Michael Jackson is, without question, one of the greatest performers of our time. Yet 10 years after his death, his name remains tainted by controversy. The allegations against Jackson are monstrous and many – and it’s only now that some of the key witnesses are ready to talk.
His family and his loyal fans refuse to believe he is anything other than a mercurial Peter Pan; a broken but beautiful soul as innocent as a child.
Yet Sunday Night has uncovered the truth about the King of Pop from those who knew him best – the family who loved him, and the boys he loved and left deeply scarred. We look at the damning never before seen evidence, and in a worldwide exclusive, we take you inside Neverland as a former staffer reveals for the first time the true horror of what went on behind closed doors.
No place exemplifies the weird and decadent life of Michael Jackson more than Neverland, a sprawling playground of a ranch in Santa Barbara, California. It’s named after the imaginary island in Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. This is where Jackson tried to create the childhood he never had.
At an age when most kids were learning their ABC, Michael Jackson was already a star, fronting the mega-pop group the Jackson 5. He was a fresh-faced kid with a groovy helmet of hair and an angelic voice.
“The first time I heard Michael sing was in school,” his brother Jermaine Jackson told Sunday Night’s Matt Doran. “Michael sung ‘Climb Every Mountain’, and he sung that song so strong and so powerful.”
But behind that megawatt smile was a tyrannical father who prized fame above family.
“I think the father was the reason the Jackson 5 became the Jackson 5,” says author Di Dimond. “I also believe that he was a mean, violent, dictatorial tyrant in the family.”
And Joe Jackson was especially tough on his second youngest son, Michael. “I believe that untoward things happened to him when he was away from his mother and under the charge of his father,” Di reveals. “I think he never recovered from it.”
When Michael Jackson struck out on his own, he never looked back. With each album, he just got bigger and bigger – but it was ‘Thriller’ that launched him into the musical stratosphere, becoming the highest-selling album in the world.
Michael won eight Grammys for ‘Thriller’. He walked the red carpet for the award ceremony with movie star Brooke Shields and a child actor, 12-year-old Emmanuel Lewis.
“Michael Jackson had a specific routine with young children, mostly boys,” says Di Dimond. “He would wow them with his superstardom. It was, for a child, overwhelmingly special. ‘Wow, Michael Jackson likes me! He is taking me to buy toys, he is taking me in his limousine, we are riding in planes together, we are going to exotic places.’ What child wouldn’t be bedazzled by that?”
Back then, Michael Jackson could do no wrong. He was now the world’s biggest pop star – but his charmed life veered off course after he suffered terrible burns when his hair caught on fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial.
“I remember rushing to the hospital,” sister La Toya Jackson remembers. “He kept saying he’s okay, but he was in a lot of pain. But he was happy that he was alive.”
That injury led to a lifelong addiction to painkillers. “It was so bad that one pharmacy refused to service Michael Jackson any longer,” tells Di. “They’d had it with the false names. They couldn’t give him any more of the narcotics that he asked for. That’s how bad it got because in Hollywood, you can get anything you want if you are a celebrity.”
Michael Jackson’s behaviour was becoming more and more erratic. Yet he was so famous, he didn’t have to hide his strangeness.
Jackson’s appearance was becoming stranger too. His face was morphing under the surgeon’s knife. Plastic surgery – especially the dramatic transformation of his nose – became an obsession that lasted a lifetime.
“Michael never liked his nose,” explains La Toya. “He wanted to change it and he did. If you don’t like something. change it – and that’s what he did.”
Then in 1988, at the peak of his fame, Jackson bought Neverland. Beyond the wrought iron gates of this sprawling Californian ranch, he created a child’s fantasy land conjured straight from the pages of a Little Golden Book.
“He built his kids’ playground for himself, but it was also for children who were less fortunate,” Jermaine explains. ‘He built his own world within this world, and that’s what Neverland was. A beautiful place where kids can just have wonderment and be happy.”
Neverland provided Jackson with the ideal setting to indulge his love of children. The place was always filled with kids, with some enjoying a short break from sickness and disadvantage.
At first, Jackson was dismissed as an eccentric – the nutty pop singer who refused to grow up. But troubling stories started to circulate.
“I was on the inside,” Jackson’s former security guard Melanie Bagnall reveals for the first time. “I didn’t want it to be true. Honestly, I was heartbroken. I didn’t want it to be true, but things weren’t making sense.”
“I think Neverland was built for his pleasure, but I think it was part of romancing kids.”
At first, Melanie didn’t question what was going on behind closed doors. However, that changed when she witnessed a disturbing incident involving Jackson and one of the young Neverland boys as they drove around the estate in a golf cart.
“There was a child sitting on his lap and he had his hands close to his genitalia, like, cupping his genitalia,” Melanie recalls. “It was disturbing. It was alarming. It was a conformation, in ways.”
Melanie saw enough to convince her that Jackson was a child molester. “Sadly, I believe he was. I know he was.”
Jackson went to great lengths to hide his abuse. Neverland had a whole network of secret rooms and passageways where he would often disappear for hours on end with his young guests.
Melanie’s accounts of what happened at Neverland were backed up by co-worker, housemaid Adrian McManus, in a 2015 television interview.
“I would walk in and there would be boys laying in his bed with him,” Adrian says. “I’d walk in his room and his underwear would be floating in the jacuzzi in his bedroom. They’d be floating in the water with the little boys’ underwear.”
At the height of Jackson’s fame, his staff dared not speak out. “Looking back, there was so many people working to keep secrets,” Melanie explains. “They were calling the shots at the ranch, and it was like just being terrorised at work. I can’t describe it. These guys walking around, packing guns and telling people what to do.”
Then the father of one of those Neverland boys dropped a bombshell. Evan Chandler accused Jackson of sexually abusing his son Jordan. Not long afterward, the police swooped on Neverland.
