Chapter 18

After the announcement of the O2 shows in London, the crowd of paparazzi tailing Michael whenever he ventured out in Los Angeles expanded three-fold. Jackson’s only two regular destinations, the paparazzi knew, were Arnold Klein’s office and Elizabeth Taylor’s Bel Air home. By April, Michael was visiting Klein’s office two or three times a week. The tabloid pack chasing the story naturally suspected that Jackson was collecting painkillers and spent a good deal of time sipping milkshakes at the counter in Mickey Fine’s while they waited for him to emerge from Klein’s offices. It was difficult to say whether Jackson was getting drugs from Klein, however, because according to a former assistant, the doctor had taken to writing prescriptions for certain patients under his own name. Records would later reveal that Klein had written at least twenty-seven new prescriptions to himself after Michael Jackson returned to the United States from Ireland, for Valium and Vicodin, as well as for the sedative midazolam and for modafinil, a drug used to treat narcolepsy that was said to improve wakefulness in people who didn’t get enough sleep. Mickey Fine’s motorcycle deliveryman was seen coming and going from the Carolwood mansion on a regular basis. Michael often went to Liz Taylor’s directly from Klein’s office, leading some of the paparazzi to speculate that the King of Pop was working as a drug courier.

While it could not be proven that Klein was providing Jackson with drugs, there was no doubt that he was working as Michael’s doctor. By his own accounting, Klein provided more than $48,000 worth of medical services to Jackson in the three-month period between March 23 and June 22, 2009. The 179 procedures involved were minor compared to some of the work done on Michael in the past, but inventorying the sheer volume of foreign substances shot into or applied onto his face during those weeks was not for the squeamish. Michael had been injected fifty-one times with an intramuscular drug meant to prepare his skin for insertions of Restylane with the fine-line needle that Klein was using to fill Jackson’s wrinkles. Restylane is an acid-based substance that can not only cause headaches and nausea but also commonly results in tenderness at the injection points—a small price to pay, say those who extol its long-lasting results. Klein had also injected Michael with Botox around and under the eyes and in his forehead, not only eliminating what dermatologists like to call “expression lines” but also reducing his body’s ability to cool itself with perspiration. Jackson received as well multiple applications at Klein’s office of the ophthalmic solution Latanoprost, developed as a treatment for glaucoma but more popular for enhancing the growth, thickness, and darkening of eyebrow and eyelash hair. In addition, Klein had given Michael the eyelash lengthener and thickener Latisse, and a supply of the mouth plumper Nutritic Lips. There had been some new “acne surgery” in the doctor’s office as well. Part of the explanation for the big bill was an emergency situation involving Jackson that required Klein to interrupt a weekend vacation to fly into Beverly Hills in a rented helicopter and to transport his staff in chauffeur-driven cars. It was believed by the Jackson stalkers among the paparazzi (who had not heard Michael was trying to get out of testifying in London) that it had something to do with a staph infection that had developed after work on Michael’s nose.

For Klein, repairing the damage that Jackson had already done to himself was half the battle; helping Jackson stave off the effects of aging was the rest of it. Michael was unable to bear even the thought of growing old, let alone the process of it. He would be a recluse after the age of sixty, Jackson had said more than once. “You don’t want people to see you growing old?” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach asked him back in the year 2000, when the star was about to turn forty-two. “I can’t deal with it,” Michael answered. “I love beautiful things too much and the beautiful things in nature and I want my messages to get out to the world, but I don’t want to be seen now . . . like when my picture came up on the computer, it made me sick when I saw it . . . Because I look like a lizard. I wish I could never be photographed or seen.” Watching Fred Astaire suffer the debilitation of old age had been one of the worst things he ever endured, Michael told the rabbi. “One day [Astaire] said to me, ‘You know, Michael, if I was to do one spin right now, I would fall flat on my face. My equilibrium is totally gone.’” It was agony to watch the greatest glider ever move about his house at the end, Michael said: “Little tiny steps, and it broke my heart.”

“I think growing old is the ugliest, the most—the ugliest thing,” he had told Boteach. “When the body breaks down and starts to wrinkle, I think it’s so bad . . . I never want to look in the mirror and see that.” At age fifty, though, there it was. He would refuse to let it go all the way, Michael said. “I don’t want to go out like Brando,” he told Gotham Chopra that spring in Los Angeles. “I’d rather go out like Elvis.”

In preparation for the O2 shows, Jackson was determined to surround himself with familiar faces. AEG Live was happy to support their star’s clannish approach to the “This Is It” concerts. Randy Phillips had already gotten off to a good start with Jackson by embracing the fact that, when he prepared for a stage show, Michael thought of himself first and foremost as a dancer and was inclined to choose choreographers as his principal collaborators.

