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Michael Jackson: His Life and Times

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Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 2009; 12:00 PM

Michael Jackson, 50, died yesterday in Los Angeles as sensationally as he lived, as famous as a human being can get. He was a child Motown phenomenon who grew into a moonwalking megastar, the self-anointed King of Pop who sold 750 million records over his career and enjoyed worldwide adoration.

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Washington Post staff writer Hank Stuever was online Friday, June 26, at Noon ET to discuss the life and times of the self-proclaimed King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

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Hank Stuever: Hi everyone. We'll get right to your questions (many of which are impossible to answer just this moment, as the story of what happened to one of the world's most famous human beings will take, oh, forever to really truly be known). We'd also like to hear whatever you have to say about Michael -- the music, the weirdness, and I'm also here to be your release valve if you're already fed up with the frenzy.

This is a biggie, though. On par with Elvis, Lennon, Princess Di. (My friend Nancy Nall, at nancynall.com, may have put it about right this morning: It's Princess Di's death only with "three-quarters of the IQ points sucked out" -- if you want to say AMEN, go check her blog item today. Nancy also notes that a celebrity autopsy will usually reveal only the most carefully chosen organic vegetables and brown rice and refined water in the decedent's stomach, and enough opiates to fell an elephant in the bloodstream.)

But we won't only be glib here today. The world mourns. Not just the wacky hardcore MJ fans, but anyone who ever owned a Walkman or a boombox in the '80s. If you are heartsick and want to unload please go to our other link -- producer Rocci will post it now -- and share there. I'll let a little of it in here.

If you have breaking news to share, will you do us all the kindness of trying to cite a source? "MSBNC saying ..." or "TMZ just now" or something like that? Not a requirement, just a suggestion...

A caveat: I am not standing in front of the LA coroner's office -- I don't have the latest info. Mostly I just want to be your conduit for comment for an hour. Chat away.

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22030: It's been a rough week for Hollywood. After Ed McMahon's and Farrah Fawcett's deaths were announced, of course those were newsworthy items. But why has Michael been seemingly more newsworthy? Ever since yesterday, the newspaper, TV, radio, and Internet have been "All Michael, all the time." Why not "All Ed, all the time" or "All Farrah, all the time"?

Hank Stuever: Michael was, literally, a billion times more famous than either of these. He is famous even in parts of the world that don't get TV reception.

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washingtonpost.com: Share Your Michael Jackson Memories

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Alexandria, Va.: I think the coverage has been over the top. He was a very talented fellow, but had a lot of baggage and was kind of a has-been. I can't believe the 24-hour coverage as if there is nothing else going on in the world! Stop it already!

Hank Stuever: I am not good at enduring 24-hour coverage like this either, but this story is pretty huge and comes bundled with all the requisite elements: a mystery, moral questions, confusion and celebrity at the highest wattage (has-been or not). But I notice the cable channels are all right now switching over to the Obama press conference about the Merkel visit.

Remember when Mother Theresa died right in the middle of Princess Di mania? There were people who, no matter how you tried you to explain it, couldn't understand how Di trumped MT.

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Washington, D.C.: Just out of curiosity, why did he get the title "Mr. Jackson" in your story? Quincy Jones was just Jones, but MJ was Mr. Jackson. Just curious if the Post is changing its style, or if it was done to differentiate between Michael and the other Jacksons mentioned.

washingtonpost.com: Object of Acclaim, Curiosity, The 'King of Pop' Dies in L.A. (Post, June 26)

Hank Stuever: Good question. The story (with Matt Schudel's and my byline) is our obituary. It's also a news story of sorts, using news feeds from our reporter, leading off our coverage this morning. It's also part of what Style used to do called "Appreciation," which was a reflective and reported essay about a notable death.

But most of all it's an obituary, and therefore it takes the usual honorific ("Mr.") for the decedent, as in all obits.

If that seems confusing, imagining writing it as fast as you possibly can and still being too slow. Michael Jackson was never good about meeting East Coast deadlines, I can attest.

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Hartford, Conn.: In looking at the earlier photos of Michael, I was struck yet again by the horrific self- inflicted change in his appearance over the years. How exactly, did get get so, um, non- African-American-colored?

Hank Stuever: He claimed to have a skin condition that did that to him, or contributed to it. But, yeah, right. And what he did to himself comes freighted with all sorts of subtext about his self-identity as a black man.

Can anyone go find the link to the photo rendition that went around on the Internet about five years ago (maybe more) of what Michael may have looked like if he'd left his face alone? It's pretty amazing.

