Picks and Pans Review: Michael Jackson Unauthorized
This new explosive biography of pop star Michael Jackson is conclusive proof (as if more were needed) that celebrities are different from you and me, and not just because they have more money. Thanks to a Fort Knox bank account, "Wacko Jacko," as the British tabloids love to call him, was able to indulge his weirdest desires—from acquiring a new face to keeping a chimpanzee as a companion to cavorting with young boys, including Macaulay Culkin and Sean Lennon, in his own private amusement park. For years Jackson's behavior was dismissed as simply the quirkiness of a creative genius who, deprived of a childhood himself, was trying to experience childlike joy as an adult.
But as author Christopher Andersen, who also wrote tell-alls on Madonna, Mick Jagger and Jane Fonda, carefully documents, much of Jackson's bizarre persona was purposefully cultivated. The pop star believed that the stranger and more remote he seemed, à la Garbo, the more albums he would sell. Thus Jackson took to wearing a single sequined glove and surgical masks; he went to London in an attempt to buy the skeleton of the Elephant Man; he bought a hyperbaric chamber and then planted the story that he intended to sleep in it (which he later vehemently denied). But the campaign backfired badly in August 1993 when Jackson was accused of child molestation by a California teen. Although the case never went to court, it wreaked personal and professional havoc on Jackson, a setback that will likely require more than his merger-marriage to Lisa Marie Presley to reverse.
While Andersen acknowledges that Jackson's early life—particularly the mental and physical abuse doled out by his father—contributed to his sexual problems and general oddness, he refuses to excuse Jackon's behavior. Instead, Andersen presents Jackson in all his gruesome glory: buying off the parents of young boys with whom he then shares a bed, going back for repeat rhinoplasties until his nose tissue is in ruins, and using various women—most notably Brooke Shields—as his beard at public events. Jackson's distaste for and fear of the opposite sex is evident throughout the book. The feelings were sometimes mutual. When Madonna hears that Jackson refers to her as a heifer behind her back, she says, "I'd rather look like a cow than a space-alien drag queen."
Ultimately, Michael Jackson Unauthorized is a sad book. Jackson's musical achievements and skills as a performer and a businessman are not in doubt. But the reader is left with the image of a selfish, publicity-obsessed star who had the hubris to believe that he played such a big role on the world stage that his contemptible offstage behavior was no one's business but his own. (Simon & Schuster, $23)