My Friend Michael 2011

  ON THE PLANE TO MIAMI I WROTE A LONG LETTER to Michael in which I explained my reasons for bringing Court and Derek to Neverland. I reminded him that he had told me to do whatever I could to fix the problem. I said that I was following his advice about how to close a deal. I had used my judgment, as he always asked me to, and unorthodox as my actions may have been, they came from the right place. The letter was not just a self-defense. I also waxed sentimental about our friendship. We had been in such a good place when we talked in the wine cellar, and now look what happened. I told him how painful it was for me to be in the middle of the lawsuit, how much the feelings of both sides mattered to me, and how determined I was to see the case resolved. I wanted to prove to myself that I could clean up the mess I’d inadvertently helped create.

   The last time Michael had been this angry with me dated back to the days when people had told him lies about me asking for money in order to arrange a meeting with him. Now he was mad about something that I had in fact done. I had taken things too far in my eagerness to smooth things over. I had overstepped my bounds because, truth be told, I was having trouble maintaining those bounds. I was young, and I thought that my good intentions gave me carte blanche.

   When I arrived in Miami, I asked a security guard to give Michael my letter. Half an hour later, he called me to his room, gave me a big hug, thanked me for the letter, and apologized for overreacting, a rare occurrence.

   “You gotta tell me these things,” he said. “You can’t just bring people to my home like that. You have to tell me.”

   “I’m sorry about this, about all of it,” I said. “All I wanted to do was clear up the situation with Court and Derek. It never should have come to this. Upsetting you was the last thing I wanted.” “I know you always have good intentions, but you have to be careful. If anything goes wrong, it comes back on me,” he said. “I love you, Frank. Let’s put this behind us and move on. Your brother and sister are in the other room. Go say hello to them.” From this point on, we picked up where we left off at Neverland. Michael was in great spirits, and it felt like we had, so to speak, rebooted our relationship. Unfortunately, just as we’d put out one fire, another one was beginning to flare up.

   The Bashir interview, Living with Michael Jackson, was set to air on TV in Europe on February 3, 2003, and in the United States three days later. A couple of days before the telecast, Michael decided he wanted to talk to a foreseer. He put some faith in spiritual advisers, and he was curious about what lay ahead. At Dr. Farshchian’s recommendation, we called a woman from abroad on the phone. Michael, the kids, Dr. Farshchian, and I listened while Mrs. Farshchian translated what the spiritual adviser had to say. There was bad news right off the bat.

   “You will be accused,” the spiritual adviser said. “There is someone trying to sabotage you. Be careful.” Then she said, “You have nothing to worry about, everything is gonna be fine in the end.” Michael freaked out. He couldn’t bear the idea that he would be accused of wrongdoing, that his intentions would be questioned again. He stormed to the bathroom and proceeded to smash a mirror, which, to me, said everything that needed to be said. He was furious at the image of himself, the reflection that people saw. He’d brought in Bashir to help people begin to know him better, but instead the spiritual adviser was predicting that things would only get worse before they got better.

   Soon enough, those predictions came to pass. First, though, came the sabotage.

   For months, Michael had been saying that he had final approval over the content of the documentary. The plan, therefore, was that Martin Bashir would come to Miami to prescreen Living with Michael Jackson. But Bashir didn’t show up at the designated time, and then kept delaying his trip. By the time it was clear that he was giving us the runaround, it was too late. We tried to halt the interview from airing in the United States, but it was past the point of no return.

   Aldo and Marie Nicole, who were still in Miami, watched Living with Michael Jackson in his suite, but Michael refused to join them: he never liked seeing himself on TV. As my siblings watched, Michael popped in and out of the room asking them, “Are you sure you want to watch this? Why do you want to watch this?” Meanwhile, I watched the interview in my hotel room with Dr. Farshchian, feeling a mixture of dismay and resignation. The interview didn’t capture the Michael I knew, to say the least. That Michael was humble. He was a humanitarian. He was a talented musician. He put money and energy behind children’s causes. Bashir didn’t care about any of that. He was a sensationalist, interested only in the shallower elements of Michael’s life: shopping excesses and plastic surgery.

   All that was bad enough, but by far the most damaging part of the interview was the moment when Bashir spoke with Michael about his relationships with children. Michael had brought Gavin Arvizo into the documentary because he wanted to be understood, and sharing his efforts to help children in need would help bring about this understanding. Gavin was a prime example of this. In Bashir’s interview, Michael was shown holding Gavin’s hand and telling the world that kids slept in his bed. Anyone who knew Michael would recognize the honesty and innocent candor of what he was trying to communicate. But Bashir was determined to cast it in a different light.

