The Changing Face of Michael Jackson

Updated on September 10, 2016

Michael Jackson: A Legend

Michael Jackson was a legend who will be remembered in the hearts of his fans for years to come. Throughout his tumultuous life, one thing that ironically remained constant was the ongoing transformation in his physical appearance. Despite obvious changes to his nose, jawline and eyes, the pop icon denied he had extensive plastic surgery and blamed his changing skin tone on vitiligo.

A Look at MJ's Physical Transformation over the Years

Michael Jackson pictured in his early days on the left and as an adult on the right.
Michael Jackson pictured in his early days on the left and as an adult on the right.

Michael Jackson began his career as the lead singer for the Jackson 5 in 1964. In the picture above, he is shown on the left in 1969 as a successful child singer. By 2001, Jackson's face differed markedly from its former self. Here are pictures documenting the evolution of Michael Jackson's face over the decades.

March 1971

At left, Michael Jackson poses for a studio portrait in March 1971. His doe eyes, cherubic face, and sweet voice made him the object of many an adolescent crush. Three decades later in November 2003, an almost completely unrecognizable Jackson is shown in a mug shot after he was booked for multiple counts of alleged child molestation. After his death, the question lingers: what was it all about?

"He didn't want to be Michael Joseph Jackson. He just wanted to be something else. And he went about the business of doing that," says Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli.


By the time this photo was taken in 1973, Jackson had already released three solo albums and his first number one hit, "Ben." At this time, puberty began to naturally transform Jackson's face, melting away the baby fat and revealing a more masculine jawline.


Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli suspects that the inevitable changes of puberty were deeply traumatic for the child star. "When he started to change physically as all guys do, when they go through adolescence and puberty, this was really difficult for him," he told Cynthia McFadden of ABC News in 2003.


By the tender age of 18, Jackson's fame had well eclipsed that of his brothers. Yet, despite the adulation, the star was becoming increasingly insecure about his looks. In particular, Jackson disliked his acne-prone skin and his nose. It didn't help that, according to Taraborrelli, Jackson's brothers reportedly called him "big nose."


In 1979, the same year Michael Jackson released his fifth solo album, Off the Wall, it is believed he took another big step: his first foray into plastic surgery.

Jackson reportedly underwent his first rhinoplasty at age 21, after breaking his nose during a dance rehearsal. It would be the first step in a dramatic facial transformation. The same year, in a prophetic interview with Sylvia Chase of 20/20, he claimed he was unable to lead a normal life.

"It's hard to in my position. I try to sometime. And, but people won't deal with me in that way because they see me differently. They won't talk to me like they would a next-door neighbor," he said.


Michael Jackson poses in 1981, during the hiatus between Off the Wall and his mega-hit Thriller. By this point, he had ditched his seventies Afro in favor of what would become his signature curly hair, and his nose is noticeably different from from what it had been just a few years earlier.

"Obviously he's had some nasal surgery," plastic surgeon Pamela Lipkin told ABC News in 2003. "The bridge is much thinner, width of the nostrils is greatly reduced. . . That's a great result. That nose is still believable."


By 1983, Jackson was at the zenith of his career with Thriller well on its way to becoming the best-selling album of all time. Some argue that Michael also looked his best at this time.


This photograph of Jackson was taken in 1985, the same year he would write the hit song "We Are the World" with Lionel Ritchie, which they performed along with fellow superstars Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen. The year before, Jackson had suffered second-degree burns on his scalp in an infamous accident while filming a Pepsi commercial.


Here is Jackson in 1987, shortly after the release of his album, Bad. In the five years between Thriller and Bad, Jackson's face changed almost as dramatically as his had fame skyrocketed.

After the unprecedented success of Thriller, some think that Jackson's metamorphosis became an artistic statement, far more than his initial insecurities about his appearance. "He wanted to be the King of Pop. He wanted to be Captain Eo," claims Margo Jefferson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of On Michael Jackson. "I think he was obsessed with staying timeless, is what I think. . . It's as if he wanted to look like some, you know, being who has gone into some eternal realm of fame. . . beyond life and death."


In this picture, Jackson attends the 1989 Soul Train Awards in Los Angeles, unveiling an even thinner nose, heavily-lined eyes, and a suddenly prominent cleft chin. In a 2003 interview with ABC News, plastic surgeon Pamela Lipkin insists that Jackson's transformations could not have been natural.

"That's not a natural cleft. There's a way of creating a cleft in a chin. But the reason why the operation hasn't become popular is it never looks real," she said.


In 1991, Jackson released Dangerous. The album's first single was the number one hit "Black or White"; some interpreted the lyrics as a sly reference to Jackson's ever-lightening skin tone.


In a memorable 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson admitted that his skin color had transformed, but insisted the lightening was a result of a disease called vitiligo.

Plastic surgeon Pamela Lipkin was skeptical of these claims, telling ABC News in 2003, "It's the most unusual case of vitiligo I've ever seen. I think he's bleached his skin possibly to blend in what might have been vitiligo."


At a 1995 charity event, a 36-year-old Jackson was almost completely unrecognizable from the person he was just a decade earlier. His appearance is noticeably wide-eyed and square-jawed, a look that's accentuated by a shorter hairstyle.

