The wispy voice caused me to review the Michaels I knew. I was stymied until the voice asked, “Did you write a book about Walt Disney?”
I admitted I had authored “Walt Disney, An American Original.” I also recognized the voice by now – Michael Jackson – remembering he had a passion for all things Disney.
“I’d like to talk to you about Walt,” he said urgently, and I agreed. The date was set for the following evening at his family compound in the San Fernando Valley community of Encino, which is just a few blocks from my house.
I arrived at the property and announced myself to a receptionist on the other end of an intercom. A massive gate opened slowly and I drove down a narrow passageway and stopped in front of a building containing offices. I looked around and thought I saw a tall tree nearby. I looked again; it was a real-life giraffe.
An assistant said Jackson would be ready soon, and I spent 20 minutes inspecting a wall full of Jackson photographs with Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and other celebrities.
Finally, Michael was ready. I was introduced to him in an elaborate dining room and then followed him upstairs to the library, which featured a life-sized studio portrait of Walt Disney.
“Do you mind if I record our talk?” he asked.
“Not if you don’t use it commercially,” I replied.
He started by asking a few questions and I explained how I approached an interview with Walt. When he ran out of queries, I provided some memories of Walt.
Toward the end of the conversation, Michael hesitantly asked whether Walt ever used a certain expletive. Without thinking, I replied I had never heard him utter it.
The interview was over and Michael escorted me to the photographs I had already perused.
He was busy in the mid-1980s and I didn’t expect to see him again. Yet a few months later he called. “Hello Bob, this is Michael,” he said. “Do you think Hazel George is still alive?”
I said I didn’t know but would find out. George was Disney’s longtime nurse who also exchanged studio gossip with him. I found out that Hazel was retired yet still living near the Disney lot in Burbank.
“I’d love to talk to her,” Jackson said. “Can you arrange it?”
I did, and a few days later, Jackson picked me up at my house in his chauffeured limo and I directed the driver to Hazel’s bungalow.
Hazel had aged since I interviewed her for the biography and I found that I would have to prompt her. I had recorded the stories she once gave me and had brought the tapes along, so I played them back and let her deliver the punchlines.
Jackson was fascinated but scarcely said a word. When we finished, Hazel said to Jackson, “Come back and see me, and don’t bring him.” She meant me.
A few months passed and then another call: “Hello Bob, this is Michael.”
He wanted to know more about Walt Disney and wanted me to join him at a San Fernando Valley recording studio. I arrived on time and waited an hour until he finished a session. We sat down in an office and he again asked questions about Walt, most of which he had asked in our first visit.
He also asked again whether Walt had ever used a certain expletive. This time I remembered that he had on at least one occasion and I proceeded to explain the humorous circumstance.
UPDATE: I had a bit of a Twitter exchange about this with Joe Vogel. Joe said:
Great find, Seven. Buz Kohan spoke to me a bit about this but this fleshes it out much more. Fascinating.
I told Joe that I wondered what word it was that Michael had questioned Bob Thomas about, wanting to know if Walt Disney had ever used it. Joe’s response:
I think it was the N-word.
Don’t miss Joe’s latest book ‘Featuring Michael Jackson‘. It’s a must-have for fans and curious non-fans alike. Just like his other books, it’s extremely well-researched and well-written, giving readers a much better understanding of who Michael Jackson really was.
Something that has settled atop the heap of thoughts in my mind lately is the fact that after Michael’s acquittal in 2005, his fans gave him roses. I read somewhere that a couple of the fans stayed up all night removing the thorns from the roses for him. I thought: “this was similar to how the woman made space for the innocent little blue jay, removing the threats or at least somehow protecting the little jay from them so that he could continue making his way in life unharmed.”
Michael’s fans, each in their own way, have always made space for his innocence — an innocence we all knew he possessed. It wasn’t just because of the utter lack of evidence against him that so many were certain of his innocence. Much of that certainty came from Michael’s personality itself, long before the extortionists ever targeted him. One read of his book ‘Dancing the Dream‘, written long before any of the worst nastiness began, reveals a unique combination of innocence and wisdom that only Michael possessed. That’s the innocence so many millions made space for – in his life, in their lives, and in their hearts. He found, and his fans found in him, a ‘Ally in Innocence‘ so-to-speak.
But this innocence isn’t a naive one. It’s not a gullible one. It’s a wise one. It’s the one that knows a table littered with animosity, grudges, mistrust, suspicion, bitterness, and conscienceless greed cannot be a platform for a sumptuous meal, or the creation of beautiful poetry or breathtaking music or an astounding dance performance — things that connect the physical world with the divinity in all life.
We must free ourselves to be filled by God. Even god cannot fill what is full.
It’s that innocence that sees the whole world with wonder and that knows there is real magic in dreams and that even though the most beautiful choirs and passionate churches sing of it, true Divinity is only found in the silence of the stars nestled in the velvet black and purple sky and the quiet of a flower blooming – those things we hardly notice amidst the jarring jangle of our everyday lives. Some colors exist in dreams that do not exist in the waking world. I have seen these colors in my own dreams and I know they are there.
We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence.
