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Michael Jackson's life-long confidante J. Randy Taraborrelli tells the real story...


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They first met as children — and for 40 years, he was Jackson’s confidant. In this intimate series, J. Randy Taraborrelli tells the REAL story of the tortured star’s fall . . .as he witnessed it first-hand


Michael Jackson dead? Impossible. It’s just inconceivable to me. Even though he was obviously frail and not in the best of health in recent years, there seemed always to be some hope that he would rebound and find a way to reclaim his throne as the King of Pop.


However, with his sudden death last week, his amazing story — which I, as his biographer, have chronicled over the past four decades — has come to a tragic and grossly unfair end.


How well I remember the first time we met. He was 11 — I was 13.


The year was 1970 and Diana Ross had just introduced the Jackson 5 to the public.


The boys had been discovered in Gary, Indiana and, with their signing to Motown Records in Detroit, had issued their first single release, I Want You Back.


Their first performance was at the Philadelphia Convention Centre. I had got to know Miss Ross because I was an ardent child fan of hers — two years previously I had started the Diana Ross International Fan Club — and she had invited me to the concert.


Afterwards, she invited me backstage, where I met Michael and his rambunctious brothers — Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Jermaine — for the first time.


What I remember most was Michael’s laugh, his charisma — his charm. He seemed like an old soul. As he performed, he executed the kinds of moves only a seasoned veteran like James Brown could master.


There was a lot of Diana Ross in him, too. It was clear that he idolised her. Just a few years later I started my writing career, for a newspaper in New York called The Black American.


I wrote celebrity profiles for them, and throughout the intervening years, I interviewed Michael for stories to celebrate his birthday milestones.


For instance, I sat down with him for ‘Michael Turns 16’.


He said: ‘I’m a man now, huh?’


I laughed.


‘Well, maybe not yet,’ I said.


‘Yeah, but soon,’ he shot back with an impish grin, ‘and then, watch out world!’


He was so excited about the future. It was as if he couldn’t go wrong. He had it all — he was good looking, successful, popular. He was a star.


Throughout the Seventies, whenever I was in his company, he seemed happy, excited and not at all the sad, troubled youngster he would later become as a teenager growing up in Encino, California.


I do recall, though, that he was troubled — at about the age of 18 — by stories that he was about to have a sex change operation.


It was the first time, to my memory, that rumours of his sexuality began to run rampant.


Suddenly, everyone wanted to know if he was gay. So, one day at his Encino home, as the brothers played basketball and Michael and I stood on the sidelines and watched — since neither of us was very athletic — I casually asked him if he was gay.


He looked embarrassed. ‘No,’ was his response. ‘I think it’s a shame that people have to jump to conclusions about me. I wonder if there will always be rumours like that about me? I hope not.’


That was back in 1976. He certainly had no idea what was in store for him. Throughout his childhood, he worked harder than anyone I ever knew at Motown, with the possible exception of Diana Ross, the company’s other workhorse.


Recording, performing, photo sessions, television appearances — he was constantly on the go. Without him, the Jackson 5 would have been a very different — and probably not as successful —group.


By the time I wrote ‘Michael Turns 21’ in 1979, he was already beginning to look exhausted to me. ‘I just want to have a simple life,’ he told me. ‘But this work all the time, it’s so hard. When do I get a break? When does Michael Jackson get a break?’


I remember when I knew things were changing for Michael.


It was in 1979 when I went to the family home for another interview and he showed up wearing bandages on his nose. I was certain he’d been assaulted by his father, Joseph — because we all knew in the press corps that Michael had privately accused Joseph of doing just that in the past.


However, that wasn’t the case. He’d tripped on stage, fallen and broken his nose. And that’s how he ended up having his first nose job. But then there was a problem with the procedure and he had to have a second one to correct it. I remember that he seemed dazed and disoriented, not able to focus on my questions.


My heart went out to him. He was such a nice young man, so eager to please, to give a good interview, but on that day he just couldn’t pull it off. I wondered if he was on pain medication. In fact, Jermaine told me he had an incredibly low tolerance for pain.


I have so many astonishing memories of Michael, it’s hard to bring them all into focus. I was at some of the recording sessions for the Thriller album in Los Angeles, for instance.


I remember how happy he was and how confident he was that the album would go on to become the biggest of all time — which, of course, it did.


But by 1984, a few months after its release in December 1983, he was deeply unhappy.


‘I hate the attention,’ he told me after the record was a hit. ‘I’m not the kind of person who likes all of this scrutiny. You know me,’ he said. ‘That’s not me at all.’


I wondered if he would ever be able to adapt.