Jackson and his lawyers fought back, claiming the abuse allegations were nothing more than a money grab. However, the case was still settled out of court for a whopping $22 million.
“His attorneys wanted him to settle because there was a lot of stuff going on,” Jermaine explains. “They got what they wanted. They got the money.”
The episode tainted Jackson’s image. He tried to win back the world’s trust with a short-lived marriage to Lisa Marie Presley.
Neither the allegation nor the $22 million payout discouraged Jackson from filling his Neverland ranch with busloads of children – or from hosting his underage sleepovers.
German Michael Jacobshagen was a starstruck 12-year-old when he met Jackson. “I was a big fan,” he recalls. “I [went] see the first concert, it was in 1992 in Munich. I told all the people at this time, ‘I will meet Michael Jackson,’ and everybody say to me, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’ – but then the moment comes.”
After meeting his idol, young Michael went home to Germany, but Jackson didn’t forget his new friend. Jackson continued courting Michael from the other side of the world with tenderly-worded notes and letters – more than 30 in total.
Michael recalls one letter specifically. ‘It was after 1998. He writing, ‘Michael, I truly miss you very much. Thanks for your loyalty and support. I wait for you at Neverland. All my love, always, Michael Jackson.’”
Those letters culminated in an invitation to join Jackson on a leg of his History world tour.
“The first sleepovers [were] then in 1997,” Michael explains. “[At] first it was just sleeping. Also another kid’s in the bed, it was not just me.”
In 1998, Michael spent his first night alone with Jackson. “We [were] together, our bodies [were] together. I was on this side and he was behind me, and he put his arm around me.”
Michael Jacobshagen was no longer just a fan – he was Michael Jackson’s special friend. The relationship stepped up a level.
“He was naked in the jacuzzi,” Michael remembers. “He asked me also and [said], ‘You can do the same if you want.’ And I say to him, ‘No, I don’t want that.’ He [said], ‘You can do it like me, yeah?’”
In 2003, an explosive documentary exposed Jackson’s disturbingly close relationship with 13-year-old cancer patient Gavin Arvizo. After watching the documentary, Gavin’s mother Janet Arvizo went to the police.
Prosecutor Ron Zonen recalls some of the accusations. “There are multiple acts of molestation, but the molestation was all touching. He was touching Gavin’s genitalia – and expected him to do the same with Michael Jackson.”
Jackson faced ten serious charges of abuse against Gavin Arvizo, including four counts of child molestation. He pleaded not guilty. The trial was a sensation, and became huge international news.
Jackson’s legal team threw everything at Gavin Arvizo and his family. Among the pop star’s key defenders was child actor Macauley Culkin and a young Australian dancer Wade Robson, who lived with Jackson as a boy.
The court believed Wade Robson, and Jackson was acquitted. Yet in an amazing about-face five years ago, Wade admitted that he too had been molested by Jackson.
After surviving two damaging child abuse cases, Michael Jackson was preparing a triumphant comeback – a world tour so big and so dazzling that it would repair all the damage to his reputation.
But the King of Pop’s health had collapsed, and he was battling a serious drug addiction.
Notorious Hollywood doctor Conrad Murray was Jackson’s personal physician in the final weeks of his life. “He was still that thin, malnourished-appearing individual,” Murray remembers. “Mentally, he felt extremely challenged. He did not have the capacity to do the number of shows that they were asking, and that was worrisome for him.”
“They talked about Michael at the rehearsals as being a zombie at times, or looking that way. He was addicted to opioids. That was Michael’s problem.”
He was also getting the substance, Demerol, a drug almost as powerful as morphine.
Such was Jackson’s dependence on Conrad Murray, he had the doctor move in with him. Murray became a daily witness to the star’s struggle with insomnia and drug addiction. “Michael could not sleep without the assistance of substance,” he admits.
Murray admits he began supplying and injecting Jackson with a heavy-duty surgical anaesthetic known as Propofol to help him sleep – and it was that drug that Jackson demanded from Murray in his last hours.
“He pleaded, he begged, cried,” says Murray. “[He] told me how much if he did not sleep what would happen, he couldn’t function and he couldn’t get ready for the concerts.”
Murray claims to this day that it was Jackson himself who injected the fatal dose shortly before he died.
“Nothing that I give Mr Jackson would have led to his demise,” Murray insists.
A security guard found Michael Jackson unconscious around midday on 25 June 2009. He was transported to UCLA Hospital, and his family rushed to his side.
[Michael Jackson part 6ss video]
The world was in shock. The King of Pop – the greatest performer of our time – was dead.
Conrad Murray was later charged with the involuntary manslaughter of his famous patient, and sentenced to four years in prison.
Jermaine Jackson believes there were others involved in his brother’s death – and it was deliberate.
“This was no accident,” he insists. “They don’t want him to be the King of Pop. They took his life. This was no accident. My brother was murdered.”
Ten years after Michael Jackson’s death, no one doubts his genius – but he was also flawed. Just how deeply flawed, we may never know.
“The fans will not believe it,” says Di Dimond. “The fans say, ‘No, he loved children, he could not possibly have been a child molester because look at how great a singer and dancer he was, and he gave to children’s charities.’ It just doesn’t hold water with me. And it doesn’t hold water with law enforcement people who know the profile of a paedophile, and Michael Jackson fit that to a T.”
Michael Jacobshagen not only believes the proof is irrefutable, but unacceptable. “All this together with the book, the notes, the jacuzzi, sleeping in the bed, bodies together… He crossed the line. This is not anymore Peter Pan. He crossed the line.”
Reporter: Matt Doran
Producers: Sandra Cleary, Simon Heath, Andrea Keir & Kristy-Lee Lorraway