Michael’s daughter Paris tweeted something about girls in her class wearing revealing clothes. I tweeted back that if they were trying to attract guys, this is not how a girl gets respect. She ‘favorited‘ that tweet. The girl is her father’s daughter. She knows. Someone else interjected that some young girls wear revealing clothing to somehow persuade the male teacher to give them better grades. But such a lack of self-respect and ill-gotten rewards for unearned accomplishment are costly and short-lived. One cannot build a sturdy future upon them. I’m sure those girls in the revealing clothing might think girls that don’t dress that way are somehow not ‘cool‘, or are inferior. But who wants to be ‘sexy‘ if it means you get less or no respect as a person and that your accomplishments in life really aren’t accomplishments at all, but rather reward gained through manipulation or self-devaluation? This innocence, which to someone in the process of making unwise but temporarily convenient choices in life might seem useless, is the one Michael lived and taught his children.
I believe Michael knew this:
Lack of understanding of the true nature of happiness, it seems to me, is the principal reason why people inflict sufferings on others. They think either that the other’s pain may somehow be a cause of happiness for themselves or that their own happiness is more important, regardless of what pain it may cause. But this is shortsighted. No one truly benefits from causing harm to another sentient being. . . . In the long run causing others misery and infringing their rights to peace and happiness result in anxiety, fear, and suspicion within oneself.
-The Dalai Lama
And, I believe that many of today’s problems in the world are the result of this lack of understanding. Most people in the business or political world might see an unwillingness to do others harm in order to profit or succeed as naive or pollyanna-ish. But it’s not. Such reluctance to harm others (or one’s self) in order to succeed or profit may appear as childish innocence or naïveté to others, but it is actually a deeper wisdom than most people understand – or care about – because they are too driven to profit at any cost, particularly to others. We saw the ugliness of that in Michael’s own life and we see it every day all around ourselves.
Michael understood that a certain innocence is necessary for creativity, as well. It makes sense that as children grow up, they become less creative. And most adults discourage it as we get older – telling their children to be a lawyer or accountant, or computer programmer rather than pursuing any type of artistic or creative endeavor, thus instilling in them a disbelief in their own artistic ability and a distrust in their own ability to become a success by being creative. Yet the refusal to be creative – in whatever way a person has an aptitude for -could be counter to what God(dess) intended. If, as Michael and many others including myself believe – God communicates spiritually with the physical world via art and creativity – and we refuse this, we are refusing to be a conduit for him/her to speak to the physical world through us. Many people believe too, that this can be the source of addiction ie: that the person has an emptiness within themselves, in their soul or psyche, that they are trying to fulfill or numb the pain of. I call it ‘The God Hole‘ and so does at least one other person who has written about this. Michael certainly understood the value of a childlike mind as a necessity for creativity – one that does not perceive any limit to what is possible.
Some people and entities seeking to advance themselves monetarily and otherwise portrayed Michael’s penchant for innocence as “strange“, and “bizarre” and portrayed him as a “pedophile” because he preferred the company of children than scheming, backstabbing adults who always wanted something from him for themselves – seeking to profit by hurting him or others. It seems to be a requirement that anytime a media outlet mentions him, the word “bizarre” must be inserted in the piece somewhere, just to keep the meme going. And, it seems that anytime a pedophilia case makes the news, such as the recent Sandusky case, comparisons must be made to Michael who was the polar opposite of a child molester – and who was acquitted because even after decades of efforts to frame him, was found innocent due to sheer lack of evidence.
Who is really “bizarre“? Someone who refused to hurt other people in order to succeed in this world – and in fact worked at his craft all his life primarily so that he could help others — or those who daily make a living by hurting others, including Michael, in order to profit and build careers via manipulation and dishonesty? I’d say the latter are the ones who are not only bizarre, but deeply immoral.
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.
He tried to keep empty so that he could give us beauty. What do I mean by that? Though it was impossible with all persecution he endured, it was clear to me that Michael would rather write positive, inspirational and hopeful songs than hurting ones — though his hurting angry ones were always what I call ‘teaching‘ songs, such as ‘Why You Wanna Trip On Me‘, which decried all the ignorant greedy obsession the media pundits and government had with Michael’s appearance and with the ridiculous allegations against him, rather than with solving the real problems in the world, such child neglect, war, poverty and lack of education. And it’s a very good question that no one has yet answered. But he did try to keep his psyche clear so that beauty could enter and he could share it in a creative sense without his mind or heart being cluttered with embitterment or anger. And this too, is a certain type of innocence.
What one wishes is to be touched by truth and to be able to interpret that truth so that one may use what one is feeling and experiencing, be it despair or joy, in a way that will add meaning to one’s life and will hopefully touch others as well. This is art in its highest form. Those moments of enlightenment are what I continue to live for.
The most beautiful paintings and sculptures, the greatest poetry, have not always been born from torment or bitterness. Often they have sprung from contemplation, from joy, from an instinct or wonder toward all things. To create from joy, to create from wonder, demands a continual discipline, a great compassion . . . With time and sincerity, you will discover a way to work and write that does not harm you spiritually, that does not tempt you to vanity, that is the deepest expression of your spirituality. You will find a voice that is not your voice only but the voice of Reality itself. . . If you can be empty enough, that voice can speak through you. If you can be humble enough, that voice can inhabit you and use you.
I think that in this way, Michael did embody the voice of Divinity, Beauty, Reality, Truth. So today I remember Michael this way: in the wise innocence that permeated every aspect of his life and with which he obviously raised his children and worked at his craft; an innocence which those who understood him tried to make space for in his life and in their own – by removing the thorns from the roses so they could be held without harm – the same way those who love Michael will always hold him within their hearts.
