30 years ago tonight.

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Michael and Jermaine during rehearsals for “Motown 25,” 1983 / Photo © NBC, via MJJpictures

On March 25, 1983, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever was recorded live for a TV broadcast two months later. That broadcast would mark the moment that we all saw Michael Jackson moonwalk for the first time. I was 7 years old at the time, and it was a huge, HUGE deal. There wasn’t a lot of television happening in my house back then so I didn’t see it until a few days later at a friend’s house, but the next day back at school? EVERYONE was talking about it. Everyone. I even remember my teacher saying something. In retrospect, this wasn’t Michael’s best moonwalk*, but it was such a cry of independence and a display of pure magic that it’s impossible to ignore its significance.

*In my opinion, Michael’s best moonwalk happened at the MTV awards in 1995 during this sequence. Whoa. Shivers!

I knew I had done my best and felt good, so good. But at the same time I felt disappointed in myself. I had planned to do one really long spin and to stop on my toes, suspended for a moment, but I didn’t stay on my toes as long as I wanted. I did the spin and I landed on one toe. I wanted to just stay there, just freeze there, but it didn’t work quite as I’d planned.

When I got backstage, the people back there were congratulating me. I was still disappointed about the spin. I had been concentrating so hard and I’m such a perfectionist. At the same time I knew this was one of the happiest moments of my life. I knew that for the first time my brothers had really gotten a chance to watch me and see what I was doing, how I was evolving. After the performance, each of them hugged and kissed me backstage. They had never done that before, and I felt happy for all of us. It was so wonderful when they kissed me like that. I loved it! I mean, we hug all the time. My whole family embraces a lot, except for my father. He’s the only one who doesn’t.

[...]

The day after the Motown 25 show, Fred Astaire called me on the telephone. He said – these are his exact words – “You’re a hell of a mover. Man, you really put them on their asses last night.” That’s what Fred Astaire said to me. I thanked him. Then he said, “You’re an angry dancer. I’m the same way. I used to do the same thing with my cane.”

I had met him once or twice in the past, but this was the first time he had ever called me. He went on to say, “I watched the special last night; I taped it and I watched it again this morning. You’re a hell of a mover.”

It was the greatest compliment I had ever received in my life, and the only one I had ever wanted to believe.

✚ Excerpted from Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, 1988

21 comments
  1. DeborahMar 25, 20136:52 pm

    I miss him.

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  2. kay*Mar 25, 20138:40 pm

    Such a great excerpt. It’s hard to believe – that after a performance like that – he was, initially disappointed. You always hear about what a perfectionist he was but – wow.

    I remember being about 8 or 9 – which would have been the late 80s – we had Motown 25 on VHS and I watched it all. the. time. This performance was magical – I was mesmerized “he’s walking BACKWARDS!!! soooooo cool” Oh to be that young and have that innocence again!

    Actually, there’s this other MJ VHS I would watch all the time and every few months, years, I try to remember what it’s called – I should email you, maybe you’d know! I just remember bits and pieces of it – but I’ve always thought I’d like to track it down again and watch it as an adult…

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  3. BrianneMar 25, 20138:45 pm

    Wow. Having grown up as a dancer, the thought of getting a phone call from Fred Astaire is pretty awe inspiring. Every time I read another interview or quote from MJ I’m left more impressed with his sheer talent and genius than the time before.

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  4. kay*Mar 25, 20138:46 pm

    ….and oh my gosh. that ’95 dance sequence at the MTV Awards??? he. was. the. man.

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    Anna @ D16 /

    The whole performance is on YouTube, it’s about 15 minutes long. And yet, the only thing anyone remembers about that night was his supposedly “awkward” kiss with Lisa Marie. Frustrating…

  5. SiobhanMar 25, 201310:01 pm

    Thanks for the reminder of how excellent an occasion this truly was.

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  6. Laura BelleMar 25, 201310:09 pm

    He was the greatest. Thanks for posting the excerpt from him from that night – I’ve never read that before.

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  7. AmandaMar 25, 201310:11 pm

    Thanks for this – I love your MJ posts. I remember watching this in my parents kitchen – my brother and I dug out some shimmery thermal gloves and worked on our moonwalking for days. It was awesome.

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  8. LaDonnaMar 25, 201310:21 pm

    I was 3 when this aired so I don’t remember it but I did get to see him in concert after Bad came out around 1988. Yes I brag about having seen him perform in person. Incredible talent. I’ll always love Michael.

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    Anna @ D16 /

    You should brag about that, LaDonna! Not many Americans had the chance to see him perform solo live, sadly. I wish I did.

  9. elizabethMar 26, 20131:36 am

    I *LOVED* that motwon special and had it taped on VHS. My best friend and I would clunk the tape into the VHS player and pretend to be Jackson 5. I was bossy and was Michael while she was Jermaine and the rest of the back-up Jacksons! We watched it SO. MANY. TIMES.

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  10. lisafromjapanMar 26, 20138:42 am

    thank you! MJ is so wonderful! my husband just reminded me of this…

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  11. JudithMar 26, 201311:49 am

    I got to see him live on the Dangerous tour. It was my parent’s present for my 14th birthday. They really hit it out of the park with that one :) I got to take my two years younger sister, and my parents dropped us off in Mannheim (I’m German)(also, my parents are awesome). When we met them again when they picked us up after, they were extremely impressed by how the people coming out of the concert were acting, because everyone seemed just quiet and happy. they said it was like people coming from church.

    damn. i’m tearing up .

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  12. peggyMar 26, 20133:14 pm

    It still gives me chills. This is one of those moments in my life when I remember exactly where I was. And I almost missed it. Thank God I didn’t. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

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  13. RyanMar 26, 20133:54 pm

    My dad met him when he was in The Jackson Five. He worked as the accountant for a hotel in Chicago (as a teenager, no idea how he got that job!) and had to hold all of the band’s money/paychecks while they stayed there. And he said they trashed the room :)

    Thought you might enjoy that story!

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    Anna @ D16 /

    What a cool story for your dad to be able to tell, Ryan! And yes, by all accounts the J5 were known to wreak havoc on hotel rooms. ;)

  14. MissyMar 26, 20134:51 pm

    I was 26 and I thought he was so HOT! I couldn’t believe my little ABC fella had grown up so handsome and could move like that. Shew!

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  15. Denise LabordeMar 26, 201310:12 pm

    Thank you for this! I was eight when MJ first moon-walked on tv. I remember the next day at school (and for a long time after) everyone hopping up on their toes and trying to moon walk and dance like him. I had a poster in of him in a yellow sweater vest up in my room.

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  16. satsuki shibuyaMar 28, 20131:32 am

    such a wonderful post! such a talent. i distinctly remember being mesmerized by his music & dance moves that during a childhood friend’s birthday party, i couldn’t help myself dancing to “bad” when i heard it come up on their radio.

    then many years later, i had the opportunity to work with his vocal coach & heard such heart warming stories about michael behind the scenes… made me think how tough it is for public figures to live a ‘normal’ life & the pressures they have to deal with. my heart ached for him…

    he’ll forever be the king of pop to me.

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  17. jackielnxMar 28, 20132:09 pm

    thanks for sharing this! god, he was absolutely adorable then. what a moment in history!

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  18. carrieolshanMar 28, 201311:14 pm

    I remember it like it was yesterday. sitting crossed legged on the floor in the den staring up at the TV not 4 feet in front of me – fixated. My sister and I were screaming, we just couldn’t believe what we had seen. I soon had a sequined glove that I wore everywhere. everywhere. I was 8…thanks for the little trip down memory lane. PS I still have my vcr tape of the making of thriller…

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