Life Magazine 1997

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"The King As Pop" – From LIFE Magazine

You have two nurses, three chefs and a doting dad. You have a petting zoo, two locomotives and a full-scale amusement park – all in your backyard. And, oh yes, your godparents are Elizabeth Taylor and Macaulay Culkin. So you've got that going for you.

On the other hand, your dad wears sequins and a hat when changing your diaper and has been known to grab his privates in front of thousands. Your mom has to commute to visit you, sometimes across the globe. And even as a celebrity fetus you got no respect: Your pop-star pop felt compelled to issue a press release insisting you weren't the product of artificial insemination.

Welcome to Earth, Prince Michael Joseph Jackson Jr.

The bright-eyed, beaming Prince is genuinely good natured, prone to wide, if toothless, jack-'o-lantern grins. Tonight, however, he is Mr. Whimper – due to the merciless popping of flashbulbs. The boy of beige -and-olive cheek, with a hint of spit curl, sobs for several minutes. His nurses, in white NEVERLAND VALLEY uniforms, brandish rattles to little avail. The Dad tries, stroking bony fingers tentatively against his child's face: "If he cries, and then you dance, he'll stop at once." But Michael's not in a particularly moonwalky mood. "C'mon, look, look. Mmm," Michael says, hazarding a hum. "He loves anything rhinestone." So Dad quickly dons a bangled jacket. But the Prince blubbers on.

His cries sound mama-like, even at nine months. Indeed, his cries seem part reproach. Everywhere, throughout the 25-room home, Mom is eerily absent. The house, with games and knicknacks piled in stairwells and nooks, has an edgy abandon, as if a teenager and his friends have been left in charge and the real parents are about to burst in – back from vacation – and throw a fit. Even now, after returning from an African tour Michael is here in Neverland with his boy, yet Debbie is in L.A., 150 miles southeast. When asked why Mom's away, Michael cryptically attributes it to some unspecified aspect of – yes – a second pregnancy. He says, in a delighted whisper, "There's a new one on the way."

Michael, 39, is well aware that his is not exactly a nuclear family. "It's very hard," he explains, faulting his performance schedule for their long distance marriage. "We haven't been able to spend time as a family. Not at all." Debbie Rowe, 38, who has kept her one-bedroom Van Nuys apartment, reportedly told intimates she was carrying Michael's first child as a "favour to a friend". Since then, she has admitted in a TV interview: "I don't need to be there…It's not my duty. And (Michael) understands that. And he understands that I need my independance." Citing Michael's constant attention to Prince's every need, she said, "I'd have nothing to do."

Michael's choice of partners, confidants and playmates has never been conventional. He has long sought the company of other former child stars, like Taylor and Culkin, or star's children, such as first wife Lisa Marie Presley, whom he divorced last year. He has befriended young boys and girls. (Charges of child molestation in 1993, never proven, were dropped after he reached a multimillion-dollar-out-of-court settlement with the family of the 13-year-old accuser.) "Celebrities have to deal with this," is all he will say on the subject, adding dissmissevely, "I'm not the first who's gone through it. It's horrible." Debbie has remarked of the accusations: "I wouldn't leave our child there…if I even suspected any of them were true."

Despite the time they spend apart, Michael has found a kindred soul in Debbie. A free spirit who fancies Harleys and animals (one tabloid reported that she arranged for chemotherapy for one of her dogs), she met Michael at his dermatologist's, where she was a medical assistant, during his treatment for a skin condition. After they became friends, Debbie twice offered to bear his child. And once his divorce from Lisa Marie was finalized, Michael surprised her by accepting. They were married in a secret Australian ceremony last November. They do spend time together, of course, often watching cartoons or big-screen projections of Three Stooges shorts. "We laugh, hold the baby," Michael says. "She's come out on the tour a lot."

But there is one subject to which Michael repeatedly returns during four hours of conversation and picture-taking: Lisa Marie Presley.

Michael's voice quickens, even quavers, when he speaks of Lisa Marie. How she enjoys the baby. How they are still close after an amicable divorce. How they frolicked overseas the month before. He seems to pine for her. "Lisa Marie was just with me in Africa," Michael says. "We (went to) IMAX theaters, simulated-ride safaris, dinner. We went parasailing. It was wonderful." Even Debbie has acknowledged that Michael is still smitten. "He cares about her very much, but it didn't work out and he was devastated," she has said. "He loved her very much. Still does."

When asked if Lisa Marie has ever expressed second thoughts about not having been the one to bear his son, Michael insists, "She regrets it. She said so." Would she still consider having a kid with him? "She'd like to, yes," he says putting a mischievous finger to his lips. "Shh."

Michael turns the conversation to what makes him happiest nowadays: "The baby, writing music and making movies." He's planning a film version of J.M Barrie's Peter Pan fable, having been mislead, he says, by Steven Speilberg, who he believes reneged on an offer to cast Michael in Hook six years ago. "I worked on the script, writing songs, for six months," says Michael. "And they let me down. I was so heart broken. Steven Speilberg admitted later it was a mistake. I was torn. He put me through a lot. We're friends now, though." What Michael dreads most, he says, is continuing a life on the road. "I love to entertain," he admits,"but I don't like the system of touring. You're jet-lagged. You're sleepy on stage. I don't know where I am half the time. I may not tour again. Ever."

Besides, for now, Michael has his glove full with this bundle of Jackson. Especially with bedtime beckoning. His T-shirt mottled with faint baby-food stains, he cradles Prince in the crook of his arm, placing a lavender pacifier in his mouth. The baby drifts into his own little Neverland. After several minutes, Michael hands the child to a nanny and slips away to his own bedroom – a floor below and a wing away.

To enter Michael's bedroom, one has to pass under the interlocked fingers of two life-sized figurines on pedestals – a Boy Scout and a little girl wearing a British bobby's hat, the pair arching a London Bridge above the door. Inside, toys, gadgets and books sprout in every alcove. Michael's latest Grammy gleams on the fireplace mantel. Peter Pan paraphernalia adorns three walls; arcade-scale consoles, including Nintendo 64, dominate a recessed cranny. "I can beat all of them," he says with pride.

At first, it is his red and gold throne that stands out amid the clutter. But then one's eyes zero in on Michael Jackson's bed. On it's green brocaded pillows. On the twin stereo speakers mounted near the headboard. On the stark but simple painting of Jesus, in a plain frame, the Sacred Heart blood-red, the eyes penetrating.

And there, on one night stand, rests a framed photograph of Lisa Marie. Not a recent snapshot. Or even a formal portrait. But a picture apparently cut out of a magazine, placed as a child would place it, cock-eyed, in a frame meant to hold a photo twice it's size. A picture of Elvis and his little girl, then only five years old. "This is the age," Michael says, "when I first met Lisa Marie. When her father first came to my concerts. I've known her ever since."

But when Michael lies in his bed, the last thing he sees before he falls asleep is Prince's spare crib, sitting next to an old Peter Pan diorama. It is empty tonight but for the clutch of stuffed animals inside. Still, it's there – ready for those nights when Prince needs his dad.

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