He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.
On that tearful July day of his public memorial, Paris said Michael was the “best father you could ever imagine“, and by all accounts, it was absolutely true.
In remembrance of a man who was indisputably one of the best fathers in the world, I’ll share a rundown of some of Michael’s comments about being a father, followed by one of many comments from other people who witnessed firsthand what a great father Michael was, and finally topped off with Paris Jackson’s tweets for her Dad today.
~ ~ ~
“[…] I enjoy taking care of my children myself, it’s… it’s fun, that’s why I had them, so I could take care of them and it’s just great relief for me, you know, it’s a pleasure, it keeps me happy and laughing and, you know, they’re wonderful sweet innocent children. […] [My children] mean… it’s hard to put it into words because they mean everything. The way you would explain how your children make you feel… They’re the world for me, I wake up and I’m ready for the day because of them. I get them breakfast, I change diapers, if they want to read, we do a lot of reading, we play hide and seek, we play blind fold and have a wonderful time with it. […] I want to be the best father in the world, of course.”
– 2005 – February 7: “At Large With Geraldo Rivera” T.V. Interview
_ _ _
“I love and adore my children. They mean everything to me. When they’re in public though, I conceal their faces, cause I want my children protected. At home, they have a normal life, they play with other kids and they have a good time, they’re laughing a lot. They run around, they even go to school. It’s a normal life for them. But in public, I must protect them. I love my children very much, and I’m proud to be their dad.”
– 2003 – Private Home Videos T.V. Special
_ _ _
“[I cried when Prince was born]. […] He came out with this really big head, that when I saw his head, I thought of my grandfather and my brother Randy, ‘cause his head was shaped just like theirs. And I said, ‘Oh, my God’ [laughs]. And then, the rest, they let me pull, pull him out and I cut the ombilical chord with scissers that were shaped like a stork, and…and they cleaned him off and everything, and I was ready to take him home. They said, ‘No, you can’t take him home’, I said, ‘Why?’, ‘I think there’s some serious problem’, I go, ‘What?’, ‘We’ve gotta take him to intensive care, he’s not breathing correctly’, I go, ‘Oh, no!…’, I said, ‘Please, God, don’t let me have a sick child, please…’ So, I waited an hour…two hours…three hours…four, I was so scared…After five hours, this nurse comes in, she goes, ‘Okay, you can go home now’ [smiles], I was soo happy…[…] [I was there for my daughter, Paris’, birth, also] It was magic…She came out the wrong way, her face was faced the wrong way and she was being kinda choked by the ombilical chord…I was kind of worried…and it took her longer…And…and I was so anxious to get her home that, as they cut her chord…I hate to say this, I snatched her and just went home, with all the placenta all over her [laughs] […] yeah, I’m not kidding, I got her in a towel and ran. They said it was fine. They said everything is okay with that. And I got home and I washed her all off. […] Because I felt that it was okay, they told me it was okay, Debbie said it was okay and…I got the permission of the doctor…I think I was so frightened that they would give me some bad news…I was so scared..But there was no bad news to be gotten. I was starting reliving [the birth episode with Prince] and I was afraid. I said, ‘I don’t want to hear anything bad’, I’m just ‘Go, go, go, go…[Debbie] told me to, […] she said, ‘Go ahead, I know that’s what you want, I’m totally fine with this’, I said, “Are you fine with this?’, she said “Yes, of course”. […]”
“[My children] have school. […] [But they don’t go to a normal school], never…[…] It wouldn’t work…[…] “Cause we would get chased by paparazzi everywhere we go. I don’t want press all over them at school…and in the bushes and the trees and in the…I saw what happened to me, you know?..They’re doing the same and worse to them. And…and I don’t feel like the jealosy in teachers, you know, ‘Just because you’re Michael Jackson’s children, don’t think I’m gonna treat you any different (sic) from anyone else around here”. Well, they don’t wanna be treated differently, you know, it’s just that I don’t want them to have to go through all that. […] That’s the way it is…And it has worked successfully in the past many times…It’s how you shape and sculpt and mould their world, you know? And many people have been successful at it.”
“[My third child’s name is] Prince Michael II, but we call him Blanket. […] ‘Cause it’s an expression I use with my family and my employees. I say, ‘You should blanket me’, ‘You should blanket… her with something’, meaning it’s like…a blanket is a blessing. It’s a way of showing love and caring. […] I can’t say [who is Blanket’s mother], because she’ll be bombarded with the…you know…We have an agreement that we can’t – a contractual agreement – talk about who she is and everything. That’s how we worked that out. [It’s someone who I had a relationship with], yes. […] I don’t want anybody to know, I don’t think…she doesn’t wanna be, like, in papers and tabloids and she doesn’t want it and I don’t blame her…’cause she knows how scum…bag their comments can be, you know?…[…] [It’s not difficult being a single parent], why it would be difficult? […] No, they’re fine. How many babies live with their mothers and they don’t have a father around? And nobody’s saying nothing, you know? They’re having a good time. […] They are having a great time, they have enough women in their lives, they’re everywhere. There are women everywhere around my house..I mean, they, they’re with them all day long. […] People can always have a judgement about anything you do, so it doesn’t bother me. Everything can be strange to someone. This interview is strange to some people out there, so…who cares, right? [smiles].”
