Vanity Fair – April 2003
‘David Geffen, be gone! Steven Spielberg, be gone!” The witch doctor cursing Michael Jackson’s enemies and blessing the tarnished King of Pop himself in a voodoo ritual in Switzerland in the summer of 2000 had promised that the 25 people on Jackson’s enemies list, some of whom had worked with him for years, would soon expire. The voodoo man later assured one close observer of the scene that David Geffen, who headed the list, would die within the week. But Geffen’s demise did not come cheap. Jackson had ordered his then business adviser, Myung-Ho Lee, a U.S.-educated Korean lawyer based in Seoul, to wire $150,000 to a bank in Mali for a voodoo chief named Baba, who then had 42 cows ritually sacrificed for the ceremony.
Jackson had already undergone a blood bath. The pop star, who is said to be $240 million in debt, had paid six figures for a ritual cleansing using sheep blood to another voodoo doctor and a mysterious Egyptian woman named Samia, who came to him with a letter of greeting from a high-ranking Saudi prince, purportedly Nawaf Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, now the chief of intelligence of Saudi Arabia. She had taken an eager Jackson to her basement in Geneva, where, he later told associates, he saw with his own eyes piles of $100 bills which Samia said totaled $300 million. It was “free money,” she said; he could have it, and she could also get him a villa and a yacht. She arranged to have three men fly from Switzerland, at Jackson’s expense, to Neverland, his luxurious California ranch, to discuss further deals. When the hex delegation arrived at Neverland, Jackson asked Lee to authorize $1 million in cash to be brought to the ranch. Lee refused, but Jackson obtained the money by other means. Lee found out about it only when a $20,000 bill came for an armored truck.
Jackson, in turn, sent Lee to Geneva to check out yet another voodoo doctor, whose specialty was pulling money out of thin air. At the Hôtel d’Angleterre, the voodoo man produced a show of sound, lights, and pigeons before leading his visitors one at a time into the bathroom, where the tub was full of cash amounting, he claimed, to $50 million. When they asked where it had come from, he said, “The U.S. Federal Reserve.” There was just one catch: all this money would disappear unless Michael Jackson paid thousands of dollars for the blood of a number of fowl and small animals for yet another ritual. The sacrificial animals were already assembled at a location on the French-Swiss border, waiting to die to make Jackson’s wishes come true. Lee was horrified and left in disgust.
What could possibly be next in the most bizarre celebrity story within memory? Now, two and a half years later, we know: a dangling baby, hysterical claims that Tommy Mottola, the head of his record company, is racist, and a string of lawsuits. In a few years the principal on a $200 million loan Jackson has with the Bank of America will be due. In order to pay that off without selling his most valuable asset, the Beatles song catalogue, he will have to earn about $400 million before taxes, a virtual impossibility. Michael Jackson’s career has been taking a steep downward slide ever since 1993, when he was accused of sexually molesting a 13-year-old boy. He paid at least $25 million to settle the civil suit brought by the boy, and barely escaped being arrested. Now 44, Jackson is long past the prime earning age for a pop star, and each album since his record-breaking Thriller in 1982 has cost more to produce and sold fewer copies than the one before. In addition, as his career has stalled, his freak factor has risen. Routinely referred to in the tabloid press as “Wacko Jacko” and characterized in his hometown newspaper as a “dancing personality disorder,” Michael Jackson is off the charts.
Who has not seen photos or footage of a hyped-up Jackson playing to the crowd in Germany last November by dangerously dangling his squirming nine-month-old son, whose head was covered with a towel, over the balcony railing of his hotel room? No one seems to know where this apparently white baby, Prince Michael II, came from. Four months earlier Jackson had just suddenly appeared, baby on board, at a Siegfried and Roy show in Las Vegas. After the overwhelmingly negative public reaction to the dangling, however, it was clear that he had gone too far. The next day Jackson apologized to the press and, to demonstrate that he was a normal, caring father, took his two older children, Prince Michael, five, and daughter Paris, four, also both apparently white, to the Berlin Zoo, with dozens of photographers in tow. However, he had covered the children’s heads with brightly colored gauze scarves resembling burkas, and they at times appeared unprotected in the frenzy, which prompted another round of outcries from the tabloids for an investigation into child endangerment.
Just the week before, Jackson had testified in a civil suit in a court in Santa Maria, California, near Neverland. He was monosyllabic, dazed, and disheveled, and the tip of his nose seemed to be missing, owing to exaggerated amounts of plastic surgery. At one point he appeared to fall asleep on the stand. The next day he showed up four hours late. Among the papers filed in another lawsuit was his monthly budget, which includes a $10,000 charge from a Beverly Hills pharmacy.
In early December, he appeared in court again in Santa Maria, as a defendant in a $21.2 million civil suit brought against him by European concert promoter Marcel Avram, who blames him for the failure of two canceled, back-to-back concerts to celebrate the new millennium. That time I was there to see him.
Jackson’s choreographed arrivals in a black Ford van at the courthouse in Santa Maria, a working-class town 50 miles north of Santa Barbara, were made with the solemnity that would ordinarily be associated with the Popemobile. Some days an aide would open an umbrella as the star stepped out into the sun; other days were two-umbrella days, designed to shield him from cameras and reporters. Jackson was always flanked by security and greeted by a crowd of several dozen mostly older fans, some of whom had brought their kids to get his autograph. When Jackson was not on the stand, he sat in an anteroom off the courtroom and spoke only with children, as if he were Santa Claus or the Dalai Lama.
Up close, Jackson’s appearance is amazing. He wears a black pageboy wig, and his face is caked with white makeup, which conceals a prosthesis that serves as the tip of his nose. One person who has seen him without the device says he resembles a mummy with two nostril holes. He uses red lipstick and perfume, pencils and dyes his eyebrows, and has black eyeliner that looks as if it’s tattooed on. He also appears to have white makeup on his hands, and his clothes, right down to the crests on his ties, suggest a wealthy private-school boy or a young member of European royalty. The first day I was there, he was wearing a black jacket, a white-on-white tuxedo shirt, and a silk tie. He had only a sock on his left foot, but he was able to walk unassisted. As soon as it was time to enter the courtroom, however, Jackson fell onto a pair of crutches and started limping markedly. We were told he had been bitten by a spider. During a break I went up and asked him if it had been a tarantula. “Oh, no, I love tarantulas. I keep them in my reptile house,” he replied, referring to Neverland’s private zoo. The spider that bit him, he said, came “whoosh” out of the “bush” near his house, adding, “I had to have the house fumigated.” It turned out that a brown recluse spider had bitten Jackson on the hand and leg, causing them to swell.
