On February 10, 1993, Oprah sat down with Michael Jackson for what would be the most-watched interview in television history. Michael, a fiercely private entertainer, had refused to give an interview for 14 years. The unprecedented live event, which took place before any allegations were made about sexual abuse, drew a worldwide audience of 90 million people. "It was the most exciting interview I had ever done," Oprah says. "It certainly was going to be the most watched interview I had ever done."
Oprah's done thousands of interviews since she sat down with Michael, but she can still remember her excitement at going to the King of Pop's home. "We are coming in the gates of Neverland, and it's like a moment in The Wizard of Oz," she says. "It was literally like going to see the wizard. We couldn't believe it. I felt like a kid."
Sixteen years after that memorable special, and just a few months after Michael's untimely death, Oprah opens up about what she really thought of the candid discussion.
During their interview, Michael spoke to Oprah about missing out on a normal childhood. "I remember going to the recording studio, and there was a park across the street, and I'd see all the children playing and I would cry. It would make me sad that I would have to go to work instead," he said. "People wonder why I always have children around. It's because I find the thing that I never had through them. Disneyland, amusement parks, arcade games—I adore all that stuff because when I was little, it was always work, work, work."
Looking back, Oprah says she realized in that moment that she had a fondness for Michael. "He's very likable there, and I can tell you I really, really liked him," she says. "After this interview, I thought I could be his friend, because I felt that he was really honest."
Michael's relationship with his father, Joe Jackson, has made plenty of headlines throughout the years. When Michael spoke with Oprah, he was extremely open about the sensitive subject, saying his father called him ugly, beat him and frightened him. "I love my father, but I don't know him. ... Sometimes I do get angry. I don't know him the way I'd like to know him," he said. "My mother's wonderful. To me, she's perfection. I just wish I could understand my father."
When Oprah asked Michael why Joe beat him, Michael wasn't entirely sure. "I don't know if I was his golden child or whatever it was. Some may call it a strict disciplinarian or whatever, but he was very strict. He was very hard. Just a look would scare you," Michael said. "There's been times when he'd come to see me, and I would get sick. I'd start to regurgitate."
Joe Jackson has repeatedly denied any allegations that he beat Michael.
Oprah says she was surprised that Michael was so candid in his revelations about his father. "Even in saying it, [Michael tried] to temper it by saying, 'Please, don't be mad at me, Joseph.' So obviously you know that he still carried that fear and pain," she says. "Look in his eyes when he starts to talk about his father. His eyes shift."
In 1993, controversy about Michael's skin color was at an all-time high. "He kept getting whiter and whiter and whiter, and nobody understood why," Oprah says. "Anybody who knew Michael Jackson will tell you that when you are up close to him—he had absolutely no pigmentation in his skin—you are looking at his veins when you look at his hand. You are seeing through to the blue veins, and they're very, very apparent. At first that's a starling thing. Nobody ever talks about that, but it takes you aback at first. You're looking at a person who is almost translucent."
In one of the most memorable moments of Oprah's interview, Michael told her he had a skin disorder that destroyed the pigmentation of his skin. The disease, called vitiligo, was in his family, Michael said. "It is something I cannot help. When people make up stories that I don't want to be who I am, it hurts me," he said. "It's a problem for me. I can't control it. But what about all the millions of people who sit in the sun to become darker, to become other than what they are. Nobody says nothing about that."
Michael told Oprah that he used makeup to control blotchiness, but that he had never purposely bleached his skin.
This was one of Michael's most defensive moments of the interview, Oprah says. "You can see he got a little testy there about the skin issue. I think in 1993 nobody understood what it was. Nobody knew anything about vitiligo," she says. "I could see that that was one of the areas that was very sensitive to him, obviously."
Plastic surgery was another much-talked about issue surrounding Michael Jackson in the early 1990s. His appearance had changed so much since he was a child star that there was much speculation about the work he'd had done. When Oprah broached the subject, Michael wouldn't get into specifics but said he'd had less plastic surgery than people thought. "You can count them on two fingers," he said.
Michael did admit to having a nose job, but said most of the cosmetic surgery rumors were false. "I have never had my cheekbones done, never had my eyes done, never had my lips done," he said.
Regarding his appearance at the time, Michael said he wasn't pleased. "I try not to look in the mirror," he said. "I'm never happy with what I see."
In 1994, Michael married Lisa Marie Presley. The marriage lasted only two years, but when Michael talked with Oprah a year before his nuptials, everyone was wondering if—and who—he dated. Michael told Oprah that he was in a relationship with Brooke Shields. Then Oprah asked the question even she says was embarrassing: "Are you a virgin?"
Michael never answered. "I'm a gentleman," he said. "That's something that's private, that shouldn't be spoken about openly. You can call me old-fashioned if you want, but to me that's very personal."
Oprah says she hadn't been sure how, or if, she was going to ask Michael about sex, but she knew it was something audiences wanted to know. "There was this sort of mystery about him. At the same time he's holding his crotch and wants to rock with us all night, we don't know who he's rocking with. That's what you really want to know," she says.
If there's one dance move for which Michael will forever be remembered, it's unquestionably the moonwalk. During the interview, Oprah got a private lesson in the signature move. "The moonwalk came from these beautiful black kids who live in the ghettos in the inner cities, who are brilliant. They just have that natural talent for dancing any of the new, hot dances. They come up with these dances," Michael said. "All I did was enhance the dance."
"We all remember when we first saw the Motown 25 special and Michael Jackson moonwalked. There are seminal moments in our life, and that's one of them," Oprah says. "So to be able to see him do that live and experience it, that was a little 'thriller' for me."
Toward the end of her interview with Michael, Oprah talked with him about his life's purpose.
"To give in the best way I can through song and through dance and through music," Michael said. "I believe that all art has as its ultimate goal the union between the material and the spiritual, the spiritual and the divine. I believe that that's the reason for the very existence of art, and I feel I was chosen as an instrument to give music and love and harmony to the world."
In the closing moments of the special, Oprah asked Michael what he wanted to be most known for. Though Michael thought she was asking what he wanted to be remembered for, Oprah quickly corrected him. She, like Michael's fans, never imagined he would be gone so soon. "Obviously, if I had known that we'd be sitting here talking about the memory of Michael Jackson, I would have let him finish what he wanted to be remembered for," she says. "What I remember about Michael the most is that he was a person who was passionate about life. He was really passionate about his work … and [passionate about] his desire to try to be a good force in the world."
Printed from Oprah.com on Monday, March 17, 2014
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