– 2003 – February 3: “Living With Michael Jackson”
Daddy Michael and Blanket
On his life as a single parent:
“I never had so much fun in my life. That’s the truth. Because I’m this big kid, and now I get to see the world through the eyes of the really young ones. I learn more from them than they learn from me. I’m constantly trying things and testing things on them to see what works and what doesn’t. Children are always the best judges to monitor something. […] That’s why “Harry Potter” is so successful – it’s a family-oriented movie. […] We want a wide demographic, and that’s why I try not to say things that offend parents. I don’t want to be like that. We weren’t raised to be like that. […]”
On the possibility of his children being in the spotlight as he in the future:
“I don’t know how they would handle that. It would be tough. I really don’t know. It’s hard, since most children of celebrities end up becoming self-destructive because they can’t live up to the talent of the parent. People always used to say to Fred Astaire Jr., “Can you dance?” And he couldn’t. He didn’t have any rhythm, but his father was this genius dancer. It doesn’t mean that it has to be passed on. I always tell my children, you don’t have to sing, you don’t have to dance. Be who you want to be, as long as you’re not hurting anybody. That’s the main thing.”
– 2002 – March: “VIBE” Magazine Interview
_ _ _
“[Fatherhood has changed me] in a huge way. You have to value your time differently, no doubt about it. It’s your responsibility to make sure they’re taken care of and raised properly with good manners. But I refuse to let any of it get in the way of the music or the dance or the performing. I have to play two different roles. I always wanted to have a big family, ever since I was in school. I was always telling my father I would outdo him. He had 10 children. I would love to have like 11 or 12 myself.”
“You do the best you can. You don’t isolate them from other children. There will be other kids at the school [on my property]. I let them go out into the world. But they can’t always go with me. We get mobbed and attacked. When we were in Africa, Prince saw a mob attack in a huge shopping mall. People broke so much stuff, running and screaming. My biggest fear is that fans will hurt themselves and they do. I’ve seen glass break, blood, ambulances.”
“[…] I try to make sure they’re respectful and honorable and kind to everybody.”
– 2001 – December 13: “USA Today” Magazine Interview
_ _ _
“[…] [My children go with me] everywhere I go. […] [When they start school,] I’m going to build a computer school on the grounds [of Neverland]. With other children. […] How can they go into society.? He’s Prince Michael Jackson. She’s Paris Katherine Michael Jackson. It would be too difficult.”
“I try my hardest [to be a good father]. I try to bring them a lot of fun. Once a year, I dress up like a clown, with the whole gear – the nose, the paint. And I give them candy and cookies. […] And ice cream.”
– 2001 – November 5: “TV Guide” Magazine Interview
_ _ _
“[…] [Reading about me not being my children’s father…] That’s total garbage. It’s just trash and not true. […] Prince tells me all day that he has to make movies. So I bought him this video camera. I say, “What are we doing this time?” He goes, “Star Wars.” So we put some figures on the table, make them move. And Paris is just now starting to talk and walk. She’s very sweet. And I’m surprised she loves dolls. My sister, Janet didn’t like that sort of thing. She was a tomboy. I thought she was going to be like that but she isn’t. [I change their diapers and feed them]. I love it. It’s a lot of work. I thought I was prepared, ’cause I read everything about child rearing, but it’s so much more exciting than I ever imagined it to be. The only regret I have is that I wish I had done it earlier.”
– 1999 – December 4: “T.V. Guide” Magazine Interview
I thought I was prepared to be a father, but I wasn’t. All my life I’ve read about how wonderful children are. People would go, “What is up with you and babies?” I am always reading child psychology books. But it’s so much more joyous than even that. Prince and Paris changed me in so many ways. I learn as much from them as they learn from me. You learn about having a good heart and being a good-spirited person. And the way I am, I try to imitate them. People always say, “Act your age.” But I try and act more like children because they are the innocent, they are God-like, they are pure. I try to be as humble and sweet as they are.
He was an absolutely fabulous father. I’ve never met a parent that is as good or better than Michael. Those kids were an absolute delight! I’ve never met kids in my life that were like those kids. I spent a lot of extended time around them. I never heard them cry, I never heard them beg for anything, never saw or heard them throw a fit.
Paris shared a couple of tweets and photos today about her dad:
Happy Father’s Day. Dad I love you with all of my heart, you were the greatest thing that ever happened to me. No matter how old I get you’re still my daddy forever. Miss you so much!! Imma make you proud, I promise.
Paris also tweeted that she has taught baby brother Blanket who John Lennon was and that she is “turning him into a hippie.” The hippies after all, were right about a lot of things in our society, so big sister Paris is teaching little brother well.
blanket knows who john lennon is….. i’m so proud (‘: turning him into a hippie
Also, don’t miss Raven Woods’ Father’s Day Reflections‘ over at ‘AllForLoveBlog‘, where Raven tries to reconcile some of the more ambivalent feelings many MJ fans have about Joe Jackson as a father and Michael’s relationship with Joe.
It’s been 35 months since Michael died. But maybe there’s something else he wants us to remember today since this popped up once again across my computer screen: Twenty seven years and two months ago, a group of children including child stars Alyssa Milano, Fergie (now of the Black-eyed Peas) and Drew Barrymore made history by getting together to record a children’s version of ‘We Are The World’. Little has been heard of this version of ‘We Are The World‘ since then, but it’s not to be missed. It meant a lot to Michael, who said:
I had thought that song should be sung by children. When I finally heard children singing it on producer George Duke’s version, I almost cried. It’s the best version I’ve heard.
