A glimpse into the life of Michael Jackson - the father, the artist and the voracious reader

Sunday, 22 June 2014 - 6:35am IST | Agency: dna

Michael Jackson's bodyguards open up about the experience of protecting the star and his children in their recently launched book Remember the Time. Here is an excerpt:

Book: Remember the Time
Author: Bill Whitfield, Javon Beard and Tanner Colby
Publishing House: HarperCollins
Cost: Rs699, 308 pages

Javon: His main contact with the outside world was through the fans. He got tons of fan mail. Ms.Raymone's people would collect it and bundle it, and every few days it would arrive in these big sacks. It came from all over the world—Canada, England, Egypt, Japan, India, Ireland, Spain. He read all of it.

Every so often, early on Saturday mornings, we'd take him on long drives and he'd immerse himself in his fan mail. I'd drive. Bill would ride shotgun. We'd load up a few boxes of mail in the vehi­cle and then we'd head out into the desert and just drive for three, four hours. We'd drive up into the mountains, where there was still snow on the ground. We'd go all the way across the Hoover Dam, into Arizona, then turn around and head home.

Mr. Jackson would sit in the back, classical music playing, the curtain drawn. You could hear him opening envelopes, going letter by letter. Sometimes he'd say, "Hey, listen to this, guys. This is so sweet." And he'd read us something somebody had written. People would write about their children dying of illnesses and how much his music had meant to them. Some of it made him very emotional. You could hear him getting choked up. He'd say, "You guys may not understand, but this is where I get a lot of my inspi­ration to write my songs."

By the time we got back to the house, he'd have two separate piles of letters. He'd keep one, hand us the other and say, "These you can get rid of."

Bill: People would send gifts too—teddy bears, balloons, flowers, pho­tos, personal keepsakes. A lot of this stuff was handmade. A collage or a card with a special message. He would mostly keep the gifts that were handmade. He liked that. Sometimes he'd get a package and it seemed suspicious to him or he just didn't feel right about it. He'd give it to us and want us to check it first. There was never anything dangerous, no bombs or anything like that, but a lot of teddy bears and music boxes wound up drowning in the pool for us to find that out.

There was so much of it that one of the bedrooms had to be designated as the fan mail room. The walls in there were plastered with handmade cards and letters, and the floor was covered with big stacks. And that was just what accumulated in Las Vegas over a few months' time.

Javon: Except for those letters and occasional visits from his mother or one or two other people, he really was just alone with the kids inside this little bubble. From the outside, you might think that Michael Jackson led this high-flying, glamorous life. But all the high-end restaurants and five-star hotels we went to? Never once did we go in through the front lobby, where everything's beautiful and pretty and clean. We were moving through underground park­ing structures, going through side entrances in the back by the dumpsters. We didn't ride in the nice glass elevators. We rode in the service elevators with trash bags stacked in the corner, waiting to be hauled down to the basement. That's the world Michael Jackson lived in.

Bill: There were times when you felt like a rat scurrying through a maze, going down all these dimly-lit corridors. The smell of the service entrances was horrible. I'd have on a freshly pressed suit, polished shoes, and we'd be stepping in filth, rotting food. I'd be thinking, Damn, it stinks in here.

Name me one other celebrity that has to go in through the back of the hotel every time. Not every now and then, every single time. There's only one occasion I can remember that we weren't sneaking around in the back of a hotel. Mr. Jackson had a meeting at the Bellagio, and we ran into Steve Wynn. He asked us to walk through the Bellagio's casino area with him, so we did. A few people were gawking, but it was mostly an older crowd. Wasn't too busy that time of day. We walked into the front lobby area and Mr. Jackson looked around and said, "You know, I can't even remember the last time I saw the lobby of a hotel. I forgot how beautiful they are. This is really amazing."

A lot of the time, hanging out, he was just a regular dude. But every now and then you'd get these reminders of how isolated his life had been. It would come at odd moments, like with some of the words he used. One of the times we had to stay at a hotel, they'd snuck Prince's dog into the room. They couldn't really walk the dog outside because there were supposed to be no pets at that hotel. Plus the dog wasn't fully house-trained anyway. You can imagine what it smelled like in there after a couple days. Mr. Jackson came to me and he said, "Bill, I need you to go out and get some smells."

"Smells? What's 'smells'?"
"You know, things to make the room smell good."
"You mean air fresheners?"
"Yeah, yeah. Stuff like that."
Sometimes he used words, I didn't know what he meant. One time he said, "Bill, I need you to go to the airport and pick up the governess."
"The governor's coming? What governor?"
He laughed. "No, Bill. The governess. Like, the person who watches the kids."
"Do you mean the nanny?"

So why not just say that? He'd use these words, and I'd be like, "Mr. Jackson, I don't know what you're talking about."

He'd just shake his head. He'd say, "You guys need to read more."

Javon: That's how he filled all those hours by himself: books. He'd read anything and everything he could get his hands on. History. Science. Art. There were so many trips to Barnes & Noble. It was almost a weekly thing. He would go into bookstores and drop five thousand dollars like he was buying a pack of gum. At one point, he actually bought a bookstore — I'm talking about an entire book­store. He paid cash for it.

Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins

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