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Richmond, Va. : Does MJ's estate still own the rights to his catalog? All news reports include the massive debt he'd been accruing. How was he financing all of that? The 100,000 p/m rental, etc...

Hank Stuever: I cannot conceive of how many linear feet of legal boxes filled with paperwork would comprise the financial picture of Michael Jackson's estate, song rights, will, debts, etc. It will take many smart business reporters a while to ferret out a clear detail of these questions for the general public, but if anyone has run into any stories like this, please send a link and I'll post.

A highlight of the Michael Jackson trial, which I and several other Post reporters too turns covering in 2005, was a rough understanding of how one can be so rich and so broke at the same time.

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Takoma Park, Md.: MJ's death reminds me of Elvis's -- two talented performers who reached unprecedented levels of fame and success at early ages and then had varying levels of success professionally and personally in later years. Their deaths were unexpected, but not terribly surprising. Elvis's estate became a whole industry, but I don't see that for his former son-in-law.

Hank Stuever: I don't see it either. Graceland exists as a museum and memorial site mostly because everyone involved got along. I don't see the same future for Neverland, just thinking about it. I see a lot of courtrooms ahead for many parties having anything to do with MJ. The court proceedings may well outlast his legacy.

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Anonymous: Hi Hank, try to be a little quicker in answering...many of us are on our lunch break

Hank Stuever: I mean, really.

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washingtonpost.com: Michael Jackson Face Transformation

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Northampton, Mass.: Michael Jackson and MTV are inexorably linked in my mind. I remember staking out the one TV on campus (in the student center) that played MTV, just hoping that the "Thriller" video would be shown.

What a conflicted and talented man. I hope he is now at peace.

Hank Stuever: Yes.

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Di Trumping Mother Theresa: Um--celebrity and beauty will always trump almost anything else. I think that MJ's passing will end up being similar to when Elvis or Diana died. Yesterday was history -- even if you did not like his music.

Hank Stuever: Yes.

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Alexandria, Va.: Process question. I imagine that the Post had a Farrah and Ed McMahon obit ready to go, but how does that work for a fairly young Michael Jackson or any other relatively yong celebrity? Is there a moment after you receive the news, that you curse and say to yourself that you were meaning to get to update that obit and now I'm on a tight deadline?

Hank Stuever: DO you have an art farm handy? Take out about 1/3 of ants (buyout offers, etc.) Then shake up the ant farm real good. That was Style section about 5:30 last night.

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New Haven, Conn.: Do we know for a fact that Michael Jackson changed his will earlier this year so that his share of the Beatles' song catalog will ultimately go to Paul McCartney?

Hank Stuever: I personally do not know this for a fact, no. But this has always been such a bone of contention for Beatles fans, who just cannot get their head around MJ's involvement in that catalog.

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Washington, D.C.: I have tickets to the MJ tribute band coicidentally playing at 9:30 Club tonight. Any idea what to expect at the scene? And is it morbid or weird to go watch another dude sing his songs as a way of mourning?

Hank Stuever: That's a golden ticket. People will have a great time.

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Fairfax, Va.: In seeing the media coverage about MJ's death, it feels like everybody's "whitewashing" some of the weird stuff about his life. Are we going a little over the top? Maybe I just don't have adequate "fanhood" for the man.

Hank Stuever: No, here's how it goes.

Day one: Oh no! We loooved him.

Day two: The freak.

Day three: Official tribute, await funeral

Day four: WTF

Day five: What does this say about us, as a society?

Day six: NEWS, holy [bleep] NOW it makes sense

Day seven: big media funeral

Day eight: everyone as you were

Collapse above accordingly thanks to Twitter, TMZ, etc. This could all be over by Monday! There's an app for that!

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Anonymous: Where are Michael's children ? Do they stand to inherit most of his estate?

Hank Stuever: MSNBC said this morning that the children were told of the death by a social worker, which, if true, would tell you something about the Jackson clan.

What's next for them? I wish for them the human reboot -- Federal Witness Protection maybe -- where they can go live in homes that anything like normal (I mean, not living in Dubai hotels, from jet to jet), without an army of caretakers.

Like baby Luke Skywalker delivered to Tatooine -- back to where it all began: Gary, Ind.!

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Falls Church, Va.: Did MJ still own Bubbles? If so, what is likely to happen to him?

