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'I'm better off dead. I'm done': Michael Jackson's fateful prediction just a week before his deathBy Ian Halperin
- Genetic condition had ruined his lungs and left him unable to sing
- He became so skeletal, doctors believed he was anorexic
- He had nightmares about being murdered – and wanted to die
- He used swine flu as an excuse to avoid coming to England
- He thought he was agreeing to 10 concerts – it was 50
During the last weeks and months of his life, Jackson made desperate attempts to prepare for the concert series scheduled for next month – a series that would have earned millions for the singer and his entourage, but which he could never have completed, not mentally, and not physically.
Ailing: Michael Jackson may have worn a mask in public to protect his diseased lungs
I had more than a glimpse of the real Michael; as an award-winning freelance journalist and film-maker, I spent more than five years inside his ‘camp’.
Many in his entourage spoke frankly to me – and that made it possible for me to write authoritatively last December that Michael had six months to live, a claim that, at the time, his official spokesman, Dr Tohme Tohme, called a ‘complete fabrication’. The singer, he told the world, was in ‘fine health’. Six months and one day later, Jackson was dead.
Some liked to snigger at his public image, and it is true that flamboyant clothes and bizarre make-up made for a comic grotesque; yet without them, his appearance was distressing; with skin blemishes, thinning hair and discoloured fingernails.
I had established beyond doubt, for example, that Jackson relied on an extensive collection of wigs to hide his greying hair. Shorn of their luxuriance, the Peter Pan of Neverland cut a skeletal figure.
As a breaking news alert flashed on CNN announcing that the jury had reached a verdict in Jackson’s trial for allegedly molesting 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo at his Neverland Ranch in California, I knew that history had been made but that Michael Jackson had been broken – irrevocably so, as it proved.
Nor was it the first time that Michael had been accused of impropriety with young boys. Little more than a decade earlier, another 13-year-old, Jordan Chandler, made similar accusations in a case that was eventually settled before trial – but not before the damage had been done to Jackson’s reputation.
Frail: In a wheelchair last year, Michael Jackson looked in no state to perform 50 tough gigs
I had started my investigation convinced that Jackson was guilty. By the end, I no longer believed that.
I could not find a single shred of evidence suggesting that Jackson had molested a child. But I found significant evidence demonstrating that most, if not all, of his accusers lacked credibility and were motivated primarily by money.
Jackson also deserved much of the blame, of course. Continuing to share a bed with children even after the suspicions surfaced bordered on criminal stupidity.
He was also playing a truly dangerous game. It is clear to me that Michael was homosexual and that his taste was for young men, albeit not as young as Jordan Chandler or Gavin Arvizo.
In the course of my investigations, I spoke to two of his gay lovers, one a Hollywood waiter, the other an aspiring actor. The waiter had remained friends, perhaps more, with the singer until his death last week. He had served Jackson at a restaurant, Jackson made his interest plain and the two slept together the following night. According to the waiter, Jackson fell in love.
The actor, who has been given solid but uninspiring film parts, saw Jackson in the middle of 2007. He told me they had spent nearly every night together during their affair – an easy claim to make, you might think. But this lover produced corroboration in the form of photographs of the two of them together, and a witness.
Other witnesses speak of strings of young men visiting his house at all hours, even in the period of his decline. Some stayed overnight.
When Jackson lived in Las Vegas, one of his closest aides told how he would sneak off to a ‘grungy, rat-infested’ motel – often dressed as a woman to disguise his identity – to meet a male construction worker he had fallen in love with.
Jackson was acquitted in the Arvizo case, dramatically so, but the effect on his mental state was ruinous. Sources close to him suggest he was close to complete nervous breakdown.
Death scene: The rented home in Bel Air where Michael Jackson passed away
Although up to 100,000 Americans are severely affected by it, it is an under-recognised condition. Michael was receiving regular injections of Alpha-1 antitrypsin derived from human plasma. The treatment is said to be remarkably effective and can enable the sufferer to lead a normal life.
