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RIP, Michael Jackson

(AP)
I don't usually get introspective, but I did want to say a few words about the passing of Michael Jackson.

After seeing this photo again, the one where he's flanked by President and Mrs. Reagan at the White House in 1984, it just reminded me of how huge the guy was in the history of pop culture.

While I was barely 12, CBS News' Mark Knoller was covering the May 14, 1984 visit:

"'Well, isn't this a thriller," Reagan began his remarks. So many reporters and WH staff wanted to see MJ, Reagan said 'I haven't seen this many people since we left China.' Reagan called MJ: 'one of the most talented, most popular, and most exciting super stars in the music world today.' Reagan told MJ he had a message for him from young folks: 'They said to tell Michael, Please give some TLC to the PYTs.'"

There's no question he had his problems, and for anyone under the age of 30 that's all they'll know of Jackson.

But for those of us who grew up with him - either as a member of the Jackson 5 (President Obama's generation) or the solo Michael Jackson (my generation) - you'll remember just how huge he was. You couldn't turn around without hearing or seeing Jackson somewhere. And think about 1982, when "Thriller" was released: no internet, no Twitter, no texting, 3 national TV networks, MTV was just about a year old, CNN just 2 years old. The Gloved One permeated our culture with a fraction of the tools available now.

And consider this, as we live in a time when everything in pop culture is marketed to a specific demographic: during his peak (1970s and 1980s) he not only crossed racial lines but he crossed gender lines - EVERYONE liked Jackson during his peak.

When "Thriller" came out, there was not one kid in my 5th grade class at Shoemaker Elementary in Lynn, Mass., who was not obsessed with the album and the performer. At the time, the girls were literally sprinting home to watch Luke and Laura on "General Hospital" after school (gag me with a spoon) while the boys were trying to imitate the Boston Celtics' Larry Bird during recess.

(CBS)
The one thing us 10-year-olds agreed on, however, was Jackson. When one of my classmates walked into class wearing his cheap knockoff of the jacket Jackson wore in the "Beat It" video, everyone thought he was the coolest kid in class. Look at it. Ridiculous. But everyone loved it. Even the boys. So cool, in 1982!

It wasn't long after the thrill of "Thriller" faded that the guys and gals split again - Madonna for the girls, Springsteen and Van Halen for the guys.

Now, in the era of hundreds of TV channels, US Magazine covers of Jon and Kate, and everything marketed to a targeted audience, the death of Michael Jackson made me realize that he may have been the last, biggest pop culture unifier that, perhaps, we ever will see.

And that makes me just a little sad today.

Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' Political Director. Click here to read the rest of his daily look at the key stories driving the day in Politics.

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