My Afternoon With Michael Jackson

Editor’s note: I wrote this last year when Michael Jackson passed away…on the anniversary of his death, I thought it was worth reposting…
Wow, that title sounds important, doesn’t it? It wasn’t quite like that. I was working at MIX 105 in Virginia when our rep from the Epic label let us tag along on a Michael Jackson press conference near Washington DC. This was right after “Black or White” came out, 1991, I think. Michael was combining a visit to a pediatric hospital with a tour announcement.
Now, when radio does press conferences with tv, it’s much like that scene in “Titanic” where the first class passengers are settling into the lifeboat with their little dogs and their furs, and the steerage passengers get locked onto their deck to avoid “disruption.” Except, the tv camera crews are the guys with the furs, and I’m the radio person banging on the locked gate yelling, “Hey! It’s getting kinda damp down here!” I finally turned off my tape recorder and just watched. Michael was walking through a pediatric AIDS ward–there were, unfortunately, plenty of beds filled in that section of Washington DC.
Michael is–was–a notorious germaphobe. He wore gloves then not just to hide the spreading vitiligo, but because he was obsessed with avoiding people’s filthy hands grabbing at him. Yet he would draw off his gloves at each bedside, carefully hold the frail hand, maybe put an arm around the patient’s shoulder. A hospital administrator leaned in and told me that he was doing it deliberately for the cameras.
You see, back in the late 80’s, early 90’s, no one really knew much about AIDS. There was still plenty of misinformation that you could catch the virus simply by touching an infected person. Many AIDS patients died then without ever feeling a human touch again that wasn’t wrapped in a rubber glove. Michael was forcing himself to overcome his natural reticence and dislike of contact to make a point.
Winston Churchill once cynically remarked that “I fully expect to be canonized, AND demonized upon my death.” Here upon Michael’s passing, I fully expect the same for him. But I choose to remember first his awkward–but kindly–attempts to show love and care to those who needed it most.
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5 responses to “My Afternoon With Michael Jackson”

  1. Kara P says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Been thinking about Michael this week and hoping he's finally found some peace.

  2. My sister cried quite a bit when MJ died. She’s loved him ever since she was a teenager.

  3. We often only hear about the pop star, the freak, but hardly ever do we hear stories about the man. Thanks for sharing this glimpse into the human side of Michael.

  4. Auriette says:

    I’ve always believed that Michael Jackson was a good person, who was debilitated by a harsh father, medical problems, and probably by his celebrity as well. Thank you for telling us about this experience.

  5. Salleefur/Jesslyn says:

    Thanks Erin (and sometimes Todd! – lol – it’s the same around here!)for sharing your inspired and inspiring thoughts.

    As a society we tend to look for (and almost rejoice in) finding flaws in others and even celebrate watching good people brought down (because for some perverse reason it makes us feel better about ourselves??? – Heck of a way to build one’s own self-esteem!)

    No doubt Michael Jackson was a complicated person for all kinds of reasons – but I honestly believe his intentions were good and he wanted to bring love to the empty space he knew too well.

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