Kenny Ortega, with whom Jackson had been meeting on a regular basis almost from the moment he returned to the United States from Ireland in 2006, had choreographed both the Bad and Dangerous tours before going Hollywood. Ortega had come a long way since the days when he was teaching Patrick Swayze to dirty dance and transforming Madonna into a Marilyn Monroe who could twirl for her “Material Girl” video. Twenty years after the end of the Dangerous tour, Ortega was considered to be the person most responsible for turning High School Musical into one of the most lucrative franchises in Disney’s history. That success, plus the ease of communication between Kenny and Michael, made the seven-figure fee Ortega was to receive as show director for the “This Is It” concerts seem to AEG a solid investment.

It was no surprise either that Michael wanted Travis Payne to help him design the dance routines. Payne had won an American Choreography Award back in the mid-nineties for his work on the music video for one of the angriest songs Jackson ever wrote, “Scream,” a furious denunciation of the tabloid media. Jackson and Payne persuaded AEG to fly in hundreds of dancers from all over the world who would be winnowed down to the twelve chosen to perform onstage with Michael at the O2. Those who had worked with Michael in the past were impressed that he broke with his practice of screening the tryouts by video, so as to avoid meeting those he would reject, and insisted upon getting up close to each and every aspirant so that he could look them in the eye. The bean counters grumbled when eight of the twelve Michael selected turned out to be Americans, while two of the other four were Canadians. What exactly had been the purpose of spending tens of thousands of dollars on plane tickets to bring scores of people from Europe to Los Angeles? The accountants wanted to know. Those expenses were peanuts compared to what Christian Audigier had in store for Jackson’s concert wardrobe; Audigier’s plan was to encrust Michael’s outfits with 300,000 Swarovski crystals.

When it came time to choose the band, Michael selected a mix of familiar hands and fresh faces. The drummer he picked to drive the dance performances was Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett, who had served as Michael’s percussionist a quarter century earlier on the Jacksons Victory tour. For lead guitarist, on the other hand, Michael had chosen Orianthi Panagaris, a stunning twenty-four-year-old blonde Australian of Greek descent who was largely unknown outside the business. When she was eighteen, Carlos Santana had pulled her onstage to perform with him at a concert. Michael insisted Panagaris audition after seeing some of her YouTube videos and appeared overjoyed when she opened her live performance for him in Los Angeles with the solo from “Beat It,” then delivered a version that measured up to the one Eddie Van Halen had produced more than twenty-five years earlier. He grabbed the young woman by the arm, walked her to the edge of the stage, and hired her on the spot.

For his personal trainer, Michael hired Lou Ferrigno, who had first come to his attention as the second-best-known bodybuilder (behind Arnold Schwarzenegger) of the early 1970s and later as the nonspeaking actor who played the giant green man on the popular TV show The Incredible Hulk. The two were training three times a week, always at the Carolwood chateau. “The paparazzi will follow me if I come to your house,” Michael explained. Working with Michael required a whole different approach from the one he’d taken when he’d been hired to bulk Mickey Rourke up with muscle for his role in The Wrestler, Ferrigno recalled. Michael wanted flexibility and sinew, so they did exercises that involved rubber bands and an inflated ball, not free weights. Ferrigno had first worked with Michael almost fifteen years earlier when Jackson was preparing for the HIStorytour, back in the days when he was known to regularly push himself beyond his physical limits. The Michael Jackson he was spending time with these days seemed mellower and more measured, Ferrigno thought. Michael did every exercise he was asked to do, and was “very animated,” Ferrigno said, but also seemed to have learned something about quitting while he was ahead.

Back in the nineties, Michael had confessed on a number of occasions how lonely his life was but he now seemed much more “fulfilled and happy,” said Ferrigno, who could only stand and grin when Michael took a break from their workouts to play hide and seek with the kids: “He was like Mr. Mom.”

Michael would show up for their training sessions in an all-black outfit, Ferrigno remembered: black slacks, shirt, shoes, and a jacket that Jackson removed on only a single occasion. Ferrigno looked at his arms and saw no needle marks.

Michael hadn’t stopped using drugs, however. He ingested pills in a pattern that appeared random but was actually based on his mood. Boredom was a trigger for his drug use, as were anxiety and depression. When he resorted to a needle, it was most often below his waist where no one would spot the tiny stab wounds. He’d collapsed any number of veins over the years, which was why he preferred to have a physician supervising his injections.

Michael especially favored needles when he suffered crippling bouts of the insomnia that his anxiety and depression fueled. His struggle to sleep nearly always became a losing battle during periods of intense stress. Over the years, he had built up incredible tolerances to doses of antianxiety drugs like Xanax and Valium (not to mention opioids such as Demerol and OxyContin) that would have left an average man catatonic. More than twelve years after he had first sampled it, there was still only one drug he could count on to help him start the day feeling rested and renewed. A trained anesthesiologist and a clinical setting, though, were required to safely use propofol.