Hank Stuever: I believe Michael told Martin Bashir in the 2003 interview that Bubbles had been moved to an animal sanctuary because he got too agreessive. (Read: bitey.)

Anyone know the Bubbles story? Besides the wiki entry?

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Fairfax, Va.: He didn't have a very happy life, did he?

Hank Stuever: He didn't. I've written about this. I'm sending Rocky a link to a Style essay I wrote in 2002, when "Thriller" was having a 20th anniversary and Michael was dangling Blanket over the balcony. Stand by, you might enjoy it.

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washingtonpost.com: Hank Stuever

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Hank Stuever: Correction, ROCCI not Rocky.

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D.C. remembering M.J.: Are any clubs in D.C. doing any M.J. dance night tributes this weekend? I want to celebrate this artist's incredible talent and music.

Hank Stuever: There's the concert at the 9:30 Club tonight and I'm sure a host of other things -- try our Going Out Guide. I'm sorry I don't have a ready schedule at hand.

I staggered out of the newsroom late last night and went to the 1409 Playbill for a drinky with my editor and another reporter and people were singing some Michael karaoke, though not exclusively.

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Anonymous: Are we likely to see an auction of some of Michael's collection? Didn't he own the Elephant Man's bones or something like that? Was he an avid collector and what did he collect?

Hank Stuever: We almost saw a big auction earlier this year, which Michael's lawyers successfully staved off.

Now you have to wonder: museum pieces? Or auction? (I'd go for the auction, but who's to say, except for many lawyers in many courtrooms). Yes, Michael famously owned the E-Man bones at one time. Maybe still. Along with that strange Last Supper portrait above his bed, with I recall being his own face in the center Christ chair. Is that right? Or am I having a Michael delusion again?

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Falls Church, Va.: I'm amazed by the number of people who are complaining about the 24- hour news coverage of this. It hasn't even been 24 hours! Give the masses time to find out all the info, mourn, conduct the autopsy, etc. This story isn't going away for a while.

Hank Stuever: And what about that autopsy! I mean can you just IMAGINE? His body on a slab. Where do you start? (I mean, I know how you start professionally and procedurally and methodically and all that -- I've seen one, or most of one, done before -- but how often does you mind go: Holy Bleep! This is MICHAEL JACKSON.

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Albany, N.Y.: To me you cannot talk about Michael Jackson as ONLY a legendary musician or ONLY a sad human being; you have to include both sides. (This is going to be the worst part of the 24-hour coverage, where people are going to emphasize one or the other to everyone's detriment.) The obit/appreciation by you and your coauthor did both, spectacularly well. Hearing that you wrote it on deadline only fuels my esteem. Thanks, and well done.

Hank Stuever: Thank you, for reading

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D.C.: Do you think we will hear about Michael Jackson sightings...

Hank Stuever: You know, now that you mention it. What a hoax!

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Pasadena, Calif.: I'd like to voice my opinion about how wrong it is for CBS to continue to show a picture of Michael in the ambulance with an oxygen mask on his face. It's pure sensationalism, adds nothing to any discussion of how or why he died and certainly isn't necessary to report the story. It's yellow journalism and not what I would expect of a respected organization like CBS.

Hank Stuever: Eh. It's news. Michael's later life involved more than one rushing ambulance.

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washingtonpost.com: Who's Bad: Michael Jackson Tribute Band

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Bethesda, Md.: Why hasn't anyone pointed that Jackson may have been the first person in history to literally cut off his nose to spite his face?

Hank Stuever: I think people have.

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Wondering: I keep reading about how "talented" and "gifted" people believe Michael was. The word "genius" has popped up a lot, too. Sure he was a talented performer (especially in terms of his dancing and his costumes), but how much of a hand did he play in the creation of his music? Did he write lyrics? Did he arrange music? Did he ever play an instrument, etc.?

Hank Stuever: He was a songwriter, very much. I don't have the Thriller liner notes handy, but if a fan (or a music writer, cough-cough) wants to weigh in here and illuminate us on his songwriting, please do.

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Icons: I was pretty young when Lennon and Elvis died (I remember them, though I was much more aware of who Elvis was at the time) -- but it seems to me that Elvis is probably the most comparable of the ones you mentioned, in that he had suffered a career decline (in relative terms) and we already knew a lot about the sad, tragic stuff. Lennon had gotten kind of weird, but he hadn't yet jumped the shark in terms of popularity, right? And Diana had her ups and downs, but she seemed to be in a pretty good place by 1997. Both Lennon and Di were taken suddenly and in surprising ways, whereas Elvis and Michael both had years of observable decline, even if the exact denouement was unexpected.

