Home Music Frank Dileo, The Real Story of Michael Jackson’s Brilliant Manager

I’m finally getting to write about my friend Frank Dileo, who died yesterday at age 63. Frank was Michael Jackson’s loyal and brilliant manager and friend, the architect of his success and his amazing career. You want to know about “Thriller”? It was Frank, “Bad”? Frank again. It was Frank who sat through Michael’s child molestation trial in 2005 in Santa Maria, California, far from his home in Ohio, at his own expense.

It was Frank who returned in the spring of 2009 to keep Michael on the straight and narrow so he could rehearse for his London concert dates. It was Frank who kissed Michael on the forehead, closed his eyes in the emergency room, and went out to tell Michael’s kids that their father had died. For Michael, Frank was always there.

I met Frank a long time ago, but we bonded during that trial. He’d come to god forsaken Santa Maria barely able to see. He had severely limited vision due to glaucoma and diabetes, and was waiting for an operation. He couldn’t drive, so I was his self appointed chauffeur. It was a long trial, and it wasn’t like Michael was in any shape to acknowledge Frank or to thank him. But he hung in there, and was a particular friend to Katherine Jackson, who attended the trial every day.

What Frank didn’t want to concede was that the Jacksons were notoriously disloyal. While the trial raged on, Michael’s former chief of security and surrogate father, Bill Bray, lay dying in a hospital bed in a little house in Los Angeles near the 10 freeway. Michael and all the Jacksons had simply dropped him. Bray, who I visited a few times, was semi-comatose and cared for by his lady friend. She wondered what had happened to the Jacksons. They were gone.

When the trial was over, and Michael hotfooted it to Bahrain and other locales, Dileo was similarly cut off. It wasn’t until Michael was in dire financial straits, and struggling to prepare for London, that he called on Frank. Dileo was there in a flash. He was the most loyal friend you could ask for. Again, he came at his own expense. Even though he’d lived high during the 80s with Michael, Frank didn’t make out like some of Jackson’s other advisers. His attitude was, you don’t ask. You wait for someone–Michael, Sony–to do the right thing. They never did.

I digress. Frank had the worst health imaginable. Forget the stuff people in the record business did in those crazy Eighties. He smoked stogies, ate thick steaks, liked a good scotch. He loved The Palm in Nashville, and the breakfast room at the Beverly Hilton. At the latter he’d become a fixture in the last couple of years, moving in to help Michael and staying–even though he had a wonderful and understanding wife, Linda, and kids Belinda and Dominic, back in Ohio. He became the mascot of the Beverly Hilton. When he got sick this past spring, the staff came to Cedars Sinai and held prayer vigils. They were that fond of him.

Do nice guys finish last? I don’t think so. Frank played mobsters in movies like “Goodfellas” and liked to act tough, but he was a sweetheart. If only he’d been a little terrifying or threatening maybe he’d have made more money. But he led with his heart, and that always gets you into trouble. Was he disillusioned with Michael’s executors? Yes. He brought John Branca back into Michael’s life six weeks before Jackson died. With Branca came the utterly useless John McClain, who resented Frank and did everything he could to blunt his participation. The lackluster performance of the “Michael” album, which Frank tried to guide, can be laid at McClain’s feet.

Since Frank’s illness–resulting from triple bypass surgery in March–I have to say that the estate has been incredibly helpful, however. The details are private. But when Frank’s family needed support they got it. So you have to balance these things out.

So what now? I’m going to do what Frank did to stay healthy: fruit for breakfast, with bacon and French toast. And remember my friend, who was barely five feet tall, but was a giant among men.


Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. He wrote the Intelligencer column for NY Magazine in the mid 90s, reporting on the OJ Simpson trial, as well as for the real Parade magazine (when it was owned by Conde Nast), and has written for the New York Observer, Details, Vogue, Spin, the New York Times, NY Post, Washington Post, and NY Daily News among many publications. He is the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
27 replies to this post
  1. The days of the trial were the worst of Michael Jackson’s life. How could he be focused on anything but survival? He loved Bray and I’m sure he or his family made some kind of overtures towards helping the family.

    Michael was the most generous human being on the planet–contributing millions and millions of dollars and his time and energy–and most importantly, his love, to the poor, sick, underprivileged around the world. Do writers always have to try to search to find some sliver of evidence he might have failed..somewhere..somehow?

  2. roger…so michael jackson wasn’t already a professional, successful recording artist until frank dileo came along??? he wasn’t the lead singer of the jackson 5? you’re forgetting michael had an impressive career BEFORE frank dileo came along….he was already winning awards, touring the world, knocking the beatles out of the top spot on the hot 100 and making a name for himself and his brothers before he even MET frank dileo. to say frank is the architect to mj’s career is beyond false…you also have to credit joe jackson, berry gordy, all of motown’s songwriters and producers, quincy jones, freddy demann…the list goes on. yes, frank was a great contributor but why you’re leaving out the j5 era….is beyond stupid!!! was frank also responsible for that??? nope!

