Chapter 14

Michael departed the Cascios’ three days later when he got a phone call from Jesse Jackson, who asked whether he was planning to attend the gala party planned for the reverend’s sixty-sixth birthday at the Beverly Hilton. Michael had no choice but to explain that he didn’t have the cash to pay for the trip, and couldn’t use his credit card. Startled and slightly alarmed, the Reverend Jackson asked mutual friend Ron Burkle to fly Michael, the kids, and Grace—plus his three bodyguards—to Los Angeles and put them up in rooms at the Beverly Hilton for three nights.

Burkle was a “babe-chasing supermarket billionaire” (as the New York Post enjoyed describing him) best known as the close personal friend and business partner of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who for years had jokingly referred to the billionaire’s private Boeing 747 jet, famous for the number of supermodels who had flown aboard it, as “Air Force Two.” Burkle maintained a wide array of friends and familiars, in large part due to his prominence as a fund-raiser for Democratic political candidates. In 2004, Burkle hosted a fund-raiser at his Beverly Hills estate, “Green Acres,” a home built by silent-screen legend Harold Lloyd, where wealthy Democrats paid $100,000 per couple to attend.

It was Jesse Jackson who had introduced Burkle to Michael Jackson five years prior, encouraging the billionaire to help Michael deal with his fiscal circumstances. Michael first seriously discussed the subject of his finances with the supermarket mogul after they met at Johnnie Cochran’s funeral in 2005. Like so many advisors before him, Burkle had attempted to persuade Michael it was time to curb his spending and go back to work at what would make him money. Burkle also hired forensic accountants (whom he paid for himself) to examine Jackson’s finances, and in the process convinced Michael that various unnamed advisors were fleecing him. During a deposition in the Prescient Capital case that Jackson gave in Paris during 2006 (on his way to Ireland), Michael credited Burkle with protecting him from the assorted “sharks, charlatans, and imposters”—many of whom, he said, had been introduced by his brother Randy—who were pilfering his wealth. And now, at Jesse Jackson’s birthday party in the grand ballroom at the Beverly Hilton, Michael asked again if Burkle could help him sort out the mess of his current cash flow crisis.

Burkle had responded, by all accounts, with extraordinary generosity, moving Michael and his children into the Green Acres mansion when their three days at the Hilton were up, and once again hiring accountants to examine Jackson’s situation. It was a thicket, to say the least. The refinancing of Jackson’s enormous debt was still not accomplished. Negotiations had dragged on for eighteen months and new claimants were joining the pool of creditors every week. Lawsuits against Jackson continued to proliferate. The security guard screening Michael’s e-mails would say later that most of those demanding payment were attorneys, with many of the bills in seven figures. What Michael brought on himself was more than matched by the frivolous claims against him. The world was full of people who thought it was fair to carve another two or three or four million dollars out of Michael Jackson and there were enough large predators looking for eight figures to make his world a truly scary place. The family of Roc-A-Fella Records cofounder Damon Dash had sued Jackson ten times in the year 2007 alone. Damon’s cousin Darien Dash was the principal in Prescient Capital, and the force behind the massive lawsuit that had nearly forced Jackson into bankruptcy.

An accountant hired by Randy Jackson had signed the deal with Dash—whether with or without Michael’s consent was a matter of dispute—to arrange for a $272 million loan to replace the debt Jackson owed to Bank of America, plus find another $573 million in financing to purchase Sony’s half of the Beatles song catalog. The contract had been executed in May 2005 just as Michael was approaching the climax of his criminal trial in Santa Barbara County, when he was most distracted and Randy Jackson’s control was most absolute. Michael’s refusal to honor the commitments made by his brother had cost Prescient Capital—and him personally—some $48 million, according to Darien Dash, who had been blocking the renegotiation of Michael’s debt for months, demanding that the banks settle with him.

Other more arcane court filings multiplied the cost of being the King of Pop. A London woman who called herself Nona Jackson had sued Jackson in Los Angeles with the claim that she was the mother of all three of his children, demanding not only custody of the kids but compensation for the three thousand songs she claimed to have written for her “longtime lover.” Up in Santa Barbara County, the family of an elderly woman who had died at the Marian Medical Center shortly after Jackson’s stay at the hospital filed a lawsuit claiming her death was caused by being moved to free a room for the entertainer.