Inside the courtroom, Judge Zel Canter, a portly man with horn-rimmed glasses who seemed starstruck, consulted his lawbooks as he allowed numerous lengthy delays, letting the lawyers argue over tiny points, often in front of the mostly white, female jury. At such times Jackson, on the stand waiting to testify, would bob his head to a silent melody, tap the mike occasionally to make sure it was on, and make a show of sharing the court reporter’s candy—behavior one would expect of a 12-year-old. “Can I have another Jolly Rancher, please?” he asked during a sidebar. At one point he waved to two photographers in the back, and the next day he made devil’s horns with his fingers and other mischievous gestures. When Avram’s lawyer Louis “Skip” Miller objected to his antics, Jackson’s own skillful lawyers, Steve Cochran and Zia Modabber, told the judge that spectators in the courtroom had been baiting their client, though I saw no evidence of that. When a video was shown of Jackson singing at one of the two charity concerts whose costs were in dispute, he sat straight up to watch it, clasping his hands and batting his eyes like a schoolgirl.
Known to insiders as an aggressive businessman with dreams of becoming an entrepreneurial mogul like Merv Griffin, Jackson on the stand was a reticent mix of dissociation and amnesia. He said over and over, “Could you repeat the question, please?” and “I don’t recall.” Once, after Skip Miller posed a difficult question and Jackson’s lawyers again rose to his defense, Jackson said to the judge, “I’ve been holding it a long time. I really have to use the restroom.” Later, in frustration, Miller asked him, “Have you had any memory problems—memory lapses, say—since your deposition was taken in early June?” Jackson replied, “Not that I can recall.”
Jackson described himself as a visionary and compared himself to Walt Disney, who had let his brother take care of the books. When he was asked if he was acquainted with his well-known former public-relations guru Howard Rubenstein, who had charged him $10,000 a month for two years and whom Jackson had introduced to a crowd in Rubenstein’s own home with lavish praise two years earlier, he replied, “I barely know his name. I’ve kind of heard of it.”
This bizarre behavior often works to his advantage. The crazier Jackson appears, the more he is indulged and excused and not judged as a middle-aged man with serious obligations and responsibilities. The photographer Harry Benson, who has worked extensively with him, told me, “Michael Jackson is about as crazy as Colin Powell. He knows everything he is doing. He holds his baby over the balcony and everybody goes crazy, but he’s in every newspaper around the world.” An ex-publicist of Jackson’s added, “Michael doesn’t think bad publicity is bad—he thinks more is more. He just doesn’t want to be forgotten.” Apparently Jackson believes that the normal rules of conduct do not apply to him—that his extraordinary fame and talent entitle him to behave as he pleases. Asked if Jackson capitalizes on his weirdness, Santa Barbara district attorney Tom Sneddon, who led part of the child-molestation investigation against Jackson in 1993 and 1994, says, “Of course. It’s deliberate. I think it’s frustrating that people let him get away with it. He’s playing the fool and he fools people, but he doesn’t fool everybody.” Sneddon was disgusted by the tactics Jackson and his lawyers used in Judge Canter’s courtroom. “Any other judge would have thrown his ass in jail.”
The contractual dispute at the heart of the trial in Santa Maria, which started last November, concerns two benefit concerts Jackson gave in Munich and Seoul in June 1999; the Seoul concert alone lost millions, owing to dismal ticket sales and wild cost overruns, which Avram blames on Jackson. Although the concerts were advertised as part of Michael Jackson’s selfless contribution to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, UNESCO, the Red Cross, and his own Heal the World Foundation, Jackson was at one point slated to receive a $1 million co-executive-producer fee as well as the sponsorship money and TV (including cable) and video rights. Avram, who was contractually responsible for the costs of the benefit concerts, realized how much he would be out of pocket, but he assumed he would make the money up with two additional scheduled concerts celebrating the millennium. The jury must decide whether he or Jackson is responsible for not putting them on. The charities that were slated to benefit and that generated so much fawning publicity for Jackson overseas were the real losers. A contribution of only $100,000 was made to Mandela’s charity, put up by Avram, who let Jackson present the check so that he could continue to cast himself as a savior of children.
In the 2000 Guinness Book of Records, Michael Jackson is cited for the most charities supported by a pop star—39—and he constantly flies around the world picking up lifetime-achievement and humanitarian awards. In fact, that was why he was in Germany when he dangled the baby. However, as Roger Friedman reported in his Fox 411 on-line column in February 2002, “the last tax filing available—for 1999—shows Jackson giving no money to other charities at all and receiving no donations from others.” The Heal the World Foundation’s Web site appears not to have been updated since 1996, and the charity Earth Care, which his brother Jermaine announced on Larry King Live this past January, has not materialized. In 1998, Britain’s Charity Commission shut down Heal the World, which had not made a donation in three years. According to London’s Daily Mail, the commission concluded, “The name had been so disfigured by the actions of Michael Jackson that it was not worth continuing to run the organisation in any form.” Inside Edition recently reported that the only donation Heal the World made in 2000 was a transfer of $100,000 to the Heal the Kids Initiative, which Jackson began with gadfly Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of Kosher Sex. That $100,000 is so far unaccounted for, and the New York State attorney general’s office has served Heal the Kids with a notice of failure to comply with filing requirements. Jackson’s latest benefit song, “What More Can I Give,” recorded in the wake of 9/11, was shelved by his own advisers when the news broke that he had given the production rights to a gay-porn director and producer. Nevertheless, last Christmas, Jackson announced that he was forming yet another children’s charity, to be kicked off with yet another benefit concert. So far that charity has not even been named. (Jackson’s representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
In the stunningly beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, part of California’s Central Coast wine country, there are constant rumors that Neverland, Jackson’s 2,700-acre headquarters, is for sale, but local real-estate agent Joe Olla says that almost no one who can afford it would want the amusement park, with its toy railroad and private zoo, and all the other expensive facilities Jackson has added. “Those things might even give it a negative value,” he says, declining to speculate on the ranch’s worth—which others estimate at between $26 and $30 million—because “some foreigner could come in and, because it’s Michael Jackson, double it.” Jackson is the valley’s most famous resident and is well known to the members of every jury pool in Santa Maria. He hires county firemen for Neverland’s own fire department and sometimes employs off-duty and retired policemen in security jobs. Neverland, which costs $4 million a year to run, is organized into 13 departments, so it is a source of potential revenue for everyone from snake handlers (Jackson has a blonde serpent named Madonna) to owners of antiques shops, where Jackson spends thousands of dollars at a time in late-night visits with his children. He also makes visits to Toys ‘R’ Us in Santa Maria with boys who are sleeping over at Neverland. When Jackson’s millionaire neighbors fly over his estate in their private planes in the evening, they report, they always see the amusement park up and running. “Employees who have seen him in close contact say he’s gotten stranger and stranger in the last two years,” a well-connected resident told me. But his employees rarely talk to outsiders. “They’re all scared to death they’ll be sued. He has a large legal team.”
