He was the biggest pop superstar in the world, selling millions of albums to millions of fans. Michael Jackson couldn't go anywhere without being hunted by the paparazzi...and yet he had a secret hideaway at the home of a New Jersey family. Michael recorded songs in their basement and had been regularly visiting their home for 25 years. Almost nobody knew about it.
Dominic Cascio met Michael more than 25 years ago when he was working at a hotel in New York City. Dominic managed the suites where Michael used to stay when visiting, and the two soon struck up a friendship.
Dominic invited Michael to his home in New Jersey to meet his wife, Connie, and their children. It wasn't long before Michael became a regular visitor and started referring to the Cascios as his second family. They say Michael was humble and never acted like the superstar that he was, often joining them for turkey dinners and long talks around the kitchen counter.
"It was funny because he would just come up and enjoy family dinners and just be part of the family," says Eddie, 28, who was just 3 years old when he first met Michael. "He would always make sure that before every meal we always say our prayers, say grace, and even afterward we'd have sit-downs and we'd all go through and just talk about what we're thankful for. Those types of memories that we all have are just really priceless, because that was Michael."
The Cascio family has never spoken about their relationship with Michael until now. Although they were reluctant to come forward, they decided to speak out because they wanted to show the world who Michael really was.
Although it may seem like an impossible secret to keep, the Cascios say they were able to hide their friendship with the King of Pop from most of the world.
"Michael was very private, and he saw the warmth and how we respected him for who he was and how he just didn't want us to be that family that goes out and, you know, talks about Michael Jackson," Eddie says. "And we never did that."
The family says they also used to celebrate Christmas with Michael. While the Cascios say the superstar never showered them with lavish gifts, they did exchange Christmas presents with him each year. They say Michael loved books, art and Disney paraphernalia.
After Michael had his own children, the Cascios say they continued to be a big part of Michael's life. They say they were even there for the birth of his children.
"He trusted no one but us. ... Other than the nanny, we were the other family that he left the kids with," Connie says.
The Cascios say they weren't just there for Michael during the good times—they stuck by him through the bad times too. In 1993, Michael was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy—a charge that was settled out of court for $22 million. Then, in 2003, Michael was arrested and charged with seven counts of child molestation. He was eventually acquitted on all counts.
The Cascios say they never believed the charges against Michael, but as a father, Dominic says he had to ask his children if any improprieties had occurred. When he did, he says they insisted nothing had happened. Today, Frank, Eddie and Nicole Marie still say no improprieties ever occurred between them and Michael.
"Michael was a target. And, unfortunately, he was targeted," Eddie says.
During the summer of 2009, Michael was preparing for a series of comeback concerts titled This Is It. The shows would have been the superstar's first since his HIStory World Tour in 1997. Less than three weeks before the tour was set to kick off, Michael passed away after suffering cardiac arrest.
Since Michael's death, there have been reports that Michael was addicted to drugs, but the Cascio family says they never saw any signs of drug abuse. "It was unfortunate to learn of the so-called problem or addiction that we now know he suffered from," Eddie says.
The family says they spoke to Michael just three days before he died, when he called their home on Father's Day. They say his death has been hard on all of them. "It's an everyday battle that we all have," Connie says. "We all mention his name all day—at least once a day we mention him—because we actually can feel him in our home."
Aside from hanging out and enjoying family dinners with the Cascios, Michael did something else in their home: He recorded music. Eddie, who is now a music producer, says Michael was a mentor to him. The two used to create music together in the Cascios' home studio—a makeshift room in the family's basement, which included a wooden dance floor that was put in just for Michael.
"He was training every morning," Eddie says. "He'd dance, and I would be right here next to him dancing. Years later, fast forward to, I would say, the beginning of '07, he came ready to work. And that's what we did. We spent long hours working in the studio, recording."
Eddie says he and Michael recorded 12 songs together. On December 14, 2010, some of those songs will be released on Michael Jackson's posthumous album, MICHAEL. Some have speculated that the vocals on it are not really Michael Jackson's.
"I can tell you that it is Michael's voice. He recorded right there in my basement," Eddie says. "It was a home studio and, you know, we worked. I was there pushing the buttons. He was right there directing, and that's Michael Jackson."
Some of the tracks on Michael's new album were finished by his longtime producer and friend, Teddy Riley. Teddy worked with Michael for more than 18 years on some of his most successful albums, including Dangerous, HIStory and Invincible. He was also one of six producers and engineers who verified the authenticity of Michael's voice on the controversial new tracks.
"You can hear the authenticity in his voice, and you can hear the natural part of him," Teddy says. "And no one can really do a scream like that strong scream on here. I don't care [who you get]—they would never be able to duplicate Michael's voice."
Many people, including members of Michael's family and those who worked with him over the years, are saying the new songs on MICHAEL should not be released. They say Michael was a perfectionist and wouldn't have wanted the public to hear his songs until they were perfect and complete. However, Eddie believes Michael would have wanted these songs released for his fans. "Michael recorded for his fans, and it deserves to come out and the fans deserve to hear the musical genius that Michael really is,” Eddie says.