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