Dionne Warwick first performed (but never recorded) the song in February 1983 on a TV special as a tribute to many performers, including Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, John Belushi, Cass Elliot, John Lennon, Bobby Darin, Minnie Riperton, Sam Cooke, Harry Chapin, Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Croce, Bobby Van and Karen Carpenterwho had died days earlier. Later on the same day, Jackson called Kohan explaining he had wept while watching the performance and that he felt he wanted to record it some day.
Jackson's version of "Gone Too Soon" was dedicated to the memory of Jackson's friend Ryan White, a teenager from Kokomo, Indiana who came to national attention, after being expelled from his school for having HIV/AIDS. This version was produced by Jackson and co-produced by Bruce Swedien for Jackson's eighth studio album, Dangerous (1991). The song was also mixed by Swedien, and featured instrumentation by artists such as David Paich, Steve Porcaro, Michael Boddicker, Abraham Laboriel and Paulinho Da Costa.
The song was released on December 1, 1993, as the ninth and final single from the Dangerous album. Following its release—on World AIDS Day of 1993—"Gone Too Soon" became a moderate chart success in several countries: France, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland and the UK. The song was released as a cassette single in the US, and became a hit in Zimbabwe, where it charted at number 3. "Gone Too Soon" was not a significant critical success, as it received mixed reviews from music critics.
"Gone Too Soon" was promoted with a music video directed by Bill DiCicco, which showed footage of Jackson and White together, as well as scenes from the latter's funeral. In January 1993, a live performance by Jackson at Bill Clinton's inaugural celebration also served as a promotional platform, for both the song and AIDS-related funding. "Gone Too Soon" later received more exposure, following the deaths of both Diana, Princess of Wales, and Jackson himself.
Death of Ryan White Edit
Ryan White was an American teenager from Kokomo, Indiana who became a national poster child for HIV/AIDS in the United States after being expelled from school because of his infection. A hemophiliac, he became infected with HIV from a contaminated blood treatment and, when diagnosed in 1984, was given six months to live. Though doctors said he posed no risk to other students, AIDS was poorly understood at the time, and when White tried to return to school, many parents and teachers in Kokomo rallied against his attendance. A lengthy legal battle with the school system ensued, and media coverage of the struggle made White into a national celebrity and spokesman for AIDS research and public education.
During this time, White was befriended by singer Michael Jackson. White's mother Jeanne commented on the friendship, "It's a really good relationship. They have a good time. [Michael Jackson] treats [Ryan White] like he's not sick. And Ryan treats Michael like he's not a celebrity." The pop star bought the teenager a red Ford Mustang, and invited White and his mother to spend time at his Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County, California. Surprising his doctors, White lived five years longer than initially predicted and died in April 1990, shortly before he would have completed high school. His funeral was attended by Jackson, as well as English musician Elton John, media personality Phil Donahue, First Lady of the United States Barbara Bush, and 1000 other mourners.
Other projects took precedence for years, but Jackson ended up recording the song for his Dangerous album, in memory of White. The prelude to the song was composed, arranged and conducted by American musician Marty Paich. Bruce Swedien, who had worked extensively on Jackson's Thriller, was drafted to record and mix the ballad. The music engineer also served as the co-producer for "Gone Too Soon", with Jackson producing the song. Prior to the production of the finalized version of "Gone Too Soon", Jackson had recorded a demo version of the song, which featured different vocals and a "perfect sunflower" lyric. To date, the demo has not received an official release, but that lyric was used in the song by Jackson when he sang it at the 1993 Presidential Gala for then President-Elect Bill Clinton.
Death of Princess Diana Edit
Following the death of Diana in August 1997, Jackson permitted "Gone Too Soon" to be included on a Diana commemorative album entitled Tribute. The proceeds from the sale of the album went to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
Death of Michael Jackson Edit
Michael Jackson died in June 2009, after suffering a cardiac arrest. His memorial service was held on July 7, 2009, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, preceded by a private family service at Forest Lawn Memorial Park's Hall of Liberty. The event was reported to have been viewed by more than one billion people. At the memorial, R&B singer Usher performed "Gone Too Soon" as a tribute to the singer. During the performance, the entertainer—wearing dark sunglasses and a yellow rose pinned to the lapel of his jacket—approached Jackson's gold-plated casket, which was in attendance. Usher placed his left hand upon the coffin, before completing the final lyric—"gone too soon"—through tears.