– Michael Jackson (Moonwalk)
The ‘Children Of The World Project’ was the brainchild of radio personality Sonny Melendrez and and produced by George Duke who also worked with Michael on his ‘Off the Wall‘ album. This children’s version of the song was nominated for a Grammy in the ‘Best Recording for Children‘ category in 1986.
As my radio alarm clock went off one morning in March of 1985 I was awakened by the pure voice of a child singing the words, “We are the world. We are the children.” In my groggy state, I remember thinking to myself that I wish I had thought of that obvious idea: A children’s version of the worldwide anthem – We Are The World.
Then, as I gained consciousness, I realized that the “child” I had heard was, in fact, Michael Jackson and what I was listening to was the original recording.
I sprang out of bed and called my producer. That afternoon, on my KMGG Radio show, I shared my vision of gathering the most talented children in Los Angeles and giving them the opportunity to do their part for the charity created to benefit those starving in Ethiopia – USA For Africa.
The response was overwhelming to say the least, with hundreds of parents and kids calling and wanting to be a part of the idea.
The Children of the World Project was born.
When Michael Jackson, who had penned the song with Lionel Ritchie, heard about the project he immediately gave it his blessing and even suggested his talented nieces, Brittny and Valencia Jackson, audition as well. They did and appeared on the recording
After several weeks and with the help of countless volunteers, including my friend and entertainment professional, Roger Neal, we had auditioned over 1500 children in various locations throughout Southern California. Every effort was made to make each child, ages 5 to 17, feel special about what and why they were auditioning. Everyone was presented a certificate and t-shirt commemorating their participation.
I contacted award winning producer, George Duke and asked if he join us. He not only accepted, but brought in legendary musicians, Stanley Clarke, Phillip Bailey, and Journey’s Steve Smith among to play on the track.
After personally calling every one of the 50 who were chosen (and you can imagine their enthusiastic reactions), under the direction of musical pro Martha Woodhull, the choir then spent several weeks rehearsing their parts.
Sonny records with Stacy Ferguson aka ‘Fergie’
In addition to these incredibly talented voices, we added another group of child stars with the understanding that everyone would be treated equally, regardless of their name or credits. This had been the same policy adopted by the original cast of We Are The World. This group included, Drew Barrymore, Danielle Brisebois, Alyssa Milano, Danny Pintauro, and others.
Then, on April 27, 1985, one of the finest children’s choirs ever assembled walked into the Westlake Studios in Hollywood and recorded “the chlidren’s version” of We Are The World.
Every note was also filmed for a video of the song. I couldn’t stop thinking about the 1400+ kids who had not made the group and suggested that part of the video include them all. It was agreed we finished our filming at LA’s Griffith Park where every child in the world imaginable was represented by hundreds of young singers including those who where blind, deaf, or otherwise handicapped. We wanted to show that when it comes to giving, there are no barriers. Everyone can participate.
Keep in mind that our production in the studio and on location, not to mention the countless of hours of planning, would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, every need was filled by donations, equipment, and scores of industry production specialists.
It is, to this day, my proudest charitable and professional endeavor.
The following year we were notified that our version of the song had been nominated for a Grammy. Through the power of radio (before the Internet) and the effort thousands of caring, giving, and loving human beings, the words that Michael Jackson, gave to the world – “We are the one’s who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving” took on new life and meaning by The Children of the World.
They not only gave to help their starving brothers and sisters, they also paid a special tribute to “a child of the world” – Michael Jackson.
Shavar Ross with other children during the recording of the children’s version of ‘We Are The World’
‘Children of the World Project’ has an official Facebook page (though not very active) and some of the original members of the children’s choir had apparently reunited in 2010 to relive their childhood memories of working on the project.
Finally, here’s the recording/video of the children’s version of ‘We Are the World‘:
Michael only visited India once and performed there on November 1st 1996 at the Andheri Sports Complex as part of his HIStory World Tour. While in India, Michael stayed at the Oberoi Hotel.
The King of Pop arrived in Mumbai on October 30th, 1996 at Mumbai’s Sahar airport in his private jet. People had thronged the airport to catch a glimpse of him. Jackson was greeted by Sonali Bendre clad in a nine-yard sari and a Maharashtrian nathni (nose ring), standing with an aarti thali to welcome MJ, along with Raj Thackeray, Sharmila Thackeray and innumerable politicians who were there to receive Jackson. The actress welcomed Jackson by performing ‘aarti’ and applying ’tilak’ on his forehead, at the Mumbai airport. Outside, Raj had organised a performance by a troupe of lezhim dancers with dholaks, and they wore traditional Maharashtrian clothes.
The popstar, when being driven in a 20-car motorcade from the air port, stopped his Toyota to meet the urchins lined up along the highway to catch a glimpse of him. He picked up several children and hugged and kissed them. He then spent a few minutes with them before he proceeded to the Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray’s residence, Matushree, in Bandra East. Here he was presented with a silver tabla and tanpura, which are musical instruments from India.
During his stay at The Oberoi Hotel, Jackson surprised the entire staff by mingling freely among his fans, who thronged at the hotel to catch a glimpse of the ‘King of Pop’.”He greeted his fans with smiles and by blowing kisses and shook hands with as many of them as possible,” hotel sources recount.
