IT WAS, PERHAPS, A TAD MORE THAN we needed to know—but you can't blame Michael Jackson, 38, for wanting to set the record straight. When a British tabloid reported that the King of Pop had impregnated Debbie Rowe, an assistant to his Beverly Hills dermatologist, it apparently botched at least one key detail. "Reports speculating that Ms. Rowe was artificially inseminated," read a press release Jackson issued shortly after the news broke, "are completely false and irresponsible." Jackson and Rowe, it would seem, made their baby—due early next year—the old-fashioned way. The singer, touring in the Far East last week, noted that he was "thrilled" by the development. "This is," he said, "my dream come true."

Fatherhood has been on Jackson's mind of late, replacing such previous fascinations as the Elephant Man and Bubbles the chimp. A year after he married Lisa Marie Presley in 1994, he announced on PrimeTime Live that he wanted to start a family. That plan ended when he and Presley split in January, but rudimentary math suggests he wasted little time in settling on Plan B.

Until last week, few outside of Jackson's circle had heard of Rowe, 37. She graduated from Hollywood High in 1977, married a teacher there in 1982 and was divorced from him eight years later. She lives in a modest, one-bedroom apartment in Van Nuys, Calif., and rides a Harley-Davidson. "She is very kind," says a former patient, "professional, caring and calm."

Rowe has also been a friend to Jackson since she met him more than a decade ago in the offices of Dr. Arnold Klein, who has treated Jackson for vitiligo, a disease that causes the loss of skin pigment. Last April she accompanied Jackson to a Pasadena, Calif., performance of the musical Sisterella, which he had coproduced. Reports that the superstar paid Rowe to carry his child are denied by Jackson. How will the notoriously germophobic singer cope with baby drool and dirty diapers? His pal and Sony exec Larry Green-berg isn't worried. "He'll make an excellent father," says Greenberg. "He is the most honest, caring individual I've ever met"—and the only one with a Ferris wheel on the front lawn.

KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
MONICA RIZZO in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Monica Rizzo.