Hunted to death

Barbara Amiel: Where were all of Michael Jackson’s celebrity friends back when he needed them most?


Hunted to deathYou might think little of the adult Michael Jackson but I defy even the most cynical to remain unmoved by the Oct. 18, 1969, video of the Jackson 5 featuring Michael Jackson on the Diana Ross show belting out I’ll Be There. The pint-sized 11-year-old with the huge Afro and eyes to match, a big sweet voice and a determination to outflank Miss Ross in camera position, was already an experienced performer, though his grown-up moves were slightly off-kilter. He could simulate sexuality as he did a pretend ad lib of “look over your shoulder honey” but he was a kid all the same. “You and I must make a pact / We must bring salvation back / Where there is love / I’ll be there” he sung, but you sort of knew he’d “be there” buying an ice cream cone.

Though the song was subsequently recorded by just about every vocalist, it was always Michael’s. The words drifted in and out of his memorial service. Mariah Carey nearly fell out of her gown singing them. And still, in all the analysis following his death, no one actually mentioned the slightly inconvenient fact that no one was “there” for Michael when he really needed it, when it might have been more onerous than simply going to the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

If you are famous you’re a target. Jackson, though, became something more: he became blood prey once Santa Barbara District Attorney Thomas Sneddon became convinced Jackson was a child molester. Although the evidence of child molestation was not there, the lengths Sneddon resorted to were extreme and we are unlikely to ever understand the psychopharmocology of Sneddon’s brain that drove him to pursue Jackson unsuccessfully through civil and then criminal charges for 12 years. Perhaps it was nothing more than wanting to win the six successive elections that made him Santa Barbara’s longest-serving DA ever. But from 2003 on, when Sneddon laid criminal charges, Jackson’s lifespan was doomed.

Crimes go in and out of fashion. In 1644, the adulterous 18-year-old Mary Latham was punished by death in Massachusetts colony. Today, you’re all but a Stepford wife if you embrace fidelity. In our time, child molestation is the scarlet letter. To survive a charge of it, more is needed than an acquittal. The combined support of all those celebs at his memorial service organizing the media to investigate Sneddon and his career (which included a number of alleged malicious prosecutions) or to create a JacksonAid fest might have been a start.

For one hold-your-breath moment, I thought CNN’s pretty boy Don Lemon was going to touch on this with Rev. Al Sharpton, who had made some angry remarks about the press on Jackson. “I have to ask you this because I’m a journalist,” Lemon said apologetically, which suggested he wasn’t one in any real sense. Was he actually going to ask where all the celebs had gone during Michael’s tribulations? Turned out, Lemon wanted to know about the arrangements for the private funeral.

After Michael’s death, almost everyone identified themselves as friends, rather like every Frenchman being a member of the Resistance. Unfortunately, between late 2003 and June 25, 2009, their public calendars didn’t include Michael in any substantive way. Where was Oprah when not supporting Obama (whose election Sharpton credited Michael with making possible!). Where was Jane Fonda, who now fondly remembers their times together? Madonna told the world that Michael was one of the greatest artists of all time. I can’t blame anyone for figuring it was too dodgy to speak up when the association might taint one’s own career, but perhaps it would be more seemly now to either regret one’s own silence publicly or keep posthumous laudations private. Where, after all, was Brooke Shields, up there crying on the podium but not having seen him for 18 years? The closest to public support was ABC’s Barbara Walters telling us she felt “sympathy . . . shock . . . then sadness” after viewing the 2003 Martin Bashir interview in which Michael talked about sharing his bed with children. “It’s very loving,” Michael said, a sentiment that sent Sneddon levitating to prosecutor’s paradise and that is currently being annotated by Bashir as expressive of “no wrongdoing by Michael.” Fine, but it was this bed-sharing admission that made it possible to think that perhaps Jackson had molested his underage guests.

Post-memorial service, the bandwagon moved on to Jackson’s intake of prescription medications. His sister says he was murdered by them. Nancy Grace can’t wait for the toxicology report. Dr. Drew Pinsky (author of The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America) looked pretty seduced himself, as he sleekly analyzed Jackson’s medications on her show. True, had Michael not taken massive amounts of narcotics, he might have lived to be 90—and most likely the world would never have had that moonwalking King of Pop, only another good performer. They certainly wouldn’t have had a 50-year-old man preparing for 50 shows more physically demanding than most 30-year-olds could handle. But those pills were more than rockets to keep him going physically.

When you are hunted day and night, when each day you wake up in a surreal landscape where nothing can be ruled out, your bedroom door may be broken down any moment in the name of the law, you cannot know which madwoman, employee or youth will file a suit against you and your hell is the world’s entertainment paradise for more than 16 years, well, there is no way to wake up without medicine. More and more of it if you will demand the impossible of yourself.