Cherilyn Lee, a registered nurse who visited Michael Jackson’s home approximately ten times in early 2009, tried to remind him of that. Like any number of medical professionals before her, Nurse Lee was first summoned by Michael Jackson to tend to his children’s “cold symptoms.” When the entertainer began to question the nurse about her practice, Lee told him that she worked mainly as a nutritionist who, based on a person’s blood chemistry, could mix up a vitamin and mineral concoction that would boost energy. She had done it for Stevie Wonder and she could do it for him, Lee said. Michael hired her to serve up a daily menu of invigorating all-natural cocktails, according to Lee, but let only a day go by before asking if the nurse might also give him an injection of Diprivan as a sleep aid. Taking that medication anywhere but in a hospital was dangerous, Lee replied. “He said, ‘I don’t like drugs. I don’t want any drugs. My doctor told me this is a safe medicine,’” Lee recalled.

Michael gave Lee the impression that he had received propofol on only a single occasion, prior to a minor surgery of some sort. “I’d fallen asleep so easily that I wanted to have that experience again,” Lee quoted him as saying. Jackson, however, had been put under with propofol on scores of occasions during the HIStory tour, and his request that Lee administer Diprivan to him was just one of many similar conversations that Michael had had with medical professionals in the twelve years since then. After returning from the tour in 1997, he had insisted that dermatologists and plastic surgeons arrange to have him anesthetized with propofol before any number of cosmetic procedures. That Michael believed the drug was safe seems clear from the fact that, in July 2008, while still living in Las Vegas, he prevailed upon a dentist named Mark Tadrissi to put Blanket under with Diprivan for two hours during an unspecified procedure in Tadrissi’s office. Tadrissi would later tell investigators that he told Jackson he didn’t have a permit to administer anesthesia but did so anyway at Jackson’s insistence. Tadrissi also admitted to putting Michael on a propofol drip during a visit to his office.

Cherilyn Lee brought her copy of the Physicians’ Desk Reference to the Carolwood chateau in order show Michael the dangers of propofol, the nurse said, but the star remained adamant that he wanted an injection of Diprivan. “He said, ‘No, my doctor said it’s safe. It works quick and it’s safe as long as somebody’s here to monitor me and wake me up.’” She again refused to administer Diprivan, Lee said, persuading Jackson instead to try one of her herbal soporifics and let her spend the night watching him while he slept. Once Michael was under the covers, though, Lee found it difficult to convince him to turn off the lights and sounds in his bedroom. He was watching Donald Duck cartoons on the computer he kept by the bed “and it was ongoing,” the nurse recalled. “I said, ‘Maybe if we put on softer music,’ and he said, ‘No, this is how I go to sleep.’” Mr. Jackson did doze off briefly as she observed him from a chair in the corner of the bedroom, Lee recalled, but then jumped out of bed and approached her with a “wide-eyed” stare. “This is what happens to me,” he told the nurse. “All I want is to be able to sleep. I want to be able to sleep eight hours. I know I’ll feel better the next day.” Lee again refused to administer Diprivan and was not called back to the house after that.

Tohme Tohme first heard the name Frank Dileo in connection to one Arfaq Hussain—His Royal Highness Arfaq Hussain, as the man introduced himself when he showed up at the Hotel Bel-Air in late February 2009 in the company of a young Lebanese woman. The supposed prince had been preceded, Tohme remembered, by a letter from a London lawyer who wrote that he represented a member of the Saudi royal family interested in purchasing Neverland Ranch. “But when he shows up I am suspicious,” Tohme explained. “Arfaq is not an Arab name. It sounds Indian or Pakistani. Also, I know just about every prince in Saudi Arabia, and I’ve never heard of him. So I brushed him off, but politely, just in case I was wrong.”

HRH Hussain showed up again at the Lanesborough Hotel soon after he and Michael arrived in London to announce the O2 Arena shows, Tohme recalled, asking for a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Jackson. “Michael said he didn’t know him and didn’t want to meet with him,” Tohme recalled.

It seems likely Michael must have at least recognized the name, given that during the past decade Arfaq Hussain had identified himself in London tabloids both as Michael Jackson’s costume designer and as his perfumer. Whatever their past relationship was or was not, Arfaq Hussain became extremely interesting to Michael Jackson when Frank Dileo called to say that the Saudi prince wanted them to make movies together and had a fund of $300 million set aside for just that purpose. “Before, Dileo cannot even get Michael on the phone,” Tohme said. “Dileo is going every day to Michael’s mother, trying to contact Michael, about the AllGood deal at first. Michael wants nothing to do with him. But Michael is dying to make movies, and when his mother tells him about this prince with $300 million, he wants to talk to Dileo. That is Dileo’s way in.”

Tohme was concerned—not about Dileo, but about this HRH Hussain character. So he hired a former Scotland Yard inspector, “someone I know has access to government agencies at the highest levels,” Tohme explained, to look into Arfaq Hussain’s background. Shortly after that investigation was launched, however, Tohme discovered that his relationship with Michael Jackson was being tested by a new development that seemed to come out of nowhere.

