The cliche is that rock stars want to be movie stars, and movie stars want to be rock stars. Michael Jackson was content to be the King of Pop.
Unlike the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Madonna and others in the music pantheon, Jackson made only a few forays onto the big-screen, most notably co-starring as the Scarecrow alongside Diana Ross as Dorothy in 1978's "The Wiz," a musical adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz."
Movies might have seemed a natural next mountain to scale for Jackson after reaching the peak of his stardom in the 1980s era of dance flicks such as "Footloose" and "Flashdance." But after "The Wiz," Jackson generally stuck to pioneering moves in music videos, with the occasional feature-film cameo or appearance in specialty films or TV shows.
Film composer Bruce Broughton, who wrote music for Jackson's 1988 song, dance and fantasy extravaganza, "Moonwalker," said it likely was the singer's own choice to give the big-screen a pass. "If you look at the energy of his music, his vocals and the physicality of it, that's a full-time job. That's like two or three guys wrapped into one," Broughton said. "To put out that kind of energy, he probably figured he had as much as he wanted creatively in the music."
The critical drubbing "The Wiz" received also may have soured Jackson on a side career in film.
His boyish looks and speaking voice would have limited the range of roles he could have taken on, but Jackson's dazzling showmanship might have translated to cinema had someone come up with the right idea to make use of his gifts.
"It's possible a guy with that much charisma and talent could have succeeded in movies if he'd found the right vehicle," said film historian Leonard Maltin. "The challenge would have been to craft the ideal movie vehicle for him."
Jackson did work with top Hollywood filmmakers _ Sidney Lumet on "The Wiz," John Landis on the music video "Thriller" and Martin Scorsese on the video "Bad." His presence as a performer made a big impression on Scorsese.
"I was in awe of his absolute mastery of movement on the one hand, and of the music on the other," Scorsese said of Jackson's work on "Bad." "Every step he took was absolutely precise and fluid at the same time. It was like watching quicksilver in motion."
Francis Ford Coppola directed Jackson in "Captain EO," a sci-fi adventure executive produced by George Lucas for Disney theme parks. Jackson played the title role, commanding a goofy alien and robot crew as they do a musical number on a wicked queen (Anjelica Huston) and convert her to goodness (with a zap from his gloved hands, Jackson's Captain EO transforms the queen's nasty goon squad into limber backup dancers and singers).
In "Men in Black II," Jackson had a brief but amusing cameo as a wannabe operative. Jackson also appeared in Eric Roberts' low-budget 2004 comedy, "Miss Cast Away."
One of Jackson's most-memorable performances came with an episode of "The Simpsons," in which he provided vocals for an overweight man in an insane asylum who believes he's Michael Jackson. Though his "Simpsons" character was a large white man, he was also a gentle giant _ sweet, soft-spoken, compassionate, reserved _ essentially, Jackson's spiritual twin.
A man as reclusive and private as Jackson might not have been comfortable putting himself in the hands of studio executives and filmmakers for months on end or exposing himself to harsh film critics and the spotlight of Hollywood premieres. "Why risk failure and added stress?" said Jean Rosenbluth, a University of Southern California law professor who attended Jackson's child-molestation trial and a former entertainment reporter who covered the singer.
"He was known to be quite a shy person," Rosenbluth said. "He was a bit of a recluse, not comfortable around adults for the most part, and that coupled with an arena that maybe doesn't come naturally to him, which is acting, one can see why maybe he didn't feel the need to try his hand at or cross over into that."