The lawsuit currently consuming the most in legal fees was the one that Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa had filed against Michael in London just a few weeks earlier. The sheikh felt “a strong sense of personal betrayal,” Abdullah’s attorney Bankim Thanki had told the High Court justice who would be hearing the case, after advancing $7 million under the terms of a written agreement in which Mr. Jackson had promised to deliver a new album, an autobiography, and a stage play, only to see the entertainer renege on each of his obligations, then abandon not only these projects, but also the charity records promised to the victims of the New Orleans hurricane and the Indonesian tsunami. Prince Al Khalifa had fully expected Mr. Jackson to return to Bahrain to resume work on their projects after a brief trip to Japan in spring 2006, Thanki told the court, but neither saw nor heard from “Mikaeel” again. All that Abdullah had ever received by way of explanation was a letter faxed to him by Raymone Bain “aggressively seeking [the sheikh’s] personal agreement to an express release of [Jackson] from his obligations.” When Prince Al Khalifa refused, Thanki told the court, Bain followed with a letter informing him that Mr. Jackson did not intend to work with or for the sheikh and “was unwilling to perform or observe his obligations.”

Unlike others who had sued Jackson, Abdullah refrained from any reference to drug use but did have his attorney advise the court that he believed the entertainer was “in grave danger of losing” both Neverland Ranch and his stake in the Sony/ATV Music Publishing catalog, and that the sheikh intended to join those who would claim a share in any liquidation of assets. Michael’s attorneys replied with a terse claim that Sheikh Abdullah’s case was based on “mistake, misrepresentation, and undue influence,” and that any monies received by Jackson in Bahrain had been “gifts,” not “advances.” Furthermore, Prince Al Khalifa’s description of Mr. Jackson as “an experienced businessman” was unwarranted, added Michael’s attorneys, who claimed that their client had never read the terms of the document in question and was without independent legal advice when he signed. Thanki countered with a demand for an open court trial he estimated might last twelve days and would require Mr. Jackson’s presence in London. The British tabloids, salivating over Michael Jackson’s appearance before the High Court, were making Sheikh Abdullah’s claims front-page headlines. All Burkle knew when he skimmed the articles was that this was going to get ugly and expensive and that settling the case would probably be the only way out of it.

What made Burkle’s efforts so heroic—or baffling—was that an examination of Jackson’s finances was certain to shock any lender. Michael boasted an annual income that averaged about $25 million, mainly from royalties and dividends paid from the Sony/ATV catalog. On the other hand, he had been spending between $10 million and $15 million more than he earned each year for the past decade, even as he fell steadily behind on the servicing of his debt and his investment obligations to Sony in connection to the ever-expanding song catalog. Michael had recently phoned songwriters Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber to tell them how happy he was to have acquired the rights to Elvis Presley hits that included “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock,” promising the two their work was in good hands, but it was Sony that had paid the full cost of that acquisition. The half of the purchase price on the Leiber-Stoller catalog that Michael owed was now just one more piece of a personal debt that was past $500 million and growing. On October 19, just four days after Abdullah’s attorneys submitted the sheikh’s lawsuit to the High Court in London, Fortress Investments had filed a $23 million default notice on Neverland Ranch in California, the first step toward foreclosing on the property.

The notion that any bank would give Michael Jackson a mortgage on a $50 million-plus property in Las Vegas under such circumstances was preposterous but Ron Burkle pledged to try to find one that would, and Burkle was a man who got things done. He proved that by prevailing on his friend George Maloof (best known, along with his brother, Gavin, as the owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings franchise) to put Michael and his children up at the Maloofs’ hotel in Las Vegas, the Palms, where the brothers had recently installed their fabulously equipped Studio X, making it the perfect location for Michael to resume work on his “comeback album.” After spending Thanksgiving with Burkle in California, Jackson flew to Las Vegas and moved into the Hugh Hefner suite in the Palms’ “Fantasy Tower.” It was the finest and most secure accommodation he could offer, explained Maloof, who didn’t realize until a week later that it was not the place for Michael Jackson. “I came in there one day and Michael had covered up all the nude pictures,” George Maloof recalled. “This was because of the kids. He didn’t want them looking at those pictures.”