On March 4, 2009, the day before the announcement of the AEG deal in London, Michael’s longtime company MJJ Productions had filed a lawsuit against Julien’s Auctions to stop the scheduled April 22 sale in Beverly Hills of the possessions Jackson had left behind in Santa Barbara County. Michael was “horrified,” unnamed associates explained to the media, when he found the catalog for the auction on the Internet and saw what they were trying to take away from him. “It was Peter Lopez and Frank Dileo and that insect Brother Michael,” Tohme said. “They told Michael, ‘Look, he’s selling your clothes. He’s selling everything.’ I wasn’t even here when they moved the things out of Neverland. I was in Bahrain taking care of that problem. So then before we go to London, Michael said, ‘I don’t want the auction anymore.’ I said, ‘Fine, I’ll cancel the auction.’ But Julien doesn’t want to cancel; we have a contract. So we have to file a lawsuit.”

What Tohme didn’t know was that Michael had begun voicing suspicions about his new manager within a month of signing the power of attorney that gave the Arab absolute authority over his finances and business affairs. In August 2008, Jackson had assigned Michael Amir Williams to find a private investigator who could “check this guy out.” The PI, Rick Hippach, filed a report on August 23, 2008, that “Mr. Tohme has been both a defendant and a plaintiff in at least sixteen (16) civil lawsuits filed from 1986 to 2007, many of which involved contractual disputes,” then added his own opinion that “this is not the best guy to do business with.” Michael Jackson, who had been involved in considerably more than sixteen lawsuits during the past twenty-one years, wasn’t terribly impressed by Hippach’s report, but continued to worry that he had given Tohme too much control of his life.

“This guy, he just . . . has ways about him,” Michael said during a tape-recorded phone conversation in September 2008. “There’s a divide between me and my representatives, and I don’t talk to my lawyer, my accountant. I talk to him and he talks to them . . . I don’t like it. I wanna get somebody in there with him that I know and trust.”

During late 2008 and early 2009, Williams had begun to make the case to Jackson that Tohme was a con man. It was increasingly obvious, Brother Michael said, that Tohme was not nearly as intimate with the royal family of Brunei as he claimed to be and was making little progress toward a deal to purchase the Bolkiah’s Spanish Gate estate in Las Vegas. Williams was not able to produce any solid evidence of Tohme’s deceptiveness, though, until his employer became distressed that his cherished “King Tut” project was not moving forward. “This was a film Michael wanted to do for years and [he] already had a full script,” Brother Michael explained. “He told Tohme that he wanted Mel Gibson to direct the film. Tohme then told Michael that he grew up with Mel and that they are best friends. I remember Michael being excited, calling me, telling me that Tohme and Mel Gibson were best friends and he was going to send him the script. For some reason I didn’t believe Tohme; I thought it was too big of a coincidence for him to be best friends with the man Michael wanted to work with. So I decided to try to get in touch with Mel Gibson myself. I reached out to Peter Lopez and asked Peter if he can get in touch with Mel Gibson for me. And he told me that Tohme just called him asking him if he knew Mel Gibson and if he could help him get in touch with him. That’s when I told Michael, but Michael said, ‘Let’s just wait and see what happens.’”

Tohme insisted that the name Mel Gibson never came up in connection to the King Tut project. “Michael wanted Peter Jackson for that,” he said. “Peter Jackson was the only person he would consider. And Brother Michael would have no idea what Michael Jackson and I discussed. He was never in our meetings. He was an errand boy. He went for coffee. If Michael saw him listening at the door he would tell him to go outside and close the door behind him.”

Williams had Jackson’s ear, though, when he began pointing out how suspicious it was that “Tohme just happened to know everyone Michael wanted to meet.” Jackson was especially interested in collaborating with A. R. Rahman, the composer who had just won two Academy Awards for theSlumdog Millionaire soundtrack, Brother Michael recalled, and “Tohme told Michael that he had known Mr. Rahman for years and that they were good friends. I didn’t believe him so I decided to do some research myself. The day before [Rahman and Jackson] were supposed to meet I reached out to [Rahman’s] agent. His agent put me in touch with Mr. Rahman and I was able to speak with him. I asked him if he knew Tohme and he told me that he had no idea who Tohme was and that Tohme was making him go to the Hotel Bel-Air two hours before the meeting for drinks with him, and that Tohme and Mr. Rahman were to drive to Michael’s house together. I then told Michael what I found out and I ended up setting up a private meeting with Michael and Mr. Rahman at Michael’s residence without Tohme. Tohme was very upset at me but Michael and I had a good laugh about it . . . we realized that Tohme was doing this with almost everyone. He would meet them at the Hotel Bel-Air and then drive over to Michael’s house with them to make Michael think that they had been good friends.”

It was true that he arranged to meet Rahman at the Hotel Bel-Air, Tohme conceded, but not that he had claimed to be old friends with the composer. “Brother Michael was working for Dileo by then,” he said, “but I didn’t know it. Michael told me to fire him more than once. He told me Brother Michael was stealing from him. But Brother Michael cried that he had nowhere else to go and I kept him on. I was a fool.”

Tohme was the one Jackson was planning to get rid of, Brother Michael retorted: “After Michael and I realized Tohme was a liar, I would ask Michael, ‘Why don’t you just fire him?’ Michael’s response would be, ‘Brother Michael, when you’re on a plane flying in midair, you don’t get rid of the pilot in the air. You wait until you land and the job is done, then you can get rid of the pilot.’”