Of Jackson's transformation, plastic surgeon Pamela Lipkin has said, "It's obvious that he's trying to look Caucasian. His skin is whiter, his nose is getting thinner every six months. His lips are getting thinner."


In 1997, with his career on the wane, Jackson debuted yet another look: longer, straighter hair and fuller lips. Lipkin believes Jackson may have been addicted to plastic surgery. "It means that no much matter how much surgery you have, you're still not happy with the way you look," she said. "He kept focusing on his nose. It became, his nose became the obsession."


Jackson waves to fans upon arrival in Seoul, South Korea, in 1999. Dr. Steven Laughlin was Jackson's surgeon until the late 1990s. In a 1999 interview with ABC News, Laughlin admitted that although Jackson was "very happy" with his face, "I think he's done more than I recommended in terms of the changes."


By November 2001, Jackson's ever-higher eyebrows created a permanently startled look and suggested surgical intervention of some kind. "He probably had some sort of forehead lift or brow lift," Lipkin told ABC News in 2003. She also believes Jackson was a "Nasal cripple . . . whose nose has been done so many times that there is no nose really to breathe through. Michael Jackson has what we call an end-stage nose, a crucified nose, one that's beyond the point of no return."


Jackson is pictured after his 2003 arrest for alleged child molestation. The charges were almost as shocking as his ever-evolving appearance. The previous year, Jackson told ABC News' Martin Bashir, "I've had no plastic surgery on my face. Just my nose. It helped me breathe better so I can hit higher notes."


In 2005, Michael Jackson stood trial for 14 different charges, including child molestation, conspiracy, and providing alcohol to minors. On June 13, 2005, Jackson was found not guilty on all counts. After the trial, Jackson fled to the island country of Bahrain, far from the public eye.


In the later years of his life, Jackson was rarely seen in public without a surgical mask covering his face. This photo from Jesse Jackson's 66th birthday party in 2007 is a rare exception. His gaunt appearance highlights his prominent cheekbones, chin, and lips.

2005: Michael Jackson's Last Days

Mystery Of Death........

Do you think Michael Jackson's death was not a natural death?

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    • profile image

      Kim 3 weeks ago

      I love you Michael! No one ever has been or will ever be as amazing as you. You are a paragon! Nothing you have done will eclipse your fame. We in the know, know what the truth is. Be blessed.

    • gajanis786 profile image

      gajanis786 7 weeks ago

      @Poop, @Anas, @ Gerald P, and @ marissa.

      I thank you all for reading and commenting on this article. I sincerely respect all of yours enriched point of views and value these a lot.

      Thank you.

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      marissa 7 weeks ago

      Michael Jackson is my all time favorite artist, he definitely helped me through tough times. Those of you who had claimed skin bleaching is not real you should look into it because that disease attacks in spots and some celebrities have it. I believe that he died from overdose, but that is my own opinion and i respect that. I have to say that he looked much better as a child then after his plastic surgery. He was kind and respected everybody. Even though people saw his heart and not his looks, he still felt the need to feel "happy" with his appearance. R.I.P. Michael.

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      Gerald P 8 weeks ago

      Wow, this article really shows what a change he went through! Thank you for making this. He used to look totally normal... but then he started to look kind of creepy.

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      gajanis786 3 months ago

      @Marco and @mermaid, I thank you for reading this article and for your comments.

      @ Feliks, I also thank you for reading and commenting on this article, your point of view has been taken and let's other readers comment on this.However, your slag language and personal comments are not welcomed here. Thank you.

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      Feliks 3 months ago

      Check your facts, this is such bullshit! I myself am a journalist and know not to believe what the tabloids say. His nose looks the same from the 80s til he died. If you cant see that you are really blind. You dont think age has anything to do how he looks??? And also check on YouTube what vitiligo really does, he had it, it says so in his autopsy..So saying that he claims to have had it is disgusting. Check your facts. This is why he died at the age 50 because of lying sons of bitches got him addicted to painkillers starting from 90s and never got rid of them. And one more thing so what if he would change his looks what the fuck what difference does it make what a person looks like. People like you are the people which make me never want to visit your miserable country. Thank you.

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      mermaid 3 months ago

      it is sad to see Michael Jackson

    • profile image

      Marco 4 months ago


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      gajanis786 4 months ago

      @Kim Lori, thank you for reading this hub. The cause of death of MJ is still a mystery so one should not jump to any conclusion. Regards.

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      Kim Lori 4 months ago

      He was so kind but somebody kill come for no reason I hope he's going to say sorry and go see him .

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      gajanis786 4 months ago

      @Crazy me, I am happy to note that this article has helped you in your school project. Do share this with others too. Thank you.

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      Crazy me 4 months ago

      This was some help for me. I was doing a school project on MJ and I used this website.

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      BELLE 5 months ago

      people focus too much on the way he looks and did not consider the reason why he undergo these changes

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      gajanis786 6 months ago

      I thank you all for your valuable comments and respect every point of you and appreciate.

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      ??????? 6 months ago

      He looked best in the late 80s and early 90s ( 1986 - 1994).

