Michael was born in Decatur, Illinois, on December 27, 1944. He attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst from 1962 to 1966, graduating cum laude with a BS degree in wildlife biology. To earn a PhD degree in zoology, he attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor from 1968 to 1973, and again from 1977 to 1979. His thesis was entitled Phylogenetic Relationships in Neotomine-Peromyscine Rodents and a Reappraisal of the Dichotomy in New World Cricetinae.
He received a National Defense Educaion Act Title IV Fellowship, teaching in the Department of Zoology at the University of Massachusetts from 1966 to 1968. The following year he was a teaching fellow in the Department of Zoology at the University of Michigan. In 1970, he became a research assistant at the Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan, and in 1973 was promoted to collection manager of the mammal division of that museum, where he stayed until 1978. In 1979, he came to Washington, D.C., to work as assistant curator in the Department of Vertebrate Zoology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. He began working for the American Museum of Natural History in 1982 as a research associate in the Department of Mammalogy, continuing his work at the National Museum of Natural History as well.
Michael became a member of the American Society of Mammalogists, serving on both the index committee and the nomenclature committee. He also belonged to the Society for the Study of Evolution and the Society of Systematic Zoology.
Michael was particularly interested in systematic mammalogy related to rodents, as well as anatomy, function, and phylogenetic analysis. Outside of research, he was interested in nature photography as well as hiking and learning the local flora and fauna. He studied in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and across the United States.
Michael was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1981 and terminated his membership in 1990. While a member he served on the food committee and as an unofficial standing member of the cooking detail.