The deals Tohme had made for him in the first six months after becoming Michael’s manager seemed to ease Jackson’s concerns about the man, but those apprehensions were aroused again when he discovered that Tohme and Randy Phillips had been planning to expand the number of concerts he would perform at the O2 long before they told him about it. At almost the same moment, Michael’s discovery that Tohme had authorized an auction where Darren Julien would be selling “priceless and irreplaceable” personal items, as Jackson’s court filing described them, stoked his fury. MJJ Productions had “authorized the auction house to remove the items from Jackson’s Neverland Ranch,” Michael’s suit alleged, “but not to sell them without Jackson’s permission.” That did not jibe with the recollection of Dennis Hawk, who had served as the main liaison between Tohme, Jackson, and Darren Julien. “I was there in the fall of 2008, when Michael was asked what he wanted to sell from Neverland,” Hawk recalled, “and his answer was, ‘Everything.’ He said it twice: ‘Everything.’ Darren Julien handled the whole thing in the most professional way you could imagine. He sent a fleet of trucks up to Neverland to load everything, at his own expense, and also paid for it all to be stored at warehouses in Los Angeles. Then he prepared this absolutely beautiful catalog of the items for sale at an auction that would have netted Michael millions.” Julien had begun selling $20 tickets to the auction in February, along with auction catalogs priced at $50 for a single volume or $200 for a five-volume boxed set. “Like Disneyland collides with the Louvre,” he had described the contents. The man’s money and his reputation were already on the line. But after making the deal for the O2 shows, Hawk said, “Michael wasn’t so sure he needed the money, and all of a sudden he didn’t want to sell ‘everything’ from Neverland. It put Julien in a terrible position.”

Confronted by the lawsuit, Julien refused to return the property in his warehouses unless he was paid for time and costs, plus the share of profits he would be losing. It became a nasty public dispute that placed Tohme right in the middle. On one side, Michael Jackson was insisting that he had never intended to sell much of what had been removed from Neverland, that there were things in Julien’s warehouse that meant more to him than money. On the other side, Darren Julien was warning Tohme that he’d better convince Michael Jackson to keep his commitment, or else come up with the $2 million in expenses he had run up preparing for the auction, plus some reasonable percentage of the commissions he would be losing if the event was canceled. In an attempt to settle the matter, Tohme dispatched his business partner, James R. Weller, to a private meeting with Julien. Weller was a legendary advertising man who had won a slew of major awards, including Clios, Emmys, Addys, and prizes from the Cannes and New York film festivals. Ad Age had listed him as the writer or creative director on two of the “10 Greatest Ad Campaigns of All Time.” He had also served as the creative director for the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Since 2005, Tohme and Weller had been partners in TRW Advertising, where Weller, who was in his seventies, ran the shop while Tohme functioned as the moneyman. Finesse was supposed to be Weller’s strong suit.

A PR disaster was the last thing Tohme expected from a meeting where he was represented by Jim Weller. Yet shortly after the meeting (which, oddly, took place in a fast food restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard), Darren Julien filed an affidavit in Los Angeles Superior Court in which he alleged that Weller had threatened his life. “Weller said that if we refused to postpone [the auction], we would be in danger from ‘Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam,’” Julien’s sworn statement read. After stating that “those people are very protective of Michael,” Julien claimed, Weller “told us that Dr. Tohme and Michael Jackson wanted to give the message to us that ‘our lives are at stake and there will be bloodshed.’” (Weller later filed a declaration with the court in which he denied making any of the threats Julien alleged.) Julien and his partner Martin Nolan met with Tohme Tohme the next day at a Starbucks where, according to Julien’s affidavit, Michael Jackson’s manager “denied any knowledge of Weller’s threats, and said that he accepted that the auction would need to proceed as agreed.”

Tohme was shocked when gossip columnist Roger Friedman got hold of Julien’s affidavit and turned it into a pair of columns that publicly eviscerated Michael Jackson’s “mysterious new manager.” Tohme could only blame himself for some of what Friedman wrote. His clumsy attempts to circumvent Michael’s displeasure about the potential sale of his prized possessions made him sound (assuming Friedman reported his remarks correctly) at once craven and devious. “I did not set up the auction, the auction is not going through!” Friedman quoted him as saying. Tohme most certainly had set up the auction but compounded his problems by trying to make it sound as if he had merely been using Julien to transport and store “a lot of stuff” that had to be removed from Neverland when Colony Capital took possession. Darren Julian was understandably insulted by being described as the operator of a moving and storage service. He urged Friedman to ask what exactly this “Dr. Tohme” was a doctor of. Quoting “sources” who said that Jackson’s manager had “referred to himself as an orthopedist or orthopedic surgeon,” Friedman asked Tohme if he was a licensed physician. “Not at this time,” was Tohme’s answer. When Friedman asked repeatedly what kind of doctor Tohme might once have been, he got no answer. “If you want to talk about Michael Jackson, fine,” Tohme told Friedman. “The story isn’t about me.” After Friedman added the false suggestion that Tohme hadn’t really set up the deal at AEG, Michael’s manager came off looking dubious indeed. Friedman promptly followed with a second column that used Julien’s story of his meeting with Weller to dredge up Michael Jackson’s connections to the Nation of Islam, then reported that he had contacted someone at the Senegalese embassy in Washington who said he had never heard of any “ambassador at large” named Tohme Tohme. In fact, Tohme did possess a passport that had been personally signed by Abdoulaye Wade, the country’s president since 2000, with a notation in Wade’s handwriting that identified him as the country’s “Ambassador at Large,” but by then no one was very interested in looking at the thing. Michael himself was most upset by a final comment from Darren Julien that Friedman had added to his second column, in which the auctioneer spoke of voluntarily returning “certain items” that might “be embarrassing” to Jackson.

