Five Lingering Questions From 'The Michael Jackson Tapes'


We already knew Michael Jackson was eccentric: dangling his son over a balcony, wearing pajamas to court, etc. But he seems even stranger in light of the new book The Michael Jackson Tapes, based on a series of interviews he gave to celebrity rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who rushed the transcripts into print after Jackson died. Jackson consulted Boteach daily in 2000 and 2001 as he explored Judaism, and Boteach flattered the pop star’s ego, calling him handsome and comparing him favorably with Britney Spears (then again, that's not much of a compliment). Nevertheless, Jackson returned the favor–-speaking at the rabbi’s forum at Oxford University and revealing the secrets that would later form this book. Rather than clarifying the tragic star’s life, though, the tapes raise questions that may now never be answered. Here are of the five most lingering questions:

1. What was Michael Jackson's deal with child actors? Jackson’s friendship with Macaulay Culkin was notorious, but he was also drawn to Shirley Temple. He erected shrines to Temple everywhere: “I [used to have] a guy who would travel with me," Jackson said. "His job was that before I got to every hotel, [he] was to set up the whole hotel room to Shirley Temple.”
2. How did he and Janet really get along? Michael supposedly would always pester Janet about her weight, and he even called her "a fat cow," according to the rabbi's tapes. Jackson played this off as a desire “to make my sister look good because deep in my heart I love her and I want to make her shine,” though he claimed the two do not have a very close relationship. The other siblings went largely unmentioned.

3. What does Michael Jackson have to do with the Holocaust? Apparently, Jackson believed that he could have prevented it, had he been alive at the time and had a chance to speak with Hitler: “I believe you have to help them, give them therapy," he said. "You have to teach them that somewhere something in their life went wrong. They don’t see what they do.” And in a disorienting moment, Jackson explained how he learned a Jewish slur: “When I was a little kid, Jews, we had Jewish lawyers and Jewish accountants and they slept in my bed next to me and they would call each other ‘k--e.’”

4. Was Michael Jackson really attracted to women, or was he just pretending? Boteach doesn’t believe Jackson was gay, and he provides several instances of Jackson’s interest in the opposite sex. Jackson used Boteach as a go-between to ask Katie Couric on a date (she declined), discussed his crush on Princess Diana (“I have never asked a girl out. They have to ask me”), and dished on his first girlfriend, Tatum O’Neal (“She wasn’t into innocence, and I love that”). Sex wasn't second nature to Jackson, though: of early girlfriend Brooke Shields, Jackson said, “We had one encounter when she got real intimate and I chickened out. And I shouldn’t have.”

5. For someone who pretended to love everybody, why did Jackson dislike Madonna? "She is not a nice person," Jackson declared, and he was convinced she was in love with him.

The Michael Jackson Tapes is only the beginning of the posthumous exploitation of Jackson; rehearsal footage from his doomed London stage show has been edited into a film to be released just before Halloween. We will never fully understand so many aspects of Jackson, but perhaps the biggest question from The Michael Jackson Tapes is one about the book's interviewer. If Michael Jackson really was such a private person, why did he choose a spiritual adviser so willing to go public?

Editor's Pick