“King of Pop” Michael Jackson dies at age 50

On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson, one of the most commercially successful entertainers in history, dies at the age of 50 at his home in Los Angeles, California, after suffering from cardiac arrest caused by a fatal combination of drugs given to him by his personal doctor.

Jackson released his first solo album, “Got to Be There,” in 1972, while continuing to sing with his brothers. Six years later, in 1978, he made his big-screen debut as the Scarecrow in “The Wiz,” an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. Directed by Quincy Jones, the film starred an all-Black cast that included singer Diana Ross as Dorothy. Jones collaborated with Jackson on his 1979 album “Off the Wall,” which sold some 7 million copies worldwide. The pair teamed up again for Jackson’s now-iconic 1982 album, “Thriller,” which went on to sell 50 million copies around the globe, making it the best-selling studio album of all time. “Thriller” is credited with jump-starting the era of music videos and playing a key role in the rise of then-fledging cable TV network MTV, which launched in 1981.

In 1983, Jackson created a massive sensation on a live Motown anniversary TV special when he performed his now-signature Moonwalk dance step while wearing a black fedora and a single white glove covered with rhinestones. According to The Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hillburn, the performance served as Jackson’s “unofficial coronation as the King of Pop. Within months, he changed the way people would hear and see pop music, unleashing an influence that rivaled that of Elvis Presley and the Beatles.”

Jackson’s next solo effort, “Bad,” debuted in 1987. It sold 8 million copies and featured a music video from acclaimed movie director Martin Scorsese. By this time, however, Jackson had paid a high price for his massive success. According to The Los Angeles Times: “He became so accustomed to bodyguards and assistants that he once admitted that he trembled if he had to open his own front door.”

By the 1990s, Jackson’s life was near-constant tabloid fodder. In 1993, he was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy who had been a sleepover guest at his home. Jackson denied the allegations and the criminal investigation was dropped; however, the singer later settled a civil lawsuit with the boy’s family for a reported $20 million. 

In 2003, Jackson was accused of molesting another boy. Following a highly publicized trial in 2005, he was acquitted of all charges. (Both allegations were reexamined—and given credible weight—in a 2019 documentary, Leaving Neverland.) 

During these years, Jackson also faced intense media scrutiny over his radically altered physical appearance, which included an ever-lighter complexion (which he attributed to a skin condition) and multiple plastic surgeries. Although Jackson himself was mostly close-mouthed on the topic, media sources alleged that Jackson developed an obsession with cosmetic surgery, in part, following an accident he suffered in January 1984 while shooting a Pepsi commercial. During filming, a pyrotechnics mishap set the singer’s hair on fire, and he suffered burns on his head and face that required reconstructive surgery. In the aftermath of the surgery, Jackson reportedly suffered from an addiction to prescription painkillers.

Jackson also made headlines with his brief marriage (1994-1994) to Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of singer Elvis Presley. From 1996 to 1999, he was wed to Debbie Rowe, the former assistant of his dermatologist and the mother of two of his three children. (Jackson’s youngest child, a boy, was reportedly born via a surrogate.)

On June 25, 2009, Jackson, who after a lengthy time away from the public spotlight was preparing for a series of summer concerts in London, was discovered unconscious in his Los Angeles mansion. The Los Angeles coroner’s officer later ruled the pop star’s death a homicide after lethal levels of the powerful sedative propofol, as well other drugs, were found in his system. Jackson’s personal physician, who was at the singer’s home when he died, had been giving him propofol as a sleep aid for a period of weeks.

On July 7, 2009, more than 20,000 fans attended a public memorial for Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Over 30 million viewers tuned in watch the event on cable TV, while millions more viewed it online.

Eisenhower assumes command of U.S. troops in Europe

On June 25, 1942, General Dwight D. Eisenhower becomes commander of all U.S. troops in the European theater of World War II, continuing the steady ascent in military rank that would culminate in his appointment as supreme Allied commander of all forces in Europe in 1943. As U.S. commander, Ike developed diplomatic skills that he would later employ as America’s 34th president.

U.S. Army military historians Carl Vuono and M.P.W. Stone have described Eisenhower as a dynamic leader who successfully planned and oversaw military strategy in a complex global environment. These qualities came in handy when Eisenhower was elected president in 1952. The Cold War between democratic and communist nations was in full swing and Eisenhower’s ability to form cooperative relationships, his military experience and calm demeanor reassured anxious Americans.

Ike attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from 1911 to 1915, where he cultivated friendships with future generals Omar Bradley, James A. Van Fleet and Joseph T. McNarney. After graduating, Eisenhower served in relative obscurity stateside and in Panama, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He went to the Army War College in 1928 and a year later worked as an assistant in the secretary of war’s office. In 1935, he served as an assistant to General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines. With war with Japan seeming imminent, Eisenhower returned to the states in 1941 to become a brigadier general in the Third Army. Between February and June 1942, Eisenhower was assigned to the War Department and rose rapidly within its ranks. As the leading general of the U.S. forces in Europe, Eisenhower was directly involved with planning and executing U.S. military strategy in the fight to liberate Europe from Germany and fascist Italy.

