MJ Biography Shares...

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In the exhaustive and at times exhausting new biography “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson,” journalist Randall Sullivan presents a radical new theory concerning one of the most heavily scrutinized public figures of the last half a century. Namely, that the man revered worldwide as the “King of Pop” could not possibly have been a child molester. The book posits that Jackson resisted sex for all his days and died in 2009 a 50-year-old virgin.

To support that tough-to-swallow and even more difficult-to-prove claim, Sullivan takes a two-pronged approach. He attempts to paint Jackson’s $15-million out-of-court settlement with Jordan Chandler (the 12-year-old who accused the performer of having sexually molested him in 1993) as a textbook extortion case. The payout, Sullivan writes, was the “worst decision” Jackson ever made.

Second, the author lays out the almost Dickensian misery of the singer’s early life: performing in dingy strip clubs at age 8, hitting puberty while surrounded by frenzied groupies who terrified him and once even being locked by his brothers in a hotel room with two adult prostitutes (with whom Jackson forswore sexual contact).

Moreover, Joseph Jackson is described as the performer’s “vain, domineering brute” of a father, who effectively robbed Michael of a childhood by forcing him into the spotlight so young and physically beating performance perfectionism into him.

It all combined to engender the superstar’s peculiar penchant for surrounding himself with children, one of Jackson’s few respites from the crushing demands of fame. That controversial lifestyle choice, “Untouchable” contends, ended up costing him everything.

The 704-page tome — which has already sparked outrage in many of the performer’s fans for a prosthetic-nose-and-all depiction of its subject — arrives as the most comprehensive effort to chronicle the hot mess of Jackson’s last half-decade on Earth. It was a period of harrowing personal tumult, heavy chemical dependency and financial implosion, during which the singer came perilously close to winding up in prison for the rest of his life.

Longtime Rolling Stone magazine contributor Sullivan does an effective job of humanizing and providing a psychological rationale for much of the King of Pop’s most bizarre behavior. But “Untouchable” buckles under the weight of its reportage. It’s overlong and feels overstuffed with extraneous detail, especially in the book’s final fourth, which establishes the Jackson clan as the worst kind of scheming money grubbers.

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