The valley has a lively party circuit, and Jackson’s neighbors are hardly anonymous. Fess Parker, of Davy Crockett fame, owns a winery and an elegant inn in Los Olivos, the town closest to Neverland, where he and his wife entertain neighbors such as Cheryl Ladd and her husband, Brian Russell, a former Elton John backup singer, who perform in “community sings” in the lobby on Thursday nights. Bo Derek lives on a nearby ranch, former gossip queen Rona Barrett has a farm and a lavender business, and various C.E.O.’s turned gentlemen cowboys run boutique wineries or ride to the hounds, chasing a coyote instead of a fox. Jackson does not participate in any of these things. “I used to see him riding down the road in an old pickup once in a while,” Barrett told me, “but not lately.”
“When Michael Jackson first moved here, everyone was thrilled,” says Pat Murphy, author of Santa Ynez Valley Secrets. Residents would see him around town with his face in bandages or covered with a surgical mask. “They felt he was giving a lot of local people work, and they really need it. Then out came the confidentiality agreements—we had never experienced that in the valley. They were sworn to secrecy, and people started to say, ‘Why so secret? What do we have to be silent about?’ Over time people became more suspicious.” Jackson, she hastens to add, has always been generous with local children. Then, she says, stories began to dribble out about Macaulay Culkin and Sean Lennon, John Lennon’s son, crashing golf carts on nights they slept over, and about child actor Emmanuel Lewis romping around. When Jackson gave Elizabeth Taylor her eighth wedding, to Larry Fortensky, in 1991, Murphy recalls, “it was a circus beyond a circus.” Soon “more and more stories came out about how reclusive Michael was. Then people started pulling away, because he was so strange,” and the “sex scandal with the children,” which prompted a raft of lawsuits from ex-employees—all of which Jackson won in Santa Maria—was another big turning point. “When Michael Jackson first moved to the valley,” Pat Murphy concludes, “he was a very nice-looking African-American man with brown skin. Now he’s become a white woman.”
I started writing about Michael Jackson in Vanity Fair in 1993, when allegations were made that he had sexually molested a 13-year-old boy named Jordan “Jordie” Chandler, who is now 23. At that time Jackson was one of the richest, most famous, and most beloved entertainers in the world, and no one wanted to believe that this grown-up Peter Pan, who was 35 and known for his love of children, would use his talent and fame to seduce little boys and buy off their greedy parents. In the course of my investigation, I came to realize that many people in law enforcement firmly believed that Jackson was guilty, but they were reluctant to go up against such a big celebrity in a trial because so many witnesses they interviewed refused to come forward and were handsomely rewarded, while others who were willing initially to testify later reported being intimidated, harassed, and threatened.
In 1995, I wrote that Chandler, whose family brought a civil suit against Jackson and were paid millions, was nearly run over one day when he and the housekeeper were outside. After missing him the first time, the driver turned around and tried again. Chandler’s father, Evan, was threatened; he received a dead rat in a box; and his office was ransacked. The boy’s attorney, Larry Feldman, was protected for several months by guards from the U.S. Justice Department after he received numerous death threats and had the walls of his office building sprayed with pornographic graffiti. Meanwhile, security people at Neverland brandished guns, and employees there believed that the phones were tapped. “That certainly chilled potential witnesses,” one member of the prosecution team told me recently. “It was very scary stuff.”
The Chandlers weren’t the only people who were paid off. A former maid of Jackson’s, who said she had found him and her son in a sleeping bag, and had seen Jackson a number of times nude with young boys, also got a sum of seven figures. At the time Chandler brought charges, Jackson was on a world tour, and he promptly checked himself into a drug-rehab facility in London and stayed well out of the reach of authorities who wanted to question him. Prosecutors finally made a deal with Jackson: he would not be put under arrest and handcuffed if he would voluntarily submit to having his genitals photographed. Jordie Chandler had drawn an explicit picture showing markings on Jackson’s testicles and a dark spot on his left buttock. I wrote about how Jackson tried to abort the process, to the point of striking one of his doctors and calling the detectives present “assholes.” However, the photos matched Jordie’s drawings. That proved to be a decisive moment in the case. I wrote that article after Diane Sawyer interviewed Jackson and his then bride, Lisa Marie Presley, on ABC TV and wrongly announced that he had been cleared of all charges, which Jackson readily confirmed on the air. In fact, the case was still open. Even today, prosecutors say, under a 1993 California statute, if a previous victim was to come forward with substantial abuse allegations, and there was clear and convincing corroborating evidence, it would be possible to bring criminal charges. Moreover, California has just instituted a one-year grace period, extending from January 1, 2003, to January 1, 2004, allowing past victims of certain kinds of sexual abuse to file civil complaints.
I have an adage,” says William Hodgman, head of the sex-crimes unit of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, which investigated the Jackson sex-abuse allegations in 1993. “The higher the profile, the stranger are the phenomena.” Fame twists everything, he explains. “It’s all that money swirling around in all different ways—especially with the tabloids, which were often three steps ahead of us. Information was bought and sold; documents disappeared. It’s all part of the wildness of celebrity.”