In November 1942, Eisenhower went on to become the commander of all Allied forces in North Africa, where he led the successful invasions of Sicily and Italy and dealt with irascible British General Bernard Montgomery and exiled French leader Charles de Gaulle. A year later he was appointed supreme commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces and planned and led the invasion of Normandy, France, more commonly referred to as D-Day. Eisenhower stayed on as general of the U.S. Army until 1951, when he resigned his commission to run his successful campaign for president. For two terms, Ike the war hero presided as the nation’s commander in chief.

In a speech he gave upon leaving office in 1961, Eisenhower famously warned Americans of the growing power of what he termed the military-industrial complex, or the potential for danger that existed from the relation of the nation’s commercial and military interests.

Battle of the Little Bighorn

Battle of the Little Bighorn

On June 25, 1876, Native American forces led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeat the U.S. Army troops of General George Armstrong Custer in the Battle of the Little Bighorn near southern Montana’s Little Bighorn River.

Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux leaders, strongly resisted the mid-19th-century efforts of the U.S. government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills, the U.S. Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations and join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana. By the late spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans had gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River–which they called the Greasy Grass—in defiance of a U.S. War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.

In mid-June, three columns of U.S. soldiers lined up against the camp and prepared to march. A force of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first column on June 17. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered Custer’s 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of June 25, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on ahead rather than wait for reinforcements.

READ MORE: What Really Happened at the Battle of the Little Bighorn?

At mid-day, Custer’s 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. Among the Native Americans, word quickly spread of the impending attack. The older Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children, while Crazy Horse set off with a large force to meet the attackers head on. Despite Custer’s desperate attempts to regroup his men, they were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and some 200 men in his battalion were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans; within an hour, Custer and every last one of his soldier were dead.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn—also called Custer’s Last Stand—marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The gruesome fate of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Native Americans as “wild.” Meanwhile, the U.S. government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.

Eisenhower takes command

Following his arrival in London, Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower takes command of U.S. forces in Europe. Although Eisenhower had never seen combat during his 27 years as an army officer, his knowledge of military strategy and talent for organization were such that Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall chose him over nearly 400 senior officers to lead U.S. forces in the war against Germany. After proving himself on the battlefields of North Africa and Italy in 1942 and 1943, Eisenhower was appointed supreme commander of Operation Overlord–the Allied invasion of northwestern Europe.

Born in Denison, Texas, in 1890, Eisenhower graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1915. Out of a remarkable class that was to produce 59 generals, Eisenhower ranked 61st academically and 125th in discipline out of a total of 164 graduates. As a commissioned officer, his superiors soon took note of his organizational abilities, and appointed him commander of a tank training center after the U.S. entrance into World War I in 1917. In October 1918, he received the orders to take the tanks to France, but the war ended before they could sail. Eisenhower received the Distinguished Service Medal but was disappointed that he had not seen combat.

Between the wars, he steadily rose in the peacetime ranks of the U.S. Army. From 1922 to 1924, he was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, and in 1926, as a major, he graduated from the Army’s Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, at the top of a class of 275. He was rewarded with a prestigious post in France and in 1928 graduated first in his class from the Army War College. In 1933, he became aide to Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur, and in 1935 he went with MacArthur to the Philippines when the latter accepted a post as chief military adviser to that nation’s government.

Promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel while in the Philippines, Eisenhower returned to the United States in 1939 shortly after World War II began in Europe. President Franklin Roosevelt began to bring the country to war preparedness in 1940 and Eisenhower found himself figuring prominently in a rapidly expanding U.S. Army. In March 1941, he was made a full colonel and three months later was appointed commander of the 3rd Army. In September, he was promoted to brigadier general.

After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Army Chief of Staff Marshall appointed Eisenhower to the War Plans Division in Washington, where he prepared strategy for an Allied invasion of Europe. Promoted to major general in March 1942 and named head of the operations division of the War Department, he advised Marshall to create a single post that would oversee all U.S. operations in Europe. Marshall did so and on June 11 surprised Eisenhower by appointing him to the post over 366 senior officers. On June 25, 1942, Eisenhower arrived at U.S. headquarters in London and took command.

In July, Eisenhower was appointed lieutenant general and named to head Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa. As supreme commander of a mixed force of Allied nationalities, services, and equipment, Eisenhower designed a system of unified command and rapidly won the respect of his British and Canadian subordinates. From North Africa, he successfully directed the invasions of Tunisia, Sicily, and the Italian mainland, and in December 1943 was appointed Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Operation Overlord, the largest combined sea, air, and land military operation in history, was successfully launched against Nazi-occupied Europe on June 6, 1944. On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. By that time, Eisenhower was a five-star general.

After the war, Eisenhower replaced Marshall as army chief of staff and from 1948 to 1950 served as president of Columbia University. In 1951, he returned to military service as supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Pressure on Eisenhower to run for U.S. president was great, however, and in the spring of 1952 he relinquished his NATO command to run for president on the Republican ticket.

In November 1952, “Ike” won a resounding victory in the presidential elections and in 1956 was reelected in a landslide. A popular president, he oversaw a period of great economic growth in the United States and deftly navigated the country through increasing Cold War tensions on the world stage. In 1961, he retired with his wife, Mamie Doud Eisenhower, to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which overlooked the famous Civil War battlefield. He died in 1969 and was buried on a family plot in Abilene, Kansas.