Maloof promptly arranged for Jackson and his children to move to a two-story Sky Villa just below the Hefner suite. He and Michael did all the lifting and toting, Maloof said: “No one else could help with this because nobody else knew he was at the hotel. It was just us, moving all of these belongings, carrying them down the stairs because he didn’t want to use the elevator and risk someone recognizing him.” Michael and the kids stayed in the Sky Villa for only a couple of days before Maloof informed Jackson that he would have to move again, to another Sky Villa one floor down, because the suite he was living in had been booked for months in advance by a high-roller who had reserved an additional three hundred rooms on the property. “Brutal,” Maloof called this transition: “The second move was harder than the first because they’d brought more stuff in—but he understood our situation.” He had no idea at the time that Jackson and his children would be staying at the Palms for four months, Maloof admitted. What made the whole thing bearable, Maloof would tell Larry King more than three years later, was Michael’s good manners. “He would call me up and say, ‘George, are you in the middle of something?’ I’d say, ‘No, whatever you need.’ And he was always respectful. And a great guy.”

By Christmastime, the Las Vegas media had discovered that Michael Jackson was back in town, living high atop the Palms. Comparisons were inevitably made to Howard Hughes: The “fading star” had stationed his bodyguards in the hallway outside his suite around the clock, it was reported, but no one ever seemed to enter or leave. It wasn’t until early December when he and the kids were spotted, making a late-night stop at a bookstore just off the Strip. The bulky army coat, the dark glasses, the hat pulled low on his head, and the shawl wrapped around his neck like a scarf not only failed to keep him from being recognized, but didn’t hide the small square bandages all around his chin and mouth. By the next day photographs of him had appeared in a British tabloid, accompanied by a story (under the headline “Plaster of Disguise”) that he had been back to see his cosmetic surgeon. The article ended with Jackson being described as “looking stranger than ever.” Internet reporters jumped the story immediately. On Christmas Eve, one Web site reported that “part of Jackson’s upper lip collapsed” after Prince accidentally punched him in the face while they were roughhousing. “The mishap led a hysterical Jacko to make a beeline for the plastic surgeon for a bit of quick repair work,” a second site reported later that same day. A third site chimed in just hours later, “Imagine how sensitive his face has become, that one touch and it breaks apart.”

What many people didn’t understand about Michael Jackson was how hard he tried to get it right. His early training had turned him into an artist who pushed himself and everyone around him to correct even the slightest imperfection in a performance. Michael’s attitude in the studio was, “I am here to be the best in the world, to be better than best, in fact, and you had better try to do the same if you want to work with me.” He would not tolerate shortcomings. That approach was what carried him to the overwhelming success he achieved with Thriller, and it was also what left him stuck there. He devoted more than four years to his follow-up album, Bad, determined, as he said at the time, to make the record “as perfect as humanly possible.” He was confused when critics complained that it was as if he had tried to apply a thousand coats of aural lacquer to Thriller, to make pretty much the same album, only shinier. Jackson spent another four years on Dangerous and then read in the New York and Los Angeles newspapers that the album was an “overproduced” facsimile of Bad. It was as if he believed that polishing the surface of his work to a high gloss would blind people to the increasingly hollow core that lay beneath. Along the way, he lost interest in authenticity. What he wanted was flawless artifice. It was the same goal he pursued in the reconstruction of his face.

Michael’s first two plastic surgeries resulted from a fall onstage that broke his nose. The initial operation in 1980 left him with a breathing obstruction, so he had a second surgery to correct the problem, this one performed by Dr. Steven Hoefflin. He was delighted with the cosmetic outcome and with Hoefflin.

Michael had been ashamed of his appearance ever since hitting puberty. All those “big nose” and “liver lips” taunts he heard from his father and brothers were like the soundtrack to a movie that ran in his mind, the one where he saw the expressions on the faces of strangers who were startled—even slightly horrified—by how blemished his skin had become. “I’d hide my face in the dark,” he told Oprah Winfrey during their 1993 interview. To improve his complexion, Michael tried giving up the fried food he loved and went on a macrobiotic diet that at one point was reduced to seeds and nuts. At 120 pounds he was delighted by his sinewy “dancer’s body.” His face grew slimmer as well, and the weight loss seemed to bring his cheekbones to the surface of what had been an unusually chubby childhood face.

What actually conquered his acne, though, were the able hands of Dr. Arnold Klein. Beginning in the late 1980s, Klein applied a series of treatments to Jackson’s skin that ranged from drainage and excision (“acne surgery”) to corticosteroid injections of cysts and retinoid prescriptions. Chemical peels and dermabrasion smoothed the scarring on his cheeks and forehead. Even as Michael marveled at the improvement of his appearance wrought by Klein, though, he was shaken by the doctor’s diagnosis of lupus, the mysterious autoimmune disorder that in Jackson’s case manifested itself most notably as vitiligo, a condition that results in patchy depigmentation of the skin.