A member of the prosecution team says it still gnaws at him that Michael Jackson never came to trial. “Just to get started, we needed victims willing to testify, and it appeared to us there were tender young boys, called Michael’s ‘special friends,’ who ran back a decade,” he told me. “We had a ‘special friend’ identified every year for 10 or 12 years. They were all pre-pubescent boys between about 8 and 12 years old, and as soon as they started sprouting whiskers—whoosh—they were out the door,” he added. “They were generally cute boys, along the lines of the Macaulay Culkin variety. Some refused to talk to us; others lied when they did. Ultimately we needed people to come forward. We could not send a kid up there one-on-one against Michael Jackson.”
Jackson had slept in the same bed with the 13-year-old 30 nights in the boy’s small Los Angeles room—Jackson’s camp even admitted that—and the boy alleged that Jackson had engaged in acts such as oral sex and mutual masturbation not only there but also at Neverland, at Jackson’s “hideaway” apartment in Century City, in Monaco, and at Walt Disney World. The only other two boys willing to testify had not had relationships as intense as Jordie’s with the King of Pop. One was the maid’s son mentioned earlier; the other, in Santa Barbara County, claimed Jackson had fondled him, but with his clothes on. The parents of that boy refused to let their son testify. “Silence was purchased with regard to at least one of those other boys,” the prosecutor says. “Michael Jackson’s sort of wealth buys an awful lot of favors.” Jackson arranged for permanent residential visas in the United States for an Australian boy and his parents. The night Jackson had met this boy, the star asked the parents if he could go off alone with him, and he did not return him until the next morning. “If those same circumstances occurred with an average person, the parents probably would have called the police,” says a source formerly close to Jackson. “But because it was Michael Jackson, they acted like they were honored.”
Jackson’s lawyers consistently delayed having their client deposed. At one point, one of the lawyers in the civil sex-abuse case said in a court hearing that Jackson might have to take the Fifth Amendment if criminal charges were pressed. At the time, his lawyer Bert Fields told me, “The stakes are going to jail and ruining his life, and his life is essentially over if he’s charged and convicted.” In fact, the civil case was settled the night before Jackson’s deposition was to be taken. The civil case required only that a “preponderance of evidence” show he had sexually abused Jordie Chandler, whereas in a criminal trial his guilt would have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Knowing that, Feldman’s tactic was to continue to press for a deposition, especially after the photographs of Jackson’s genitals were taken. “Larry Feldman knew he was sitting pretty in his suit with the photos he could subpoena,” another member of the prosecution team told me. “The photos were our best evidence, but the worst possible thing for our case.” I asked why. “They allowed [Jordie] to settle the suit and back out of the case. What did he need to go to trial for? He had all his millions.”
Sources close to Chandler’s side had previously told me that there had been a period when the boy was willing to testify against Jackson, but that the prosecution’s investigation dragged on too long. Not true, says a member of the prosecution team. “We had a meeting, and the boy did all the talking. He said, ‘Can you assure my family and me we’ll be protected and nothing will happen to us?’ He brought up the fact his father was threatened so much, and the police investigated it, and it was true. We answered, ‘No, we can’t,’ so he said, ‘We can’t go through with it.'”
At the time, Jackson had Anthony Pellicano, known as “the private detective to the stars,” who cultivates a Tony Soprano image, working for him. Big-name Hollywood lawyers who don’t want to get their hands dirty often hire Pellicano, who was intimately involved in trying to negotiate with Jordie Chandler’s father—whom he accused of extortion—and in discrediting the accusers. “Bert [Fields] gives me an absolute free hand when I’m involved,” Pellicano told me in 1993. “This is why I have the reputation I have, because I solve problems.” (He was reportedly later fired from the case.) When police wired Jackson’s maid Blanca Francia, whose son was one of the boys involved in the investigation, according to someone on the prosecution team, they heard Pellicano beg her not to go to the police with her information. Other former employees reported threats and harassment from Pellicano, and some still cower when they speak of him.
Last November, Pellicano was arrested by F.B.I. agents, who found explosives in his safe “strong enough to bring down an airplane” after an informant fingered him as the person who had hired a tough guy to put a bullet through the windshield of the parked car of a Los Angeles Times reporter working on a story about the actor Steven Seagal and the Mob. A dead fish was left on the car, as well as a rose and a cardboard sign saying STOP. Vanity Fair contributing editor Ned Zeman, who published a Seagal story in last October’s issue, says a man confronted him with a gun, pointed it at his head, and pulled the trigger. The gun was empty. Zeman has no idea who the man was. (Pellicano has said he has no involvement with Seagal.) Former reporter Rod Lurie told me that Pellicano had phoned him 35 times over a six-month period to try to get him to kill a piece he was writing about the source-gathering techniques of the National Enquirer. Lurie was mysteriously hit by a car while riding his bike. Very few knew of the accident, but Pellicano was one of the first to call to console him. Diane Dimond, who aggressively pursued the Michael Jackson story for the TV show Hard Copy starting in 1993, told me, “My home was vandalized, my car was broken into, and our defense documents were stolen. Paramount [which owned Hard Copy] gave me bodyguards.”
Victor M. Gutierrez, a Chilean journalist who in 1996 brought out an astounding book on the child-molestation case entitled Michael Jackson Was My Lover: The Secret Diary of Jordie Chandler, alleges that, in the course of his investigation, Pellicano, who is a major character in the book, visited him and told him, “Consider yourself dead!” Gutierrez says he was attacked outside his apartment in Westwood, Los Angeles. “After I got beat up on the street by three guys, Pellicano stopped in a black Lexus, looked at me, and laughed. He came with a girl, and she started to laugh.” Gutierrez adds, “He made my life miserable with threats to my family, to me. He was always bragging about his contacts in the F.B.I. and C.I.A.” (Repeated calls to Pellicano’s lawyer for comment went unanswered.)
I tracked Gutierrez down in Chile, where he had moved after losing a slander case brought by Michael Jackson and declaring bankruptcy before his book could be published. Gutierrez had gone on Hard Copy and said he had seen a videotape of Michael Jackson having sex with a minor. He could not produce the tape, and he unsuccessfully invoked California’s shield law protecting journalists from having to reveal their sources. The jury in Los Angeles ordered him to pay $2.7 million in damages, according to a Jackson lawyer, “to send a message to the tabloids.” Gutierrez told me he had first learned about the purported tape from someone in Michael Jackson’s extended family.