But the disease can cause respiratory problems and, in severe cases, emphysema. Could this be why Jackson had for years been wearing a surgical mask in public, to protect his lungs from the ravages of the disease? Or why, from time to time, he resorted to a wheelchair? When I returned to my source inside the Jackson camp for confirmation, he said: ‘Yeah, that’s what he’s got. He’s in bad shape. They’re worried that he might need a lung transplant but he may be too weak.
‘Some days he can hardly see and he’s having a lot of trouble walking.’
Even Michael Jackson’s legendary wealth was in sharp decline. Just a few days before he announced his 50-concert comeback at the O2 Arena, one of my sources told me Jackson had been offered £1.8million to perform at a party for a Russian billionaire on the Black Sea.
‘Is he up to it?’ I had asked.
‘He has no choice. He needs the money. His people are pushing him hard,’ said the source.
Could he even stand on a stage for an hour concert?
‘He can stand. The treatments have been successful. He can even dance once he gets in better shape. He just can’t sing,’ said the aide, adding that Jackson would have to lip-synch to get through the performance. ‘Nobody will care, as long as he shows up and moonwalks.’
He also revealed Jackson had been offered well over £60million to play Las Vegas for six months. ‘He said no, but his people are trying to force it on him. He’s that close to losing everything,’ said the source.
Forced: Michael Jackson thought he was agreeing to 10 concerts at London's O2 Arena not 50
But the damage to his career, already in trouble before the charges, was incalculable. After the Arvizo trial, a Bahraini sheikh allowed Jackson to stay in his palace, underwriting his lavish lifestyle. But a few years later, the prince sued his former guest, demanding repayment for his hospitality. Jackson claimed he thought it had been a gift.
Roger Friedman, a TV journalist, said: ‘For one year, the prince underwrote Jackson’s life in Bahrain – everything including accommodation, guests, security and transportation. And what did Jackson do? He left for Japan and then Ireland. He took the money and moonwalked right out the door. This is the real Michael Jackson. He has never returned a phone call from the prince since he left Bahrain.’
Although Jackson settled with the sheikh on the eve of the trial that would have aired his financial dirty laundry, the settlement only put him that much deeper into the hole. A hole that kept getting bigger, but that was guaranteed by Jackson’s half ownership of the copyrights to The Beatles catalogue. He owned them in a joint venture with record company Sony, which have kept him from bankruptcy.
‘Jackson is in hock to Sony for hundreds of millions,’ a source told me a couple of months ago. ‘No bank will give him any money so Sony have been paying his bills.
‘The trouble is that he hasn’t been meeting his obligations. Sony have been in a position for more than a year where it can repossess Michael’s share of the [Beatles] catalogue. That’s always been Sony’s dream scenario, full ownership.
‘But they don’t want to do it as they’re afraid of a backlash from his fans. Their nightmare is an organised 'boycott Sony' movement worldwide, which could prove hugely costly. It is the only thing standing between Michael and bankruptcy.’
Legacy: Michael Jackson wanted to ensure the future of his children by leaving them 200 unpublished songs
According to two sources in Jackson’s camp, the singer put in place a contingency plan to ensure his children would be well taken care of in the event of bankruptcy.
‘He has as many as 200 unpublished songs that he is planning to leave behind for his children when he dies. They can’t be touched by the creditors, but they could be worth as much as £60million that will ensure his kids a comfortable existence no matter what happens,’ one of his collaborators revealed.
But for the circle of handlers who surrounded Jackson during his final years, their golden goose could not be allowed to run dry. Bankruptcy was not an option.
These, after all, were not the handlers who had seen him through the aftermath of the Arvizo trial and who had been protecting his fragile emotional health to the best of their ability. They were gone, and a new set of advisers was in place.
The clearout had apparently been engineered by his children’s nanny, Grace Rwaramba, who was gaining considerable influence over Jackson and his affairs and has been described as the ‘queen bee’ by those around Jackson.
Rwaramba had ties to the black militant organisation, the Nation of Islam, and its controversial leader, Louis Farrakhan, whom she enlisted for help in running Jackson’s affairs.
