MJ Studies Today XVIII

Abstract: Kerry Hennigan looks into the phenomenon of how Michael Jackson is missed by so many people when they have never met him personally or seen him in concert.

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XVIII (14-06-2017).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 3, no. 4 (2017). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xviii/.

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“Missing” Michael Jackson – as expressed by his fans
By Kerry Hennigan

Photo of Michael Jackson: screen snip from “This Is It” Columbia Pictures, released 28 October 2009.

Is it possible to miss Michael Jackson if you never met him?

This is a question I have asked myself whenever I see fans post comments like “I miss him” in response to a photo or social media item about Michael Jackson. Yet we know they haven’t actually met him, and perhaps never saw him in concert.

Missing a famous person to whom you were never physically close is not a phenomenon unique to Michael Jackson fans. In researching this article, I discovered other examples of this phenomenon.

One blogger explained how she really missed the late actor and comedian Robin Williams “despite never having known or met him.” She missed him for the memorable roles he played, in particular one that resonated deeply with her. There was also a feeling of empathy for someone who made so many people happy, yet was unable to share in that happiness. “I may not have ever met him personally, but I felt as if I knew him still, in some small capacity at the very least.” (1)

Kayleigh Dray wrote for Closer that “For dedicated fans, these celebrities have been a big part of their lives. We’ve seen them on TV, we’ve sung along to their music, we’ve read their books – and, as a result, they – in a way – have become an integral part of our personal lives.”

In the same article, Ms Dray cites Alan Hilfer, Chief of Psychology at Maimonides Medical Centre, New York who agrees that it is perfectly normal to be saddened by the passing of a celeb we love and admire. “And he also added that, for some of us, a celebrity death allows us to grieve for someone we are actually close to – and, perhaps, haven’t allowed ourselves to mourn yet.” (2)

Hearing Paris expressing her love for her father at the Michael Jackson Memorial Service at Staples Centre on 7 July 2009 not only moved me to tears, but resonated deeply with me. She was a daughter desperately missing her beloved Dad. I certainly knew how that felt (my own father died in 1993). Such deep-seated emotions create a kind of kinship with the griever and the object of their grief. (3)

“I’m guessing a lot of us felt a sense of unexplained grief,” Kim Nash wrote in 2015 following the death of Cilla Black. “It was probably similar when…Michael Jackson or Lady Diana, died – there is that sense of huge loss but loss of someone you have never met.” She goes on to say that if we grieve for a famous stranger, it is probably because that person: ”touched the hearts of people of all ages and from all backgrounds.” (4)

Michael Jackson is also someone who has continued to have a very high profile posthumously thanks to new music and video releases, two very successful Cirque du Soleil shows, a holographic representation on a major music awards show, and even cartoon representations (including of his hologram in South Park!)

All this, not to mention on-going court cases, Jackson family dramas, fan factions, etc. makes it hard for us to “move on” from the grieving process. Many of us don’t want to let go – certainly not of Michael, nor does it seem, the missing and grieving. However, I think it is important that, if we are not to always think sadly about him, we progress to celebrating all that he gave us and everything he means to us.

The sadness will return, just like it does for our personal lost loved ones. But, if the grief remains a constant in our relationship to the deceased, it becomes decidedly unhealthy. I definitely prefer to think of Michael as an inspiring presence in our lives, not a depressing one.

So, while the closing scenes of “This Is It” usually have me in tears, I can still watch and celebrate the film as a remarkable insight into the creative mind of an entertainment genius – one who is revealed for all to see as hardworking, passionate about his craft, concerned for people and the environment, and possessing a deep spirituality.

And at the very end, the movie reminds us that “love lives forever”.

Above all, as Kim Nash says, “please don’t feel you are being silly grieving over someone you have never met. If that person touched your heart they are worth your time, tears and your respect because the heart has such power. You need to say goodbye in your own unique way and when you have done crying you can look forward to a new relationship with them in spirit – because in spirit love (whether it be for a partner, family member, friend, pet or a celebrity) never truly dies.” (5)

Kerry Hennigan

June, 2017