Jackson has been sued a number of times in complaints relating to the Chandler case. Several former bodyguards at Neverland alleged that they had been dismissed for knowing too much about Jackson’s activities with under-age boys. (In his deposition for that case, Jackson did take the Fifth.) Jordie Chandler’s father and uncle sued after the Diane Sawyer interview, alleging that Jackson had breached the terms of the settlement by declaring his innocence. Jordie’s stepfather also sued, alleging that Jackson had destroyed his family. Jackson’s lawyers succeeded in getting all the suits dismissed.
Jackson doesn’t let much go by, but he has never sued over Gutierrez’s minutely detailed book, which took four years to research and contains shocking, utterly scatological details about Michael Jackson, including his bizarre use of tampons and enemas. It also names a number of under-age boys with whom he allegedly had sexual contact. The sources close to the prosecution I interviewed for this article were all familiar with the book and believed it was an essentially accurate portrayal of Jackson’s relationship with Jordie Chandler. The book—which no U.S. publisher would touch after the slander judgment—was first published privately in Chile, and all the copies soon disappeared, although it is still a collectible on Amazon.com. Two prosecution sources told me they had heard that Michael Jackson had people go around and buy up all the available copies.
Gutierrez describes a passionate love affair and numerous sexual trysts of Jackson and the boy, day by day, week by week. The book quotes former employees who corroborate details of Jackson’s allegedly illicit behavior, and who also spoke to the authorities. It is heavily illustrated with fragments of official documents from the case as well as pictures of Jordie, the room where he and Jackson slept together, even his report card…. There is also Jordie’s description of Jackson’s genitals and distinguishing marks, and mention of three-way sex with a second boy. At one point, according to the book, when Jordie saw Jackson’s mottled testicles, he told him, “You look like a cow!”
Gutierrez paints a damning picture of Jordie Chandler’s family, telling how his divorced parents continually turned a blind eye on the obviously sexual nature of Jackson’s relationship with their son. His mother received expensive gifts from Jackson, including a $12,000 Cartier bracelet. His father began to negotiate for money from Jackson even after a psychiatrist had told him he had “already lost” his son. Gutierrez concludes, “Jackson’s sexual conduct with Jordie was not the error that brought Jackson down. His error was underestimating Evan [Jordie’s father], who turned out to be a vocal and aggressive negotiator, in contrast to the other parents, who acquiesced, exchanging silence for houses, luxury vehicles and a few hundred thousand dollars.”
Graphic details of what allegedly went on sexually between Jackson and Jordie Chandler are also described in an affidavit I found in the records of the Santa Maria courthouse complex, given by Sergeant Deborah Linden, then a deputy sheriff for Santa Barbara County, now the police chief of San Luis Obispo, California. She specialized in sex crimes and cited interviews with both Jordie and his father: “Jordan stated that Jackson told him that if Jordan ever told anyone about the molests, Jordan would be placed in Juvenile Hall and both Jordan and Jackson would be in trouble. Jordan said that Jackson told him he did this with other boys; however, Jackson said that ‘he didn’t go as far with them.'”
The affidavit also provides many details about Michael Jackson’s skin condition and confirms what Gutierrez says the maid Blanca Francia told him. According to the affidavit, “Jackson told Ms. Francia that he bleaches his skin because he does not like being black and he feels that blacks are not liked as much as people of other races.” Others told me that Jackson had special names for blacks, including “spabooks.”
According to the affidavit, Jackson used a powerful bleaching cream, Benoquin. Referring to Francia, it goes on: “Jackson also used tape to peel loose skin off his face and he would apply baby oil to his skin… . Ms. Francia was not aware of Jackson having a skin disease.” Authorities were searching for evidence to match Jordie Chandler’s description of Jackson’s genitals. Sergeant Linden served search warrants on Jackson’s celebrity dermatologist, Dr. Arnold Klein, and his controversial plastic surgeon, Dr. Steven Hoefflin—known for doing Playboy Playmates’ breasts—to secure Jackson’s medical records. Linden found, however, that the records had recently been removed, and neither the doctors nor Klein’s attorney would reveal where they were. As a result, Klein was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury in Santa Barbara County. Subsequently he did make himself and his assistant available for depositions. Klein’s assistant, it turns out, was Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s future wife and the woman who carried his two oldest children. At the time, according to sources formerly close to Jackson, Rowe was known mostly as a “biker babe.”
Rowe told authorities that she and Klein flew around the world to minister to Jackson. She gave him massages and rubdowns and was familiar with his body, so she could identify any markings on his buttocks (the descriptions of which have been deleted in the copy of the affidavit I found). Jackson’s scalp had been badly burned when his hair caught on fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial in 1984. According to the affidavit, “A biopsy of Jackson’s scalp revealed that Jackson has Lupus, an auto-immune disease which causes hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation (darkening or lightening) of the skin.”
At the time Jackson’s hair caught fire, he began using painkillers, which have led to his having to go through detox more than once. “I had always been told he was just so medicated,” a former Sony employee told me. “Half the time you don’t know where what he says is coming from.”
Dr. Klein also diagnosed Jackson as having vitiligo and acne. Beginning in 1990 he prescribed “skin lightening cremes, Solaquin Forte, Retin A and Benoquin.” Klein’s deposition also describes Jackson’s lupus as causing darkening of the skin and dark skin blotches. “Dr. Klein diagnosed Michael Jackson as having Discoid Lupus on his face and scalp and as a result, Jackson must avoid all sun exposure.”
Again according to the affidavit, in April or May of 1993 (early in Jackson’s relationship with Jordie Chandler), “Jackson told Dr. Klein that he had gotten Benoquin on his genitals and it burned. Dr. Klein told Jackson not to put Benoquin on his genitals.” Jackson was already wearing a prosthesis on his nose, owing to a lack of cartilage caused by extensive plastic surgery. According to medical professionals, if too many blood vessels are cauterized in the face, and blood is prevented from flowing to the skin, the skin can turn black and eventually wither away or fall off.
Body dysmorphic disorder is the name of the psychological disturbance of people who become obsessed with how they look, and lose perception of how they are perceived by others. “If Michael Jackson had ever come to me, I wouldn’t have treated him,” says Dr. Tina Alster, a nationally recognized dermatologist in Washington, D.C. “He doesn’t have a realistic view of how he looks. I get a number of these people, and I send them to someone for psychological evaluation. Michael Jackson is an extreme and very public example.” She adds, “He’s suffering on a number of fronts.”
