Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Remembering Michael Jackson on the 11th Anniversary of His Death: When Having the Receipts was the Real Thing


“I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast
But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last” — Prince

If I’ve told you this story before, forgive me. On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson was supposed to be asleep after a night of rehearsals for his run of shows in London. He was supposed to be moving to London any minute and the shows would take a lot out of him.

I was sitting right here at my desk working on various other stories when I got a message that Michael had had a heart attack and was being rushed to the hospital. Showiz411 just begun under the aegis of another publication, so I had to contact my editors in Los Angeles. While I was emailing them I was simultaneously calling the cell phone of Frank DiLeo, Michael’s long time friend and manager, who’d just come back into the picture.

When Frank picked up, I was relieved. “Frank,” I said, “how is Michael? Where are you?”

Frank was whispering. “I’m with him. He’s gone.”

“Gone?” Wait, hadn’t we jumped ahead of Did he have a heart attack?”

“Oy my god, Frank, what?”

“He’s gone. I’m at the hospital with him. I just closed his eyes.”

Frank, who everyone called Uncle Tookie, loved Michael. As it turned out, Frank would be dead a year later, from heart disease. It’s not rational, but in a way I think this is what caused Frank’s death. He was such a big-hearted guy, and he put on a good front, but the reality of Michael being gone was too much for him. I think the strain of it did him in.

A couple of days later I’d be sitting on the terrace of the Four Seasons Hotel having coffee with Frank and a couple other close Michael Jackson intimates who’d been good friends to me covering Michael for many years. Everyone was in shock. One of them had been dealing with some members of the Jackson family, and it hadn’t been pretty. One of them said to me, Have you ever heard of Dr. Murray? At the same time, he showed me a bill they’d received from Dr. Arnold Klein, Michael’s “Dr. Feelgood.” It was for $48,000, and barely covered the period of rehearsals for the London shows. We read it in horror.

I broke a lot of stories that summer thanks to these guys, trying to get to the bottom of Michael’s death. Many of the stories are lost in space as the publication didn’t archive them. I do remember communicating with the editors on email while Frank was talking to me from the hospital and confirming Michael’s death. The head editor wrote back to me and said she’d wouldn’t publish it without confirmation. “Is he really dead or just brain dead?” typed back to me. As it turned out she was the one who was brain dead. She’s not around anymore and no one remembers her name.

I got into a lot of trouble last year criticizing the documentary, “Leaving Neverland.” Michael had made a lot of mistakes in his life, particularly flaunting friendships with little boys. Everyone “knew” he was a pedophile. Then the Arvizos came along, lied like rugs, were used by Santa Barbara DA Tom Sneddon in his vendetta against Michael. I broke all the stories about how the Arvizo’s lied.

Today in the vernacular everyone uses the word “receipts” instead of “evidence.” But I was brought the actual receipts first, before anyone. I knew the Arvizo’s had lied. In court, Tom Mesereau asked Janet Arvizo if she thought Michael Jackson would take her kids away in a hot air balloon. It was his crowning moment. She replied– she exclaimed, “Yes!” The courtroom gasped, Judge Melville banged his gavel. Katherine Jackson was sitting in from of me. She turned around for a minute, and I said, “I apologize on behalf of everyone for this trial.”

Michael Jackson was not easy. The last few years he was the victim of hucksters as he closed himself off from reality. A lot of people took advantage of him, and his drug problems. During the trial, Frank went up to see Michael at Neverland and saw an IV pole with a drip. The kids’ nanny, Grace, was administering something. Frank didn’t know what it was, and couldn’t ask. He told me about that night. But the whole situation was out of control already.

“Leaving Neverland” is a travesty, a real violation of trust. The filmmaker, who has since lost control of his rights, was conned. So was HBO. A very good rebuttal film, “Square One,” is on Amazon Prime now. The fans, who are smart (but can be annoying) did a ton of detective work. Nothing about “Leaving Neverland” stacks up or rings true. But it was one last grasp at the golden ring by those who’d been left behind high and dry. Their gravy train was off the tracks. Frankly, if Michael had lived to be 80 I don’t think he would ever have left money to any of his accusers. He was done with that.

I have to believe Frank and Michael are in heaven having a good time. Frank is convincing Michael to a big tour and make a new record. He’s smoking a cigar and clapping Michael on the back. They are at peace, I hope, and dreaming big dreams.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also 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.

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