‘No,’ he said sadly. ‘And I have a bad feeling that it’s only going to get worse.’


Well, of course it did get worse. Much worse.


In January 1994, he was charged for the first time with child molestation.


His friendship with 12-year-old Jordie Chandler had troubled Jordie’s father, a dentist, for some time: while extracting his son’s tooth he administered the drug sodium amytal, popularly known as ‘truth serum’ and asked if Jackson had sexually molested him.


Jordie said he had.


Michael was on tour in Bangkok while, in America, all hell was breaking loose. The story was the only topic of discussion on television and radio — it was just that shocking.


At this time, people assumed that Michael was asexual, that he didn’t prefer men or women as sexual partners.


His sexuality was perplexing and the subject of great interest. Now, suddenly, it was as if people had the answer — and it wasn’t a good one.


My telephone conversation with Michael at the time affected me deeply.


Michael said that he was calling to set the record straight. ‘I’m innocent of these accusations,’ he told me. His voice sounded shaky. He was obviously not well. It seemed as if the pressure was more than he could bear.


In the weeks and months to come, Michael would be strip-searched by the cops and would pay more than $25 million to Jordie.


I was the first reporter to interview Michael after he made that very controversial settlement. To be candid, I was angry that he settled.


Frankly, I didn’t know if he had molested Jordie, or not —all I knew was that he had insisted to me that he was innocent and I had published it.


‘So, why did you pay that kid off if you were so innocent?’ I asked him.


‘Because I needed to get on with my life,’ he told me, very matter-of-factly. ‘It was killing me, the whole thing. I didn’t do it. I swear to you, I did not do it. But I needed to just put it behind me.’


I argued that, since he’d settled, people would always assume he had been guilty. Had he considered as much? ‘You know what? I don’t care what people think,’ he said, raising his voice.


‘For the first time in my life, I don’t give a f***.’


His use of an expletive shocked me. I’d never heard him swear in the past, it was so out of character.


‘I’m a man of honour,’ he told me. ‘If you believe anything about me, believe that.’


Michael had always cared about his public image. However, the settlement with Jordie Chandler redefined him in many ways, not the least of which was that from that time onward he wasn’t concerned with what people thought of him.


This was good, in some respects. Certainly, it freed him to live a more authentic life, to not be as concerned about public opinion.


For a person who had been building an image for himself at an age when most kids were building tree houses, it was a giant leap forward in his evolution as a man.


However, there was a downside too.


Without the censoring mechanism in place that once monitored his behaviour, he became a person who would do the most illogical things in a way that suggested a sense of entitlement.


It was as if he thought he was above normal and decent behaviour.


How else to explain his flaunting of his relationship with young Gavin Arvizo while being interviewed by Martin Bashir for a TV documentary in 2003?


‘It’s okay to share your bed,’ Michael proclaimed on the broadcast as he and the young boy, then 13, cosied up to each other on camera for all the world to see — and to judge.


I was sick to my stomach when I saw it.


I knew instantly that his career was over — and, also, I was worried about his life.


Soon after, the investigations by child welfare departments began, and then came his arrest on multiple counts of child molestation.


When I saw his mug shot on TV for the first time — Michael looking so ghastly, his garish make-up a twisted mask — I looked in vain for the young man I once knew.


But I couldn’t find him.


Four years ago, I sat in a courtroom in Santa Maria, California every day for months, directly behind Michael. I was the only person present — other than his lawyers and his family members — who had ever even met the defendant or, really, any of the Jacksons.


I remember the first day Tito walked into the court room to support his brother.


Everyone in the press box turned and looked at me with raised eyebrows. I mouthed the word ‘Tito’ and they all quickly jotted his name in their notes. They didn’t know who he was.


At the beginning of the trial, Michael seemed to be in good shape. He would walk briskly into court and, as we in the press watched, limber up by stretching.


It was as if he was getting ready for a performance or an athletic event. It was fascinating to watch his dancer’s body in motion and I remember thinking that he looked as skillful as he did in videos for Thriller, Billie Jean, and Beat It.


The magic was still there, somewhere. He was still Michael Jackson.


But then the testimony began.


Day after day, as the prosecution stated its case and paraded one witness after another who spoke of inappropriate behaviour between Michael and young boys, the pop star seemed to fold inside himself.


Of course, there was the infamous day when he showed up in pyjamas after being so late the judge had threatened to throw him in jail.


But that was the least of the drama inside the courtroom.


The real story as I saw it —besides the shocking testimony — was that he seemed to be dying in front of my very eyes. He was clearly in terrible pain, both physical and emotional.


