Rhonda Welsh

Detroit’s WJBK Fox 2 news reporter Lee Thomas has the rare skin disease vitiligo. His face is a mottled combination of chocolate brown and nearly pearlescent, pale pink. Thomas typically wears make-up on air to limit distractions when reporting the news. But, his beauty is undeniable.

Even when reporting the most mundane story he exudes effervescence. When he first shared his struggle with Detroit area viewers on-air, it resulted in an outpouring of support. And during speaking engagements like his recent TEDx Detroit talk, he inspired and radiated positive vibes.

While Thomas may be the Detroit area’s most famous vitiligo sufferer, the world’s most famous sufferer (albeit with strong Detroit ties) is the late Michael Joseph Jackson. A rare skin disease is not the only trait Thomas and Jackson share. In the posthumously produced This Is It, Jackson inspired and radiated positive vibes.

The documentary begins with accounts of dancers and background singers sharing their lifelong dreams of performing with Michael Jackson. It progresses through approximately two hours of concert rehearsal footage. The high-energy “The Way You Make Me Feel”, the way cool “Smooth Criminal” number featuring Humphery Bogart and Rita Hayworth and his breath-taking duet with Judith Hill “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” These are highlights of the documentary produced and directed by Kenny Ortega.

But, it’s Michael Jackson. We expect to see good dancing, hear great singing and experience dazzling production. He is casually styled throughout most of the film and while not quite barefaced -- virtually. His face and hands exhibit that pearlescent, pale pink that appears to be a trademark of vitiligo. What is disarming about the film is Michael Jackson’s sheer, undeniable beauty. His absolute joie de vivre on the stage was evident even while he conserved his voice and energy during rehearsal.

It’s easy to forget about the allegations and scandals that plagued his life. It’s almost impossible to imagine the loneliness and depression that haunted him. And it’s tempting to believe that he may have experienced a much, less painful life if he’d let us in on one of his most painful secrets, vitiligo, from the outset.

Would we have given him the outpouring of support that Lee Thomas received when he went on camera without his makeup the first time? Would we have embraced him as his skin began to morph before our eyes? Would he have felt loved and supported unconditionally and not just as an outgrowth of his staggering talent? Are these questions far too simplistic?

Michael Joseph Jackson had a gorgeous gift. His music and movement lifted our spirits and warmed our hearts for over four decades. This film proves that he is gone too soon. But although he has departed, his beauty remains.


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