   What Michael didn’t bother to explain, and what Bashir didn’t care to ask about, was that Michael’s suite at Neverland, as I’ve said before, was a gathering place, with a family room downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. Michael didn’t explain that people hung out there, and sometimes wanted to stay over. He didn’t explain that he always offered guests his bed, and for the most part slept on the floor in the family room below. But, perhaps most important, he didn’t explain that the guests were always close friends like us Cascios and his extended family.

   One of the biggest misconceptions about Michael, a story that plagued him for years following the Bashir documentary, was that he had an assortment of children sleeping in his room at any given time. The truth was that random children never came to Neverland and stayed in Michael’s room. Just as my brother Eddie and I had done when we were younger, the family and friends who did stay with Michael did so of their own volition. Michael just allowed it to happen because his friends and family liked to be around him.

   What Michael said on Bashir’s video was true: “You can have my bed if you want, sleep in it. I’ll sleep on the floor. It’s yours. Always give the best to the company, you know.” Michael had no hesitation about telling the truth because he had nothing to hide. He knew in his heart and mind that his actions were sincere, his motives pure, and his conscience clear. Michael, innocently and honestly, said, “Yes, I share my bed. There is nothing wrong with it.” The fact of the matter is, when he was “sharing” his bed, it meant he was offering his bed to whoever wanted to sleep in it. There may have been times when he slept up there as well, but he was usually on the floor next to his bed or downstairs sleeping on the floor. Although Bashir, for obvious reasons, kept harping on the bed, if you watch the full, uncut interview, it’s impossible not to understand what Michael was trying to make clear: when he said he shared his bed, he meant that he shared his life with the people he saw as family. Now, I know that most grown men don’t share their private quarters with children, and those who do so are almost always up to no good. But that wasn’t my experience with Michael. As one of those kids who, along with his brother, had any number of such sleepovers with Michael, I know better than anyone else what did happen and what didn’t happen. Was it normal to have children sleep over? No. But it’s also not considered especially normal for a grown man to play with Silly String or have water balloon fights, at least not with the enthusiasm Michael brought to the activities. It’s also not normal for a grown man to have an amusement park installed in his backyard. Do these things make such a man a pedophile?

   I’m quite sure that the answer is no.

   The bottom line: Michael’s interest in young boys had absolutely nothing to do with sex. I say this with the unassailable confidence of firsthand experience, the confidence of a young boy who slept in the same room as Michael hundreds of times, and with the absolute conviction of a man who saw Michael interact with thousands of kids. In all the years that I was close to him, I saw nothing that raised any red flags, not as a child and not as an adult. Michael may have been eccentric, but that didn’t make him criminal.

   The problem, though, was that this point of view wasn’t

   represented in the documentary. Listening to Michael talk, people who didn’t know him were disturbed by what he was saying, not only because his words were taken out of context but also because Bashir, the narrator, was telling them they should be disturbed. The journalist repeatedly suggested that Michael’s statements made him very uncomfortable. Michael was quirky enough without the machinations of a mercenary newshound, to be sure, but there’s no doubt that Bashir manipulated viewers for his own ends. His questions were leading, the editing misguiding. As I watched the broadcast, it seemed to me that Bashir’s plan all along had been to expose Michael in whatever way he could in order to win the highest ratings he could for his show.

   Luckily, Michael frequently had a videographer traveling with him, and his personal film crew had also recorded the Bashir interviews as they occurred. Those tapes of the unedited footage showed a bigger picture—providing insight into the kinds of questions Bashir had asked, how he had framed them, and the views he offered at the time about Michael’s life (which, not surprisingly, were all glowingly positive). In this larger context, it is instantly apparent just how opportunistic Bashir had been, editing the material in the most sensationalistic way imaginable.

   This was true not just in the documentary itself, but also in how Bashir promoted it. For example, in an interview about the documentary, Bashir said: “One of the most disturbing things is the fact that a lot of disadvantaged children go to Neverland. It’s a dangerous place for a vulnerable child to be.” This however, was a far cry from what he’d said to Michael during the actual interview. Talking about inner-city kids visiting Neverland, what he’d said to Michael was, “I was here [at Neverland] yesterday and I saw it, and it’s nothing short of a spiritually [uplifting] kind of thing.” Even the New York Times recognized Michael as a victim of what their reporter called “his interviewer’s callous self-interest masked as sympathy.” Michael answered Bashir’s questions honestly, explaining his unusual but harmless inclination to play with kids as just another one of their peers. He had been open about this in past interviews, telling Vibe that the inspiration for the song “Speechless” came to him after a water balloon fight. In that interview he said, “Out of the bliss comes magic, wonderment, and creativity.” Nobody questioned Michael back then.