Michael’s mortification and fury increased after the Los Angeles Times picked up the story and lent Friedman’s inferences legitimacy. For the first time since the two had met, he began refusing to answer Tohme’s phone calls. “I remember Michael saying, ‘I am never talking to him again!’” recalled Patrick Allocco, who, like Frank Dileo and Leonard Rowe, was maneuvering to fill the opening created by Jackson’s separation from his manager. Darren Julien, meanwhile, refused to back down, and scheduled an exhibition of 1,390 lots of property from Neverland beginning on April 14. That very day, literally at the last minute, the dispute was settled when Tohme presented Julien with a cashier’s check for the full amount he demanded. “Where he got the money remains a mystery,” the Times would report. It had come from the Lockbox and put a far bigger dent in Michael’s house fund than the purchase of Katherine’s deluxe motor home. Tohme Tohme declined to say another public word about the entire auction debacle but the damage to his reputation had been done, and the timing could hardly have been worse.

On April 2, Patrick Allocco had spent nearly an hour on the phone with Katherine Jackson, confirming Leonard Rowe’s promise of a $2 million payment if she could convince Michael to sign the AllGood deal and repudiate his agreement with AEG. Allocco also urged Katherine to persuade her son that he should be represented by Leonard Rowe rather than Tohme Tohme. At least tell Michael he should sit down with Joe and Rowe one more time and hear what they have to say, Allocco told Mrs. Jackson. Katherine did as asked, and before the middle of that month had talked Michael into taking another meeting with his father and Leonard. It wasn’t a coincidence that Joe and Rowe arranged to meet with Michael (and Patrick Allocco, who was there also) at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City on the morning of April 14, less than ten hours before Darren Julien was scheduled to begin exhibiting his possessions ahead of the April 22 auction. “Let me say my piece,” Joe began the meeting, then launched into a lengthy diatribe about his son’s allowing himself to be controlled by AEG and its agents, particularly this Tohme. Leonard Rowe was a family friend, Joe said, who would look out for the Jacksons’ interests, not AEG’s, and see that Michael’s earnings were protected. With his father literally standing over him, Michael signed a document that read, “Leonard Rowe is my authorized representative in all matters concerning my endeavors in the entertainment industry and any other of my endeavors as he may be assigned by me.” Michael made a number of handwritten amendments to the letter before signing it, however, including one in which he stated that the authority he was giving Rowe applied to “financial overseeing only” and “can be revoked at any time.”

At that same meeting, Michael signed a notarized “notice of revocation of power of attorney” that stripped Tohme Tohme of his control over the star’s finances, then added the request that “all personal or professional property related to me, my immediate family, and all other related family in the possession of Dr. Tohme R. Tohme, including without limitation any passports or other documents, be returned to me immediately.” Tohme would insist that he never received a copy of any such document and that his position in Michael Jackson’s life was unchanged.

Frank Dileo was still out there, too, though, working every angle he could find that played off his relationship with Michael Jackson. On April 1, Dileo negotiated an AllGood Entertainment–like deal with a company called Citadel Events that promised to assist in putting on a Michael Jackson concert in Trinidad and Tobago during the fall of 2009. Unlike Patrick Allocco, Citadel’s principals had been reckless enough to advance Dileo a $300,000 “binder” fee. No Michael Jackson concert in Trinidad and Tobago was ever going to happen but Citadel wasn’t going to see its $300,000 again, either.

Dileo wasn’t Michael Jackson’s manager but the story of those hundreds of millions of dollars in movie money under the control of HRH Arfaq Hussain had helped him recapture a measure of Michael’s attention. Dileo’s first contact with Randy Phillips had come, the AEG Live chief executive recalled, in an e-mail, when “MJ orchestrated a conference call with Mr. Dileo, MJ, and me to discuss a fund that Frank had raised to make motion pictures with MJ. This was prompted by AEG’s commitment to develop a shooting script for a 3-D live-action film based on ‘Thriller.’ MJ mentioned his fondness for Frank and that he wanted him to executive produce these films.” Phillips still saw Dileo as a fringe player, though.

