Pop & Hiss

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Robert Hilburn remembers his time with Michael Jackson

June 26, 2009 |  3:53 pm

JACKSON_AP I'll always regret that the last conversation I had with Michael Jackson ended with him angrily hanging up the phone -- at least I've long thought of Michael's mood that day more than a decade ago as angry. I now realize the more accurate description would be "wounded."

Michael was at times among the sweetest and most talented people I met during my 35 years of covering pop music for the Los Angeles Times.

I was fortunate to be present at many of his proudest moments. I was in the audience the night in 1983 that heunveiled the electrifying moonwalk on the Motown TV special and in the studio in 1985 for the all-star "We Are the World" recording session. (Watch the video here). I also was with him at the family house in Encino soon after he purchased the Beatles song catalog in 1985.

But even all this wasn't enough to prevent Michael from striking me as one of the most fragile and lonely people I've ever met. His heart may have finally stopped beating Thursday afternoon, but it had been fatally broken long ago.

During weekends I spent with him on the road during theJacksons' "Victory" tour in 1984, I learned that he was so traumatized by events during his late teens -- notably the public rejection by fans who missed the "little" Michael of the Jackson 5 days -- that as an adult he relied desperately on his fame to protect him from further pain. In the end, that overruling need for celebrity was at the root of his tragedy.