   Yet what Michael never seemed to be able to grasp was how the public’s shifting views of him caused the intentions of people like Bashir to change along with them, making him vulnerable to the scandal-hungry media in a way he had never been before. Through the baby-dangling episode, the masks his kids wore on their faces, the confusing marriages, Michael went about his life much as he always had: on his own terms. He lived in his own world and behaved with the same naïveté that had been a characteristic of his for years. He had no awareness of how his words and actions would be perceived, nor did he ever really try to understand how his behavior appeared from the outside.

   For years, he’d been generally avoiding the press, but when he passed a newsstand or caught a glimpse of a magazine that referred to him as “Wacko Jacko,” he was hurt.

   “What makes me Wacko Jacko?” he would ask. “Am I wacko to you?”

   “No, you’re not wacko,” I would say. “Just crazy. And your breath stinks.”

   We’d laugh it off, but we both knew that Michael cared what people thought. It upset him, but he always saw the aspersions that were cast on him as examples of false judgment, never true reflections of who he was. In a way, I agree with him. I saw this dynamic at work in the Bashir interview the same way I saw it in the treatment of the infamous baby-dangling episode. Brief glimpses of a life, taken out of context, can easily be manipulated to make a person look crazy. None of us are subject to the type of harsh scrutiny that Michael faced every day of his adult life, and sadly, the effect of that scrutiny only served to intensify the eccentricities. Perhaps the biggest tragedy of the Bashir video was that Michael had entered into it with the best of intentions. His willingness to do the interviews showed his optimistic belief that given the right context and the right explanation, the public would love and accept him as he was. In the same way he wanted to straighten out his finances by taking them back under his control, perhaps he had also wanted to straighten out the false impression the world had of him by communicating directly with his audience. He had hoped the Bashir interviews would connect him with his fans and the wider public. He wanted to be open about his life and to be understood. He thought the interview would be something he could be proud of, something he would show to his children one day, a part of his legacy.

   Instead, for the second time in his life, the world took Michael’s greatest passion—helping kids—and accused him of doing the opposite—hurting kids. I thought this was beyond fucked up. It was horrible. I had known Michael for most of my life. He was the most magical person I had ever met. And the world had a completely distorted picture of him when it came to his relationship with children.

   When we learned about the press’s and public’s responses to the video, Michael was disappointed more than anything else. “I trusted Uri,” he said. “I trusted Martin Bashir. I can’t believe this is happening. It’s all twisted. I was supposed to have final edit.” Michael never spoke to Uri Geller again, but he blamed himself for trusting the wrong people. He didn’t say so, but I saw in his disappointment the realization that, at the end of the day, the disaster was his fault.

   In the past, Michael’s disdain for people’s opinions would have prevented him from responding publicly, but now that he had children, he was determined to set the record straight. He issued a statement saying that he thought the video was a “travesty of the truth.” Then Michael and I spoke to Marc Schaffel. Michael knew Marc would get the job done, but he also liked working with him because he could joke around with him. Marc added levity to every challenge. We decided to make a rebuttal video, showing the real Michael and exposing Bashir’s vicious misrepresentations.

   My focus now became using that footage Michael’s crew had taken in order to clear Michael’s name. I immediately began working with Marc on The Michael Jackson Video: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See. We scrambled to release a film that showed Bashir’s manipulative editing, then the real version, so viewers could see exactly how Michael’s words had been blatantly twisted to show him in a negative light.

   Around this time, Marc Schaffel asked Debbie Rowe if she wanted to participate in the rebuttal. Marc had known Debbie for years. In fact, it was through her former employer, Dr. Klein, that Marc and Michael had first met. Debbie wasn’t happy with the press coverage of Michael, herself, and the children. Some stories —like the baby dangling—clearly put Michael’s competence as a father into question. Others criticized the family structure, accusing the children’s mother of heartlessly selling her offspring to Michael. Debbie was frustrated that she was unable to defend her decisions and Michael’s parenting skills because of the confidentiality clause in her divorce decree.