On April 11, Phillips responded to a cease-and-desist letter from AllGood Entertainment by stating, “Mr. Dileo doesn’t involve AEG in any manner whatsoever.” After learning that Michael Jackson had signed some sort of an agreement with Leonard Rowe on April 14, however, Phillips began to wonder if perhaps he shouldn’t be in business with Frank Dileo after all—especially if Tohme Tohme was on shaky ground. And apparently Tohme was, given that on April 22, 2009, Michael signed a letter to AEG stating that Tohme would not serve as the production manager on the O2 “tour” as had been previously contemplated. The same letter, written by Frank Dileo, directed AEG not to pay Tohme for any work he did on this “tour” or any other. Phillips immediately requested a meeting with Dileo. Three days later, he sent Tohme an e-mail stating that Michael Jackson apparently did not want him to serve as the tour manager during the O2 concerts.

According to Patrick Allocco, Phillips had already begun to encourage Michael Jackson to replace Tohme with Dileo. “Randy Phillips wasn’t able to control Michael the way he wanted to,” Allocco explained, “and Randy Phillips was most definitely angry at us involving Leonard Rowe in Michael’s life. Randy is the one who hired Frank Dileo.” Michael himself told people close to him that Dileo had been hired by Phillips and said he was furious about it, insisting that he still believed Frank had stolen from him back in the 1980s.

Tohme, for his part, continued to insist that nothing had changed. “I still had not received anything from Michael saying I was not his manager, or that he didn’t want me with him in London,” Tohme said. “He still called me on the phone and told me he loved me. Randy Phillips still treated me as Michael’s manager.”

Tohme clearly recognized that his position was precarious, however, and began to backpedal furiously in his public statements, especially with regard to Neverland Ranch. In early April, based on what Michael had been saying for months, Tohme had told the Wall Street Journal, “Neverland is finished.” By May, however, he was veering sharply toward his new position that Michael wanted to keep the ranch, that he envisioned Neverland as a “veritable city for children,” one that would be “ten times bigger than Graceland.”

Then a new complication surfaced that forced him to “distance myself from the situation,” as Tohme put it. His private investigator’s report on Arfaq Hussain had finally been delivered from London. Hussain was not a Saudi prince, the report stated at the outset, but had been born to a Pakistani family in England in July 1970. “He initially came to the attention of the law enforcement authorities when a series of allegations were received that his business practices were fraudulent and criminal,” Tohme’s investigator went on. That complaint was made by Michael Jackson’s dear friend Mohammed Al Fayed, who told police that Hussain seemed to “come out of nowhere” when he approached the Harrods owner in the spring of 1998, boasting of acquaintance with “well-known Muslim figures in the worlds of show business, politics, and sports,” and “also made much of an apparent close relationship with Michael Jackson.”

In 2001, the report from London continued, Hussain “was arrested during a massive antidrugs operation by police in the North of England.” After being criminally charged, the report explained, Hussain cut a deal with authorities and turned informant. His plea bargain resulted in a minimal sentence of four months’ imprisonment, related to his fraudulent conduct in business activities.

“Having investigated this subject thoroughly,” the report’s conclusion began, “it is strongly recommended that your client should not enter into any commercial or social contact with Arfaq Hussain.”

When he urged Jackson to send Hussain away, Tohme said, Michael refused, insisting that Frank Dileo said Arfaq really did have access to $300 million in Saudi money to finance film productions. “This is the first time I realize that Dileo has Michael’s ear,” recalled an indignant Tohme. “He came for weeks, trying to push himself in, but he couldn’t, not until he got with Arfaq Hussain.” Tohme detailed the efforts and the progress he’d made toward helping Michael realize his dream of creating big-budget motion pictures. He had been talking to major studios about Michael’s cherished King Tut project, Tohme said, and had arranged meetings between Jackson and Andy Hayward, the creator of the Inspector Gadget series that Michael loved, to develop characters for an animated version of the “Thriller” video. “Things are moving along,” Tohme insisted, but Michael believed the “fund” Frank Dileo had supposedly put together with the help of Arfaq Hussain would make it possible for him to proceed immediately. Finally, Tohme said, “I told Michael, ‘I will never set foot next to you if you have that crook around.’” Michael just laughed.

According to Patrick Allocco, “Michael stopped all contact with Dr. Tohme” around the time of this conversation. Tohme himself insisted that,“Michael and I were still close. There is still love between us. I am still his manager.” What almost everyone else observed, though, was that by the middle of May 2009, Tohme, the man who described his job as “protecting Michael Jackson from everyone and everything that can hurt him,” was largely out of the picture.

In the eyes of an attorney who had been representing Jackson on and off for nearly twenty years, what was taking place seemed an obvious reification of the star’s relationship with his father: “Michael had always done best in terms of his career when he had some powerful authority figure telling him what to do. He was conditioned to that at an early age. But at the same time he resented those authority figures, because they brought back memories of Joe, who he really hated deep down. So he eventually had to shatter the relationship and push away the one person who was driving him to succeed. Then he’d be on his own again, and he’d start drifting, usually into trouble.”