Treating any autoimmune disease is, like attempting to cure acne, a process rife with psychological implications. Numerous studies have indicated a link between childhood trauma, whether physical, sexual, or emotional, and lupus. Physicians who deal with the disorder invariably find that a sensitivity to the mind-over-matter aspect of lupus and the conditions that result from it is the largest part of their treatment program. The emotional bond that forms between doctor and patient in such cases stretches the definition of medical practice. As a result, Klein went along for nearly twenty years with the story that the steady lightening of Jackson’s skin was entirely the result of vitiligo and the courses of treatment he applied to it.

Michael first revealed in his 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey that his skin had become steadily more pallid as a result of the hydroquinone bleaching agents (such as Solaquin Forte, Retin-A, and Benoquin) prescribed by Dr. Klein to blend the discolorations caused by vitiligo. Michael had in fact begun to lighten his skin long before he met Klein. As early as the late 1970s he and his sister La Toya were using Porcelana, an over-the-counter skin bleaching cream marketed to black Americans. Arnold Klein’s introduction to his life was still years away when Michael began to tweeze his eyebrows daily, and to wear eyeliner and mascara. He wasn’t trying to be either white or a woman, merely a more finished product. “I do want to be perfect,” he said in 1986. “I look in the mirror, and I just want to change to be better.” He hated looking at pictures of himself between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one. “Ooh, that’s horrible,” he told Robert Hilburn when, while working together on a proposed book, they came across a photograph of Michael as a teenager. He quickly shoved it under a stack of papers.

The plastic surgeries continued for some time after he became a patient of Arnold Klein. Dr. Hoefflin gave Michael his third nose job immediately after the twenty-sixth Grammy Awards ceremony at which Michael had cleaned up for Thriller. He was upset by photographs he had seen of himself standing alongside Diana Ross; her nose was so thin and his was so fat, Michael explained to the doctor. Hoefflin, a plastic surgeon who up to that time had been best known for enhancing the breasts of Playboy bunnies, would undertake multiple cosmetic procedures on Jackson over the next decade and in the process become one of Michael’s intimates well before the advent of Arnold Klein.

Public remarks about what Hoefflin was doing to Jackson’s appearance were heard as early as his performance on the Motown 25 special, but in 1983 those were mostly complimentary. Michael’s lean and limber physique, slightly narrowed nose, Jheri curled hair, and lighter, smoother complexion were all part of what made him the first icon of a postracial reality. “Pretty” was perhaps a better word to describe him than “handsome,” but he was no more androgynous than Mick Jagger. People were startled, though, when they saw him on the Bad cover in 1987. Michael had received a fourth nose job from Hoefflin in 1986, and a short time later decided he wanted to have a cleft in his chin. He followed this with a procedure to have permanent eyeliner tattooed around his eyes and another surgery to thin his lower lip. There was a sharp cut to his cheekbones that hadn’t been there during Thriller Time, and Dr. Klein’s bleaching creams had dramatically lightened his skin tone. Pancake makeup had been applied, and a pink tattoo defined the perimeter of his lipstick.

It didn’t help that his antics in the tabloids had inaugurated the epoch of Wacko Jacko, or that he insisted on speaking in that breathy whisper so reminiscent of the one Marilyn Monroe had used when she serenaded Jack Kennedy at his birthday party in 1962. The really strange thing, to a lot of people, was that Michael seemed to flaunt his surgeries. After the cleft was cut into his chin, he made appearances all over LA in a surgical mask, wearing the thing like it was an accent to his wardrobe, akin to his black fedora and big sunglasses.

The public was getting queasy by the time Dangerous was released in 1992. Michael did a photo spread for Rolling Stone that showed him looking like the sort of Latin matinee idol gang members would call a maricon, with tightly drawn, slicked-back hair, dressed in a white tank top with striped white pants and patent leather Mary Janes. His skin was paler and his makeup thicker. He admitted in the accompanying article that he hid from the sun. Michael now had Joan Crawford’s eyebrows and a nose almost as sharp as the blade on an ice skate, but at the same time his jaw had been dropped and the cleft in his chin was deeper. Was this guy ever going to stop?

Black America largely viewed Michael’s physical transformation through the lens of race, and no wonder. The first single released from Dangerous was “Black or White,” and most people, black and white, thought there should have been a question mark at the end of that title. Epic Records described “Black or White” as “a rock ’n’ roll dance song about racial harmony,” but it generated little of that—even in his own family. Shortly after “Black or White” was released, Michael’s brother Jermaine put out a single from his latest failed album that was titled “Word to the Badd!” and included these lines in the lyric: “Reconstructed / Been abducted / Don’t know who you are . . . Once you were made / You changed your shade / Was your color wrong?” Michael had already made his reply in the most memorable line from “Black or White”: “I’m not gonna spend my life being a color.”