Michael Jackson wants to be seen as “Walt Disney, Mozart, Elvis Presley, and you’ve got to throw Fred Astaire in there, too,” a man very familiar with the pop star’s world told me, adding, “‘The rules that apply to the common folk do not apply to me. I can get away with whatever I want to because I am Michael Jackson. I not only walk forward, but I can walk backward as well.'” Michael, the man says, is haunted by the ghost of Elvis Presley, whom he considers the King only “because he’s a white person with a black person’s voice.” Since Elvis starred in movies, Jackson desperately wants to make films, too, but he won’t play Vegas, Elvis’s other stomping ground, no matter how many millions he’s offered. “He thinks, I’m bigger than Elvis, so I’m bigger than performing in Las Vegas.” Jackson even took the step of marrying the King’s daughter, but they divorced 20 months later. The informed source says that Jackson thinks, “They don’t understand me—the genius. They don’t give me my due, because I’m black, so maybe I’ll try to become white.” This sense of injured merit clings to Jackson wherever he goes, making grandiose announcements about projects that never come off.
For example, there was the press release last spring that he was creating Neverland Pictures, and that his partner would be Indian movie producer Raju Patel. There had been two film-company ventures before that, yet not one film has been produced. In 1999, it was announced that Jackson would star as the poet of horror in The Nightmare of Edgar Allan Poe, but so far there are no plans for production. Jackson also proposed plans to construct a giant resort near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and a huge “Majestic Kingdom” theme park with a botanical garden and a nightclub in Detroit. Then there were his plans to aid in the marketing of a soft drink named Mystery and to buy the British royal family’s yacht, Britannia. Kingdom Entertainment, Jackson’s partnership announced in Paris with Saudi prince al-Waleed bin Talal, was to be a “family values” global entertainment empire, including a theme-park home for all the British cattle afflicted with mad-cow disease. In 1998, Jackson announced plans to build a $500 million World of Childhood amusement park in Poland, one of his favorite countries, thereby “creating some 12,000 new jobs and transforming Warsaw into a pop attraction,” as The Guardian of London reported. Just 20 miles away would be a sort of Polish Graceland, on an island in a lake, where the new king would reside in a Baroque castle, which was being overseen by the director of Warsaw’s Royal Gardens, who, according to The Guardian, “is ready to believe the account of Jackson’s aides, that the child abuse allegations were the work of an American religious sect enacting revenge for his refusal to sign up.” German and Danish manufacturers producing flat stereo speakers with Michael Jackson images on them for up to $619 recently stopped making them, reportedly owing to a lack of demand.
Some journalists have openly ridiculed the never-ending string of press releases. In May 2000, Tim Nelson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, upon hearing that Jackson was taking “the helm of a $100 million Korea-based venture fund that will invest in entertainment-oriented Internet companies,” listed nine other Jackson projects and asked readers to guess which ones were “actually in the pipeline.” His answer: “All of them! Every one! Coming soon to a vacant lot near you!”
Then there are the strategic friendships Jackson has so carefully cultivated, starting with the paranormalist Uri Geller, who taught Jackson the fine points of telekinesis. They met through that other fellow devotee of children’s charities Mohamed Fayed, the chairman of Harrods in London, who believes that the C.I.A. and Prince Philip had Princess Diana and his son, Dodi, killed. Jackson took acting lessons from Marlon Brando, whom he reportedly paid $1 million in 2001 to appear at his 30th-anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden, where Brando’s incoherent blather alienated the bewildered audience. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was instrumental in getting Jackson invited to Oxford University to discuss proper parenting and his Heal the Kids Initiative. Boteach, currently based in New York and no longer welcome in Oxford or reportedly able to conduct services in British synagogues, recently defended Jackson in the wake of the baby-dangling. Liza Minnelli’s latest husband, David Gest, has known Jackson since they were children, and Jackson and his greatest pal, Elizabeth Taylor, were at the altar in March 2002 as a best man and a maid of honor at the Minnelli-Gest wedding, which featured 13 bridesmaids in black. Over the years, Jackson has showered Taylor with diamonds and $10,000 bottles of perfume. Gutierrez relates in his book an anecdote told by Jordie’s father of how Taylor once climbed onto a hospital bed next to Jackson’s and threw a tantrum in order to get the painkillers she demanded.
In various court papers there are references to Jackson’s exorbitant medical expenses. During the Avram trial, a document flashed on the screen showed that two doctors in Munich who were owed 480,000 German marks ($264,000) had threatened to go to the press over nonpayment until Avram picked up the bill.
In addition to the Avram case, Jackson is currently being sued by two former employees, Myung-Ho Lee, who has a company called Union Finance & Investment, and who managed Jackson’s finances from 1998 to 2001, and Kathleen A. Kelly, an investment banker who in 2000 went to work for Jackson International, the company formed to make deals and investments for the pop star. Both charge that Jackson stiffed them.
Kelly’s mandate for Magic² Venture Partners was to raise a pool of money to invest in companies and “provide Michael an outlet for other ventures he wanted to pursue,” Kelly told me. She lined up as advisory executives Kathleen Kennedy, a co-producer of many of Steven Spielberg’s films, including Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park, and Casey Silver, former chairman of Universal Pictures. Jackson was supposed to contribute $5 million to the fund, but Kelly says that never happened. She got the salary she was promised, $20,000 a month, only “four or five times.” There were always excuses and emergencies, she says. “In April 2001, the emergency was the concern from which Michael leased the amusement-park equipment for Neverland was about to repossess it, and would I mind not being paid,” Kelly told me. “I stayed loyal, because Michael said, ‘Kathy, do this for me.’ I believed in him—I still do.” One of her last dollars went to Alan “Ace” Greenberg, chairman of the executive committee of Bear Stearns, who in 2000 had borrowed the dollar to show Jackson a magic trick during a lunch in New York. (“We do help Michael Jackson from time to time in an advisory relationship,” Bear Stearns senior managing director Lisbeth Barron told me, “less a business relationship, but something we do as friends.”) Kelly, whose $1.95 million lawsuit was dismissed in Los Angeles last December because of venue, is now resubmitting it in New York, the locale where she conducted much of her business.