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      JTE Dimandix 9 months ago

      Please let me dissagree with this article. He did only 2 surgeries. One on his nose and the second was on his nose too. The changing color was due to his vitiligo. There's no "skin bleeching". As for the weird chin and cheekbones, in a video on YouTube it was said that he had a skin disorter that make him "melt". That why his nose fall. The children molestation is just a stupid story that a hater told to the cops. That's why his penis did'nt was like it was on the kid's description.

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      William Grenon 10 months ago

      He didn't bleach his skin to look lighter he put bleach on his skin so that there would be no blotches on his skin.

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      Daniel 10 months ago

      He looked very good before he bleached his skin. But he was a very good man , and even sang songs of why we can not be racist to others. Jackson is a role model

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      IdaCippolinni 11 months ago

      At the very end, when it says "2005: Michael Jackson's Last Days," shouldn't it be 2009? I mean, he died June 25, 2009, at the age of 50. It's also out of order on the timeline, going 2005, 2007, and then back to 2005. That should be fixed.

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      gajanis786 11 months ago

      I thank you all of you individually for stopping by and read this hub and also appreciate your valuable comments. Thank you.

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      Jo 11 months ago

      he died looking like a doll,,, a scary doll

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      Tina Denise Anderson 11 months ago

      I don't think I'll ever be able to understand why his appearance changed over the years I can't so much of his personality reminds me of myself I don't really want to go in to it. our birthdays are only four days apart and I can see me in him I love you Michael were certainly about love God bless you. I don't know what he was going through but I feel that his heart was so big that people overlooked his appearance. And that's how God is he looks at the heart Michaels put his heart on his sleeve he could not help but display love he was an angel sent from God.....

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      Winshard 12 months ago

      He was better looking before plastic surgery.

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      vishnu 12 months ago

      Michael is a good teacher too. He teaches us to take care of nature and becareful about politics and doctors.

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      ani 14 months ago

      i feel as if this is trying to villify him. the number one focus always has to be his appearence, doesn't it? yeah, it doesn't matter that he had so much love, and he gave us beautiful music, and he brought happiness to all his fans. no, that kind of stuff doesn't matter to anybody anymore. its all about talking about his skin, and focusing on his nose.

      and also, referring to what Pamela Lipkin had to say about Michael in 1993, i just have to mention that she is a PLASTIC SURGEON, not a DERMATOLOGIST, someone who treats skin diseases and problems with people's hair, nails and scalp. she has no right to state he had bleached his skin.

      nobody really talks about the vitiligo and the lupus he had. from around after Off The Wall and nearer to Thriller, he started to develop patches and covered them up with makeup. there is a picture of his makeup box from the Victory Tour. it was starting in his hands, neck and face which is a reason why he also wore the glove.

      some pictures have captured his makeup coming off, or where he didn't try and hide the patches on certain parts of his body. Karen Faye had been his makeup artist for decades, and he had tried to hide it from her, but it had become so bad, they had to do full body makeup, as vitiligo and lupus can sometimes lead to skin cancer, needing heavy makeup or sun-block all over the body. that is also why as he got older, he had an umbrella around to keep the sun from having contact with his skin.

      he had covered the patches up with his darker kin complexion, but as the condition became so severe, he had to go with the lighter tone.

      i have lots more to say about this, but to anyone assuming without evidence, just don't. because at the end of the day, it will deeply hurt and affect the person you are talking about.


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      dguyf,fy 14 months ago

      i love michael jackson can not believe he died :(

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      Calvin Jenkins 14 months ago

      i'm going to be just like him

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      Jay F. 15 months ago

      How was Michael's afro getting thinner? (from 1977 to 1979)

      In 1981, his afro was almost gone and in 1983, he just had curls!

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      sados 16 months ago

      well i loved michael but like alex said i am sad to see the end too

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      Hi 16 months ago

      I think he looked best when he did thriller.its sad he died.

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      hello 16 months ago

      he looked like a doll before he died!!!!!!

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      pooja 17 months ago

      No matter how he looks,but he is never replaced by any one in our hearts ♥

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      MJbiggestfan 18 months ago

      He was extremely goodlooking to the very last day of his life. The times that people thought he didn't look good was just the makeup. Watch dancers audition this is it on youtube and you will see him sitting in the first row looking better than ever and really really masculine. I think he looked his best in the 90s and 2000's. He didn't really change that much from the 90s to 2000's, it was seriously just the respective makeup style.

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      gajanis786 18 months ago

      Thank you Vishal Verma for stopping by and reading this hub.I do agree to your beautiful comment.

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      Vishal Verma 18 months ago

      Legend of all time. No one can take his place..

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      gajanis786 18 months ago

      Thank you dev for your comment, yes Michael Jackson is still alive in the hearts of his countless followers.

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      dev 18 months ago

      Michael Jackson is Still Alive

    • gajanis786 profile image

      gajanis786 20 months ago

      Thank you so much for your comments alex, yes I do agree with you completely.

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      alex 20 months ago

      he looked so much better before the plastic surgery. even mid-way was fine. so sad to see the end.