Jackson’s perpetual makeover was motivated more by a refusal to accept limitation or definition than by a rejection of his African ancestry. “What he told me was, ‘I would like to separate myself from the Jackson Five and become me, Michael Jackson,’” recalled his former video tech Steven Howell. What drove Michael was too complex to fit into any one or even any several categories. The discomfort with his racial identity—and disassociation from his racial roots—that rankled so many black people was part of the total equation, but even that was multifaceted. What he especially liked about the first nose job he got was that it left him looking a lot less like the man who had sired him. As a family friend named Marcus Phillips put it, “If he couldn’t erase Joe from his life, at least he could erase him from the reflection in the mirror.” Michael experienced Joseph Jackson as coarse, violent, and dishonest, sexually reckless and hard-hearted. To some degree, he imputed such qualities to black men in general, but he also fought against that tendency his whole life, and in the end overcame it. Since childhood, he had suffered from a fear of black men he described as “big, tall, mean guys,” and yet he dealt with it by surrounding himself with big and tall black men to work as his bodyguards. Reporter and self-described “family friend” Stacy Brown was probably correct when he said that Michael had insisted upon having white children because “he did not want to take the chance that a child of his would look like Joseph.” But Brown was overboard and off the mark when he added that Michael “hates people with dark skin.” Anybody who ever saw him dance with James Brown knew that wasn’t the case. The thing about Michael, though, was that he enjoyed dancing with Fred Astaire just as much.

It was true that at Neverland Ranch Michael was sometimes openly disdainful of black people—or at least a certain class of black people—referring to them as “splaboos,” and using the word most often in exchanges with the young white boys who shared his bedroom. Perhaps it was also true that, as a Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputy who interviewed his household staff wrote in a 2003 affidavit, Jackson “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.” But when Oprah Winfrey asked him about his racial identity in 1993, Jackson responded with a simple declaration: “I am a black American.” Deepak Chopra’s son, Gotham, who probably knew Michael a lot better than his father did, would say, “It was very disturbing to him that people thought he always wanted to be white.”

As early as 1991, Michael admitted to the black musicians and producers who worked on Dangerous that he had gone too far with the cosmetic surgery and said, almost apologetically, that he wished he could reverse the process. That was impossible, so he continued to try to fix the fixes, submitting to the knife again and again until he seemed to some an alien life form.

“He came in approximately every two months,” said Hoefflin’s former associate Dr. Wallace Goodstein, who recalled multiple nose jobs, cheek implants, eyelid surgery, and the cleft implant. “It was about ten to twelve surgeries in two years (during the 1990s), while I was there.”

Michael pitted doctors Hoefflin and Klein against each other, and in the process probably only exacerbated his problems. Hoefflin had for years enjoyed the status and the perks he derived from accompanying Michael on tour, billed as “Mr. Jackson’s special traveling companion and personal physician.” By around 1990, though, Klein succeeded in convincing Michael—at least temporarily—that he didn’t need any more plastic surgery (particularly on his nose) and that he should rely on subcutaneous fillers instead. The danger of repeated surgical procedures, Klein warned (correctly), was that when enough blood vessels in the face were cauterized the blood stopped flowing and the skin eventually turned black and withered away or even fell off in pieces. “I remember times when Michael told Arnie he wanted to have a surgical procedure done, and Klein told him no,” Marc Schaffel said. “Arnie would call the doctor and say, ‘Don’t do it.’” Hoefflin (a man who mentioned his “genius IQ” at nearly every opportunity) countered by telling Michael that the massive injections of collagen he was receiving from Klein were worsening his lupus. He continued to get the injections, though, and to schedule surgeries with Dr. Hoefflin. How many of those procedures actually took place remains an open question. In the mid-1990s, four of Dr. Hoefflin’s nurses sued him for sexual harassment, alleging, among other things, that the plastic surgeon had handled and mocked the genitals of celebrity patients who had been placed under anesthesia. The nurses also claimed that for several years their employer had been staging elaborate hoaxes in which the doctor placed Michael Jackson under general anesthesia but only pretended to perform an operation. Jackson would wake up with his nose bandaged, the nurses said, convinced there had been a “touch-up” on his already tiny proboscis. Hoefflin denied the story and claimed not only that he had won a dismissal of the lawsuit, but also that he had received a letter of apology from the attorneys who had filed it and “a substantial sum of money” from the former colleagues he had countersued. Whether that was true or not remained in doubt, as records in a related case stated that each of the women who sued Hoefflin had received $42,000 in compensation. However that lawsuit had been settled, Hoefflin continued to serve as one of Michael Jackson’s doctors.

