gavin smith

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Michael Jackson, 1942 - 2007

by Gavin D Smith

Overshadowing all other whisky news this month is the sad death of Michael Jackson. Michael died suddenly at his London home on 30th August, having suffered from Parkinson's Disease for some years. He was 65. All at whisky-pages would like to offer our condolences to Michael's family and many friends around the world.

Michael was that increasingly rare creature - a whisky writer who had served his time as a journalist on local newspapers, and whose writing was technically excellent as well as informative and entertaining. On the subjects of both beer and whisky Michael was one of the first commentators to really address issues of flavour and diversity, and paved the way for so much that has subsequently been written about drink. He was responsible for developing and refining regional classifications for malt whiskies, and wrote extensively and perceptively for the first time about the distilleries within those classifications. His reputation and influence were truly global. Below, Master Blender Richard Paterson offers an appreciation of Michael.

"If you were asked to name the author of a great book on beer or whisky invariably Michael Jackson's name would be top of the list.

"After all he wasn't just anybody. To many of us he was more famous than his all-singing, all-dancing namesake. He was an icon, not just here in Scotland but around the world too. It is therefore with great sadness that he is no longer with us.

For the last twenty years Michael had been suffering from Parkinson's disease and latterly his symptoms had taken a turn for the worst. The heavy medication he was on could not always counter the effects of this incurable disease. At times, as he explained, he was 'like a robot that has been unplugged from its power supply.' On many occasion people wrongly attributed his unsteady movements and slurring of words to alcohol. He dismissed these false claims out of hand, but I know from talking to him that it still hurt.

However, his warm, likable personality and his many books on Scotch whisky, in particular on single malt whisky, will eternally rise above his illness. In fact, he is respected even more for it because he never gave up - he always soldiered on.

Anybody listening to him for the first time at one of his classic tastings was immediately sucked in by his passion for his subject. It was as though every single malt was personally his, the way he talked about its characteristics and unique qualities. For his audience it was a joy. For the poor translator when he was abroad it was at times a total nightmare. When it was flowing out - nothing could stop him. He was in his element.

When you read his books today, or even sometime in the future, you will never fail to hear those soft lovable tones of his voice coming through. After all he is talking directly to you. So listen to what he is saying. He was the world's greatest whisky evangelist. He was a hero, and I am proud to say he was a friend. He will be sadly missed by those who were close to him, especially Paddy and, of course, Owen, who had loyally supported him for many years.

Andy Warhol, the famous American artist, once said "In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." I know Michael Jackson will last much longer. So, slainte mhor, Michael - we will never forget you. Your spirit will always be with us."


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