It has been a little over a year since the untimely passing of Michael Jackson. For many fans it is still hard to grapple with the fact that the entertainer is truly gone -- at least in a physical sense. For most of his fans, the performer became like a part of their family. In fact, the loss was felt on a highly personal level. What is certain, though, is that he will never be forgotten. His legacy of imparting love to the world, and his vast library of one of a kind songs, will prove to be around for generations to come. June 25th marked the one-year anniversary of the King of Pop’s death. The date will now live in infamy, and will forever be a time for fans to reflect on the day that changed the world for those of us whose lives were affected by the star’s passing. It seemed as though for that one day in 2009, the world stopped as people absorbed the news of the tragedy. Fans can remember the time, the place, and even what they were doing when they learned the news that Michael Jackson had died. There was so much confusion. So many questions, and now, even a year later, the family, friends -- and of course the innumerable loyal fans -- are still hoping for some answers on what exactly happened to the greatest entertainer that ever lived.
While there continues to be much anguish over the loss -- especially within the music community -- there has been a tremendous movement. An outpouring of love and respect for the star has taken place throughout the world. Various types of tributes to Michael Jackson have taken place all over the world. Fans have found new and exciting ways to recognize and show their admiration to the performer who had an impact on their lives. One such project is the Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait, created by artist David Ilan. Ilan uses a technique called pointillism to include fans from all over the world to be a part of one of the greatest tributes to the singer. Each dot in the portrait represents a fan. Anyone from anywhere in the world can be a part of the tribute by simply signing up for their dot. Fans from over 165 countries are represented. When registration is completed, that fan will be assigned a dot as well as their dot number within the portrait. Fans can stay aware of the progress of the work of art, by signing into the website and clicking on the portrait update. The tribute website has become like a Facebook of sorts for Michael Jackson fans. It is truly a way to connect with others. Famous people such as Maya Angelou, choreographer Travis Payne (read article here), and countless others have had a dot placed in the portrait. Dots have been placed in the heart area for family members like Jermaine Jackson, his mother Katherine, and his three children.
Since the portrait was first created, there have been events where those closest to Michael have been able to see the portrait in person, and to have their dot placed within it. People such as Travis Payne, Jermaine Jackson, Raven Symone and many others. On June 25th, 2010, I was present at Forest Lawn to report on the day. I interviewed David Ilan, and we discussed the importance of the day, how the portrait is progressing and much more. Katrina-Kasey Wheeler: Tell the readers about the most current event that you had for the portrait which featured an appearance by Raven Symone. David Ilan: We do several of these events for VIPs. People who are connected to Michael Jackson in some way. We give them a dot in the heart area of the portrait. (This area is reserved for people who were closest to Michael.)
KKW: What has the response been to the portrait internationally? The portrait website has become like a Facebook type of site for fans everywhere.
DI: It has been overwhelming. I can’t even explain it. We have upgraded our server so many times. We knew that there were a lot of Michael Jackson fans out there who were going to want to be a part of the tribute. We just didn’t realize how much of a part of the tribute they were going to be once they arrived. People are forming friendships, creating Facebook type of groups and communicating with each other. That is the amazing part to me. They are staying active on the site. The reason that they are doing that is because there really isn’t a way for people to grieve -- unless you are part of a big metropolitan area. The tribute is one way for them to be a part of something. That is why fans are signing up from countries throughout the world. It has just been amazing to see the feedback.
KKW: Given the immense level of grief that fans continue to feel over the loss of Michael Jackson, do you think that the tribute has helped the fans deal with their devastation?
DI: That is the best part of this whole tribute. Putting the dot in there is really cool, but how much it is really helping people after that is the coolest part. People are helping other people. We have tons of people from other countries like Iran where they still cannot listen to Michael Jackson’s music out in the open. We had one 16-year-old boy from Iran that said he can’t talk to his family or anyone else about this, and now he has other people to talk to from around the world. It is like Michael Jackson is a family member to millions and millions of people. And when you lose a family member, you need the opportunity to grieve, and there are millions of people who can’t because they just don’t have the opportunity. The tribute represents that opportunity.
KKW: Michael Jackson went through a lot in the media over the past few years, but he never lost the support of the fans. Do you think that others around the world are coming to terms with the loss? Is it a matter of not knowing what you have until it is gone?
DI: I think that the fans will support him no matter what. I think it is the rest of the world that is stepping up and realizing what he meant to millions and millions of people. The media - especially in the United States - is very hard on him. I think now that he is gone they are softening up a bit. This is allowing the real news to come out. The real news is that he holds the world record for giving financially and also of himself. I know so many stories of the things that he has done. It is just incredible. These stories are things that only a few people know about because he didn’t want everyone to know about them. That was the genius of Michael Jackson -- besides the obvious genius of his music. He knew how to use his name (for the benefit of humanity). He knew when a public appearance would benefit an organization, but he also knew when that might take away from a situation. People are starting to appreciate everything that he has done now. People who were the closest to him couldn’t discuss some of the stories that are now being made public -- and they are all wonderful stories.