Neither Hoefflin nor Klein wanted their work on Jackson detailed in public. In 2003, when the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s department served search warrants on each doctor’s office, deputies were informed that all records relating to Michael Jackson had been removed and that neither the doctors nor their attorneys would reveal where those records were now being kept.

By the time of his criminal trial in 2005, any number of psychologists who had never met Michael Jackson were diagnosing him on TV as suffering from “body dysmorphic disorder,” a psychological condition in which a person loses all sense of how he or she is seen by others. Yet according to Deepak Chopra, Michael was acutely aware of what vitiligo had done to his appearance and “had, as a result, a very, very poor image of his body. He was almost ashamed of it. That’s why he would cover it up. Why do you think he wore a glove and all that stuff. He would not go into the swimming pool in his own house with his clothes off. He would just jump into the pool at the last moment, you know, take his robe off, but he was ashamed that people would look at all the blotches on his skin.” Jackson wept when the editor of Us Weekly told an interviewer that she could no longer put Michael Jackson on the magazine’s cover because people found looking at him depressing.

Around the same time, London’s Daily Mail published an interview with Professor Werner Mang, director of the renowned Bodensee Clinic in Lindau, on the German-Swiss border, a man who boasted of building his reputation by “making beautiful noses” for celebrity clients. In 1998, Mang said, Dr. Hoefflin had asked him to perform “reconstructive surgery” on Michael Jackson’s nose. Mang flew to California for a consultation and discovered that the skin on Jackson’s face was “parchment-thin,” while the tip of the entertainer’s nose was “unstable.” He had fixed the latter problem, Mang said, by using some of Michael’s ear cartilage to shore up the nose he was in danger of losing altogether. A couple of days later, David Letterman joked that Michael was now “deaf in his left nostril.”

Hoefflin denied Mang’s story and if the Swiss surgeon really had tried to save Michael Jackson’s nose, he failed. Dr. Mark Sinnreich recalled Michael’s first visit to the orthopedic surgeon’s Florida office in 2002: “I had him take off his mask . . . It looked almost like he had two blow holes. No nose.”

Michael made do with prosthetics. He kept them in his closet at Neverland, a big jar of fake noses—various shapes and sizes—surrounded by tubes of stage glue. “He told me they were for disguises,” recalled Adrian McManus, one of his maids at Neverland Ranch. All Michael was disguising at this point, though, was what at least six rhinoplasty surgeries had left him with: a pair of nostrils surrounded by a rim of shriveled, shrunken, discolored cartilage. He had been a skilled makeup artist since his teens, and in fifteen minutes at the mirror could create an appearance that fooled most people. Plastic surgeons had been speculating on TV since as early as 1990 that the tip of his nose had been replaced by a prosthetic of either bone or plastic. By about 2001, though, the way his nose was changing from year to year—sometimes from week to week—gave him away.

Michael salvaged something from this personal disaster. At least now he could have the nose he had always wanted—Bobby Driscoll’s. The most famous child star of the late 1940s and early 1950s, Driscoll had for years been an icon of Jackson’s who rivaled Shirley Temple in importance. Bobby was the first actor Walt Disney ever put under contract, to play the lead character in 1946’s Song of the South. His best-known role would be as Jim Hawkins in Disney’s 1950 version of Treasure Island, but for Michael Jackson the most important part the boy had ever played was for Disney’s 1953 animated film Peter Pan. Driscoll provided the voice of Peter Pan in the movie, but it was his work as the animators’ “reference model” that captivated Michael. He admired the child actor’s slim, athletic physique, straw-colored hair, and light spray of freckles, but what he adored was Driscoll’s perfectly pyramidal, slightly upturned nose. It was a feature so unusual that it looked as if it belonged on the face of a pixie or some other preternatural creature, perfect for Peter Pan and, Michael believed, perfect for him, too. He began to appear in public with his Bobby Driscoll prosthetic right around the time Invincible was being released. There is footage from 2002 of Michael standing amid an enthralled crowd outside the Virgin Records store in Times Square in New York, arms open and hands extended as if embracing the applause and adoration that flows like a gust of wind through the scene, his chin lifted, Barack Obama–style, as he stands in profile to the camera, his Bobby Driscoll nose raised to the sky as if being displayed not just to those present, but to all of creation, seeming to declare in that moment, “I am Peter Pan.”