According to Butler Manager, Sandeep Walia, who was attending to him with a team of three butlers, Michael loves sweet white wine. That is probably the only kind of alcohol that he consumed during his stay at the Oberoi. Apart from that, he loves orange drinks, Fanta being his favorite and a special German orange drink, Gatorade, which he carries with him. Michael drinks a lot of Diet Coke as well, prefers his drinks at room temperature. Jackson has a penchant for chocolates too, so The Oberoi made sure there were chocolates, of all shapes, sizes and flavours kept in every reachable corner of his room.
Michael Jackson likes a lot of festivity around him. The Kohinoor Suite at the Oberoi was decorated with flowers, balloons, confetti and bowls of sweets and chocolates to give it a spirit of celebration. While in his room, Jackson does not like to use the air-conditioner. He also likes his space. His body-guards have been instructed not to come close to him to give him enough space to move around. During his stay in Mumbai, Jackson relished several Indian cuisine, including South Indian and Mughlai.
Michael asked The Oberoi Hotel for an LLD player and a television, as well as a CD player for his personal use. He travels with his own library of CDs and LDs and spends most of the time indoors, watching films.
At Michael’s request, a high tea was organized at the pool side of the Oberoi where kids from orphanages were invited to meet and play with him. He gave them gifts and chocolates that he had brought with him. There was a party for kids organized in his room as well, on the day of the show itself. About 50 children were invited and he ordered cakes and burgers for them. He had the kids sit on his lap and played with them. He had asked the hotel to provide him with a few saris which he wanted draped around the sofas during the photo session with the kids, to give his pictures the ethnic effect.
Michael definitely had a predilection for Indian food. On his first morning at the Oberoi, he ate masala dosa and the day after that, he had spicy alu paranthas with butter. His other meals mainly comprised of butter naans, butter chicken, tandoori chicken and spicy vegetable curries. His personal chef was of Indian origin and she coordinated his meals with the other chefs at the hotel. According to the hotel staff, he got naans (enough for an army!), tandoori chicken, dishes cooked in butter gravy and lots of paranthas packed on the morning he was flying out of India.
Michael surprised the staff at the Oberoi hotel as he spent a lot of his time greeting and shaking hands with his fans who were swarming the lobby.
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Below is video of Michael in India from the time he arrived at the airport. He is seen with the street children at 2.55 and receiving gifts at 5.32 along with footage of the concert. Michael is also seen at an evening event to meet dignitaries but only stayed a few minutes as he was saving his energy for the show later that evening. At the end of the video (7.15) is the pillow that Michael wrote on in the hotel room along with a message that he also wrote on a mirror in the hotel room that said “God Bless India My Special Love Michael Jackson“.
When Michael left the Oberoi Hotel while the hotel was preparing his suite for the next VIP guest, they found Michael’s gift to them: rather mischievously Michael had scribbled on the pillow he had slept on.
India, all my life I have longed to see your face. I met you and your people and fell in love with you. Now my heart is filled with sorrow and despair for I have to leave, but I promise I shall return to love you and caress you again. Your kindness has overwhelmed me, your spiritual awareness has moved me, and your children have truly touched my heart. They are the face of God. I truly love and adore you India. Forever, continue to love, heal and educate the children, the future shines on them. You are my special love, India. Forever, may God always bless you. -Michael Jackson
Bharat Shah, jeweller and film-financier, bought the pillow for a unstated amount of money in an auction held for charity.
Michael's love note to India, left on his pillow at the Oberoi Hotel
Upcoming concert of Michael Jackson in Mumbai was the big news. I had no plans of going for it. Few days before the concert, I got a call from my friend Shantanu Sheoreyi. He was involved in the event on an advisory capacity. “Mahesh, we need someone to document MJ’s visit and the concert, will you do it?” he asked me. “Will I do it? Whoa….I was on the next plane to Mumbai.”
Well, I reached a day before MJ’s scheduled arrival. I had discussions with people concerend which was followed by a visit to the stadium in Andheri where the performance was to be held. A large wooden platform was built. The entire stage would be transported in 2 Antonovs. I was told that his crew would put it up in 24 hours.
On the day of his arrival, we reached the airport ahead of time. I was to document his visit from his first step out of the plane. Few of us were escorted to the door of the skybridge. Actor Sonali Bendre had the honour of welcoming MJ. One page 3 type business tycoon wanted to be there too but he was unceremoniouly shoved away by the cops. The plane carrying MJ landed. Immigration officials went into the aircraft to complete the formalities. People started coming out. Suddenly I see a familiar face…my friend photographer John Isaac! – Hugs and “hey what are you doing here” exchanged. I learnt that John had accepted the assignment of documenting the life and work of MJ and was travelling with him!
Then MJ himself comes out. Wow the legend right in front of me, few feet away. He rushes out and I shoot pictures. Cars are waiting to whisk him away. A luxury van was waiting for him. I got into a SUV with a skyroof, so that I could stand up and shoot the motorcade. Yes, I rode in the motorcade with MJ. As we left the airport, MJ saw a whole lot of kids from the slums and asked the car to be stopped. We all jumped out. He wanted to get some video footage with them. There were three videographers shooting every move he made. Kids rushed and picked whatever they could find on the road – soiled cigarette packets, pieces of paper…and all for autographs. MJ was merrily signing on them, he didn’t forget to tell his video crew not to miss recording any of it ‘Make sure you are getting everything…..‘ he kept saying.
