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WHERE DID JACKO GO WRONG?

"I could while away the hours, conferrin' with the flowers, consultin' with the rain. And my head I'd be scratchin', while my thoughts were busy hatchin', if I only had a brain!" sings the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz." The words are by E.Y. "Yip" Harburg to the music of Harold Arlen.

How prescient it all seems now that we recall Michael Jackson playing the Scarecrow in the Diana Ross movie of "The Wiz." At that time, I remember being on the Sidney Lumet set and talking with a very young Michael, who was shy and charming. He was black in those days - and beautifully natural and talented. He had a real nose.

But nowadays, Michael could sing "If I only had a brain" with a vengeance. Who could have predicted that this gifted kid would grow up to embody all that is horrifying about mega-celebrity. In his own way, he is Elvis without the jumpsuits, the karate moves and fried food. But just as narcissistic and odd. (And pop history never lets us forget the Elvis-Michael connection via Lisa Marie Presley.)

These days, Michael blames others, especially the media, for his troubles. But he has chosen a bizarre alienation from any hint of normalcy. He wants isolation from the real world, but he wants us to pay attention, too.

His best friend is Elizabeth Taylor. But has Michael ever considered that Miz Liz, who is one of the world's most famous stars, managed to behave in a reasonably normal way within the confines of her great celebrity? She married eight times but raised four very nice children, who she didn't hide away under Taliban-like scarves or dangle from balconies!

What kind of life do these children of Michael Jackson have? He seems to feed his own paranoia to the nth degree. How can his kids ever interact normally with others? Are they even allowed to be with others? Daddy Michael has turned himself into a kind of self-mutilated, walking freak show - huge ego, massive anger lurking under a posture of shyness and humility. (I think to cross Michael Jackson is to see his whispering, delicate airs disappear in a flash.)

Will his children ever thank him for a life of luxurious, anxiety-inducing isolation? A private zoo can't make up for a mother's absence or for being taken out, masked and caped, to Euro Disney. (Michael is also media-savvy enough to know that shrouding his family in mystery only feeds press curiosity.) Michael could surely benefit from some expert therapy; or maybe just a good slap against the head from the earthy and practical Miss Taylor?

Last week, Michael received a Bambi award for humanitarian efforts. Doesn't humanitarianism begin at home? Oh, yes, we were wrong the other day describing the Bambi as gold. Seems it's silver.

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