By the way, a friend of mine had an interesting problem last night -- her young kid, watching the news but not knowing much about Michael Jackson, asked her how/why he turned from black to white. Is anyone else having to come up with an explanation for confused kids?

Hank Stuever: Good observations.

Michael = Diana divided by Anna Nicole Smith x Elvis.

John Lennon: murdered just as he released strong new album. Different altogether.

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Herndon, Va.: Question about the news process. At about 6:30 last night we had half of the "Leading" news orgs confirming the death, some saying coma, some saying nothing other than cardiac arrest. How could there be such disparity?

Hank Stuever: Everyone wants a confirmation before they post it, or until the sheer number of news sites going with it convinces news editors that we'll all be right or we'll all be wrong. Nothing worse that going live with the wrong news. Our tipping point, I believe, was a combo of TMZ, AP and LAT at a certain moment where there was clearly no going back, and TV went nuts too with confirmed.

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washingtonpost.com: Michael Jackson Song Lyrics

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Anonymous: North Korea could launch a nuclear missile at California, and it would only get - maybe - mention on the CNN or FOX news crawl.

Hank Stuever: Not true.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Have any of his siblings released a statement? And where has Janet Jackson been as of late?

Hank Stuever: Jermaine spoke last night, obviously, and asked for privacy. (Uh...) I have not seen a Janet statement -- I think there is one, though. Anyone?

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Richmond, Va.: I would put Michael Jackson up there as one of the three biggest pop music phenomenons of the past half century -- especially in terms of their creative influence on pop music -- including Elvis of the 1950s and the Beatles of the 1960s. And Jackson had a superficial connection to both of those two -- marrying Elvis' daughter and buying the Beatles' song catalogue.

Would you agree? Thanks.

Hank Stuever: I would agree, and I would also add (seriously at first, then facetiously) that Michael Jackson had a huge impact on children -- not only American children, but children in the world's slums. They loved, loved his moves, his music, and did not seem to fret about his appearance.

Now, of course, Michael Jackson clearly had his own thing about the children. He was messed up around this, even if never convicted of any crime.

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washingtonpost.com: Someone from coroner's office stated that autopsy results would take 6-8 weeks.

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He's was a has-been?: His last album sold 7 million worldwide without any publicity I can think of in the U.S. His career may have been diminished, but I can think of several artists with multiple albums that have sold nowhere near 7 million.

Hank Stuever: One reason it's hard to remember publicity around "Invincible" was that it was released right around 9/11/01. That same fall. But there was a lot of it. He even did TRL with Carson Daly and the streets on Times Square went cuckoo. That album sold about 2 million in US, which nowadays in the record industry would be a great hit, and would have been back then for any other artist. The album did 10 million worldwide. But those sort of sales will not support Michael Jackson at the lifestyle to which he is accustomed.

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D.C.: "I have not seen a Janet statement"

There's about 40 siblings. Do they ALL need to release a statement?

Hank Stuever: Eight, and yes, I will not rest until Tito has shared.

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Reston, Va.: Hank, a very simple question. Did he have any friends? You know, just people who liked being with him and could just hang out with him, in a way that wasn't a press opportunity?

Hank Stuever: That was one thing I took away from my time at the 2005 trial. I thought he was wacko indeed, but heartbreakingly lonely. I couldn't help feeling that way. I watched the accuser and his brother testify and there was this underlying theme that nobody was really Michael Jackson's friend. People were trusted or not trusted. There were circles within circles. At any moment anyone in his life, no matter how close, could become a plaintiff -- and they did. I can't imagine what it's like to live like that.

Don't want to turn this into the Hank Stuever rerun hour, but one hallmark of the Michael Jackson Media Industrial Complex is to promote oneself at Michael's expense, so here's another link to a long piece I did at the trial (link coming ....)

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NYC: What do you think Ryan O'Neil is thinking right now? Farrah Fawcett dies and we all know that was going to be the big news of the day, and probably some tribute programs over the weekend. All that is gone now because of Michael.

Certainly seeing the outpouring and the tributes to Farrah would have helped him grieve. This must sting. And what can he say or do about it?

This has to be rough on him and Fawcett's loved ones, don't you think? It's like salt in the wounds.

Hank Stuever: He's probably thinking about Farrah. He -- and the hired help, pr people, etc -- are probably trying to figure out funeral logistics and factoring in the Michael stuff if for no other reason that traffic concerns etc.

