a cleft in a chin. But the reason why the operation hasn’t become popular is it never looks real,” she said.
In 1991, Jackson released Dangerous. The album’s first single was the number one hit “Black or White”; some interpreted the lyrics as a sly reference to Jackson’s ever-lightening skin tone.
In a memorable 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson admitted that his skin color had transformed, but insisted the lightening was a result of a disease called vitiligo.
Plastic surgeon Pamela Lipkin was skeptical of these claims, telling ABC News in 2003, “It’s the most unusual case of vitiligo I’ve ever seen. I think he’s bleached his skin possibly to blend in what might have been vitiligo.”
At a 1995 charity event, a 36-year-old Jackson was almost completely unrecognizable from the person he was just a decade earlier. His appearance is noticeably wide-eyed and square-jawed, a look that’s accentuated by a shorter hairstyle.
Of Jackson’s transformation, plastic surgeon Pamela Lipkin has said, “It’s obvious that he’s trying to look Caucasian. His skin is whiter, his nose is getting thinner every six months. His lips are getting thinner.”
In 1997, with his career on the wane, Jackson debuted yet another look: longer, straighter hair and fuller lips. Lipkin believes Jackson may have been addicted to plastic surgery. “It means that no much matter how much surgery you have, you’re still not happy with the way you look,” she said. “He kept focusing on his nose. It became, his nose became the obsession.”
Jackson waves to fans upon arrival in Seoul, South Korea, in 1999. Dr. Steven Laughlin was Jackson’s surgeon until the late 1990s. In a 1999 interview with ABC News, Laughlin admitted that although Jackson was “very happy” with his face, “I think he’s done more than I recommended in terms of the changes.”
By November 2001, Jackson’s ever-higher eyebrows created a permanently startled look and suggested surgical intervention of some kind. “He probably had some sort of forehead lift or brow lift,” Lipkin told ABC News in 2003. She also believes Jackson was a “Nasal cripple . . . whose nose has been done so many times that there is no nose really to breathe through. Michael Jackson has what we call an end-stage nose, a crucified nose, one that’s beyond the point of no return.”
Jackson is pictured after his 2003 arrest for alleged child molestation. The charges were almost as shocking as his ever-evolving appearance. The previous year, Jackson told ABC News’ Martin Bashir, “I’ve had no plastic surgery on my face. Just my nose. It helped me breathe better so I can hit higher notes.”
In 2005, Michael Jackson stood trial for 14 different charges, including child molestation, conspiracy, and providing alcohol to minors. On June 13, 2005, Jackson was found not guilty on all counts. After the trial, Jackson fled to the island country of Bahrain, far from the public eye.
In the later years of his life, Jackson was rarely seen in public without a surgical mask covering his face. This photo from Jesse Jackson’s 66th birthday party in 2007 is a rare exception. His gaunt appearance highlights his prominent cheekbones, chin, and lips.