MJ Studies Today XC

Abstract: Thirty-five years ago, Michael Jackson’s one and only autobiography, Moonwalk, was published and went to No. 1 on various best seller lists around the world. This month, in the 90th edition of MJ Studies Today, columnist Kerry Hennigan looks at what went on “behind the scenes” to get the book to press back in 1988, who was involved, how Jackson felt about the process, and why at the last minute its publication was almost cancelled.

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the free monthly newsletter A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film Ghosts” and an MJ blogger on WordPress. Kerry is a student of Ancient, Early Medieval and Medieval History, Anthropology and Religious Studies and has a Certificate in Archaeology from Cambridge University.


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XC: ‘Here’s what I remember.’ Reflections on Michael Jackson’s 1988 autobiography Moonwalk on the 35th anniversary of its publication.” (14-06-2023). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies Vol 9, No. 4 (2023). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xc/

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“Here’s what I remember.” Reflections on Michael Jackson’s 1988 autobiography Moonwalk on the 35th anniversary of its publication. By Kerry Hennigan

Photo montage © Kerry Hennigan

“So here’s what I remember. I remember singing at the top of my voice and dancing with real joy
and working too hard for a child.” [1]

In 1988, Doubleday published Moonwalk, Michael Jackson’s only autobiography. Beginning with his childhood years in the Jackson 5, the story concludes with Jackson embarked on his first solo world tour in support of his 1987 album Bad.  At the time the book was released, there was still so much more to come, both career highlights and controversies, but we are lucky that we at least have Moonwalk, and we have former first-lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to thank for that. In her role as a high-profile associate editor at Doubleday, after four years of wrangling with an “ambivalent” Jackson, she was able to secure a deal for a book that told Michael’s story in his own words.[2]

In the 2009 revised edition of the book, editor Shaye Areheart writes of spending many afternoons talking in Michael’s private sitting room and library at the Jackson family’s house in Encino with a tape recorder running.[3] The text was prepared by Stephen Davis from the transcripts of these interviews in exchange for what he refers to as “a generous flat fee.”[4] The final approval was, of course, up to Jackson. “I’m not even sure he read it completely…Or someone did, maybe his lawyer or manager,” Davis is quoted as saying in an article published in 2009.[5] However, Jackson was much more “hands on” than Davis presumed.

Michael, in fact, had embarked on his Bad world tour by this time, so Shaye Areheart flew out to meet him when the tour reached Australia (in November 1987), and read the pages to him “as he patiently corrected mistakes and added material, more near the end.” Once finished, Areheart flew back to America with the final manuscript.[6] Then, just as the presses were ready to roll, Jackson had a “crisis of faith” over releasing the book. “I think he suddenly felt terribly exposed,” writes Areheart. After about a week he “calmed down” and the book went to press.

“That was an extremely successful book,” Stephen Davis recalls. “They made money on it.” However, despite the success of the initial hardback release, Jackson vetoed another print run.[7] Perhaps he was thinking he’d had enough exposure of his life off stage. After all, the stage was reputedly the only place where Michael felt comfortable being in the spotlight. Not that there was anything really startling or revealing about Moonwalk, or much that hadn’t been said already in various interviews and magazine articles. Jackson’s fans already knew and understood him and probably didn’t need to read a book to find out about him.

At Michael’s death in 2009, the rights to Moonwalk were purchased by Random House and the revised addition, with a new Introduction by Berry Gordy, and an Afterword by Areheart, was published in hardback, followed by both large and mass market paperback editions.[8] My own journey through Moonwalk did not begin until I purchased one of the 2009 hardbacks, although I subsequently was able to secure a second-hand copy of the original 1988 edition, plus the newly released paperback copies in Australia and Hong Kong which have been invaluable when travelling the world on some “Michaeling adventure or researching articles at home.

Despite its simplicity, Moonwalk is a book that helps us comprehend what it was like for Michael Jackson, coming from humble beginnings, growing up in show business with a strict father, his motivations and aspirations for his art, his beliefs, and his desires. If your Moonwalk paperback, like mine, is coming apart at the seams, it merely means you are doing the contents, and Michael, justice by frequently revisiting his story.

This book represents the person he was at a crucial stage in his life – when he had left the family group behind to concentrate on his already hugely successful solo career thanks to Off the Wall  and Thriller.  His first post-Jacksons era album, Bad, and his first solo world tour not only confirmed he was, indeed, the biggest pop star of his time, but ensured his status as a global  icon, loved the world over, whose fame was destined to outlive him.

And to think, it might never have been published if Michael hadn’t recovered from his last-minute attack of nerves. Instead, he had a No. 1 New York Times best seller and a best seller around the world. The sad thing is, it’s only half the story. In many ways the best (in terms of his subsequent artistic achievements, and fatherhood), and the worst (in terms of what he had to put up with) was yet to come.

That’s the story I’d love to be able to read from his own point of view; everything that came After Moonwalk.

Kerry Hennigan
June 2023

Postscript: This article was originally much longer in that it looked at some rumoured book projects Michael was supposedly involved in, none of which eventuated. But given the column was prompted by the 35th anniversary of the publication of Moonwalk, it seemed appropriate to focus on that book alone, and leave any discussion of other projects – including his wonderful Dancing the Dream – for another time.


[1] Jackson, Michael. (1988) Moonwalk. Arrow paperback edition, 2010, page 6.

[2] Bilyeau, Nancy. (2017) “Jackie Kennedy’s Third Act.” Published Aug 19, 2017. https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/a10334726/jackie-kennedy-publishing-career/

[3] Areheart, Shaye. (2009) “New Afterword to the 2009 Re-issued Edition.” Jackson, Michael. Moonwalk. Arrow paperback edition 2010, pages 291-300.

[4] Goodman, Dean. (2009) “Michael Jackson book a headache for Jackie O.” Reuters. Published electronically July 5, 2009. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-jackson-jackieo-idUSTRE5631S420090704

[5] Goodman, Dean, op cit.

[6] Areheart, Shaye, op cit.

[7] Goodman, Dean, op cit.

[8] Reuters. (2009) “Jackson’s 1988 autobiography “Moonwalk” to be reprinted.” Published electronically 25 July 2009. https://www.reuters.com/article/ozatp-books-jackson-20090725-idAFJOE56O00E20090725

Illustration: photo montage compiled by Kerry Hennigan. No original photographic copyright infringement is intended in this not for profit, educational exercise.