For recent generations, Michael Jackson is synonymous with embarrassing headlines.

But while I was growing up, the man was an idol, a hero of pop music that everyone I grew up with knew. We admired his artistry, his talent and loved his music. He was the definition of a ‘superstar’. Later, he became bizarre and controversial as we all know, and that’s an important part of the complicated story of who Michael Jackson was too.

I believe he was a child: he never matured or developed beyond the mind of a kid. Maybe it’s because he never had a proper childhood. His house was a theme park, his activities were fun, his friends were kids, his decisions were immature. If he ever molested a child, he did it out of a warped view of acceptable behavior; he viewed himself as their best friends and peers. He was playing doctors and nurses.

Later generations may not care too much that the strange, tabloid headline-creating figure is dead. (And, really, on that level, the headlines have only just begun.) But for my generation, Michael Jackson represents something about our own childhoods, maybe the part we can’t get back.