All roads cordoned off and we zipped to Bal Thackrey’s residence, that was MJ’s first port of call. There chaos reigned. Machine gun toting cops with walkie-talkies that had meter long antennae were not able to stop the horde of waiting press photographres from breaking the cordon and going inside. John and I were left out. Later, they took us inside. MJ got some gifts and nothing much was said. He sat with a distant expression on his face.
That evening, a dinner was organised at the Oberoi Towers where he was staying. Who’s who of Mumbai and entire Bollywood was invited. Menu was totally vegetarian. MJ was there on time, most of the who’s who weren’t. There was a small fucntion. MJ received a diamond-studded miniature Taj Mahal. Someone made a speech. A well-known character actor jumped to the dias, shook MJ’s hand and jumped like a monkey!! And MJ went back to his room. Neither did he talk to anyone nor did he touch the laid out food. Then the who’s who started landing up and they had to eat that vegetarian food! People hung around and ate muttering under their breath. The next day I read in newspapers how one of the music directors of Bollywood (The man who has a penchant for gold…no prizes for guessing who!!) was going to collaborate with MJ to produce an album and that MJ showed keen interest in his gold necklace. The fact was that he arrived fashionably late for the dinner and didn’t even get to glimpse MJ.
On his way out, MJ shook hands with one of the waiters. That chap fainted!
Next day – it was the day before the concert, MJ didn’t come out of his suite. I hung out with John Isaac in his room. The floor of the Oberoi Towers was occupied by MJ entourage and no one was else was allowed. John Isaac was born in Chennai. He worked briefly for Air India and went to NYC to become a guitar player. Instead he became a photographer and rose to be the chief photographer of the United Nations and a celebrated photojournalist. John was doing a lot of work for UNICEF. Audrey Hepburn, the then goodwill ambassador of UNICEF and a friend of John introduced him to MJ. John told me about MJ’s love for poetry and that they were planning on a book of MJ’s poems and John’s pictures. It didn’t materialise finally.
All day long the glitterati of Bollywood was descending to the hotel to ‘meet’ MJ. But no one was allowed to get into the lift even. Heartbreaks all over. Suddenly there was commotion. In the midst of tight security, a chap from Bihar managed to get into the hotel with a nicely packed muzzle loader on his shoulder! Don’t ask me how. So cops took him away and found out that he had come to Mumbai in search of a job. And he landed up in the hotel because some one told him he might find a job here.
MJ’s security detail comprising of several ex-marines was always very tough. After this incident they became paranoid. There was a lot of friction and temperature was always on the boil. Later we asked them why were they so worried. ‘Well, he is our bread and butter..we can’t let anything happen to him’, said the security in-charge. They were protecting him to safeguard themselves.
There was a plan of taking MJ to Madh Island. He wanted to visit the Mumbai centre of Nirmal Hriday. But some joker faxed a death threat. Security clamped down and vetoed any visit. MJ was inconsolable. He began to cry uncontrollably in his suite. It took some of his friends almost an hour to console him. That’s when I thought that he was trapped in a diamond studded platinum cage. However the death threat did not deter some of his crew from hitting the town. I think even some of his bodyguards took an evening off. The boss couldn’t step out of his room!
That evening there was photo shoot with a whole lot of kids. It was on the terrace of the hotel and then later we moved into his suite. I did a lot of portraits of his there. He didn’t interact with any adult. But did talk to many kids. Some of them didn’t talk to him. ‘Dadu he looks like ghost’, said a kid and refused to sit on his lap. That kid must be about 18-20 now! MJ had this massive 3D collage made from B&W pictures of his family. I heard him tell someone that he carried it with him everywhere.
MJ didn’t want to be disturbed. He meditated and just before the concert, met with the key people from the Indian side and took pictures. I had reached the venue well in advance. Had a choice of two places to shoot from – the ‘pit’ at the bottom of the stage or in front of the sound console. It had a direct view and I didn’t have to jostle for space. I chose the latter. VIP box too was there. Asha Bhosle, Sunil Gavaskar, Prabhu Deva.. and the thousands of fans were waiting for the performance to begin.
MJ’s stage was air conditioned and maintained at 16 degree centigrade. There were two massive AC plants pumping cool air. Massive air curtains in the front were keeping warm air out. There was a meditation room, if he chose to meditate during the break. It didn’t matter where he performed; the stage was exactly the same.
The performance was amazing. He was truly a great entertainer. Ashaji was on her feet, dancing! She asked all the younger women in the VIP box to dance along. I turned around to see Sunny Gavaskar grooving! Prabhu Deva told his fans that it was like watching his god!
I don’t have any more words to explain his impact.
Really nice profile shot of Michael by Mahesh Bhat in 1996
In the story and video below, a Mumbai girl talks about her dance with Michael. “I just wish he’d died with all the legacy he deserved“, she laments.
Thirteen-years ago (now 16 years), when Piya Thakkar stood in line to watch the historic Michael Jackson concert in Mumbai, little did she know that she’d come out a mini-celebrity herself.
It was an act Michael Jackson performed in every city during his History tour – dancing with a girl to his hit song ‘You Are Not Alone‘ and in Mumbai Piya was the lucky girl.
