Here is an official statement from Adrian Grant the creator and executive director of ‘Thriller Live’ and author of ‘Michael Jackson – The Visual Documentary’:
“It doesn’t matter what I say or do, the media will always write what they want about me.”
– Michael Jackson, June 2002
This was Michael Jackson’s reply to me when I asked him about how he was perceived in the press, and why he didn’t just come out and tell them who the real Michael Jackson is away from the spotlight. The media would be a subject that we discussed a number of times over the years, from his appearance at the Brit Awards in 1996 to how he felt there should be a burning of all newspapers which had persecuted him. To quote the lyrics from his song, ‘Tabloid Junkie’,
“Just because you read it in a magazine, Or see it on the TV screen, Don’t make it factual”.
Michael Jackson is currently being publicly executed over accusations levelled against him by Wade Robson and James Safechuck who he considered to be close friends. Despite the fact that the stories told by these two men have repeatedly changed and are often contradictory, the media have chosen to treat their claims as fact, even though there is no actual evidence at all to back up their allegations. In addition to this they were key witnesses for Michael’s defence in 2005, when he was completely cleared in a court of law, where both men stated they had never been abused by the star. Furthermore Michael was secretly investigated by the FBI for a period of over 10 years and the publicly available report states that they found no evidence of any wrong doing on Michael’s part.
When Michael died on 25th June 2009, I thought he would finally rest in peace, with his musical legacy left for us all to enjoy and his work as a philanthropist there to admire, still having a positive influence around the world.
In the lead up to the broadcast of the documentary, Leaving Neverland, more and more celebrity influencers have come out and labelled Michael Jackson a paedophile, with some media organisations denouncing his music or existence altogether. None moreso than Oprah Winfrey. This public lynching is really shameful because, of course, Michael cannot defend himself against the accusations being made against him and, because defamation laws do not protect the dead, anyone can say anything they wish about him safe in the knowledge that they can’t be sued.
Let me be clear, I strongly believe that anyone alleging abuse of any kind should have their voice heard. But, in a court of law their testimonies would be heard and cross-examined and evidence would be scrutinised in order to ensure a fair verdict is reached. In this instance, the failure to present any exculpatory evidence or interview anyone who could challenge the accusers’ versions of events makes the ‘documentary’ a totally one-sided X-rated horror movie cleverly edited with the sole intention of hanging Michael Jackson in the court of public opinion.
I have been advised by some not to get involved with this debate. To say nothing and let it pass. But I cannot do that. It would be as morally wrong for me to remain silent, as it is for the media to convict Michael without a fair trial or evidence.
I want to say this about the man I knew for 21 years, travelled the world with and spent numerous occasions at Neverland, hotels and in the recording studio with: Michael Jackson was the most kind and loving person I have ever met. Sadly, sometimes it is those who give the most that are taken advantage of the most. Michael was a unique and beautiful soul who had a child’s heart and, yes, he did sometimes act like a big kid – full of laughter, joy and playfulness. Not bad qualities to have!
In March 1990, I became the first person to have an article published about life at Michael’s home, Neverland Valley Ranch. I’ve told the story many times, but I’ll retell a small part here to give you an insight into who he really was.
I was lucky enough to be invited to Record One Studios where Michael was recording his album, ‘Dangerous’. I was there to present him with an award from the readers of ‘Off The Wall’, a fan magazine which I published. Michael marvelled at the award, a 6 foot x 3 foot oil painting depicting his 21-year career at the time. I then interviewed Michael for the magazine and took some pictures, before being treated to an exclusive preview of a new song, ‘Man In Black’ (which never actually made the final album). Towards the end of the day, Michael surprised me by asking me if I would like to visit his ranch for lunch at the weekend. I literally fell off my seat and accepted the invitation with glee.
Saturday came and as I was driven through the striking Neverland gates, I remember being amazed at the beautiful lush 3,000 acre valley. Upon signing in, we walked towards the main house and in the distance I could see two chimpanzees rolling around on the grass, giraffes, llamas, the funfair and a lake full of flamingos as classical music echoed out from speakers in the flowerbeds. I commented to the security guard who was accompanying me that this wasn’t reality, but he replied “well it’s reality for Michael Jackson. This is what he wakes up to every morning.” And that was true. Michael had lived a life that, since the age of 11, when he had his first number one with The Jackson Five, he was able to have almost anything that he wanted. Fortunately, Michael chose to channel most of his desires towards something positive and after getting to know Michael I saw how much he really did care for children – often opening the Neverland gates to the underprivileged or disabled. I feel this (his charitable work), along with four decades of great music is his greatest legacy.