Before long, the Nation was supplying Jackson’s security detail and Farrakhan’s son-in-law, Leonard Muhammad, was appointed as Jackson’s business manager, though his role has lessened significantly in recent years.
In late 2008, a shadowy figure who called himself Dr Tohme Tohme suddenly emerged as Jackson’s ‘official spokesman’.
Tohme has been alternately described as a Saudi Arabian billionaire and an orthopaedic surgeon, but he is actually a Lebanese businessman who does not have a medical licence. At one point, Tohme claimed he was an ambassador at large for Senegal, but the Senegalese embassy said they had never heard of him.
Misguided: Michael Jackson showed no sign of understanding why anyone might be legitimately concerned about him sharing a bed with young boys
Julien filed an affidavit in Los Angeles Superior Court that month in which he described a meeting he had with Tohme’s business partner, James R. Weller. According to Julien’s account, ‘Weller said if we refused to postpone [the auction], we would be in danger from 'Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam; those people are very protective of Michael'.
He 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'.’
A month after these alleged threats, Tohme accompanied Jackson to a meeting at a Las Vegas hotel with Randy Phillips, chief executive of the AEG Group, to finalise plans for Jackson’s return to the concert stage.
Jackson’s handlers had twice before said no to Phillips. This time, with Tohme acting as his confidant, Jackson left the room agreeing to perform ten concerts at the O2.
Before long, however, ten concerts had turned into 50 and the potential revenues had skyrocketed. ‘The vultures who were pulling his strings somehow managed to put this concert extravaganza together behind his back, then presented it to him as a fait accompli,’ said one aide.
‘The money was just unbelievable and all his financial people were telling him he was facing bankruptcy. But Michael still resisted. He didn’t think he could pull it off.’
Eventually, they wore him down, the aide explained, but not with the money argument.
‘They told him that this would be the greatest comeback the world had ever known. That’s what convinced him. He thought if he could emerge triumphantly from the success of these concerts, he could be the King again.’
The financial details of the O2 concerts are still murky, though various sources have revealed that Jackson was paid as much as £10million in advance, most of which went to the middlemen. But Jackson could have received as much as £100million had the concerts gone ahead.
It is worth noting that the O2 Arena has the most sophisticated lip synching technology in the world – a particular attraction for a singer who can no longer sing. Had, by some miracle, the concerts gone ahead, Jackson’s personal contribution could have been limited to just 13 minutes for each performance. The rest was to have been choreography and lights.
‘We knew it was a disaster waiting to happen,’ said one aide. ‘I don’t think anybody predicted it would actually kill him but nobody believed he would end up performing.’
Their doubts were underscored when Jackson collapsed during only his second rehearsal.
Hidden life: It was 'clear Michael Jackson was gay' but he married twice, firstly to Lisa Marie Presley, above
Meanwhile, everybody around him noticed that Jackson had lost an astonishing amount of weight in recent months. His medical team even believed he was anorexic.
‘He goes days at a time hardly eating a thing and at one point his doctor was asking people if he had been throwing up after meals,’ one staff member told me in May.
‘He suspected bulimia but when we said he hardly eats any meals, the doc thought it was probably anorexia. He seemed alarmed and at one point said, 'People die from that all the time. You’ve got to get him to eat.'’
Indeed, one known consequence of anorexia is cardiac arrest.
After spotting him leave one rehearsal, Fox News reported that ‘Michael Jackson’s skeletal physique is so bad that he might not be able to moonwalk any more’.
On May 20 this year, AEG suddenly announced that the first London shows had been delayed for five days while the remainder had been pushed back until March 2010. At the time, they denied that the postponements were health-related, explaining that they needed more time to mount the technically complex production, though scepticism immediately erupted. It was well placed.
Behind the scenes, Jackson was in rapid decline. According to a member of his staff, he was ‘terrified’ at the prospect of the London concerts.