  3. If you’re gonna write a eulogy about your ‘friend’ then do just that, there was no need for your continued slap in the face to Michael…..always predictable. It continues to amaze me how everyone else is always responsible for Michael Jackson’s success but Michael Jackson!

    Condolence to the Dileo family.

  4. Dear Rodger
    I’ve waited for you for 2 years….. Hoping that you will start to speak about Michael again. First of all thank u for the job you did during the trial. U were one the firsts who said the family (Arvizo) was not honest. Now i understand how you could have all these precious informations but i do not judge you.
    I would have many questions to ask you or point of views to share since Michael passed away………
    I agree on one thing : Jackson Family is definitely not trustable but you don’t need me to tell u……
    I’m just a fan among the fans and i have always been happy to read what you wrote.
    Thank u

  5. Frank Dileo was paid handsomely to do his job well…which is exactly what he did and SHOULD have done. It’s his JOB! And no on made him come back in 2009…he did of his own choosing. It’s not like being connected to Michael Jackson didn’t have its perks for him…he became very well known in his own right from this connection. And btw Michael Jackson isn’t obligated to take care of his former employees either…people become so entitled. It’s ludicrous to think he owes them that…what happened to personal responsibility? He had his own life/children to family to worry about. It’s amusing that you can’t give credit where credit is due. And Frank Dileo himself said Michael Jackson was “the kindest, most giving person he’d ever met in his life.” His words speak much louder than yours.

    I’m curious if he ever got through a first draft of that book he was writing….would have been entertaining to read. He’s one source I probably would have somewhat trusted.

  6. i agree with simba…to this author…so quincy jones had nothing to do with thriller and bad?? it was all because of frank dileo?? then why did frank dileo start those rumors about the elephant man’s bones and the hyperbaric chamber??? and don’t tell me i’m wrong, i know for a fact that frank started those rumors…granted, he just wanted people to wonder and talk about michael thinking it would generate more interest…but again, lies are lies. has frank ever apologized to michael for starting those tabloid stories??
    yes, i fully agree frank has a lot of pluses as far as michael’s career…but to make it sound like it was all frank is beyond laughable!!! people all over the world watched mtv because of michael jackson, they did the moonwalk because of michael jackson, they watched all those awards shows and the presidential award because of michael jackson. people loved michael jackson because of michael jackson. kids all over the world dressed like michael jackson because of michael jackson. if people didn’t like him, he wouldn’t have had the mammoth success he did in the 80s.
    also, frank wasn’t michael’s manager during the beginning of thriller, freddy demann and his partner weismen (i forget the other name) were michael’s managers before frank came into the picture. so, what you’re saying is…if frank never came along, michael jackson wouldn’t be the huge star he was in the 80s??? i gotta laughingly disagree with that. maybe he was invaluable to michael regarding the music business, but the world loved michael jackson for who he was. but i do commend you that you wanted to write a nice and touching article for your friend…but again, give props where props is due. and call out frank for starting all those mj rumors in the 80s.

  7. i really have to disagree with this author that it was all because of frank dileo that mj’s thriller was a huge success. yes, i agree that frank provided invaluable advice to michael and did great negotiations with cbs…but, what about mj’s great vids from thriller? the iconic moonwalk? mj sweeping every single awards show and even getting a presidential award from ronald reagan?? you’re also forgetting that it was frank dileo responsible for those stupid tabloid stories from the 80s…his thinking was it would get people to wonder about mj. it’s no wonder to me why michael fired him in the first place. look, i realize he was your friend, but thriller’s success isn’t entirely due to him.
    and about bill bray, could it be that the jacksons were just too focused on the trial and that it wasn’t anything personal? also, not all of the jacksons attended each day of the trial, some of them don’t even live in california anymore. and certainly not at that time.

  8. I, like most MJ fans, love and respect Frank Dileo. But why can you never give Mike credit for anything Roger? Michael was the architect of his own success. Thriller – that was Michael. He wrote Beat It and Billie-Jean, danced the Moonwalk and had the “dancing zombie” concept for the Thriller short film. It was Mike’s ability as a singer, dancer and songwriter that made Thriller a phenomenon. Bad – 4 of the 5 number 1’s were written by Mike. The Bad Tour – which earned Mike his rep as the greatest entertainer in the world – might have been planned by Frank, but it was MICHAEL JACKSON on the stage wowing fans and critics.
    How about Dangerous – Mike’s most creative album, which sold more copies than Bad did. Frank was not around for that.Or HIStory, his most personal album, which contained absolute genius work like Stranger in Moscow, Earth Song and They Don’t Care About Us? Was Frank there when Mike wrote Morphine or Is It Scary?? Or sold 13 million copies of Invincible with no tour support or marketing? I know that journalists like to pretend that Michael Jackson only made three albums, and try to give people like Frank or Quincy Jones credit for his success, but the fans appreciate all Mike’s work. You should try listening to all Mike’s records Roger.
    Roger, I will NEVER forget that you stood by Mike in 2005,when few journalists had the courage to say the Arviso charges were bogus. But it is really difficult to defend this kind of crap from you.
    Frank Dileo was a loyal, brilliant man who made a contribution to Michael Jackson’s success. But Michael Jackson made Michael Jackson.