KKW: What do you think Michael Jackson’s legacy will be in 50, 100, or ever 200 years from now?
DI: I think what is happening now, what we are seeing now through the tribute is that when Michael Jackson passed away, is that people are trying to follow his example. They are donating their time to various charities and the like. I think that this will grow exponentially. His legacy will live on. I have dozens of stories in my head about people who are doing things for sick children and the environment, and he started that.
KKW: How many people have signed up for the portrait?
DI: It is well over 250,000 people.
KKW: There is a tremendous opportunity here for countless other fans to be a part of the portrait.
DI: We are always going to make room for people to be a part of the tribute, but at some point we are going to have to stop because the portrait will be going on a world tour. But until then, it doesn’t matter if we have ten million people in the portrait, we are always going to make room for others. All the fans have to do is go to www.michaeljacksontributeportrait.com, sign up and request their dot. They will be working with countless other people to create Michael’s image. Michael Jackson appreciated his fans more than any other celebrity that I can think of. He understood that we the fans were creating his image when he was alive. We created him and he created us. Now that he is gone, we are creating his image again. It is all of us working together. All the dots are the same size. If I were to put a dot on a blank canvas it would be meaningless. It is the space between the dots, and all the dots coming together that creates his image. We are all working together in this no matter where we live and who we are. It is a beautiful thing.
KKW: What has Michael Jackson meant to you in your lifetime?
DI: I was always a fan of his and the music, but I didn’t know all that I know now. I would say that I appreciated him tremendously. I love his music. I remember dressing up like him on Halloween. He has changed my life -- more than you can imagine -- since his death. I have heard a lot of people say that also. There have been a lot of people who didn’t realize how much his death would affect them. There were always huge Michael Jackson fans who knew when that day came they would be affected, but there are also a lot of people who didn’t realize how much they would miss him when he was gone. It has affected me tremendously. Every time I add a dot to the portrait it makes me stop and think about what it means.
KKW: There are some fans who believe that Michael Jackson’s death has served as a spiritual awakening, of sorts.
DI: I have a lot of opinions that I keep to myself . I want to represent everyone, since I am representing the portrait. All opinions are welcome. There are a lot of things out there, and I believe that we will know the truth eventually.
KKW: When the portrait is ready to be presented and set on a world tour, would you like to see it presented to the public officially at an event in Los Angeles or another metropolitan area?
DI: There are quite a few things that I would like to see happen with it. There are a lot of celebrities that are supporting the portrait. A small amount of them are supporting it behind the scenes for whatever reason. Perhaps it is just too much to say something publicly since Michael Jackson is a family member and close friend to them. When the portrait is finished, I would like to go and show it to them as well as certain family members. It would be great if a debut started here because this is where he lived. There are many places where I would like to see it go. For example, the young boy in Germany -- Joshua, whom you know about (Read the full article here). He is battling an illness and has been receiving many emails from around the world. I would love for him to be able to see the portrait.
KKW: How are you feeling about the one-year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death? As a fan, have you been able to achieve a sense of closure by creating the portrait?
DI: It is kind of hard. You kind of go through waves of emotions. There is just so much happening with the portrait and with what we need to do. Daily things kind of take your mind off of it. I can’t believe that it has already been a year. The time has gone by so quickly. Since he has passed away, I have thought about him everyday through this portrait. I stay up drawing at all hours of the night making sure that everyone is included. I think the whole idea of the one-year anniversary just needs to sink in. It seems like he just passed away a month ago. I am still in shock. It just doesn’t seem like it has been that long.
KKW: There is such a unifying sense of community with this portrait. You are giving the fans such an incredible opportunity to be a part of something fantastic. How does that make you feel?
DI: I really can’t explain it in words. I get so many emails. I read them all and try to respond to every one of them. Some of them are really inspirational. For example, I went to give poet Maya Angelou her dot. Just being in her presence was exciting. She can order a cup of coffee in such a brilliant way, that I can’t even write a speech and practice it for a year to have it come out that way. When she was talking about Michael Jackson, and I was placing a dot in the portrait for her -- I don’t even know if my brain can take it all in. I just think that the human mind has a defense mechanism because some things are just too much to take in. She meant so much to Michael Jackson and he meant so much to her, and to be able to have her involved in the tribute -- I can’t even explain it. When I was leaving, I told her I wasn’t even going to try to explain to her what meeting her and placing a dot in the portrait for her meant to me. But that is how I feel about everyone’s dot. Every dot is that meaningful. Every dot is equally important. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you are -- everyone’s involvement is important. I would like to encourage the fans all around the world to join. It is supported by the right people, and it is something that we are all doing together.
Fans are rediscovering and reaffirming their love for Michael Jackson and all the ways that he has personally enriched lives through his music which knows no boundaries. The love, appreciation and remembrance will truly live on forever.