Michael was bleeding from a trillion cuts. How much did it cost to handle Helen Harris-Scott’s emotional distress suit? Not a familiar name? Just a US$100-million civil suit started in 2006, dismissed, appealed, reinstated, costs awarded to Harris-Scott and motions still being filed in June 2009. Multiply those suits by a hundred or two, all the depositions, lawyers, invoices, tearing away at Jackson’s equilibrium—never balanced to begin with—lawsuits multiplying like fleas in America where tort law is a pandemic infecting the soul of the country, and the wonder is he kept going at all.

I haven’t a clue about the specifics of his death, but I’m pretty sure what caused it. Not the medicine in syringes and capsules, not even the hunters in black legal robes or the ones carrying cameras. What caused Jackson’s death was an ambition and talent larger than his frail body could handle and a culture that made more living off him than it could ever have made by being “there.”


Hunted to death

  1. The difference being that Michael Jackson was exonerated.

  2. Thanks for writing this.
    RIP MJ

  3. After Michael's death, almost everyone identified themselves as friends, rather like every Frenchman being a member of the Resistance.

    Ouch. The ever-poignant Amiel has a way of applying sting and sizzle to bring focus to a matter.

      • Jack, good sir, where would you like it? The arm or the leg?

        You didn't see them all shamelessly tripping amongst themselves to be identified as his good friend? Agree with her or not, Amiel always gets your attention, and makes you think past the most obvious considerations.

        • Actually, I thought that was already a well-established part of Jackson's funeral story. But to compare Michael Jackson to the French Resistance is absurd. Anyway, the subtext to this article is that we don't sufficiently pity appallingly awful celebrities, like MJ or certain incarcerated peers.

          • but hold on, you said he was exonerated.

            I think it is quite a propos to compare the two cases, demonstrating the willingness of people to take credit after the fact, when they actually disappeared during the turmoil. It likely got uncomfortably personal at that point in the argument for Amiel, but the point is a good one.

  4. After Michael's death, almost everyone identified themselves as friends, rather like every Frenchman being a member of the Resistance. Unfortunately, between late 2003 and June 25, 2009, their public calendars didn't include Michael in any substantive way……………………………….very deplomatically written …..Thankyou

  5. At last, the voice of reason. Thank you so much.

  6. Beautiful post.

  7. This was extremely well written. If only more people would think about these sorts of things.

  8. I, too, enjoyed most of this article- but to compare Michael Jackson's life and death to the resistance speaks less to the awfulness of Michael Jackson being alone when he most needed friends, and more to the ridiculous pop-culture obsession the world has. Michael Jackson was a great artist, and he had a horrible life, for a lot of it, but the analogy is crude when you consider the countless dead that ensued when the Nazis took Paris.

  9. Wonderful article – Amiel at her best. As for the resistance reference – that is entirely appropriate as well – there is a myth that has been built up about the French resistance which doesn't match the reality of what was happening at the time.

  10. I need to say one thing about friends being there-throughout all Michael's tribulations whenever Diana Ross was asked a question about him her response was, "Michael is my friend and I will not talk about him." I always respected her loyalty and love for him even when it was not in vogue!

  11. Brooke Shields wasn't stupid. She was there to talk about how close they were, but she was smart enough to keep her kids away from him. His so-called 'friends' apparently never saw Michael take drugs. Riiiight…..I know you can't stop a drug addict from getting his drugs, but you can also stop being an enabler. Nobody had the guts to tell Michael what he didn't want to hear.

  12. I have to respectfully disagree with the article. You are entitled to view things the way you like, I honestly believe he was a pedophile in the most extreme sense. Anyone who read the depositions from the 1993 case of Jordan Chandler would be mortified. In addition, there were numerous other pay offs that didn't get any attention. In the most recent trial there was tons of evidence against Michael, among numerous being books and books of children nude and sexual pictures. Also very specific detail from the poor kid recovering from cancer. As far as not being left alone, that was his own doing. When "Dangerous" was released in 1991, he was hoping for the severely unrealistic goal of wanting to sell 100 million albums. "Thriller" sold 25 million copies in the U.S. and 40 million worldwide, so the prospect of 100? Anyone who is that consumed with fame loves every minute of it. You can't have it both ways. If any of this had happened to anyone else, they would be in jail for life. Trying to turn Michael into a martyr is ridculous.

    • TampaGreek, you're so full of it your eyes are brown. Get the hell out of here and stop telling lies about Michael Jackson. He's been lied about quite enough.

  13. Well said and stated and balanced and fairly written article – hear hear!! Diana Ross is to be credited for her loyalty and closed-mouthed habits – she does this always.