   “I don’t like how the media is portraying Michael,” she told Marc. “I don’t have a problem expressing that if Michael would be willing.” So Michael and Debbie signed an agreement giving her permission to speak about him as a father. It didn’t dictate what she would say; it merely freed her to voice her opinions in an interview with Marc. It had been a big point in the divorce that she be forbidden to say anything about the kids and Michael, so she wanted to be sure that Michael was sincerely willing to let her speak. And so, before the interview, Debbie and Michael talked several times. Their conversations were friendly, and I could see that Michael was glad to be back in touch with her. They had been friends for years before the media and the lawyers complicated matters. In her interview, Debbie said, “My kids don’t call me Mom because I don’t want them to. They’re Michael’s children. It’s not that they’re not my children, but I had them because I wanted him to be a father. I believe there are people who should be parents, and he is one of them.”

   In the midst of working on the rebuttal, we moved back to Neverland from Miami to deal with the post-Bashir media onslaught. There was so much going on that I called Vinnie, who came to help me out. And Gavin Arvizo and his family joined us as well, seeking a haven from the ravenous press. It reminded me of how the media had surrounded our house when Eddie and I returned from the Dangerous tour. I didn’t love the Arvizo family, but having been through a similar experience myself, I thought they deserved some shelter from the storm.

   At Neverland, the Arvizos did an interview for the rebuttal video in which they stated, in no uncertain terms, that Michael’s behavior had never been inappropriate. The boys said that when they had slept in Michael’s bed, he had slept on the floor. On February 20, the L.A. Department of Child and Family Services interviewed the Arvizo family in response to a complaint filed by a school official who had seen Bashir’s video. The entire family, one by one, again asserted that Michael had never initiated any inappropriate contact, and the case was dismissed.

   Three days later, on February 23, 2003, our rebuttal aired, just three weeks after the telecast of Bashir’s documentary. It was well received, and there was a flood of press condemning Bashir’s journalistic tactics.

   We were all doing our best to clear the air, but aside from these efforts, I have to say that the Arvizos were a handful to have around. They were rude and disrespectful. The children drove golf carts wildly around the property, crashing them into things. (I guess they mistook Neverland for the bumper car pavilion.) The behavior of Gavin’s mother, Janet, was erratic. She was either demanding to be chauffeured somewhere or locked up in her room all day, ordering various services from the staff. It was like babysitting, and because I was working on other projects, Vinnie was stuck with the thankless task of dealing with it.

   Janet Arvizo’s bizarre behavior soon became a subject of concern for me and Vinnie. The first cause of alarm came when she approached Vinnie and accused one of Michael’s business advisers of sexual harassment.

   “He wanted to sleep with me,” she told Vinnie. “He was all over me, ask anyone.” Vinnie came to me, deeply concerned. It was a shocking and upsetting accusation, and he and I took it very seriously. When we started to investigate, however, talking to the accused and to the people who Janet claimed had seen the adviser’s behavior, it quickly became evident that nothing had happened.

   Another time, I was at an Outback Steakhouse with Janet and her three kids when the two boys announced that they wanted to be in the movies when they grew up.

   “Do well in school,” I told them, “and one day we’ll help you fulfill your dreams.”

   Then Davelin, their sister, declared, “I want to be a dentist.” Janet leaned over and whispered in the girl’s ear, and suddenly Davelin started to cry. Then, in a somewhat less than convincing manner, she announced, “I want to be an actress, too.” I had no idea how soon all the Arvizo children would be practicing their acting skills.

   Soon thereafter, Vinnie was at a mall with Janet and her three children, Gavin, Star, and Davelin. They saw some celebrity pass by and suddenly Janet was galvanized into action.

   “Gavin!” she called. “Gavin, go up to him and tell him who you are. Tell him you’re the kid in the Michael Jackson video.” Gavin wasn’t especially eager to do this, and turning to Vinnie, he said, “I don’t want to go up to someone I don’t know and tell him I’m friends with Michael Jackson.” He successfully stalled until the celebrity had disappeared into a store. But Vinnie told me the story later. Janet clearly liked her children to cultivate friendships with celebrities. All I can say is that it was gross.

   Then came the night when Gavin and his brother Star pleaded with Michael to allow them to sleep with him.

   “Can we sleep in your room tonight? Can we sleep in your bed tonight?” the boys begged.