Along with the acquisition of his nose, Michael had become a student of Bobby Driscoll’s sad and lonely life. He knew all about the disappointments the young actor had suffered when the film part he had been promised as Tom Sawyer failed to materialize, and how crushed Bobby Driscoll had been when he met with Walt Disney after the release of Peter Pan and was told by his employer that he was probably more suited these days for roles as a young bully than for the part of an appealing protagonist. Nothing about Bobby Driscoll’s life made Michael identify with him more than learning that the young actor’s contract with Disney had been canceled immediately after his sixteenth birthday, because, according to a studio press release, the severe case of acne he had developed made him unwatchable. Michael knew all about how the teenage Bobby Driscoll had bounced around after that between various Los Angeles–area high schools, teased and tormented by other kids as a has-been who had played a bunch of cornball parts in hokey family films. He knew that Driscoll had begun to experiment with heroin when he was seventeen, was busted for possession of marijuana at the age of nineteen, then arrested for assault with a deadly weapon after he pistol-whipped a pair of hecklers, and incarcerated in 1961, at the age of twenty-four, in the California Institution for Men in Chino. Michael described for friends how, upon his release, Bobby tried to reinvent himself as an adult actor named Robert Driscoll, but met with little success. Michael had even researched Driscoll’s 1965 relocation to New York, where he tried to find work on the Broadway stage and, failing that, joined Andy Warhol’s Greenwich Village art community, the Factory. Driscoll’s collages and cardboard mailers were considered outstanding by some people (and would be exhibited at the Santa Monica Museum of Art) but never earned him more than a few pennies, and Bobby was flat broke by the time he left the Factory in late 1967. A few months later, shortly after Driscoll’s thirty-first birthday, two boys playing in a deserted East Village tenement found his lifeless body, but there was no identification on it, and photographs circulated through the neighborhood failed to turn up even a single person who recognized the dead man. The anonymous corpse was buried at Potter’s Field. “His own family didn’t know that he was the one in the pauper’s grave with a heroin overdose,” Michael would marvel. “He was a Disney giant, the voice of Peter Pan.” And yet look what Bobby had come to. Michael had promised Shirley Temple that he would open a museum for child stars some day, and that the boy who had played Peter Pan would be given a featured display. In the meantime, though, all that was left of Bobby Driscoll, besides those early Disney films, was the nose on Michael Jackson’s face.


Michael Jackson onstage in the early days of the Jackson 5. A star was born, particularly when Berry Gordy got the Motown machine primed. (Mirrorpix)


Those kids wouldn’t be so popular if they didn’t have a damn midget as their lead singer! The Jackson 5 circa 1966, in a publicity shot from their “chitlin’ circuit” days. Clockwise from far left, Tito, Jackie, Jermaine, and Michael at bottom, with Marlon in the center. (Gilles Petard/Redferns)


1971: The Jackson family has moved to the Hayvenhurst estate in Los Angeles and Michael just graced the cover of Rolling Stone for the first time (not this image). He has also been schooled in showbiz truthiness, insisting he is two years younger than his actual age, thirteen. (©Henry Diltz/Corbis)


The Jacksons, no longer allowed to use the “Jackson 5” name after leaving Motown, in New York, February 1977. Jermaine, breaking with his brothers over the Motown split, has been replaced by fifteen-year-old Randy. Later this year, Michael will return to New York to shoot The Wiz, and have his first taste of independence. (©Bob Gruen/


Michael was escorted to the Golden Globes, for which he won Best Song for “Ben,” by his parents in February 1973. Two months later Katherine would file for divorce from Joe, but wouldn’t go through with it.



Blame it on the boogie: The Jacksons around the time of Destiny, their first record for their new label. Their 1979 world tour would take them to nine countries and four continents. (Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)


Michael had known Stevie Wonder since his early days at Motown, and appeared on several of Wonder’s songs. Michael was in the studio here, along with his brothers, supplying backing vocals on Wonder’s 1974 song

“You Haven’t Done Nothing.” (Todd Gray)


Michael’s arrival in New York allowed him to stretch his wings, and he became a regular at Studio 54. Here he is with Woody Allen in April 1977.(Russell Turiak/Liaison)


Michael dancing with Tatum O’Neal at a 1978 party in Los Angeles held in celebration of the Jacksons’ gold records. (Brad Elterman/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)


Man in the mirror: Michael, New York 1977. The child frontman had become painfully self-conscious as puberty wreaked havoc on his skin and his brothers and father mocked his appearance. (©Bob Gruen/


Alone in a crowd—or onstage—Michael could put his introversion aside.