Anyone who cared about him would have been mortified by the sight, and since I was the only one of the media who actually knew him, maybe I took it more to heart that I should have.


It was horrible to watch as he slowly deteriorated to the point where he could barely walk into the courtroom.


One day, Michael hobbled by me, smiled and nodded his recognition of me. I smiled back and gave him a thumbs up. And as he passed, I remember that he smelled like old, musty clothing. It was as if he was a wax figure in a museum, one that had been there too long and was in need of care and attention.


The worst week was the one we members of the press privately called ‘Porn Week’.


Day after day, the prosecution showed, on an enormous screen, graphic pornographic images from stacks of magazines found at Neverland. It was awful.


I remember sitting watching Michael’s poor mother Katherine as she was forced to look at those photos. None of it was gay porn. None of it was kiddie porn. So why show it? The prosecution suggested that it was straight porn used by Michael to turn on straight kids and encourage them to then have sex with him.


It didn’t make sense to me. One magazine, maybe. Two? Maybe. But stacks and stacks? I didn’t think so. In fact, I wasn’t even sure it was Michael’s pornography, to tell you the truth. It all just seemed like a manoeuvre to destroy him and his family.


‘You have the best seat in the house,’ one of the Santa Barbara sheriffs told me the night before the verdict was to come down in June 2005.


‘Because when Jackson is found guilty — and he will be found guilty, I assure you — we are going to grab him and take him out of there so fast, your head will spin.’


I wondered why.


‘Because we’re afraid they’ll be such an uproar, his brothers will jump the bar [which separates the spectators from the judge, defendant and lawyer] and cause a riot.’


I was taken aback by the imagery. I had assumed Michael would be found not guilty. The prosecution’s case was weak. The kid was not believable and neither were his mother and a lot of other witnesses.


But what if I was wrong? Michael Jackson in prison?


‘He’ll never survive it,’ his brother Randy had told me. ‘It will be the end for him.’


I was scheduled to be in the court room for the verdict and was then supposed to immediately race outside and report the results for TV.


The reporters sitting next to me in court that fateful day also felt Michael was not guilty and wondered how they would keep their objectivity if the verdict came in otherwise.


‘It’s Michael Jackson, we’ve loved him since he was ten,’ a female television anchor told me. ‘I have this awful feeling I’ll break down in tears. How will that look on TV?’


Of course, the verdict was that Michael Jackson was found not guilty of all counts.


I sat and watched Michael listen to the verdicts as they were read one by one and — as the moment unfolded — it hit me like a thunderbolt: the man is on so many different drugs, he doesn’t even know what’s going on.


He doesn’t even realise that he’s been found not guilty!


Later in the hallway, there was absolute chaos as the media tried to race out of the court house to report the news.


Fans were going crazy outside, the media was scurrying about — it was total pandemonium. For a moment, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with Michael. I looked at him, this guy I had known since the age of ten.


I smiled at him. He smiled back, but his eyes were empty. It should have been the happiest day of his life, but it was as if he wasn’t even present to enjoy it.


Michael Jackson was gone.


That was the last time I saw Michael.


I spoke to him on the phone only twice in the last four years, both very brief conversations about his life and how well he said he was feeling.


He seemed much better to me. When I sent him a copy of my Elizabeth Taylor biography, he called to tell me he enjoyed it. He sounded good, but I was angry with him and, I have to admit, I never really got over it. Why was I angry?


Ironically, not because of all the molestation accusations. It was because I couldn’t reconcile the fact that he never paid his bills.


How many lawsuits had been filed from people who weren’t properly compensated? I had lost count. I also didn’t understand how, after the trial was over, he let go of all of the employees at Neverland who had been so loyal to him — and without severance pay.


I also couldn’t fathom how he could abandon his family and fall out of touch with so many of them when they had been so present and supportive during the terrible proceedings.


It was as if he didn’t care about anyone but himself. It annoyed me that he seemed to have no sense of personal responsibility and, as a result, I didn’t even want to write about him any more.


He had told me he was a man of honour.


Looking back on it now, I felt let down by Michael. So, for years I stayed away from writing or talking about him. I feel badly about that now.


That said, I truly believe the last four years, since his acquittal, were the best years of Michael’s life.


He was a good and loving father. The children — Prince Michael I, Paris and Prince Michael II (Blanket) are breathtakingly beautiful. They are also unbelievably polite.


They used to hang on their father’s every word. In their eyes, Michael wasn’t strange, he wasn’t Wacko Jacko, he was just ‘Dad’.