Biggest bouquet to both funeral homes should come from the office of Mark Sanford.

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Albany, N.Y.: I was way wrong about chart positions. Only "Billie Jean" hit #1 on the pop chart. There were seven singles from "Thriller" and six of them made the top ten; the exception was "Beat It."

Hank Stuever: Let's just leave it at BILLIONS SERVED like McD's

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Bowie, Md.: Hank, I just tried to click on the link to your 2002 article and my work Web filter blocked it for the following reason: "Tasteless and Offensive"

So my question is, would you consider your work more tasteless or more offensive?

Hank Stuever: That's a wonderful compliment. However, it ran in the Washington Post, under the seven Meyer principles, so I think you must work in North Korea or something.

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Southport, N.C.: Can you imagine how or what the hospital staff felt when he arrived at UCLA. Goosh! Is it really true he was known to abuse drugs? I don't read tabloid type stuff much . Thanks for taking my answer.

Hank Stuever: You know, hospital staffs out there are really working hard to NOT get into trouble with celebrity medical records, etc., so I'm sure one overriding emotion at UCLA was don't get fired, don't get fired, don't get fired, remain calm, leave iPhone in pocket, dot every I, cross every T, etc. That is, if the hospital's lawyers are doing their job.....

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He was a very talented fellow, but had a lot of baggage and was kind of a has-been.: Very talented - yeah, he was the KING of pop. One of the best pop musicians ever.

Lot of baggage - we're fascinated because of the baggage. We wonder if his fame caused his weirdness.

Has-been - well, maybe lately he hasn't done anything new, but he sure did give us some great music, over a long period of time, that will stand the test of time. I STILL listen to the Jackson 5. How many musicians (or actors) can say they became famous at a very young age and went on to have a great career as an adult as well?

Hank Stuever: yes

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RE: Hank Stuever: And what about that autopsy! I mean can you just IMAGINE? His body on a slab. Where do you start? (I mean, I know how you start professionally and procedurally and methodically and all that -- I've seen one, or most of one, done before -- but how often does you mind go: Holy Bleep! This is MICHAEL JACKSON. : I wonder about the autopsy also. I hope we won't see photos of it leaked like Tupac.

Hank Stuever: Right, when I say IMAGINE, that's as far as I'd like to go.

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MJ as music writer: I'm a church singer. He and Quincy Jones did a soul re-imagining of Handel's Messiah that, in theory, sounds ghastly, but was brilliant. I sang the Hallelujah chorus from it a couple of Easters ago and it was one of the most fun, and well-received, pieces I've ever done. Musically, it was complex and precise and emotional, all at once.

Hank Stuever: Interesting. I didn't know this. Where was this concert?

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Bowie, Md.: Janet was filming a movie with Tyler Perry and is likely on her way to L.A. if she hasn't already arrived.

Hank Stuever: Janet news.

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washingtonpost.com: DJs Pay Tribute to Michael Jackson (Going Out Gurus)

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Janet was in the ATL:

Manager: Janet Jackson flying home to be with family (Access Atlanta, June 26)

Hank Stuever: Janet link

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15th and K, Washingtong D.C.: Thank you for this chat! If nothing else, I will always remember Michael Jackson being with Ryan White, when other folks were trying to ban the kid for school. Michael's greatest attribute was the ability to bring people TOGETHER, all races, genders, nations --everyone knows Michael Jackson. Thanks.

Hank Stuever: This is how Michael thought of himself too. Whenever swayed to speak to a microphone or a camera, he immediately lapsed into sweet (syrupy, really) platitudes about the children of the world. I think he really believed in this -- that he was a minister or sorts and music was the ministry and world peace and flowers was the result.

Life for him was a lot different.

It's an epic tragedy, really, from age 9 on.

Meanwhile -- new drug news coming out about Michael's daily intake. Hunt is on for "private physician" etc. Hie thee to your TVs, or, instead, go out for a walk and discover something entirely new, entirely authentic and let this thing work itself out. I'm going to do that.

Cheers everyone, and to his fans, my sincere sympathy. What a life, you know?

Bye. And thanks.

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Bethesda, Md.: 1. When will we know more about the Dr. whose car was towed from the residence.

2. According to Perez Hilton, Janet is too devastated to release a comment and Tito feels guilty that he hadn't talked to Michael in a while.

Hank Stuever: PS: Like I said, everyone, go out for a walk. Perez too.

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Complete Coverage: Michael Jackson

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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