IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A TALE ABOUT Michael Jackson—he of the Elephant Man Bones, the life-extending oxygen chamber and Bubbles the beloved chimp—too strange to believe? Try this one: At 9:30 a.m. on May 26, the self-proclaimed King of Pop steps out of a white Toyota van in the tiny town of La Vega in the Dominican Republic, walks into the home of a local judge, and, accompanied by one Lisa Marie Presley, asks to be married. (Excuse us, but Lisa Marie? Brooke maybe Madonna
even. But Elvis's kid? When did they even meet?) Anyway, they show their passports to prove their identities, sign some papers, then stand quietly—she resplendent in a tight beige strapless dress and short hair, he dressed in black and sporting a ponytail and lipstick—while the judge performs a 15-minute ceremony. Which costs $45. While a few red chickens strut and peck on the lawn outside.
O-o-kay. So, in a year of Jackson fiascos at every turn—and wacky weddings down every aisle (see pages 46-70)—is this just another wild rumor, or a story so strange that it just might be true? The Jackson camp, confronted with the news splashed across the front page of Santo Domingo's leading daily newspaper. Listin Diario
on July 11, says the tale is fiction. "There was no marriage," says spokesperson Lee Solters. Presley's people say the reports sound false, but they also admit they couldn't immediately locate the alleged bride—who announced her separation from her musician husband, Danny Keough, just three months ago. Jerry Schilling, her former manager and lifelong friend, says that until he hears it straight from Lisa Marie, he won't believe a word. "Too tabloidish," he says.
And yet if this is a hoax, it is a very elaborate one based at least in part on some persuasive evidence. Consider: Dominican civil judge Hugo Francisco Alvarez Pérez has produced documents purportedly signed by Jackson, 35, and Presley, 26, which Charles Hamilton, the handwriting expert who exposed the Hitler Diaries
fraud in 1983, has told the press he examined and declared with 75 percent certainty to be authentic. (Pérez insists that he released the documents only after receiving repealed press inquiries and is not taking money for the information.) Janet Palli, director of publicity for the plush Casa de Campo resort in La Romana, 50 miles from Santo Domingo, says that Jackson arrived on their private landing strip in a Falcon 900 jet owned by his record company, Sony; government officials confirm Jackson's arrival on May 24 and his departure three days later; and according to one witness, he was accompanied on his trip by two women.
Though not exactly proof, the documents and details have some of Jackson's closest pals—insiders who usually know everything and tell nothing—scratching their heads. In New York City, Liz Taylor's publicist Chen Sam read the headlines and phoned her boss to ask, in jest, if Liz had served as the maid of honor. (Taylor said she hadn't heard a word from her very close friend in three weeks.) Meanwhile in Manhattan, some well-informed friends took the news of the nuptials with little wonder.
Jackson, who is worth an estimated $100 million, and Presley, whose own fortune tops out at $100 million, have been seen together around New York City for at least six months. Lisa Marie, according to one source, is a regular visitor to Jackson's duplex apartment in Trump Tower, just beneath Donald and Maria Trump's triplex home. The romance first came to light early this year, about the time Jackson settled the civil suit filed by the child who had accused him of sexual molestation. Jackson was spotted dining with his friends the Trumps at Manhattan's Le Cirque restaurant. Apropos of nothing, Jackson suddenly said, "You know what? I'm in love. Her name is Lisa."
A few weeks later, when Trump invited his friend to visit his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., Michael asked, "Can I bring my love interest?" Jackson spent the week with Lisa Marie and her two children, Benjamin Storm, 21 months, and Danielle, 5. She and Michael stayed in separate bedrooms but were otherwise inseparable and affectionate. They spent nearly every evening in a part of the mansion called the Grand Tower, looking at the stars, and left the house together just once. "They walked down Worth Avenue," says one witness, "and caused a big commotion and came right back."
Two months later, Presley announced her separation from Keough. Oddly—or perhaps not—the name one witness scribbled on the wedding certificate in May is Thomas Keough, the same name as the younger brother of Lisa Marie's estranged husband. Since Presley and Danny Keough never announced an official dissolution of their marriage, and the Dominican Republic is a mecca for quickie divorces (Mike Tyson barely had to turn off the jet engine when he flew in to obtain a divorce from Robin Givens in 1988), speculation is rife: Did Danny accompany Lisa Marie, obtain a divorce and then for some reason ask his brother to serve as a witness to her wedding? This much seems relatively certain: Michael and Lisa Marie are spending more time together than most married people. Last week, Jackson spent six days in a New York City recording studio, and according to a source, Presley was with him three of those days. Are they becoming the new Sonny and Cher? As Josefina Rodriguez, chief of the Dominican consulate in Miami, says, "Who knows? When you find out, tell me."
KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
LOIS ARMSTRONG in Los Angeles and DON SIDER in the Dominican Republic
- Lois Armstrong,
- Don Sider.