Fred Astaire was a Smooth Criminal

Michael Jackson was the Fred Astaire of his time. After Michael first performed the Moonwalk on a televised Motown anniversary special before a nationwide audience, this happened:

The day after the show aired, on May 16, 1983, Michael Jackson received a call from Fred Astaire. (“Oh, come on,” was Michael’s first reaction.) Astaire was eighty-four. He had filmed his final movie, Ghost Story, two years earlier. “You’re a hell of a mover. Man, you really put them on their asses last night,” Fred Astaire told Michael Jackson. “You’re an angry dancer. I’m the same way. I used to do the same thing with my cane.” It remains a mystery exactly where the anger appears in Astaire’s elegant ballroom dancing — his persona in movies is bemused and easygoing — but “Billie Jean” was, in fact, an angry song, reflecting Michael’s feelings of fear and distrust for those around him. Michael was also angry at his father, who was still tomcatting around on Katherine and milking the family for cash.

“It was the greatest compliment I had ever received in my life,” Jackson would say of Astaire’s call, “and the only one I had ever wanted to believe.”


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