Tavis Smiley reframes Michael Jackson's final days

Before writing Before You Judge me, Tavis Smiley wondered why MJ was gone so soon. Now he wonders how the King of Pop survived so long.
Tavis Smiley's book 'Before You Judge Me' examines the ways in which we both celebrate and demonize our pop stars. (Little Brown and Company)

Michael Jackson thrilled fans in 2009 by announcing This Is It — a staggering 50-concert series in London. It was supposed to be the King of Pop's triumphant return to the stage, and possibly the final run of his career. 

But Jackson never made it. On June 25th, 2009, just weeks before his first show, the music icon died of a drug overdose.

Now a new "historical novel" by Tavis Smiley looks back on the 16 week period leading up to Jackson's death. The author and family friend joins guest host Piya Chattopadhyay to share how he went from wondering "why are you gone so soon?" to "how did you survive this long?" 

The title of his book, Before You Judge Me, is a lyric from a lesser-known Jackson song called Childhood. The full line is a motto Smiley says we should all take in: before you judge me, just try to love me.


"We get so caught up in his being an icon, indeed he was, but we get so focused on the iconography that we lose our way into Michael's humanity," says Smiley, who makes his best case for compassion and accountability. 

"Yes he had agency. Yes he had control. But corporate America plays a role in this, his fans play a role in this. All of us play a role in snatching from this kid, a childhood he never had."


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