“Suddenly I was known as the girl who danced with Michael Jackson and I lost all other identity. I hugged him and he was trying to slow dance with me and then he just went down on his knees and I was so shocked,” says Piya Thakkar.
Some fans had to be pulled away by security, others cried, and still more sat down on the stage in disbelief. Piya showed her loyalty by refusing to bathe or change clothes she’d worn at the concert for days.
“I didn’t bathe for just about one-and-a-half days, but the number of days was exaggerated a little in reports, but then I realised I couldn’t go on like this so I got over it after two days,” says she.
It’s no wonder then that when the news of Jackson’s death flashed on TV screens across the world, Piya felt an almost personal loss.
“I’m not that much of a cry baby but for the past two-three days it’s been consuming me. I just wish he’d died with all the legacy he deserved,” she said.
And in making that wish for the late King of Pop, Piya is certainly not alone in the world.
Choreographer Ganesh Hegde, who did the opening act at Michael’s concert in 1996, recalls his meeting with Jackson “as the best one minute of his life”. “I met Mr Jackson in his green room which was pitch-dark, with a light flickering in one corner. He shook my hand and told me that he liked my performance very much. It was my biggest moment.” “Pop culture began with Michael Jackson and ends with him.”
Shobhaa De wrote later: “Those of us who were lucky enough to catch his concert will never ever forget the magic of those golden hours when Jackson enthralled a crowd with a performance that was staggering in its impact. It still makes my hair stand on end. I have never seen such energy, such commitment and such excellence. He was stupendously brilliant and I watched his final encore with tears steaming down my face.
When he repeatedly whispered, ‘I love you’ to the mesmerised crowd, you believed him of course, he loved us all. Individually, at that. It was one glorious evening. And I went away with the feeling, I had been privileged enough to witness a historic performance by one of the world’s greatest entertainers.”
“I remember him alighting from his private jet and his entourage came in four other planes. The airport came to a standstill for an hour with officers, aircraft crew and passengers coming to greet him,” says Sabbas Joseph, director, Wizcraft, which organised the concert. Even Anil Ambani lent his open roof car to the star.
Jackson’s entry into the hotel here was a grand affair with people from nearby offices coming to get a glimpse of him. “He asked for a free-standing, full-length mirror in the room and he signed it at the time of his departure. He also signed a pillow slip from his room.”
Jackson mesmerised the crowd and this is what made him so popular says Duane Woodman, a commercial pilot who attended his concert in Mumbai. “My most vivid memory of the concert is Jackson circling the stadium in a helicopter and then making an entry from a rocket capsule,” he says.
His moonwalk, in a gold and black suit, had girls gasping, says actor Prashant Raj. “But it was his Thriller, a youth anthem then, that got everyone going.”
Rony D’Costa, creative supervisor, Zee Motion Pictures, grew up listening to Jackson. “I knew I couldn’t miss it, but then I couldn’t afford the ticket. So a friend and I gate-crashed and stood near the barricade close to the stage. Michael was just five feet away from us. It was magical,” he says, recalling more funny instances from the concert. “There was an ambulance kept for emergency but it was at work throughout. Every time Michael screamed ‘I love you very much’ there were girls fainting,” he smiles.
As Raj Thackeray’s guest, MJ also visited Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s residence, Matoshree, in Bandra. The Thackerays presented him with a silver tabla and tanpura. There’s a lovely story connected with the visit. MJ had to go to the loo (bathroom) and was zapped when he stepped into the Tiger’s Indian-style toilet. No knowing how to use it, he had to seek Raj’s help to relieve himself!
“Michael Jackson has been my biggest inspiration for music as well as choreography. He gave me the reason to believe that even people like myself, who come from a very humble background can make it big with talent and hardwork.” Ganesh remembers: “In 1996, MJ had come to Mumbai for a concert and I was performing as the opening act. When he came backstage, there was a sudden commotion and all my dancers on stage turned their backs towards the audience to look at him! Later, he called for us in his room, where I told him that I was the choreographer for the act and he shook hands with me. I also told him ‘I love you’ to which he replied ‘I love you too’. He was really a great personality.”
India, like many other cities and countries around the world, has dedicated a statue of Michael, which they want to donate to Neverland. RC Golden Granites in Chennai, India has created a full size Michael Jackson Statue. The demise of Michael upset owner Mr.R. Chandrasekaran and so he decided to pay tribute to Michael by doing something different and made a statue.
“We want to do something different in that, so we built a Michael Jackson statue in single black granite which weighs about 3.5 tonnes and we want to send the statue to Michael Jackson’s foundation at Neverland. The statue was sculpted out of a single block of granite rock – 12ft height and weighs 3.5 tons. It took 45 days to sculpt the legend’s statue with six highly experienced chennai craftsmen in granite working round the clock.”
The Chennai-based granite firm spent $25,000 sculpting the statue out of a single block of huge rock that was quarried from a mine near Kanakapura, about 50 km from Bangalore. “We employed six artisans to chisel the granite into Jackson’s shape in 45 days at our factory in Kancheepuram. As black granite is brittle, the aesthetic art work was a test of patience, diligence and skill. His face and eyes were the most challenging as we wanted the statue to be expressive and poignant,” Chandrasekaran said.
“It’s a personal tribute to the greatest pop singer of our times! He lives in our hearts as he was on stage for years.”
You can see the statue briefly in this video:
Granite statue of Michael from RC Granite in Chennai, India