   “My mother said it’s okay, if it’s okay with you,” Gavin added. Michael, who always had a hard time saying no to kids, replied, “Sure, no problem.” But then he came to me.

   “She’s pushing her kids onto me,” he said, visibly concerned. He had a strange, uncomfortable feeling about it. “Frank, they can’t stay.” He was absolutely aware of the risks he ran in agreeing to share a room with these boys, especially because this was the very issue that had provoked such a furor in Bashir’s video.

   “No,” I said flatly, “they can’t stay. Their family’s crazy.”

   But Michael didn’t know how to say no to Gavin, so he asked me to handle the situation.

   I went to the kids and said, “Michael has to sleep. I’m sorry, you can’t stay in his room.”

   Gavin and Star kept begging, I kept saying no, and then Janet said to Michael, “They really want to stay with you. It’s okay with me.”

   Michael relented. He didn’t want to let the kids down. His heart got in the way, but he was fully aware of the risk. He said to me, “Frank, if they’re staying in my room, you’re staying with me. I don’t trust this mother. She’s fucked up.”

   I was totally against it, but I said, “All right. We do what we have to do.” Having me there as a witness would safeguard Michael against any shady ideas that the Arvizos might have been harboring. Or so we were both naive enough to think.

   That night we watched movies and hung out. At some point Michael and I went down to raid the kitchen. We came back to the room with Doritos, vanilla pudding, some cans of Yoo-hoo, and peanuts.

   Michael had just given Gavin a laptop as a gift, and when we returned to the room, we were greeted by the sight of a thirteenyear- old boy ogling an Internet porn site. I don’t think the kid had a porn habit or anything. He was just a teenager exploring the Web for the first time. He kept saying, “Frank, look at this. Frank, look at that.”

   I didn’t pay much attention, but when Gavin and Star tried to show Michael something on the screen, he said, “Frank, they can’t do that. I don’t want this coming back on me,” and left the room. At some point I made the boys stop watching the porn. I hadn’t introduced them to it, suggested it to them, or shown them anything in any way. As far as I was concerned, they were just being boys … doing what boys with access to the Internet tended to do. Later, Michael came back to the room and put on a movie, some kind of cartoon.

   That night, he and I made our beds downstairs, but the two boys wanted us in the same room with them, so they took the bed and Michael and I slept on the floor next to it.

   The next day Michael told me it was a good thing that I had stayed in the room.

   “I don’t like the mother,” he said.

   “I’m happy you finally see it. She’s sick in the head,” I said. “I always saw it,” he told me, and then, repeating a sentiment I’d heard many times, he added, “These innocent kids suffer because of the parents.”

   As the unsavory aftermath of the Bashir interview continued, we decided that it might be wise to take a vacation. We would all relax on the beach while everything died down. Marc Schaffel had access to an apartment in Brazil, so we decided to go there. Personally, I was looking forward to the trip. Beaches … girls … a two-week vacation. I couldn’t wait to leave. But Gavin had doctors’ appointments, and it became clear that the Arvizos were reluctant to go, so we canceled the trip.

   Eventually, the media circus died down. One day, Janet called and said the children’s grandfather was sick and they wanted to go see him, so in March 2003, we sent them on their way. They had been at the ranch for less than a month, and everyone at Neverland —both residents and staff—was delighted to see them go.


   THERE WAS RAMPANT SPECULATION IN THE MEDIA about the huge emotional toll that Bashir’s video had taken on Michael, with reports declaring that he’d never recover from it, but this absolutely wasn’t so. In the months following that savage telecast, Michael was in great spirits.

   For the next six or seven months he stayed at Neverland. Vinnie and I were there, too—back and forth between Neverland and Marc Schaffel’s house in Calabasas—and everyone had a fun time. Energy was high. At Neverland, Vinnie and I were helping the filmmaker Brett Ratner put together a longer version of the rebuttal, Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies, which incorporated footage from the Bashir video, Michael’s own videos, and new interviews with Michael’s friends and family in the hope of creating a true portrait of him—the one he had wanted to show the world. Every now and then, Brett would bring some beautiful women to visit, which kept things interesting. The actor Chris Tucker, a close friend of Michael’s, was living in a huge bus parked on the ranch. We filmed the whole project on-site—we didn’t want anything to leave the ranch; so there was an entire production team at Neverland—me and Vinnie, Brett Ratner, Marc Schaffel, and others. Together we weeded through hours and hours of footage. When it came to putting together the private home videos, Michael was hands-on. We showed him cuts; he gave notes. He’d always been interested in filmmaking, and the collaboration gave a much-needed boost to his sense of controlling the way he was represented to the world and ensuring that it was accurate. On April 24, 2003, when Home Movies aired on Fox as a two-hour special, many viewers tuned in and Michael felt vindicated by the ratings. Of course, positive images don’t get as much attention in the press as the negative ones. We had to rely on people taking the opportunity to form their own opinions. We hoped they would.

