Why do you feel so connected to him?
I’m from Indiana, as he was, and his music has been the
soundtrack of my life. I grew up watching the Jackson Five
cartoon every morning. I was living through him vicariously. I
was fascinated by what it’s like to have been the most famous
person in the world, and then to have a whole lot of people
turn against you. Here’s a life at the top of the world and then
he has this huge fall from grace. And here he is trying to get
back to where he belongs.
How did you research the book?
There were two sets of documents that came from the two
trials that helped me recreate his life. First was the People v.
Conrad Murray, which was the case against the doctor accused
of killing Michael. Then there was a second trial, when his
mother, Katherine Jackson, sued AEG Live for wrongful death.
Both those transcripts, if you dig hard enough, reconstruct
every day of his life in those 16 weeks.
What do you hope readers will discover about
That every one of us is human. I hope this book
gives us a way to look past his iconography and
wrestle with his humanity. The title comes from
one of Michael’s songs with this lyric that jumped
out at me: “Before you judge me, try hard to love
me.” None of us goes into the fullness of our
own humanity until we can wrestle with
Tavis Smiley Smiles on the
KING of POP
A celebrated radio and TV producer and host of his eponymous PBS TV show and Public Radio International program,
Tavis Smiley shares an evening at the Miami Book Fair to
talk about his latest book, Before You Judge Me: The Triumph
and Tragedy of Michael Jackson’s Last Days (Little, Brown), coauthored with David Ritz. Smiley, called “a gifted orator and
a budding media mogul” by the New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh,
examines what happened in 2009 during the 16 days before
the King of Pop died so suddenly right before his highly
anticipated London concert series, This Is It. He took a few
minutes to speak with PW about his latest project.
What led you to write about Michael Jackson?
I am a fan of his music. The minute I had heard
about the concerts, which were announced as his
last, I called his mother, got a ticket, and made
hotel and plane reservations. If these were going
to be his last concerts, I wanted to be there. I
was shocked when word came that he
had passed away. When the documentary, Michael Jackson’s This Is
It, came out, which detailed his
preparation for the concerts, it
raised more questions for me
than [it] answered. My central
questions were, “Why? What
happened?” But when I started
research, my question changed
to, “How did he last this long?”
An Evening with Tavis Smiley
Wednesday, Nov. 16, 6–7 p.m. Chapman
Conference Center (Building 3, 2nd floor,
Room 3210) Tickets $40
None of us goes into the
fullness of our own human-
ity until we can wrestle with
©The Tavis Smiley Group Inc., Kevin Foley