How reality came to Neverland: the King of Pop's disastrous demise
On the wall over his bed in Neverland, his 1,000-hectare California ranch, Jackson had a painting of the Last Supper, with himself as Jesus and Einstein, Thomas Edison, JFK, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney and Little Richard among the apostles. He was, writes Sullivan, fascinated by figures who died young, and noted that many of them fell foul of the same twin evils: sex and drugs. By 2005, when he was acquitted of all charges of child molestation, Jackson was a shadow of his former wiry, agile self; sickly, emaciated and weak, he had to be helped into court to hear the verdicts. “Not guilty by reason of celebrity,” raged one TV pundit, echoing the feeling among media and public that the jury was overawed by Jackson.
Two days after his acquittal, and facing financial ruin after years of profligate spending, Jackson quit Neverland with his children, Prince Michael, Paris and “Blanket”, and began a nomadic existence that saw him flit between Bahrain, Paris, London, Germany and Ireland. He stayed in Ballinacurra House, in Co Cork, and Luggala Castle, in Co Wicklow, and spent several months at Grouse Lodge recording studios, in Co Westmeath, where he began working on his comeback album with Will.I.Am, and became friends with Grouse Lodge’s owner, Paddy Dunning.
Jackson read The Irish Times every day, and liked to listen to local traditional musicians. There was no outward sign of Jackson’s famed oddness, said Dunning. “We just saw a pure and utter gentleman who was an extremely great parent to his kids.”
Jackson also struck up a professional relationship with one of Ireland’s top cosmetic surgeons, Dr Patrick Treacy, director of the Ailesbury Clinic in Dublin. (Jackson’s apparent addiction to plastic surgery, which, notoriously, transformed his appearance, stemmed from when, as a teenager, his siblings teased him for his “big nose” and “liver lips”.) When Jackson wanted to visit the Limerick children who had been badly burned in a car during a gang-related attack, Treacy advised him that visiting a paediatric hospital would not look good so soon after his court case.
When Jackson announced a string of 10 concerts at London’s O2 arena for March 2009, a plan that soon expanded to 50 dates, many wondered if the star was physically and mentally up to the gargantuan task he’d signed up for. In the event he never even made it to the first show; following a rehearsal at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Jackson died of an overdose of the anaesthetic propofol at his rented home in LA. Sullivan reconstructs that last night in macabre detail.
In the end this is the story of Peter Pan with a nasty twist. The magic failed him, and when the world was finally able to touch him he crumbled into stardust.