Lee’s $12-million-plus suit claims “Jackson’s extravagant lifestyle had all but bankrupted him… . Jackson used Plaintiffs’ money to sustain his extravagant and bizarre habits. Jackson never intended to put his business and personal affairs in order, but instead wished to continue to spend well beyond his means and to retain and take advice from charlatans and hangers-on.” Jackson’s lawyers counter that Lee duped Jackson and “stole millions of dollars of Jackson’s money by … authorizing wire transfers from Jackson International to Union’s Korean accounts.” Robert Silverman, Lee’s lawyer, scoffs at these charges. “Can you believe this guy? My client saves his life and gets him all this new financing. Michael even gives him a $400,000 car. But when it comes time to pay him, he practically denies even knowing him.”
On January 31, Sotheby’s filed suit against Jackson for $1.6 million for two 19th-century French paintings—one of a cupid and the other of a woman holding a boy and a sheep—he had purchased last October. After failing to come up with the payment, Jackson tried to renege on the sale, because, according to his people, the purchase “no longer fits into Michael Jackson’s collection.” Sotheby’s demanded that he pay. This saga is similar to one involving a $1.9 million Vacheron Constantin watch which Jackson took home in December 1999 from the Beverly Hills jeweler David Orgell, who was forced to sue the pop star for nonpayment in July 2000. Jackson tried to return the watch, which, the jeweler said, came back with scratches and food particles on it. Orgell refused to accept it. A year later, in June 2001, Orgell’s lawyers announced that the case was settled. The very next day Jackson reportedly used the watch as collateral for yet another loan from the Bank of America.
But these are just the tip of the iceberg. Financially, Michael Jackson is under siege.
In 1998, according to the court filings, Jackson had cash on hand to cover only two more months of his expenses, which then appeared to be running north of $1.2 million a month. Since 1995 he had burned through $90 million in loans advanced by NationsBank, which later acquired the Bank of America, and he was on the verge of signing a “securitization” of himself through music publisher Charles Koppelman in order to sell investors bonds based on his future earnings. He dropped that idea, however, when Myung-Ho Lee persuaded him to remain a private entity and helped him in December 1998 to secure a new Bank of America loan for $140 million. By mid-1999, according to court papers, Jackson had “exhausted the $140 million loan … and needed additional funds for his divorce settlement.” (Debbie Rowe, his second wife, was scheduled to get $10 million over several years.) Lee then obtained another loan, of $30 million, for Jackson. When that also disappeared in a flash, Lee had to get a further loan of $60 million in December 2000, with the stipulation that Jackson must immediately pay down the previous, $30 million loan.
The reason the bank had no qualms about advancing such colossal sums was that Jackson had precious collateral to borrow against: his one-half share of the Sony/ATV music catalogue, which owns the publishing rights to 251 Beatles songs as well as more than 400,000 other tunes, from “Tutti Frutti” and “Heartbreak Hotel” to “Like a Virgin,” all administered by Sony for a very large fee. (The Beatles songs are immensely profitable, but I am told that the others are less so, largely because of Sony’s high administration costs.) Sony guaranteed the bank loan, but the company has the sole right to buy Jackson’s share should Jackson ever default on the loan, which comes due in about three years. That means Jackson cannot shop around for the highest bidder, and he must submit to an accounting with Sony at a date arranged by him and the recording company. The accountings of record companies have been a particularly volatile subject with artists since the industry began, and Sony has steadily been acquiring other song catalogues of which Jackson owns half. So even though Jackson shrewdly acquired the Beatles’ publishing company in 1985—after hearing it was on the market from Paul McCartney—for a sum of $47.5 million, and then sold half of it to Sony in 1995 for $90 million, Sony is holding all the aces.
A hit standard can easily return $200,000 in royalties annually, and Sony guaranteed Jackson a royalty of no less than $6.5 million per year for his share for the first seven years of their contract. Estimates of how much the Sony/ATV catalogue is worth range from about $700 million to $1 billion. As huge as those figures seem, however, if Jackson were ever forced to sell his half, he would likely have to pay enormous capital-gains taxes.
But the valuable catalogue is only part of the financial story of Michael Jackson and Sony. Jackson took three years to produce his latest album, Invincible, which was released in October 2001 and has sold two million copies domestically, according to SoundScan, and four million abroad—a very respectable number, but far short of the hoped-for profitability, owing to the enormous costs involved in producing it. Invincible is the most expensive album ever made: according to insiders, Sony advanced Jackson approximately $40 million to make it. In addition, Sony spent $25 million to market it, and both sides are negotiating the music for the last record due on his current contract. Everything seems to indicate that Sony wants out. “He’s a drain, a money pit,” a former Sony official told me.
‘Jackson’s financial woes with Sony may help explain his amazing protest last summer outside Sony headquarters in New York with the Reverend Al Sharpton, when he accused then Sony chairman Tommy Mottola of being racist. “He’s very, very, very devilish,” Jackson had said in Harlem earlier that day, in an obvious move to embrace the black brotherhood. Jackson claimed that Sony had not done enough to promote Invincible and was giving him short shrift because he was black. Sony suspected that what Jackson really wanted was to be let off the hook for the record’s production costs, among other things, and the company was able to hit back hard, because Mottola not only had a reputation for being close to a number of hip-hop artists but also had been married to Mariah Carey, who is part black. A Sony executive quoted in the New York Daily News suggested that Jackson’s career had been derailed by the sex-abuse charges and that he was incapable of taking responsibility for his own shortcomings. “When you’re an artist, you blame everybody but yourself,” Charles Koppelman told me. “He wasn’t happening. You have to blame someone? You blame your record company.”
This past January, however, Tommy Mottola was out as Sony chairman. Ironically, his replacement is Andrew Lack, the former president of NBC, who, shortly before accepting Sony’s offer, had given the go-ahead for Dateline NBC to do a show for the February ratings sweeps on Michael Jackson’s collapsing face and the downslide of his career. This action of Lack’s was alluded to by Jermaine Jackson, Michael’s brother, on a TV talk show on which he extolled the closeness of the Jackson family while at the same time letting slip that Michael had never met Jermajesty, Jermaine’s son.