  14. Thank you for writing an article that is justified by careful observations and reasonings, despite the risk of sounding unpopular. Although it is all too late now, because Jackson is no longer with us, I still feel that the media owes Mr. Jackson an apology for its biased and contorted reportings about him, which ultimately take the life out of one of the most talented artists in our century.

    It is obvious that people are more comfortable accepting that Jackson was a pedophile, rather than the fact that he is a compassionate human being who is gifted with a big heart for loving and sharing. While there were hardcore evidence that Evan Chandler has set out to frame Jackson and the Arvizos were just a bunch of scammers who extort money out of the rich, there was no evidence whatsoever that Jackson has done anything. The stories given by the Chandlers and the Arvizos were full of contradictions that anyone who graduated from elementary school can easily see that they are nothing but lies. Tom Sneddon was nothing but a pathetic old man who wanted to wrap up his career nicely, at the expense of Jackson's career and life.

    Come on, people, it is okay to believe that there is still good in this world.

    Friends in the media, news such as Jackson giving away good chunk of his concert profit to charities, his visits to orphanages and hospitals, his powerful speeches at Oxford University, etc would just have been as sensational as the other untrue stories that you tried very hard to milk out. Now that he is gone, please show the man some overdue respect and give him the credit that he deserves.

    Unfortunate but true, Jackson was hunted to death.

  15. Thanks Amiel. I don't always agree with your opinions, but you provided a pretty compassionate perspective hear. Good job.

  16. Tom needs to read the trial transcripts easily accessible online from 2005. I was a sceptic too but I am afraid to tell you he did not do it.

  17. Sorry Tampa Greek not om sorry Tom.

  18. Thank you for this Barbara! There is no doubt in my mind that the infamous ugly trail contributed to his death .Us average folk have no idea what the very talented & yes vulnerable have to put up with. Lots of leaches out there looking for what they perceive as an easy buck. I recall also the Martin Brashir interview. I was disgusted with his back stabbing after What makes some of us want to believe the worst? Rest in peace angel.

  19. A poignant article that brought me to tears but not just for Micheal.

  20. I asked myself exactly that same question when all the stars came out for MJ's memorial.

    You never saw any of those faces anywhere near his trial.

    Then there they are gushing praise and elevating him to the same status as Elvis and The Beatles.


  21. Millions were not taken on the journey the jury followed. With the exception of the two jurors who allowed the stroking of media execs to convince them -within days of handing down their 14-across-the-board verdicts, that a book deal was the proper forum for their 'misgivings' – the fact is, that jury returned the right verdict.

    You just weren't told. Instead, Nancy- everyone's guilty' – Grace, Diane Dimond who is unfit to call herself a journalist, Allred and countless others gorged themselves on the machinations of a manipulative, invested DA and a family of jackals.

    And the settlement of 1994 I hear you ask? " Agreed to over and above the protests of Jackson. "

    What was done to this man was a disgrace, not the other way round.

    ….and for the record Jackson has more than earned his place in musical Valhalla.

  22. On June 13, 2005, a California jury fully acquitted Michael Jackson of despicable crimes against a child.

    For at least two years before the indictment against Jackson was filed, the case provided unprecedented fodder for American media to revile and eventually utterly devastate the reputation of an outstanding American entertainer, father, son, brother, and friend.

    Armed with poison pens, the media–tabloid and mainstream alike–launched an all-out war against the truth. To coin a phrase, American journalism became medialoid–mainstream media infected by tabloid journalism. Abandoning all semblance of journalistic integrity, medialoid descended on a courthouse in Santa Barbara, California, to feast on the soul and spirit of a man considered by many to be one of the greatest entertainers and one of the most prolific humanitarians America has ever produced.

    That an otherwise honorable profession as journalism would act in concert to destroy a living, feeling, striving and contributing human being just to achieve ratings is abhorrent.

    The collective effort of American media to nullify the jury's decision is not a figment of the imagination. Their effort is viewable and verifiable. Michael Jackson suffered mightily at the hands of American media. There are other countries whose media were just as malicious and destructive, but we're concerned only with how American media destroyed the life of Michael Jackson, an innocent man.

    I invite the author of this article to contact us at http://www.

  23. This was sensitively written. She made no comment about his severely altered appearance that is usually a prime focus for discussion.There was probably much in his behavior that drove his friends away during those years. Maybe some did care about him, but were baffled as to how to deal with him.

    • Nonsense, nigswander. Books are now being written by Michael's true friends that will disclose the true nature and deep friendships he enjoyed. It' not difficult to "deal" with someone as warm, loving, compassionate and generous of spirit as Michael Jackson.