And because he took issue with the way he was raised by his own father, Michael wanted to be sure that his children would never have the kinds of stories about him that he had about his own upbringing.


Therefore, he was very patient and kind, always available to them. Michael’s children are, as I write, with his mother, Katherine, as well as with other members of the Jackson family.


The two eldest —Prince Michael I and Paris — were born to Debbie Rowe, a nurse Michael had first met when he was a patient at a dermatologist clinic in the early Eighties. They became friends, and when his relationship with Lisa Marie Presley began to cool, partly over her refusal to give him the child he longed for, Jackson informed her: ‘If you won’t have my baby, then Debbie will.’


He and Lisa divorced, and in November 1996 he married the six-months pregnant Debbie. Prince was born in February 1997 and Debbie bore him a second child, Paris just over a year later, in April 1998.


In October the following year they divorced, apparently amicably, with Jackson paying her a $10 million settlement.


If she now decides that, as their mother, she wants custody of them, she may have to go up against the Jacksons.


The family definitely does not want Debbie to have the kids. In their view, the children don’t know her and think of her as a stranger.


As for the third child, Blanket, his mother is still unknown at this time. But don’t be surprised if she suddenly surfaces, too. The fact is that whoever gets custody of these children will see his or her life’s circumstances change greatly: one can only imagine the money that will be allocated to care for Michael Jackson’s children. Whoever ends up with them could be wealthy beyond all reason.


However, one thing is certain: his mother Katherine does not care about money, she just cares about her beloved Michael’s children, her grandchildren. She’s had all the money in the world, lost it and regained it many times over. But she’s an elderly woman. How can she care for three spirited children? What would Michael want?


That will be the question raised many times in the weeks and months to come — pertaining not only to his children but to his amazing catalogue of music, his shaky finances, and everything else that will probably be found in disarray once the shock of his death subsides and the reality of what is left behind surfaces.


I think I know what Michael would want. Michael would have wanted to see his children grow up and have kids of their own. Michael would have wanted to perform for them in London this summer. Michael would have wanted to reclaim his throne as The King of Pop. Indeed, Michael would have wanted to live. He would not have wanted this.


He couldn't live without his drugs


Dominating the headlines following Michael’s death last week are stories about his drug abuse. It seems to me that not many people understand just why he took so many prescription drugs.


I wish they would try to find some sympathy for a man who lived his life in chronic pain, 24 hours of the day, seven days of the week. Yes, he was addicted to all sorts of painkillers. That’s not news.


The question is: why? He wasn’t on the streets buying drugs from pushers. And he wasn’t getting high just for kicks. He was under medical supervision for all sorts of problems, from his back to his knees. Even the burn on the back of his head that he suffered in the mid-Eighties during the filming of a soft drink commercial had never healed properly.


Moreover, all of the plastic surgery he had over the years was causing problems for him as he aged.


He had more ailments than I can list here. He was in excruciating pain all the time.


‘I’m suffering,’ he told a mutual friend. ‘My family wants me off the drugs. If I do, I’ll die. I won’t survive a day without them. No one understands that. I need to be here for my kids. There’s no other way. There’s just no other way.'


How dare you make fun of my marriage?


In May 1994, I was the first to report that Michael had married Lisa Marie Presley. It seemed a far-fetched union, he from Neverland, she from Graceland. Not a lot of people took it seriously.


Even I was guilty of being sarcastic about it. ‘They’ve registered their wedding list at Toys R Us,’ I quipped — a joke about Michael’s penchant for childhood things.


I thought it was pretty funny. Michael was not amused. He called me immediately after the broadcast. ‘How dare you make fun of my marriage?’ he said, angrily.


He didn’t really sound at all like the whispery character of his public persona.


In real life, his voice was stronger, more bold. ‘Maybe you have never been in love,’ he lectured me. ‘Because if you had, you wouldn’t ridicule another person’s relationship.’


I apologised and told him that it was just a joke.


‘But it was cruel, and I’ve never known you to be cruel,’ he said. Of course, I felt terrible. He knew it, too.


‘OK, don’t feel so bad,’ he said, now much softer. ‘We all make mistakes.’


Then he laughed and I knew we were OK. We spoke for about half an hour about his new marriage and, I have to admit, I left the conversation totally convinced that it was not a sham.


‘I don’t care what you say about me, not really,’ he finally allowed. ‘It’s just that I hope you can keep an open mind about me and Lisa.’


When I later interviewed Lisa Marie, she was just as adamant that the marriage was a real one, not a publicity gimmick.


Continuing tomorrow: Lisa Presley told me he was a passionate lover — so what WAS the truth about Jacko’s sexuality?

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