On February 6, ABC broadcast a two-hour Jackson documentary produced by Britain’s Granada Television, featuring correspondent Martin Bashir, who claimed to have had eight months of unfettered access to the King of Pop, who decorated himself with diamond brooches and royal crests for his interviews. The day after the broadcast, Jackson declared that he had been betrayed, and he filed complaints with Britain’s Independent Television Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Commission, saying he had been “unfairly treated” in the program. But in fact Bashir had allowed him to get away unchallenged on a number of serious points. For example, Jackson freely admitted that he still sleeps with young boys in his bed, but he clearly left the impression that little girls are also included and that the relationships have never been of a sexual nature. In the hundreds of interviews I have conducted, I have yet to hear about any female child who has shared his bed. Furthermore, he claimed that Debbie Rowe, who gave birth to his two oldest children, did so as a gift to him. “You need to be a daddy,” he said she told him. In fact, the two never lived together as husband and wife, and Rowe is slated to receive millions as part of her divorce settlement. Much was made of a $6 million shopping spree Jackson went on in a single Las Vegas store, but the store refused to tell V.F. if he’d actually taken delivery of the garish merchandise. Jackson horrified viewers by recounting how he had wrapped newborn Paris in a towel—placenta and all—and taken her home to bathe her. When Bashir, late in the show, brought up the subject of plastic surgery, Jackson declared that he has had only two operations, both on his nose, in order to breathe better and enable him to sing higher notes. As a result of the documentary—which showed disturbing images of Jackson forcing his children to wear animal masks in public and manically jamming a bottle into the mouth of his crying baby, whom he calls Blanket, while keeping a veil over the infant’s face—Santa Barbara district attorney Tom Sneddon was deluged with media inquiries. To cap matters, Jackson announced on the show that he hoped to obtain two more children from each continent.
Right after Jackson declared that he had been betrayed, Kathleen Kelly told me, “The people who have been most injured are the people who have most protected him—Myung-Ho Lee and certainly me. The ones who really cared for him—these are the ones who have been betrayed.”
The ABC broadcast, seen by 27 million, and Jackson’s declaration that he had outtakes of Bashir’s interview which would prove Bashir’s hypocrisy toward him set off a TV feeding frenzy. Fox reportedly paid Jackson $5 million for the outtakes, which were shown with footage of Debbie Rowe stating that she would have five more children for Jackson “in a heartbeat.” The deal was partly negotiated by none other than F. Marc Schaffel, the gay-porn producer responsible for the shelving of “What More Can I Give.” The following week, among Fox, NBC, and ABC, which rebroadcast the program with an added commentary, seven prime-time hours were devoted to Michael Jackson. Meanwhile, Granada TV sold the original show around the world for millions and declared that not a penny would go to Jackson personally, but a portion of the profits would go to a British children’s charity. One published report suggested that Jackson was paid for the original interview. On NBC’s Dateline, a plastic surgeon claimed that Jackson had had as many as 50 operations on his face.
Meanwhile, as the Avram trial stretched into February, Jackson had another one to look forward to, with Myung-Ho Lee, his former financial adviser, whose legal representatives, O’Donnell & Shaeffer of Los Angeles, had submitted voluminous records of Jackson’s expenses and budgets as part of their complaint to the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles County. Among the outstanding amounts said to be owed during the period October to December 2000 were $114,847 to the Hôtel d’Angleterre (which apparently couldn’t take it out of the millions in a certain bathtub), $99,831 to “Celebrity Costumes,” and $845,000 designated “Payroll.” The dermatologist Arnold Klein was owed $15,000; Mickey Fine Pharmacy in Beverly Hills was owed $62,645; and John Branca, one of Jackson’s attorneys, who is said to take a 5 percent commission on many of the pop star’s contracts, was owed more than $250,000. The total loan draw for the period was $4,435,000.
Jackson’s expenses for the period of January 1, 2000, to March 3, 2001, were detailed as well, including $75.62 for Slurpee-machine maintenance at Neverland, $3,216.23 for gas for ranch vehicles, and $1,919.83 for candy and soda for the theater and amusement park. The documents even reveal news of Bubbles, Jackson’s much-publicized chimpanzee. The animal’s trainer was getting $9,900, and its annual boarding fee was $6,000. Jackson’s in-flight costs for watches and goods purchased on Swiss Air were $10,681.36. The Oxford University event cost $90,563 for Jackson’s travel alone. Thousands and thousands of dollars were itemized for limousine services, video purchases and rentals, and equipment services. The tab for three months at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, billed under the name of Frank Tyson, Jackson’s handler, who was born Frank Cascio and went around the world with him as a little boy when the sex-abuse charges first surfaced, was $43,117.20.
‘All of us are products of our childhoods. But I am the product of a lack of a childhood, an absence of that precious and wondrous age where we frolic playfully without a care in the world,” Michael Jackson told the audience at Oxford in March 2001 in the lecture he delivered to announce the launch of the Heal the Kids Initiative. Jackson’s anger and resentment toward his cheerless, driven, and adulterous father are well known. “I began performing at the tender age of five … [and] there was no respite from my professional life.” The speech was partly a critique of the parent generation “that has witnessed an abrogation of the parent-child covenant” and partly a plea to “parents undistracted by the lust for luxury and status” to make their children primary in their lives. “If you don’t have that memory of being loved, you are condemned to search the world for something to fill you up.” He enunciated the primary purpose of Heal the Kids: “Our goal is simple—to re-create the parent-child bond, renew its promise, and light the way forward for all the beautiful children who are destined one day to walk this earth.”
In December 2002, in his Christmas message to the children of Germany, Jackson directed one portion to the grown-ups: “Sometimes, we think we are important. But we are not: Nothing is more important than our children! They are the future. They can heal the world. It is our obligation to be there for them… . Let us encourage them to go for their dreams. And let us as parents, friends and relatives help them to have good dreams.”
Reading these impassioned words, one can only wonder at Jackson’s unbridled materialism and recall his behavior throughout his relationship with 13-year-old Jordan Chandler, when he constantly sought to break parental bonds and turn the boy’s parents against each other. The words are very different from those used in the six “wishes” Jordie said Jackson had told him he had to repeat three times a day if they were to come true:
1. No wenches, bitches, heifers, or hoes.
2. Never give up your “bliss.”
3. Live with me in Neverland forever.
4. No conditioning.
5. Never grow up.
6. Be better than best friends forever.
Now that Michael Jackson has three children of his own—children who are growing up with no mother, who live under constant camera surveillance, whose diets are prescribed, and whose faces are wrapped when they venture out in public—it will be interesting to see one day how they remember their father.