  9. Thank you for this lovely written account. Having met Frank, I can humbly so agree that he was a great manager for Michael. My condolences to the Dileo family, May he rest peacefully.

  10. Roger, your words are so true. Thank you for laying it out the way it honestly was. Frank was a real champ. I’m so grateful that I got to know him in the last five years while he was starting his business in Nashville. We were working together when Michael called him back. Even though it meant putting our project on the back burner I was truly happy for him. I’ll never forget the phone calls during the Jackson rehearsals and then after Michael’s passing. He always treated me as family. Not bad for a kid from Pittsburgh. I’ll miss knowing he’s not here. joec

  11. “Frank was Michael Jackson’s loyal and brilliant manager and friend, the architect of his success and his amazing career. You want to know about “Thriller”? It was Frank, “Bad”? Frank again.”

    Uh, MICHAEL JACKSON was the architect of his amazing career. Thriller was Michael Jackson. Bad was Michael Jackson. Frank Dileo was a good and loyal employee, but without the good fortune of working for Michael Jackson, you wouldn’t be writing about him.

    “It was Frank who kissed Michael on the forehead, closed his eyes in the emergency room, and went out to tell Michael’s kids that their father had died.”

    When a loved one dies in hospital, especially if they had young children, the death is reported by a doctor and a social worker, in as gentle a manner as possible. It is not a responsibility given to an non-professional relative stranger like FD. As Prince Jackson tried to explain his father’s allergies to the physicians, Dileo blurted out, “Your daddy had a heart attack and died!” (Sworn testimony of Michael Amir Williams.) Whatever great things you can say about Dileo, that was unforgiveable.

    “What Frank didn’t want to concede was that the Jacksons were notoriously disloyal.”

    MJ introduced Dileo to Tom Mesereau during the trial as the only one of his managers who cared about him – surely you know this. As for Bill Bray, he was paid plenty during the years he worked for MJ, and he had a police pension as well. He was MJ’s employee, not his grandfather. It certainly wasn’t the responsibility of “all the Jacksons” to take care of him.

    “I have to say that the estate has been incredibly helpful, however. The details are private. But when Frank’s family needed support they got it.”

    If Dileo was not provided for in MJ’s will, there’s no justification for the estate to be helping out his family. Sorry, but you can’t claim that Joe Jackson should get nothing from his son’s estate, but an ex-employee should.

    Frank Dileo was an important element in MJ’s life and career. But there’s no need to pretend the man was a saint. Your hagiography would be more acceptable if over the years you had shown Michael Jackson even one-tenth this much understanding and respect.

  12. I waited on Mr. Dileo at the gas station I worked at in Wellsville, Oh. He struck me as a kind person long before a co-worker told me who he was & what he did. My condolences to his family & friends.

  13. Roger, words connot describe how I feel right now, But that was the greatest article ever written, although I am biased. But I just want to let you know how much you mean to this family. My Dad, absolutely adored you. And me, well when I came out for the Grammy’s in February, I had only 2 requests. 1. was In N Out Burger, 2. was getting to hang out with you. We went to the Grammy’s and I met alot of “famous” people. But for me you were the one person with whom I was starstruck! Love you for all that you’ve done for my Father, you were a great friend!

  14. What a fitting and beautiful tribute to a guy who was often misunderstood. I’ll never forget Frank’s kindness to me when I was a rookie reporter trying to grab the tail of the biggest tiger in the world for CNN: The Jackson “Victory” tour of 1984. In Kansas City and beyond, Frank looked after me when my professional life was on the line and his best pal was the biggest superstar in the world. Through the years, he was that rarest of all sources: as honest and as amusing as he could possibly be. And, believe me, nobody could be as funny as Frank when he was being frank. This tribute is just one more example of why this is the best written site of its kind in all of showbiz. Rest in Peace, Frank DiLeo!
    Sandy Kenyon

  15. Once again, MJ is the jerk who didn’t care and the last to contribute to his own success. Unfortunately Frank isn’t around to corroborate your story and that’s probably why you waited until now to write it. Typical.

  16. I saw on twitter when yesterday that PMKJ was informed of his death, have you seen her page? Also what do you think about the enquier saying omer is janet & james son? Why would ms.debarge say such a thing?

  17. A touching piece in regards to Frank. You’ve done a fantastic job humanizing him. But must your eulogy contain such negative remarks about others?

  18. Roger!

    MJ is not here to tell his own story so please stop judging this man! just stop saying bullshit about him! everyone talks about how kind and nice he was! yeah thank u it’s enough!

  19. I can’t believe he is gone! He was very unique! Thank you Frank! Thank you Frank for managing the BAD World Tour.. that was Michael Jackson first SOLO tour …and I know that was not an easy venture.. Thank you Frank !!

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