Jackson died unexpectedly Thursday at age 50 --a screeching halt to a life of a star who made the best-selling album ever -- 1982's Thriller, selling 50 million copies.
But history likely will remember two Michael Jacksons.
There's the Michael Jackson who broke out of the singing group with his brothers, the Jackson 5, to become a groundbreaking performer in his own right, chalking up a string of No. 1 songs and albums while, musically and societally, evaporating barriers between black and white.
Then there's the Michael Jackson who seemed to feast on eccentricity. His repeated plastic surgeries. The rumors of his sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and attempting to buy the bones of the Elephant Man. Wearing surgical masks in public, or a single sequined glove. Dangling his infant son over a hotel balcony in Berlin.
And the accusations against him of child molestation that surfaced in 1993 and 2004 and never completely went away -- and his unsettling admission that he shared his bed with other people's children.
There's the musical artist who repeatedly reinvented himself to stay atop the crest of popularity. Then there's the celebrity who devolved almost into parodies of himself -- imperfect copies of a masterwork.
The premier entertainer. And the creepy, sheltered singer.
Fame and celebrity changes people. The world got to see a gamut of changes in Jackson, from dynamic child star to pop superstar to stressed performer with eyes toward making it big again.
Before he died, Jackson was rehearsing for yet another comeback -- a summer slate of sold-out shows in London set to begin July 13. Fans now are left to ponder what sort of new incarnation of Jackson would have emerged from those performances.
But now, in a world replete with choices, people have at least two choices in how they want to remember Jackson: a dynamic performer who captivated audiences worldwide with a talent that can be only imitated, not duplicated -- or a bizarre personality forged in the crucible of incessant, near-lifelong celebrity.
However he will be remembered, it is certain he will not be forgotten.