I saw many more examples of Michael’s humanitarian efforts over the years. During a trip to Budapest in August 1994, Michael, along with Lisa-Marie Presley (and, incidentally, James Safechuck), visited a number of hospitals, handing out toys to the sick children. I was fortunate to be the only ‘media person’ allowed to accompany them into the hospitals and I was happy to help distribute the gifts to the children. However, the press were sceptical and suggested the trip (part of Michael’s ‘Heal The World’ campaign), was nothing more than a publicity stunt. What they didn’t see was the moving moment when Michael brought a smile to the face of a very poorly young girl who had lain motionless and silent for weeks. Her mother, at her side in constant vigil, broke down in tears as her daughter reached out and touched Michael’s hand. Moments like that mattered to Michael. He had a real caring affinity for children and I believe he related to them more than he did to adults. Whether that was because he didn’t have a childhood or the fact they didn’t judge or want from him, I don’t know but it was clear that the connection was genuine. I visited Neverland many more times over the years. Sometimes Michael would be present, and sometimes I was there to accompany fans who had won competitions via my magazine, but each trip was memorable and I was always made to feel welcome being invited to enjoy the amenities be that playing in the arcade, the rides in the funfair or watching movies in the theatre. I remember once seeing a group of kids playing basketball and amongst them was one very famous face: Macaulay Culkin. I walked over and said ‘Hi’, and he politely said ‘Hi’ back before continuing to shoot hoops. I can categorically state that not once in all my visits to Neverland and all my dealings with Michael did I ever see anything inappropriate taking place or feel there was something untoward in Michael’s behaviour with any of the children that he interacted with.
Having spent time with Michael alone many times, I too could make up spurious allegations against him. Thankfully I have integrity, honor and would never sell my soul to the devil by falsely accusing another of such a heinous crime for my own financial gain. More importantly, as Michael’s mother, Katherine, once told me “there is nothing bad to say because Michael was all good”.
However, there are people that I know and have worked with who, since Michael passed, have fabricated stories about him to benefit either their careers or bank balance. I find it disgusting that these people can lie so convincingly without a moment’s pause, guilt or recollection of the actual truth. These people seemingly live in a parallel universe where they have convinced themselves what they say is true, and do not care about the damaging consequences their actions may have on others. No need for those who listen or print their stories to check facts; the liar’s version of events is taken as gospel and is digitised around the world in a second where headlines, clicks and instant gratification is all that counts.
I actually sat down last year with Channel 4 (I was unaware that at the time they were producing Leaving Neverland with HBO), and pitched my own documentary to them, about ‘Thriller Live’ and my time with Michael. The commissioners, however, were not interested in anything that would provide a glowing review of Michael’s artistry or good nature. They wanted to know what “juice” I had, gossip that people hadn’t heard before. A lot of what is broadcast comes down to ratings and what will draw in the biggest audience. Bad news is what seems to sell most.
Many people ask why Michael settled out of court when child abuse allegations first broke in 1993. At the time, Michael was subject to a criminal investigation but the Chandlers also filed a civil lawsuit against him, demanding financial compensation. Advised by his lawyer at the time, Johnnie Cochran, Michael made the out of court settlement to end the civil case first, and put a stop to all the scandal and misleading headlines, leaving him free to resume his career and tour that he was on at the time. The Chandlers walked away with $25 million between them, and never pressed for the criminal trial to go ahead, although prosecutor, Tom Sneddon later tried to but failed due to a lack of evidence.
Michael’s friendship with Jordy Chandler had made him an easy target, and unfortunately the ’93 case set a precedent, making the next opportunist that would come along sound even more plausible and so it goes on.
Some people will sadly believe that Michael Jackson was a paedophile based on nothing but rumours and without any understanding of the true facts of the allegations made against him. Some call him ‘wacko’ or a freak because he didn’t live a normal everyday lifestyle. Some will be undecided. At the end of the day, it comes down to Michael’s word against those of the accusers – many of whom have either been found to be liars, fraudsters or have told completely opposite stories under oath. Anything outside of that is just opinion, and mine is that Michael Jackson is totally innocent of all and any abuse allegations made against him. Yes, he was eccentric, and sometimes naive – but they are not crimes. I think he saw himself as a protector of children. He almost was Peter Pan playing at Neverland with the Lost Boys (and girls) – someone that many would find hard to comprehend and believe in. But I was fortunate enough to experience his world of kindness, goodwill and pure imagination for 21-years, and it has inspired me to dream bigger, help others and be the best I can be.
As well as having one of the greatest catalogues in musical history, Michael Jackson left behind three children of his own that he loved and raised. I can’t begin to imagine how traumatic this is for them, but there has to be more thought and responsibility in the way that this is being handled. I am speaking up not only because Michael was a friend, or my work, but because I believe in fairness and we can’t let the media be judge, jury and executor.
As Malcom X once said; “the media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
So I say to convict Michael Jackson without actual fact and evidence is to give up on innocence itself.
Adrian Grant is author of ‘Michael Jackson – The Visual Documentary’ and creator of the stage show ‘Thriller Live’