I wrote the story below in March 2009. Today, the godawful Hollywood Reporter has taken some of this info, wrapped up with some other stuff that is all wrong, and delivered a mess about Michael Jackson. Just to set the record straight: I interviewed Tohme Tohme, Michael’s short time manager. I personally and exclusively ascertained that he wasn’t a doctor and wasn’t a special envoy to Senegal, as he claimed. Shortly after this ran, Tohme was fired. He was replaced by Michael’s earlier and most successful manager Frank DiLeo, whom Michael trusted more than anyone. Tohme is now being sued by the Jackson estate. The Hollywood Reporter article is mostly fakakta. Anyway, in effort to un-rewrite history, here goes:
For about a year, since right before the chaos involving his Neverland Ranch possibly being sold at auction, Michael Jackson has had a mysterious new manager.
The man known as Tohme (pronounced toe-may) called himself a doctor. Different sources said he referred to himself either as an orthopedist or orthopedic surgeon. But there was a discrepancy: who was this man, the latest in a long line of managers who seemed to Svengali the pop star?
Yesterday, after many efforts, I finally pinned the 59-year-old Tohme down. A little. He conceded that he is not a licensed physician. “Not at this time,” he said. He refused, after repeated attempts, to say what kind of doctor he might have been at any time. His associates declined as well.
“If you want to talk about Michael Jackson, fine,” he said. “The story isn’t about me.”
But the story is very much about Tohme, who has not only taken over Jackson’s life but has a certain conflict of interest: he acts as a consultant to Colony Capital LLC, the company now partnered with Jackson in ownership of Neverland. Colony bought Fortress Investment’s $23.5 million note on the ranch last year.
More recently, they changed the name of the property to Sycamore Valley Ranch and became partners in the deed with Jackson. A small fortune changed hands, giving Jackson a much needed cash infusion of several million dollars.
But the pop singer always needs more money — he’s like a vampire when it comes to funds. So Tohme restarted talks with AEG Live begun in 2007 about Jackson performing at the O2 Arena in London. Now a staggering 35 dates have been set beginning July 8th. Another 15 are likely. Jackson hasn’t performed live in a full show since September 10, 2001.
Adding to this, Tohme is also responsible for the coming auction of Jackson’s personal memorabilia. He set up the auction with Julien’s Auction House last fall. Contracts were signed. Now Jackson is suing Julien’s, saying he didn’t know what was going on. Julien has catalogs printed, and is going forward. So far, Jackson’s attorney has not filed for a court order to stop the auction.
Sources around Jackson don’t have a high opinion of Tohme. They worry that he’s just the latest person who’s come into Jackson’s life with a personal agenda.
But Thomas Barrack, head of Colony Capital, says Tohme’s a “great guy,” someone’s he known a long time “in the business world, around L.A.” When I asked him how Tohme knew Jackson, Barrack answered: “You’ll have to ask him.” He did say it was Tohme who introduced him to Jackson.
Tohme is fuzzy on this point. “I knew him a long time,” he said of Jackson. At first he said he knew Jackson’s family, then he backtracked and said his relationship was with Michael. We never really figured that one out.
“I love Michael,” Tohme said. “I want what’s best for him. When the problems with Neverland came, I was approached to see if I could help. I knew him for twenty to thirty years.”
Tohme told me he set up the AEG Live deal, even though he was clearly not around in 2007 when I first reported the story. I asked him if he set up the auction. “I did not set up the auction, the auction is not going through!” This is in direct contrast to my conversation with auctioneer Darrell Julien last winter, who sang Tohme’s praises as the pair worked to put it all together.
“We had a certain period of time to empty Neverland last year,” Tohme said. “I was looking for a place for storage, a place to dump a lot of stuff like cars. I called Julien’s and asked if they could do it, come pick it up.” He says an auction could only go through with Jackson’s approval.
Last week, Darrell Julien told this column: “Michael has plenty of storage facilities. He wouldn’t have called me for storage.” True enough: Jackson at different times has had airport hangers at Santa Monica airport filled with his belongings. He’s also had warehouses closer to home near Neverland.
So what about Tohme Tohme, who’s not a doctor? There were a lot of questions I couldn’t ask him because he kept yelling, and refused to answer. I never got to ask him about a 1996 bankruptcy filing on record in the state of California. In the court filing, vs. Marathon National Bank, he listed himself as “Tohme Tohme, Doctor.”
A search of the Lexis Nexis database shows no mention of “Tohme Tohme,” doctor or otherwise, prior to December 22, 2008 when he issued a statement about Jackson’s health.
He was charming in our conversation. He said, “If you play it right, you will be the first one to know everything about Michael Jackson.” I said, thanks, I already was. He said that Michael is in great shape and could easily do 50 shows. “He could do a hundred.”