   After the home videos were released, Vinnie and I began work on a new project. As part of the effort to fix Michael’s image, we were going to relaunch Michael’s brand and merchandising. If handled properly, the licensing of Michael’s name and image could be a billion-dollar business all to itself. Though I’d used the break I had taken from working with Michael to explore other opportunities, the truth was that this was where I most wanted to be. It was exactly the role I wanted to play.

   A lot of my enthusiasm came from knowing that there was a great team in place. Al Malnik continued to run Michael’s operation from Miami, and let me tell you, Al ran a tight ship. Everything went through him. But regardless of where we were, everyone shared the same vision. We may have subsisted on two or three hours of sleep a night, but it didn’t matter because everyone’s adrenaline was up. We were all working hard and having fun. We believed in Michael and what we were doing. It felt like a machine had been put in place in order to rebuild Michael’s business, career, and image.

   Meanwhile, Michael was off his medications, and Dr. Farshchian had him on a program of vitamins and supplements that looked like it was working. Al Malnik was running his organization, and he was on track to get Michael out of every lawsuit. Al put Michael back on track to start making money again. He was the best thing to happen to Michael. Michael was traveling back and forth to Miami, where he met with Al and checked in with Dr. Farshchian. He was working on a new album—Number Ones, a greatest hits album. In the studio, he’d been playing around with some new tracks, one of which, “One More Chance,” would end up on the album. He spent time with his kids. Blanket, who was a year and a half that summer, was developing a funny personality. He loved Spider-Man. (Michael loved Spider-Man and all Marvel comics, so of course his boys did, too. That year, for Prince’s sixth birthday, he had thrown a Spider-Man party.)

   “I’m Spider-Man,” I’d tell Blanket.

   “No, I’m Spider-Man,” he would reply in his funny little-kid voice.

   “But I’m Spider-Man,” I would insist. After going back and forth like that for quite a while, Blanket would pretend to fire web at me.

   “Frank, you have to fall,” he would say. “I got you.” “No, you missed,” I’d say. He’d shoot again and this time I’d crumple to the ground, struggling against the invisible web as I went down.

   The press during that period portrayed Michael as a man trapped in a downward spiral. The bus-top protests against Sony, the baby dangling, the Bashir video, his changing appearance… To the outside world, these issues had come to overshadow Michael’s life, his talent, and his career.

   But to those of us who actually knew Michael, such a portrayal couldn’t have been further from the truth. There was no sign that he was losing control, no sign that he was heading downhill. In reality, he was more vibrant and engaged than he had been in years. I felt like he’d turned a corner, and I wasn’t the only one. Everyone around him felt the same way.

   If you compare the footage of Michael in Home Movies to what you see of him in Bashir’s video, you can get a sense of what we saw: how much happier he was during that spring and summer at Neverland. In Home Movies, he is back to being himself again. He is joking around and happy. His whole demeanor is relaxed. Working on music in the dance studio with Brad by day, he had dinner and socialized with everyone at night—Brett Ratner, Chris Tucker, me, Vinnie, some of Michael’s cousins, and Brett’s beautiful female guests. He would join us in the game room or lead everyone to the movie theater to watch music videos. Sometimes in the past, when Neverland was full of people, Michael had retreated to his bedroom, but not this time. He was absolutely present, a proud host.

   On August 30, Michael celebrated his forty-fifth birthday with his fans. He didn’t perform—the fans performed his songs—but when he thanked them, he mentioned some of the projects that he was looking forward to: the new merchandising line that Vinnie and I were developing, resort hotels, and a new charity project that involved mentoring. He pledged to make Neverland more accessible to his fans; that announcement got the biggest cheer, of course. He was also studying 3-D technology—he knew that was where movies were going next—and planning a huge charity event at Neverland to be held in September 2003. The next chapter in Michael’s life promised to include his diverse interests, which extended far beyond the hit albums the world expected from him. He was back to his dynamic old self. He was in command of his life. And I, for one, could not have been more excited to be a part of it all.