Frank Dileo, Leonard Rowe, and the members of the Jackson family were not the only ones whose ears had perked up at the news of the O2 concerts and the enormous sums of money under discussion. Just as the franchise seemed to be cranking up to once again produce huge revenues, those who were Michael’s collaborators back in Thriller Time began lining up in court to be cut in on the action. John Landis had put himself into first position on January 21, 2009, when the London shows were just a rumor, by filing a lawsuit that claimed back royalties from the “Thriller” video, plus a piece of the Nederlander deal. Michael’s attorneys had seen it coming since late 2007 when stories about a possible series of Jackson concerts at the O2 began to appear in print and Landis complained to London’s Telegraph, “Listen, Michael probably owes me $10 million because he’s in hock to Sony so deeply. All the monies from the ‘Thriller’ video, which I own fifty percent, are collected by Sony. My deal is with Michael’s company, and he owes Sony so much that they keep the money.” If Jackson was about to become flush again, though, there would be ways for Landis to collect.’s Andrew Gumbel, who announced the lawsuit two days before it was filed, reported that Tohme and other Jackson advisors had held a “council-of-war meeting” at the Bel-Air Hotel over the weekend to discuss the Landis suit. “We just wanted to make sure Michael wasn’t upset or distracted,” Tohme explained. That spring, Landis’s claim against Michael would be joined by Ola Ray, the former Playboy centerfold who had been Jackson’s costar in the “Thriller” video. Now a forty-eight-year-old single mom living in Sacramento, Ray’s career had tailed off after a cocaine bust in 1992, and seventeen years later she was demanding to know why she wasn’t receiving royalties from the twenty-fifth anniversary release of Thriller.

The lawsuits filed against him had always bothered Michael more than he let on. He hated conflict, and despised the attorneys who exploited it. His bodyguards recalled that near the end of one long day spent in a law office where he had been subjected to separate depositions, Michael was so overwrought that he grabbed one of their cell phones and hurled it through the glass of a conference room window.

“You have the same thousand parasites that float back in and try to take advantage of the situation,” Tom Barrack told the Los Angeles Times near the end of May. If Barrack’s comment was directed at anyone in particular, that person appeared to be Raymone Bain, who, on the same day as Ola Ray’s California court filing, had submitted a lawsuit to the federal court in Washington, D.C., that demanded $44 million from Jackson for 10 percent of every bit of the entertainer’s business she had ever touched, the AEG deal included. Those who had been involved in the negotiations for the O2 shows were incensed. “Raymone Bain was not at a single one of the meetings where the AEG deal was negotiated, not in person and not on the telephone,” said an attorney who attended every one of them. Bain had been unable to so much as contact Michael by phone since 2008, when he changed numbers and insisted that the new one not be given to her. “Raymone Bain wasn’t even mentioned during the meetings with AEG that resulted in the contract for the O2 shows,” the attorney recalled. “She had absolutely nothing to do with that deal. But now she wants a piece of it.” Bain, naturally, saw things differently. She had been in discussions with Randy Phillips and AEG long before Tohme Tohme arrived on the scene, and even if those discussions had not resulted in a deal, they gave her, Raymone believed, the basis for a claim.

Other lawsuits were coming. The only way to cope with it all was to keep Michael moving forward, looking straight ahead. Yet something in him suddenly wanted to reconcile with his past, to own up and pay out. Drugs could fog him over, but not make him truly forget. He seemed to believe he couldn’t go forward without first going back. Out of nowhere he phoned Terry George in London.

George’s story of Michael masturbating during a trans-Atlantic phone call back in 1980 had long been and still was the most credible of all the claims made against Jackson for inappropriate sexual conduct with a child. Who Terry George was and what he had become made him especially convincing; he didn’t need money and had never sought attention. George was a multimillionaire businessman now, in his early forties, and remained, as he had been always, essentially a defender of Michael Jackson’s reputation. When the Los Angeles police had contacted him back in 1993 during the Jordan Chandler investigation, George was very clear in telling them that Michael had never touched him in any sexual way, and insisted then, as he continued to do, that he did not believe Michael was a pedophile. He didn’t know for certain, of course, since he hadn’t seen or spoken to Jackson in three decades—at least not until he answered that “shock call” from the Carolwood chateau in the spring of 2009. Michael got quickly to the point and acknowledged what had happened during that phone conversation back in 1980, then said he wanted “to apologize and be forgiven,” as George recounted their discussion. “But he insisted that his love for children was entirely innocent,” George recalled. Yes, there had been accusations from a couple of boys over the years, but there was no truth to those stories at all, Michael said. He believed the kids had been forced to say things that they later regretted, and he really hoped they would some day be given a chance to say so publicly. He asked Michael how he was doing, and the star’s only reply had been to say he had been “under a lot of pressure recently,” George recalled. Michael thanked the Englishman again for being kind enough to forgive him, then said good-bye.

Perhaps Michael imagined he had wiped the slate clean. Or maybe he knew that really wasn’t possible. Tom Mesereau believed that Michael had never really healed from the series of concussive blows he had absorbed back in 2003, 2004 and 2005. “I think he was bleeding internally the whole time,” Mesereau said. “He was dying right in front of everyone, but nobody saw it.”

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