(Epic Records/courtesy Neal Peters Collection)

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Michael’s love of movies and desire to act stayed with him all his life, as did his love of costumes, either as dress up or as disguise. Here he is (left) as Charlie Chaplin in London, 1979. (Tony Prime/WpN)

Dressing up as The Wiz’s Scarecrow (right) allowed Michael an excuse for his skin breakouts and inaugurated a lifelong dream of movie stardom. (Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images)


Michael with Andy Warhol in 1981, whom he befriended four years earlier while in New York for The Wiz. They both enjoyed watching the goings-on at Studio 54, but neither really participated. (©Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis)


We want Michael! Michael’s success with Off the Wall made him the indisputable star of the Jacksons, and on the Triumph tour he’d started to adopt the signature look that would come to full flower with Thriller (rhinestone accents, long curly hair). He had also had his first rhinoplasty. (©Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis)


Michael and Diana Ross in 1981 on her TV special. Motown’s first lady, Diana introduced the Jackson 5 at their Los Angeles debut, and taught Michael how to conduct himself as a star. (Rex USA)


Liza Minnelli was another Studio 54 friend with whom Michael maintained a lasting bond. She escorted him to the club’s VIP area and, later, to Swifty Lazar’s legendary Oscar party. (Ron Galella/WireImage)


She’s even wearing his glove: Michael met actress Brooke Shields, a fellow survivor of childhood stardom, in 1984, and she became his constant companion at public appearances and a good friend. Passion? Not so much.

(©Sonia Moskowitz/Globe Photos/


Michael in the “Beat It” jacket, with his sister La Toya, around the time she played his love interest in the “Say, Say, Say” video. (Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)


“Dodgy to be someone’s friend and then to buy the rug they’re standing on”: Michael with Paul McCartney in 1983. They wrote and recorded music together and bonded over their mutual love of collecting cartoons, but the friendship soured when Jackson bought the Beatles catalog. (©Bettmann/CORBIS)


When Michael acquired majority ownership in the Hayvenhurst property, his parents’ home, from his father, he remade it, demolishing and rebuilding the house and assembling his own menagerie, including these deer, Prince and Princess. (Todd Gray)


Michael on November 30, 1983, with his brothers and Don King at a press appearance for the Victory tour. He had recently become friends with Emmanuel Lewis, the twelve-year-old star of Webster, also pictured.

Three days later, the “Thriller” video was released. (©Bettmann/CORBIS)


Quincy Jones, producer of Thriller, was at Michael’s side as he collected an arm-straining eight awards at the February 1984 Grammy Awards, a month after he was burned shooting a Pepsi commercial. (AP Photo/Doug Pizac/Saxon)


Michael showed the victory sign arriving at Heathrow with his manager Frank Dileo. He was literally treated like royalty in London, entering the Guildhall for a sumptuous fete in his honor by the royal entrance, by special permission of the Queen. (Mirrorpix)


John Branca, Michael’s attorney since 1979, with whom Jackson is pictured here at Branca’s 1987 wedding, negotiated some of his biggest deals and career moves. (AP Photo/courtesy of John Branca)

The Changing Face

of Michael Jackson

















1976 (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images); 1983 (Dave Hogan/Getty Images);

1988 (©Rick Maiman/Sygma/Corbis); 1995 (Andrew Shawaf/Online USA);

2000 (Robin Platzer/Liaison); 2002 (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images);

2005 (Phil Klein-Pool/Getty Images); 2009 (MJ Kim/Getty Images)


At Radio City Music Hall in 1992, Michael did press for the Dangerous world tour with Tommy Mottola of Sony Music (with beard) and Peter Kendall of Pepsi.

(Ron Galella/WireImage)

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When Sony sought promo ideas for 1995’s HIStory tour, Michael suggested, “build a statue of me.” Nine were built and distributed to select European cities including this one floating up the Thames on a barge. “Baldly vainglorious,” said the LA Times. (Associated Press)

Jackson rallied outside the New York headquarters of his record company, Sony, on July 6, 2002, for failing to do enough to promote Invincible, and brandished a sign showing Tommy Mottola with devil horns. (Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

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