‘He wasn’t eating, he wasn’t sleeping and, when he did sleep, he had nightmares that he was going to be murdered. He was deeply worried that he was going to disappoint his fans. He even said something that made me briefly think he was suicidal. He said he thought he’d die before doing the London concerts.
‘He said he was worried that he was going to end up like Elvis. He was always comparing himself to Elvis, but there was something in his tone that made me think that he wanted to die, he was tired of life. He gave up. His voice and dance moves weren’t there any more. I think maybe he wanted to die rather than embarrass himself on stage.’
The most obvious comparison between the King of Pop and the King of Rock ’n’ Roll was their prescription drug habits, which in Jackson’s case had significantly intensified in his final months.
‘He is surrounded by enablers,’ said one aide. ‘We should be stopping him before he kills himself, but we just sit by and watch him medicate himself into oblivion.’
Jackson could count on an array of doctors to write him prescriptions without asking too many questions if he complained of ‘pain’. He was particularly fond of OxyContin, nicknamed ‘Hillbilly heroin’, which gave an instant high, although he did not take it on a daily basis.
According to the aide, painkillers are not the only drugs Jackson took.
Performer: Michael Jackson was unable to dance and sing like he once could due to his illnesses
His aides weren’t the only ones who recognised that a 50-concert run was foolhardy. In May, Jackson himself reportedly addressed fans as he left his Burbank rehearsal studio.
‘Thank you for your love and support,’ he told them. ‘I want you guys to know I love you very much.
'I don’t know how I’m going to do 50 shows. I’m not a big eater. I need to put some weight on. I’m really angry with them booking me up to do 50 shows. I only wanted to do ten.’
One of his former employees was particularly struck by Jackson’s wording that day. ‘The way he was talking, it’s like he’s not in control over his own life any more,’ she told me earlier this month. ‘It sounds like somebody else is pulling his strings and telling him what to do. Someone wants him dead.
'They keep feeding him pills like candy. They are trying to push him over the edge. He needs serious help. The people around him will kill him.’
As the London concerts approached, something was clearly wrong. Jackson had vowed to travel to England at least eight weeks before his first shows, but he kept putting it off.
‘To be honest, I never thought Michael would set foot on a concert stage ever again,’ said one aide, choking back tears on the evening of his death.
‘This was not only predictable, this was inevitable.’
On June 21, Jackson told my contact that he wanted to die. He said that he didn’t have what it would take to perform any more because he had lost his voice and dance moves.
‘It’s not working out,’ Jackson said. ‘I’m better off dead. I don’t have anywhere left to turn. I’m done.’
Michael’s closest confidante told me just two hours after he died that ‘Michael was tired of living. He was a complete wreck for years and now he can finally be in a better place. People around him fed him drugs to keep him on their side. They should be held accountable.’
Michael Jackson was undoubtedly a deeply troubled and lonely man. Throughout my investigation, I was torn between compassion and anger, sorrow and empathy.
Even his legacy is problematic. As I have already revealed, he has bequeathed up to 200 original songs to his three children, Prince Michael, aged 12, Paris Katherine, 11, and Prince Michael II (also known as Blanket), seven. It is a wonderful gift.
Yet I can reveal that his will, not as yet made public, demands that the three of them remain with Jackson’s 79-year-old mother Katherine in California. It promises an ugly row.
Ex-wife Deborah Rowe, the mother of the eldest two, has already made it clear to her legal team that she wants her children in her custody, immediately.
The mother of the third child has never been identified. I fully expect that it will emerge that the children had a ‘test tube’ conception, a claim already made by Deborah Rowe.
Michael Jackson may very well have been the most talented performer of his generation, but for 15 years that fact has been lost to a generation who may remember him only as a grotesque caricature who liked to share his bed with little boys. Now that he’s gone, maybe it’s time to shelve the suspicions and appreciate the music.
- Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson by Ian Halperin is published by Transit Publishing in the UK at £14.99 and Pocket Books in the US at $24. To order your copy at the special price of £13.50 with free p&p, call The Review Bookstore on 0845 155 0713.
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